What a fucking head trip getting sober is, man. It’s hard but you almost want it to stay that way if only because the challenge of it makes you focus. And there is something very soothing in having a focus that is so healthy, so benevolent and kind and strong, aimed right square at yourself and nobody else. I’m not sure there is any other experience like it. You have to claim it for yourself and that makes it entirely personal. You get into yourself like never before. I have written across the top of my journal the words: If I left it up to anyone else I would not be sober. Because no one was going to intervene. Only I had the problem and only I knew it. Only I could fix it.
People say they are ‘alcoholics’ or not but I feel like on some level that’s all just semantics. It’s all getting yourself snagged on the side of the drain when all you want to do is flush right on out into the glorious ocean. All you want is freedom. The labels either help you get there or they don’t, but freedom is the ultimate goal. Freedom to see everything clearly. To make life choices from a place of complete awareness and strength. Now, truth be told, at 144 days I am kind of looking around at some shit in my life and thinking why in the hell have I not changed this or that. What on earth have I let fester all these years.
But one thing you certainly get back in sobriety is time. Time to spend focused on getting what you want instead of dumping booze into your face and then recovering from the nasty side effects of that. What a stupid fucking gamble drinking is. Was. What a goddamn lot of time I wasted being wasted. I don’t even miss it.
All these years I thought I’d die without the drinks and now I realize they were killing me. I feel like being in recovery is wave after wave of sick twisted irony. All the shit I thought was happening wasn’t. All the shit I thought wasn’t happening was happening right in front of my eyes but I couldn’t see it. All the faith I put in glass after bottomless glass of wine was total utter trash. And even though I chose sobriety, even though it is now solidly, decidedly, mercifully mine through and through and it’s at the very center of everything that matters most to me in this life, I still can hardly believe I’ve done it.
Everything I write falls short of what I want to say. Fuck, it’s frustrating. I don’t want to have to but I can tell I’m going to have to renegotiate whatever unspoken agreement I previously had with my writing. Reconstruct a new kind of relationship with the thing inside me which desires to speak. Because wherever my words came from before does not exist anymore. Something dislodges when you first get sober, some big chunk of a thing that you thought was an essential part of you just suddenly breaks free like a giant iceberg and begins to sail right on off into the mist-covered ocean. You can almost hear it crack. That catastrophic sound slicing through the pristine arctic air, all alone where nobody in the whole world can see it or hear it or bear witness. Only you and the echo of whatever part of you that is ancient, timeless, and eternal. As that massive ice formation melts, it ebbs farther and farther away from you, leaving a gash in its place, a colossal empty space. Now that the addiction is quiet, there is a cut-out space in the side of my perception of myself. I used to have something to springboard from but now that home base is gone. If I try to start anything from that old version of me, I fall over the edge into nothingness. I need a new base camp. I need to reorganize some foundational internal shit or I’ll drown.
Any kind of addiction or abuse is an attempt to outrun the darkness inside of you. That may sound counterintuitive but it’s the truth. Nobody’s life is devoid of trauma, separation anxiety, fear of the unknown, maladaptive measures of self-destruction where there ought to be serenity.
Fuck ‘self-love’ and ‘self-care’ and all that fuzzy blanket bullshit. You have to go into the darkness you have been running from. The thing you were told was obscene. The thing that you were never allowed to speak about or express or acknowledge. The part of you you were told could not exist. But you knew it did. You knew it. That part of you that writhed inside, that they kept hacking away at but that always grew back louder with more heads and more teeth. The place inside of you you were told was grotesque, hideous, unclean. You were forbidden to look.
You know why they forbid it?
Because you will find yourself there. They didn’t want you to look because they were afraid you might find yourself there. And because they couldn’t bear the thought that parts of you were dark because if that were true about you, what did it say about them? Their keeping you from the shadow was their keeping you from yourself. But that’s the only way you will ever make peace with it. Not by getting out of it, by getting into it. You’ve got to crawl into your darkness. You have to get into where the sickness first began. Your sick inheritance.
Not so you can kill it off. You will never kill it off. What you want is to be able to peer into the eyes of it, the wound of it, understand it. Once it’s integrated into your own reconstruction of yourself, you own it. Dominate it. Become its master. Until you do, you can never comprehend the profound benevolence of that. The unfathomable power of being in command of yourself.
