April 12th, 2019 is the day that I decided to get sober. I had been sober for long periods of time previously, but those times had always been eclipsed with a relapse of my disordered eating, coupled with a mild reliance on anti anxiety medication to get me through the day. To me, that is not sobriety, that is simply addiction swapping. Pivoting neatly out of one coping mechanism into another wholly self destructive means of existing. Whichever route I had chosen, I was still distancing me from myself. I had never stopped to look at why I am the way I am. Why I felt (and still feel) such a need to drop out of my life at times, and to not take control of my narrative.
This work is painful. But I am thankful that this year I was forced to decide that enough was enough.
It was around 25 that I noticed my behavior was not particularly ok whilst drunk. My nights were ruled by self regulation – needing to keep a close eye on what I was drinking, when, and how much, in order to prevent yet another trip to the ER. Or another hungover embarrassed encounter with a friend. Or, rolling over to have my eternally patient husband explain to me what I got up to in my latest blackout.
You see, I was not your stereotypical problem drinker. I would go long stretches without drinking, and rarely craved it. I have never lost a job, or a relationship to my drinking. I have never woken up and needed a drink to get my day started. We never even had alcohol in the house. As far as alcoholics go, I do not fit the abused stereotype. However, stereotypes are shallow, dangerous boxes that we put people in of whom we do not understand, and of whom we do not care to do the work to get to know. I have fallen prey to that many times on account of my job. I get put in the vacuous, dumb girl box that me and my model friends too often get shoved into. Potential friends pass on me, and I have no control over that. It hurts me constantly, and has resulted in dramatically lowered expectations of those around me, and extremely high walls with strangers.
It took my final night of bad drunken behavior to finally force me through the doors of 12 step meeting. An old friend of mine had gotten sober five years ago, and I watched them go from a relative mess, to a self aware, functioning human. And I got to observe them stick through their own trials with grace and sobriety. They were dedicated to this way of life. And I had gotten myself into a place where I was forcefully made aware of the fact that I was on the precipice of losing everything that I hold dear. I was humbled. So I started going to meetings.
Very quickly I was made aware that there was not a single type of problem drinker. It is a human affliction and so it affects all of us in some way. I heard snippets of my story over and over again in the rooms. I began to connect with people whose lives intersected with mine in the strangest of ways. But most importantly, I was made aware of two things. 1 – the damage that comes with preordained expectations and ideas. And 2 – I had a problem with alcohol, because I am a human being with holes inside of me.
And with these ideas came painful growth. I have struggled with how to handle number one. I have debated with keeping myself anonymous, and of coming public with this work once I had a year of sobriety. I am certainly afraid of how other people will react. The overwhelming response has been ‘surely that’s a bit extreme, just have a couple in moderation’. It gets a little boring having to explain that I don’t seem to have an off switch. If I am having drinks, I am in it for the long haul. I am the last person standing, and I am proud of that. Nine times out of ten, nothing bad happens and we all have a hilarious night. But every now and again, everything bad happens, and that shame sticks with me for a long time.
But at the end of the day, I don’t want to have to dance around or lie about something that I am dealing with. The reaction I got when I decided to come clean about my eating disorder was so powerful, that I do not want to miss out on that chance of connection. I believe that all humans have something inside of them that is hurting. Some people deal with it in a healthy way, others not so much. I belong in the latter camp.
Because, as I realized, I am a problem drinker. Whilst I never ended up in the streets, I chose to get wasted instead of dealing with my life. Where my friends would decide to have a couple of glasses of wine, my stomach would be twisting with the desire to throw back two bottles, and I would have to work to appear calm and collected. I am either all in, or all out. I don’t do moderation. Never have.
To those of you who choose to judge me for my struggles with addiction, I say look in the mirror. We all have something that holds us together. Some of us have been fortunate in that our search for that containment resulted in societally deemed ‘acceptable’ habits. There are some of us who find solace in relationships, success, money or athletic performance. Whenever we hit those goals, there is a little space in our minds from the parts that haunt us. My need to escape has been born from the same place of pain. Unfortunately, my coping mechanisms have brought me further into pain. The decision I made to sit with my damaged parts has been the bravest choice I have ever made. And I am proud of my decision to be open with the parts of me that others find unacceptable. Because none of us are perfect. We all have a hurt child inside of us looking for love.
But most of all, I wanted to share this post, because I want to be held accountable. When I sit down to write most days, I am forced to check in with how I am feeling. Am I eating properly? Am I acting in a way that connects me honestly with my health and needs? Am I being fully transparent with my readers? If the answer is no, I need to explore why and share it. It is hard for me to express myself honestly and openly. I have had to learn as an adult how to speak up for what I want and need, and even now it is hard for me to do. I find that when I write, the road gets unblocked. It becomes easier for me to be vulnerable and totally open.
At the end of the day, I do not want to go back. I do not want to wake up and wonder what damage I did the night before. I have had enough stitches. I want to be a human being who faces her life with grace and power, and acknowledges when she has hurt another person.
But most of importantly, I know that I am not alone. Maybe the players in the stories are different, but the themes are the same. If my story resonates with another person struggling out there, I hope that maybe they will seek refuge in the shared themes, and begin the road to their own recovery. However that may look.
I have been selfish. I now want to be of service.
I am always here via email if you want to reach out 😀
Have a great week!