I watch this woman sitting at the beach side bar, sipping her yellowy wine. Must be chardonnay because it’s too dark in color to be a Sauv Blanc. Looks buttery, too. The way it slides a tiny bit slower down the sides and back into place when she sets it back down on the counter. A Sauv is crisper, lighter, more refreshing. Perfect for summer. Perfect for now (no, it really isn’t), as I sit on the other side of the gigantic ocean-facing restaurant with my husband who is sipping respectably on his Cape May IPA. I never liked beer. Beer was not my thing. Well, maybe it was back in college when it was really the only alcohol available at parties besides hard liquor mixed with some kind of Hawaiian Punch type deal. Christ, the shit we used to drink was sickening but at least we drank gallons of it.
Wine wasn’t part of my everyday until I became a far more sophisticated female alcoholic than I had previously been. Classier. More grown-up. That’s the bit, you see what I mean. It isn’t just the wine it’s the whole persona of the drinking of the wine and what that instantly makes you. Or should we say, how it makes you appear to the outside world, and since we believe ourselves to be who we make the world believe we are, we are pleased as that trashy college punch with ourselves and the whole fucked up, fun-house mirror of distortions we have managed to fabricate but believe happens naturally just by holding a glass of this shit. It’s impressive in a way. Amusing, even. Our little psycho-delectations.
Watching the waves slam heavy into the shoreline just a few yards away, we point to the seventeen or so surfers who rise and fall and coast along at varying levels of water-slicked prowess. It’s a very rough and strange day. One minute the sun is shining bright and you have to come out of your hoodie because it’s so damn hot, and the next minute the giant dark storm clouds roll in, the wind kicks up in the opposite direction and drops everything twenty degrees. No sooner do you apply your sunscreeen than the cold drizzle pricks against your sunglasses, making you wonder why in the fuck you made the hour drive to begin with.
But multiple outfit changes aside, the ocean is wild, thunderous and beautiful. The smell of salt, sand, and sea is so good for the soul. My soul, our souls. It’s weird how you can be sitting next to other humans and feel a million miles away from them at the same time. I don’t know what is going through the chardonnay lady’s head as she scrolls her phone and adjusts her oversized sun hat. I imagine her blood warming, her mind slowing, and everything around her getting fuzzy. I think about how it’s only 12:30 in the afternoon and when I started drinking that early in the day it was a non-stop frustration for the rest of the day to balance quenching my craving for more and more with wanting to not pass out on the beach and feel hungover by dinner.
My husband, gorgeous sweet man that he is, asks the young bartender if he has any zero proof liquor. The gentleman smirks and stares stupified at both of us. It’s very possible he thinks this question is a joke and a truly hilarious one at that. I know it sounds outrageous and insane. That anyone would actually want a gin martini made with alcohol-free botanicals, juniper, and possibly seaweed extract. I know how pointless that sounds. You don’t drink to get healthier, you nimrod, this guy is probably thinking. What in the actual fuck are you even talking about. Why the fuck are you sitting at my gloriously glossy bar ordering tonic and lime, talking some shit about booze without the booze in it, ordering your pretentious antipasto salad at lunch when it’s only on the dinner menu.
Because I’m sober, asshole. And sometimes I feel like a motherfucking boss about it and other times, in the blink of an eye, I suddenly feel like throwing back every bottle of liquor you have so skillfully displayed in that cleverly stacked pyramid formation without so much as coming up for air to make up for the pathetic one hundred and forty nine days I’ve spent clean. And, just like you, I do not understand what life is supposed to be anymore without my precious drink of choice in my hand. Let alone on the holiday weekend that jump starts everybody’s summer. Let alone how the weather changes from brilliant to menacing every five goddamn minutes.
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 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.
I feel like this post in particular is like a total throw back to blogs when blogs were a brand new thing. Like you just hopped onto the internet and said shit as though it were in your journal only it’s online ‘for the world to see.’ Which is hilariously dramatic I mean the whole world is not looking at your blog, you see what I’m saying. In reality very few people are looking at your blog specifically and even those who are are reading your stuff and then taking the bits they prefer and walking right on out the door into the rest of their lives where they will read and watch and share and think about and talk about literally billions of other things.
But I digress. All this just to say that this post, like mostly all of my others, I write stream of consciousness and then hit publish because I’ve got a bunch of time constraints but also because I just need to say shit sometimes. A lot of times, it seems. And this is my favorite place to do that. And if I think too hard or censor myself too much I’ll never say a goddamn thing.