I submitted the second draft of my book manuscript yesterday. I believe in this book so very much and it’s so hard to wait to hear back about whether or not it is good enough. Maybe it is especially hard when the contents are all about how you tried to destroy yourself for a long, long time before you somehow started to save yourself instead. And you are still new at the saving part.
Something has changed about me in the last almost five months (140 days today). I fit inside myself now. I am not sure I could have ever said that and meant it so entirely as I say it and mean it right this minute. Perhaps that sounds rather crazy considering I am a grown ass forty three year old woman (mother, wife, etc.). I get that. I feel a little bit crazy, to be honest. If anyone had told me a year ago – even six months ago – that I would have written a whole damn book about my early sobriety journey, I would have sworn they were out of their fucking mind.
And yet. Here we are. It’s a kind of wilderness, getting sober and staying that way in a culture literally obsessed with sucking down alcohol all the time. I wish I didn’t mean all the time but I do. There’s every opportunity every which way to get buzzed or trashed or whatever you wish any time you like. Of course, most people are not alcoholics. I guess most people aren’t addicted to the drinking. It can be so hard to understand it all. After a while everything just gets fuzzy. Reaching for help if you think you need it can feel like reaching a hand out into a dark abyss of nothingness. It’s hard to figure out what to hold on to. How to break your own fall.
The editor was frustrated by the first draft of my manuscript. She told me I had two voices, one clear and compelling, the other dark and thickly confusing. She said the second voice went off on tangents that were impossible to follow. When she highlighted this to me it suddenly felt obvious to me where before I sort of knew it but wasn’t sure what to do about it. I cannot help but think that the dark confusion was the voice of what my addiction did to me. Seduced and lured and promised me a richly extravagant adventure but then just as smoothly trailed off into nowhere and left me there with all the nothingness.
I extracted that voice from the manuscript as best I could. I tried to identify each instance where the voice of vague incoherence, that almost desperately searching voice of longing and emptiness, was entangled with the voice of clarity, conviction, and knowing. And little by little I pulled them apart. I did what had to be done to rid my story of what was trying to strangle it. The confusion that was trying to keep the truth from finding its own way out.
It was hard to throw away some of those dark poetic passages. I still worry that I managed to preserve the substance, both the dark and the light, and only trashed the extraneous drivel. We are so often taught that dark is bad and light is good. I think that’s misleading. I think both dark and light are vital and necessary to our stories, as long as that darkness and that light are true.
There is the darkness of my shame, my trauma, my hurt, my fear and my pain, and that darkness is honest. I know because when I curl up to it to shower it with compassion and comfort instead of run away from it, it enlightens and frees me. It opens me up to the light of revelation and renewal. Good shit.
But then there is the darkness of my addiction. The secret vicious voice of a thing that wants to ruin me from the inside out. A voice which, when I got so close I fell into it, trapped me. It pinned me down and deadened me. It promised me everything and led me to nowhere. It left me with only emptiness, fear, panic and confusion.
So I get why only one voice can prevail if I want to tell my story properly. With honesty and decency and integrity and hope. Out in the light where other people will be able to see it. I want to share my story with all my might in the best way I know how. The shadows and the illumination.
Working my way through this process, the lengthy process of recovery and of writing about it, is the best kind of struggle. I much prefer it, in fact, to the other kind. The struggle to keep slamming booze into my veins. The struggle to hide it, manage it, control it, ignore it, deny it. The struggle to express my desires, hopes, beliefs and dreams all while clinging desperately to a voice that wasn’t really mine but belonged to something beyond my control.
There is some debate in the recovery world about whether or not addiction is a life-long struggle for anyone who has had to heal from it. I’m not sure this matters that much in the long run. If you have to put down the booze because it has been treating you like shit I don’t see how that miraculously becomes something you can reverse or move past or ever experience differently in the future. But I will say this: If I am stuck with my addiction then that means that my addiction is stuck with me, too. It means I’m calling the shots for both of us now. And ain’t none of them whiskey.
He talks about how when the collapse of the United States happens most people won’t realize it. In fact, it’s already here. At least, that’s what he writes in his wildly popular article which I stumbled across whilst scrolling around on Twitter. I do not know him nor do I even remember his name but what he says makes sense to me.
It is not unlike the way an addiction takes down a life from the inside out, subtly at first. Like a tiny gently whirling cyclone made of dull smooth blades. As the addiction ingrains itself, the faster the blades will turn, and the faster they will turn, the sharper they will become.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Not yet.
Maybe never. Not to you, certainly. Never to you. Or me.
But to some people. Some other people, unfortunately. There will have to be others. And won’t that be a tragedy.
The chaos begins in the mind, in the body, in the brain, in the organs, in the cells. But you can’t even feel it. Not really. You begin to believe the chaos – the brutality, the abuse, the fragility, confusion, injuries, arguments, panic, anxiety, sickness – you begin to believe they are all normal. Your sense of normal is warped, which is a problem only compounded by the fact that the distortion extends seamlessly from your perception of yourself to your perception of others.
Everybody drinks this much, don’t they. Don’t they?
You are not sure if it is a question or a lamentation or a speculation; a truth or a falsity, when it runs like a ticker in your mind like that.
Ticking, ticking, ticking more and more often. Evening bleeds to night bleeds to morning bleeds to day after day after day.
There are wars out there. Freedoms revoked. Screams and tears and sad, sad, scenes. It’s all around you and it is nowhere to be seen when you are just like everybody else. Aren’t you? At the bar, in the airport, in the over-air-conditioned office sipping shit coffee. You are making love to your wife and you are not sure if it’s out of habit or out of love or out of fear, and all the while it is happening, the disintegration. The way the fibers of your own inner structure are pulling away from one another. The fraying is soft before it is harsh. The harshness gets turned up like a slow simmering heat that forces the blades.
I know about destruction and I know about resurrection. I know both can happen in a flash or take their long ass time, but either way, the former does not necessarily guarantee the latter. But even what seems sudden can be deceiving. There are always signs. There are always rumblings, indicators, signals. Warnings. If you are paying attention.
They are there even if you are not paying attention. Even if you refuse to believe.
Photo: self portrait, bleached out black and white
So much has been going on in my life lately that feels so big for so many reasons that I have actually felt the need to keep tight to myself. There are some things so personal that they feel like once I put them down on the page they leave me, and I am not equipped to bear such a spilling yet. I’m still needing to hold onto these things. There is some kind of alchemy occurring inside that is not yet complete.
I attended my first wedding as a sober person on Friday. But it wasn’t just any wedding it was my brother’s wedding. My only sibling, my brother who is two years younger than me, although once you both hit forty the relative difference in age sort of becomes nothing at all. Two years melts as fast as snow on the sidewalk on a bright sunny winter afternoon. There are some parts of us that were molded together and cannot be separated; molded into each other. I was his Best Woman. To even begin to tell you what that meant for me is simply too monumental to wrap the wings of my soul around. I couldn’t find the words if I tried. And perhaps one day I will try. But just now, I am speechless. I’m muted under the beautiful weight of it.
I cried a lot that day. Tears of supreme happiness and awe and gratitude and awareness and disbelief. So many tears that the next morning when I woke up, I thought for a split second I had a hangover headache before then remembering just as quickly that that was impossible because all I had to drink was sparkling water and lime. I cried because words have failed me. I cried because I can feel every little thing like earthquakes in my veins and so the big things are like bright glaring lights turned on suddenly in a dark room. The eyes of my emerging being need a minute to adjust. I danced a lot, too. It was different than dancing drunk. It was better by far. So much better it seemed insane to imagine having done it any other way.
I also heard back from an incredibly insightful editor who has been supremely generous in helping me to craft my memoir. The challenge to make it the very best it can possibly be is a challenge greater than any I have ever endeavored to undertake in my writing career. The experience is changing me, evolving the way I think and feel about my beloved craft. To have a wickedly talented and accomplished professional editor offer me concrete guidance is an overwhelmingly humbling experience.
The questions this opportunity affords me to ask myself are most profound. How on earth will I tell my story? What is my story? Where does it begin and end and what are the things that happen inbetween that must be told? Why is it worthy of telling? So many voices inside my head and heart. This kind and brilliant editor thinks I have something though. Something that could be the book. And I am going to fall deeply into the comforting, empowering, wise, soft-strong words of Anne Lamott: … just take it bird by bird.