By 111 days sober I can tell you these three things, even though I fucking hate list posts, even though I also love them tbh. But remember way back when blogs were newly forming things that no one really understood and they were not meant to ‘help’ or give advice or any of that bullshit which grates on my nerves even as I take it in with one eye open and the other firmly scrunched in what I believe to be finely tuned, well earned, perfectly executed skepticism? When you just wanted someone to listen. Anyone. Maybe even or especially a stranger. Or you just wanted you to listen. As if you were a stranger to yourself. And for some reason the only place you could really truly find yourself was in the words you typed onto the white glow of the empty screen. That milky white portal into the depths of your own soul. What on this earth could be more romantic than that?
But I digress again. I was wanting to share with you that at 111 days sober I censor myself a lot less, I am highly aware of and in sync with my very wide range of feelings, vibes, emotions, ideas, creations, desires, skills, interests, and – dare I say it – prowess. I’m getting all the way up tight and close with what I would call the shape of my inner landscape. I am learning the terrain and learning that you cannot ‘learn it’ so fuck that. You can only explore it. Feel around inside and be over taken by beautiful wretched storms. Be soothed by the oceans in your being which rage but only once in a while. Which, honestly for a good lot of the time, swell and curl and glisten in the impossible tranquility of being just what they are. Collections of the tiny droplets of the infinity of all the prismatic facets of who you are.
Was that three things, though? I’m not sure. It’s probably a lot more than that if you think about it. I mean if you connect what I know with what you know we could count things all day long and they would add up to a hell of a lot more than just three things, but you’ll never really capture all of them so what does it matter? Perhaps we are not ‘whats’ you know what I mean. Like how they say search for what you are, do you know what you are. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’ and all that business of cutting off your creativity before it can even begin to bud like the spring trees I’m gazing out across now. What am I? I’m a forty-three year old former addict now one hundred and eleven days clean and sober. But really that’s not even the half of it.
I drank to not feel the panic I didn’t know what to do with. I drank to numb the fears I could not name. Laying down the bottle. Smashing it against the pavement. Ending it. Ending the battle not by winning or losing but by sitting down and stopping. Just stop. I just wanted everything, for one fucking heavenly second, to stop. Stop moving on as though nothing inside was screaming. Stop walking past me as if my life doesn’t matter. Stop slugging down the wine to try to silence what only came back louder, more menacing, more debilitating the next time. I felt like a fool. Do you know that? I thought I was handling my shit. I thought it was just what we do, how we do. The mind numbing days and evenings that would slice the edges right the fuck off so it all felt smooth as silk but fuzzy.
Fuzzy and dull until somehow that dumbness grew fangs and claws which I’d swipe at everything in the kind of sad rage that misses and misses and misses every single time. I could never get at the thing. I could never name it. That thing that made me drink. That thing that hated and loved me for not having feelings of my own. I lived by it, stood by it, hid alongside of it for so long. And I was ready to let it go on, fucking around with that nameless, faceless, useless, endless, relentless thing. Go on and on forever. I did not see it ever stopping, not ever.
And that still haunts me because that thing knows I’m still very new at this. I am still learning the ropes of recovery which is to say I am still learning myself, how I am made, how I am built. Sometimes I wonder, and forgive me for saying this but it chokes me with tears to be honest, I wonder what ever happened to that girl I used to be or would have been if I didn’t keep choosing to snuff her out over and over and over every single night. Did she just disappear? Like I kept telling her to?
There is a pressure in me, a pulsing underneath my skin, and it wants me to run.
I think about the lot of us – addicts and the ones who love addicts the best they know how. The ones who judge and the ones who try to help. The ones at the beginning of their addictions, the ones still denying them. The ones at the end of all the brutality, trauma, and abuse a substance inevitably causes. And I think how we are all victims of the same culture which silences the discussion of any of it. But the ones who have helped save me are the ones who shared their stories. The honest and the grimy and the extreme. And the seemingly harmless. They helped set me straight, too.
There is a spectrum. There is a continuum. We are present or we are disconnected to various degrees. A sliding scale of truth tellers and lying thieves. As I type this, the sun sinks down low enough to pierce my right eye through the blinds. I kind of hate how high the sun still hangs up there in the sky at 5:32pm. If it were still winter, I wouldn’t have all this goddamn light to have to contend with for too many hours before I can just go to sleep. I had this thought earlier today while sitting at my computer sipping stale coffee in a gray office on a gray swivel chair with gray on gray streaks: Addiction is the crippling and desperate desire to replace what is with what can never be.