And the rain is sifting down in bursts of light cold mist. The gloom in the weather keeps all the neighbors’ lawn equipment quiet on this Sunday morning, when all of our dear over-night wedding guests have now left our house and the familiar quiet has moved in again behind them. This gray May Mother’s Day. I think about the treasure of my son. My ‘baby’ who is now a twenty-four year old gorgeous, attentive, hard-working, witty, intelligent, kind-hearted man, with his own place to live and sleep and eat and work and be in this wide world. I sip coffee from the mug he gave me years ago, imprinted in gold and navy lettering with his college logo and the word MOM in bold across the middle. My breath catches a little in my throat when I think about all the joy we have shared over the years.
It’s all a lot to take in right now, but maybe for the first time in my life I know so clearly that I want to swallow it all in gulps and not miss a drop. This exquisite life, the only fine spirit I want poured into my precious cup.
It’s weird, all the literature about addiction and recovery. Alcoholism is psychological, they say. No, physiological. No, biological. Alcoholism is genetic. No, it isn’t. Yes, it is. Well, that’s partly true but it’s all very misunderstood and the doctors fight with the psychiatrists and the researchers don’t believe the evidence and some people have this kind of personality, or that character trait, or kink, or bend, or curve. Or whatever.
I was trying so hard to understand. I really was. But even after reading mountains of books and doing hours and hours of online research and taking in the AA stuff, it feels very much like it felt at the beginning. Nobody knows but they all think they do. Some believe in God and some are offended by God (I’m leaning toward the latter if I’m being honest). I think I liked things better when I just decided alcohol was definitely somehow strangely and mysteriously killing me and I was done with playing along so I quit.
If I stopped counting days, would it matter? If the days and nights became weeks and months which fell forward into years, who would care about numbers in the end? I think it was Allen Carr who asked the very poignant question: what are recovering alcoholics counting towards? Towards nothing happening?
I get that. I mean if I had an allergy to penicillin I just wouldn’t take penicillin anymore. I wouldn’t sit around counting days between turning down a random drug I know I cannot have. It all gets a bit head-trippy is the thing, I guess.
Now truth be told, I am a person who likes a morning ritual so I almost don’t mind that I have this new AA app on my phone that offers me a daily “spiritual reading.” But the repetition of ‘God’ and then God as ‘He’ is fucking exhausting. And the readings are so aloof and vague and condescending. It feels like a lecture or going to ‘confession’ like I did when I was a kid. It’s all sweaty and freaky and you feel like you are squirming with worms inside because you did something bad but you don’t know exactly what it is. And the longer you bow your head and listen you start to feel like the reason you are there at all is not just because you did bad things but you are bad things. Very, very bad, abnormal, wrong things.
I’m not here for it. Half the reason I fucked around with alcohol in the first place was to escape the bullshit patriarchy of organized religion and all the ways it destroyed my sense of worth as a woman. By ‘organized’ and ‘religion’ I mean simply anything or anyone who refers to God as He. Do not start with that shit it is so glaringly disgusting. You think ingesting alcohol is toxic? Try ingesting hate disguised as redemption. I do not need that mess coming back to me now. Not now, when I am just finally getting free of all the old baggage and trauma that held me hostage all my life.
I realize that if you are not a person who ever became addicted to drinking that all of this may sound pretty bonkers. But I really couldn’t stop unless I made stopping my first priority. My number one focus. The foundational endeavor that would rebuild my entire life.
In a book called Under the Influence, the authors James R. Milam, Ph.D. and Katherine Ketcham talk about how alcoholics process alcohol differently in their bodies than nonalcoholics. That alcoholics do not want to stop drinking once they start, whereas a regular person will not want to keep drinking once the sedative effects of the alcohol start setting in. Nonalcoholics only want the early-on effects, the stimulant, the happy energetic euphoric feeling you get from one or two. After that they feel sick or disoriented or whatever and this turns them off to having any more to drink. The stopping happens all very naturally, so to speak.
There are all kinds of scientific reasons for this cited in the book. And if you believe it that’s fine. And then of course maybe we believe what we want to believe about ourselves, our chemistry, our makeup, our genetics, because then we are not to blame for any of it. And then it can at last be explained and your frustration about what the fuck is wrong with you can be laid to rest. But we do not know what we do not know. And even if you’re like me and you read everything you can get your hands on to try to understand, you still don’t know.
I know I’m not drinking today. Or any day. For the rest of my time here on this planet I am not fucking with alcohol anymore. What I don’t know is if I am supposed to count days. Or continue researching. I don’t know if I am supposed to build my life and sense of purpose around a disease that may or may not be a ‘disease.’ A ‘flaw’ that may or may not be ‘real.’ There are people out there who just stop. They just fucking stop and that’s the end of it. They move on and live and never go back.
All of my thoughts rush forward in my mind like they are trying to get my attention by speaking over one another. This sensation has become a recurring thing. At first it is upsetting because, as a writer, my immediate instinct is to try to get them all down on paper but the thing is, I guess, right now, I just can’t.
I can only write when I can hold one thought at a time, hold each up and inspect it, turn it, observe, record. It needs to be at least somewhat quiet enough for me to think straight enough to get through the tangle of thought-voices and pluck one. And so this mania of thoughts could really scare me if I let it. This mangle of loud thoughts all at once. But I have to trust that if I let it all be, eventually all of it will sort itself out and I will write what needs to get written and leaving the rest will be okay.
I think about my first session with my new Alcohol & Drug Addiction Counselor which I attended last evening. Please let me tell you that writing that sentence feels as surreal and bizarre to me as sipping my morning coffee whilst watching an elephant peddle merrily down my street on a unicycle and yet I am trying to be cool about it like this was all meant to be my life but I don’t think that’s true, honestly.
It was not ‘always meant to be’ in fact it was never meant to be if you asked me a few months ago. A few months ago, I could not even use the words alcohol or sober or recovery or addiction or any of the rest of it. Part of my drinking-self-survival was to pretend all of that did not exist because for me it didn’t. It couldn’t. If it did I might need to deal with it and fuck knows I was in no condition to have to do that.
I tell my counselor man about the flood of thoughts I keep experiencing all the time, to which he responds by nodding encouragingly and calling them ‘racing thoughts’ which I let him get away with it but it isn’t right. They aren’t ‘racing’ like some kind of strongman contest with each other, they are rather like adorable but hyperactive gremlins all cramming into the same doorway at once trying desperately to burst out of the tightness of my mind and onto the freedom of my page.
They want to say what they have been dying to say and finally, mercifully be heard. Each one believes earnestly in itself and trusts me to understand. And I feel very strongly that I owe them that. That I am here to make sure these creatures get a stage. A moment in the spotlight or sunlight or whatever you may say.
I tell my counselor about my darkest times. I choke on tears for the better part of an hour as he sits quietly and patiently and attentively and calmly, like he may even have expected this, all of this, to unfold exactly the way it is. I, on the other hand, feel like a wild animal that can only express what its truest nature is and cannot think beyond that very basic primal premise. A creature which can only be what it is and do what it has to do. Drain itself of the poison it has known was inside for decades but was afraid it would kill off the whole entire earth if she let it out. The poisonous thorny wretchedness that she believed sincerely she had to hold in because better she be killed off quietly like a good little beast instead of cause any more trouble for a single blade of surrounding grass.
What on earth was my self-worth before I got sober? What on earth made me so goddamn afraid all the time? Afraid to not drink and afraid of what the drinking was doing to me. Afraid, afraid all the time, either way. I ask the counselor man if I am an alcoholic. I ask him this right off the jump at the start of our session. I want answers.
But he is wily and wise and diverts the question. Some kind of magic therapeutic hat trick takes place and I find myself telling him about the extremely dangerous nature of my multiple blackouts. He raises both of his therapy knowing man eyebrows and repeats back to me so I can hear it from the outside looking in: Oh, so you had blackouts... I emphasize to him like I am sort of proud but sort of not that I am able to verbalize this: Yes, yes, many many blackouts.
He tells me when we speak about a drinking problem what we are speaking about is a loss of control. That’s all it is really about when you get right down to it, beyond the labels, beyond the stigmas and diagnoses. Are you or are you not in control of this thing that is holding your life at knifepoint.
He asks me if I think that blackouts are something ‘normal’ people experience on the regular. I am stupefied by this question. Because it is so stark, so blatantly naked I don’t expect it, and because the answer comes to me not smoothly, but rather like a crooked person in a faded unbuttoned trenchcoat stumbling down the sidewalk who arrives to me ragged, bewildered, and out of breath.
No? No. No, I guess I don’t think that blackouts are a normal occurrence for normal people. But I just never thought about that. I suppose I was too busy getting myself into or out of one. And then that makes me not normal, not the same. Not a regular drinker but also not a regular human. There is something very wrong about me. See, I knew it. I knew I wasn’t right. That I didn’t fit ever and still do not.
All my life I have felt outside, strange. Not ‘unfit’ exactly but ‘ill-fitting.’ I didn’t quite fit into this life and it didn’t quite fit around me. Sometimes I found that thoroughly and utterly depressing and unfair. Other times, in my art and my writing and my secret inside world, I reveled in it and rejoiced for it. I found it to be my favorite thing about myself, hands down. It was the thing I wouldn’t let anyone touch or take away from me. That uniqueness. I wanted to show it in a way that I didn’t lose it, in a way that would make it multiply and never leave.
All of the poetry I ever wrote was in defense of my otherness.
My weirdness was my wild. My grotesqueness, my beauty.
It occurs to me that never before in my whole life have I ever told anyone at all about my addiction or the very scary places it took me. Never even so much as alluded to it. Never even came close to dealing with it as a serious problem. If I ever had inklings, I would stomp them out as fast as they flickered up. What I didn’t realize was that stomping out a flicker, no matter how fast I could manage to do it, couldn’t make the flickers non-existent to begin with. That even if they only got one split second of oxygen, they could still burn a discernible cigarette-sized hole through my grim facade.
And all the while as I fucked around playing games with myself, none of my drinking was normal even when it appeared as such. To others or to me. This new revelation feels like melting. Like snow off a pine-covered hill or ice cream on a blazing hot sidewalk in the middle of a blistering summer afternoon. Like the springtime coming and not being able to stop it. Like the sticky unfortunate end of a decapitated treat that was charmingly doomed from the start.
As I blow my nose rather unceremoniously, I realize I have dumped all the stories I could think of onto the head of this properly formally credentialed stranger because I just needed it to come out. I cannot stop crying and I cannot stop apologizing for crying. He says he understands it is very hard for me to talk about these things. He is correct but far too mellow about it all. It is hard for me to talk about my alcoholism the way I imagine it is hard to be in a hospital gown in a hospital bed right before they wheel you into the OR to give one of your organs away to someone you have never met. You know it is a good and benevolent thing to do, that a life can be saved, and in the hands of an expert surgeon, it can be done. But it still feels insane and frightening and like there’s a chance you will go through it all and it still might go horribly morbidly wrong.
All this to say that trying to weave my way through recovery is newly complex and odd for me right now. Having my own ‘addiction counselor’ feels like it is a miracle or whatever they tell you about miracles, you know what I mean. They seem ridiculously impossible and also obviously true at the same time. I can’t even believe I am doing this. It is like I am me but I am also doing things to save myself that feel vastly bigger and braver than actual me is capable of carrying out.
Right before we end the session, counselor man, who is himself a recovering drug addict, asks me where I’m at ‘spiritually.’ He wants to know if I am willing to entertain the idea of an otherworldly-world and without him having to say it directly, I surmise he wants to discern if I am open to accepting the ‘help’ of a ‘higher power,’ a term which grates on my last helplessly exposed recovering nerve for reasons I will surely expand on in good time.
In the moment though, trying to appear dutiful and resolved in front of the very kind guy who just let me blurt out all over him rivers and rivers of hurt and pain and silent sickness for the first time in my messy unrelenting life, I write down the word ‘God’ in my notebook. As I do so, a heavy wave of deep and thorough and swollen exhaustion presses all the way from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.
When it is your time to get sober you will know. The trick is you have to trust it. That knowing. And that will feel very hard because the outside noise, the voices of the culture and even the voices of those close to you whom you love, will be very loud in your head, in your mind.
The noise of distracted distortion will reverberate against the walls of your veins and the corridors of your ribs and your brain. It will feel like you should have done this long ago and yet it will feel like maybe you could keep on with the lies a little longer. That maybe if you do it will just somehow get different, get better. That maybe you will discover that you were not correct. That the voices of the others did indeed know better than you and they said it would be fine and it was all normal and isn’t it just so silly how you worried your little head about nothing.
But you will know that you are not fine. And you will keep knowing it over and over when you keep getting sick and you keep hating yourself and you keep trying and trying to moderate and control and figure it out to no avail. Trying to be like the ones who don’t have a problem. Trying to not have the problem that you do not want to believe you have.
When you need to stop drinking you will know it. The trick is you need to trust that knowing. It isn’t some elusive ‘rock bottom’ that will change everything. It’s you. It can only be and will only ever be you. Your choice to trust what you know and act accordingly with self-compassion and not waste a single minute on justifying it to anyone else. That’s what changes everything. You choosing you over everything and everyone else.
And it could be today (today is the best day and I hope you choose it because today is as good a day as any other I promise because let’s be honest with drinking it’s all the same thing over and over and over anyway).
It could be in a week or a month or a year or two, if you want to be arrogant and assume you get all those hypothetical times ahead. And if you want to endure the pain of remaining separated from yourself for that long.
But it will never be some particularly catastrophic outside circumstance that fixes you. Circumstances do not change people. They are just events. Just facts. It is the person who chooses their next move. A future circumstance may trigger what is already inside of you now. It may be a very terrible thing. A monumental thing. Or it may be a very quiet private thing. It may be an accident or injury or it may be the way a single strand of light falls across your skin. But big or small, whatever the moment may be, what you will know then you already know now.
That this hurts. That you hurt. That you are scaring yourself. That you don’t want to be doing this. That you want to get better. That no matter what the others say or advise, or how they judge or dismiss or look at you, only you know what is true for you. And only you get to choose what your life will be. Any time. Every time. Now or later (if you are lucky enough to get a later).
What is it like at rock bottom? How will I know I am there? These are odd questions because you have already been to rock bottom many times. You think ‘rock bottom’ will be what changes everything for you but that’s not it. That’s not the whole story.
The whole story is that the only way anything changes is that you will need to choose. That is what you have been running from all along. Not the fact of your addiction but the fact of your having to choose what to do with it.
Every hangover was rock bottom. Every time you thought you were such a fucking fool. Every time your shame shredded your spirit into hellish desperation and jittery terror. Those were the rocks. You already know that jagged, cutting, crushing pain.
You already know what it is like to crawl along the bottom. No light. No air. The weight of it. The heavy, drenching, aching, throbbing weight of it. You have been there and it has not healed you. What will, though, is when you are in that wretched painful place and finally choose to acknowledge it instead of run from and deny it.
The bottom will always come down to you. You decide now or you decide later. You decide ‘never again’ or you decide ‘let’s keep this up.’
But one day, and I am rooting for you to get to it, when you are very solidly sober, just as you always dreamed and hoped and wanted with all the fibers of all of your precious worthy busted-up being, you will understand that when people ask you what your ‘rock bottom’ was, it is just another way of asking how far you had to fall to realize you would only ever keep reaching yourself.
The sheer unadulterated clarity I possess now that I am four months sober is nothing shy of astounding. The crystal clearness of my feelings, speech, thoughts, ambitions, perceptions, insights, presence, mindfulness, and awareness astonishes me even as I am living it each and every day.
For so long I had no idea drinking was taking this brilliance from me sip by sip. A slow dripping away of my clarity of mind over many, many years.
And that right there is the sinister nature of the alcohol drug. It is fucking you up thoroughly, cruelly, menacingly. But not all at once.
You suck it down to soothe you. To “help” you.
And all the while you are being made duller, duller, duller, in mind, body, and spirit. Weaker, more dependent, more confused, more brainwashed.
But as you heal the clarity returns. Like sunlight sharpening, defining, revealing, electrifying. And it is this dazzle that only sobriety can bring. Something in you is sure of that.