One of the most fucked-up things about addiction is that you cannot logic your way out of it. It isn’t that you aren’t aware of all the damage you are doing to yourself it’s just that nothing about knowing any of that is going to stop you. You need the drug because you need the high because you just need it. By the time you are addicted to it you have dug out your brain to the point where you hate that you are drinking even as you are pouring the drink. But the story is always the goddamn same. The drink wins because it was always winning long before you knew the rules of the game.
The rules being: heads booze wins, tails you lose.
I woke up in a cute little boutique hotel room downtown one morning about ten years ago and realized fairly quickly that I had absolutely zero memory of how I returned to it the night before. We had been on a bar crawl and I made the ‘mistake’ of starting heavy and not letting up because that’s what I always did except that now I was old enough to know better. Apparently, I was talking too loud in a sex shop about stupid things which I found hilarious and then I passed out sitting up on the stairs to the bathroom of some swank restaurant bar. My friends were told to collect me and get the hell out, which we all did. My husband put me to bed. When I asked what happened he told me and I remember feeling a sudden slash of fear cut right from the back of my throat to the center of my stomach.
I had done a lot of stupid reckless shit in my twenties. But when I was still doing it in my thirties it started to panic me. Not for long, but still. I am sure I resumed drinking that Sunday afternoon. I mean, why ruin a sweet get-away weekend by ending the party early. I was still in control, I just needed some help sometimes. Better that than pull some dramatic shit like quit dumping poison into my precious veils. And my man said it wasn’t so bad. It was fine. I was fine. It’s all a good laugh. Just some good clean fun. Something to talk about over drinks with friends.
Now I know what bullshit that was. Not only the event but the response. The writing shit like that off as just an inevitable part of the experience of weekends hanging out on the city bar scene. Except it wasn’t inevitable for anyone but me. Ten plus years later I can still feel how sick I felt the next morning and how when he told me what I did I felt only numbness, only the deadness of blackout space. Like being blindfolded and reaching out into empty air, feeling for something to hold on to but finding absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.
Looking back on it now, I would say that was the beginning of the spark of my recognition of my drinking problem. It burst like a shock out of nowhere, like plugging your finger into an electric outlet yet being stunned by the jolt. I didn’t expect it even though, logically, I know how electricity works. It flashed like a bulb that flares bright as the sun one last time before it burns completely out. But in that split second, the unwelcome glare illuminated every crack in every wall in the dimming halls of my freshly frightened mind.
So much of the overwhelm of a sober “first” comes from the freaky anticipatory jitters. At least for me. I can’t explain it I can just say it is a real thing that happens. This is my first sober Easter and it already feels strange at 7:50 in the morning.
The clashing collection of new feelings. The way I’m already strategizing about where the alcoholic versus non-alcoholic drinks will be displayed. All I can say is that sometimes moving through early sobriety is wave after wave of realizing how deep the addiction really ran. Because now I am pulling that sickness out by the roots.
Here you are dressed in your Sunday best and inside you feel like you are smearing mud all over what is supposed to be pristine, perfect, joyous. Celebratory.
And also. Also, digging your fingers into this new soil feels like you are learning to anchor yourself in the kind of truth that will finally sustain you. It is rich with cool relief and nutrients you didn’t expect you needed.
It’s a secret but the good kind. The kind that is just between the universe and you and no one else.
It is the kind of intimacy you have been desperate for all your life. The kind you almost destroyed yourself to get to. The kind which reveals you to yourself. The ugliest and most gorgeous.
You want everyone to know and you want no one to know and somewhere inbetween lies not the truth necessarily but the reality. It all gets a bit jumbled inside that mind of yours which is where the trouble starts and ends and starts again on repeat for your whole life. After two decades of cutting yourself short before you could ever deal with hard stuff it can be confusing and overwhelming when all the previously pent up emotions come crashing forward in waves of tears or fury or exhaustion.
I guess I’d say that’s where I am now it seems. I am very tired. I mean I sleep beautifully and I am ‘well-rested’ in that sense but emotionally, feelingly, I am very, very tired. I am not used to holding up the weight of feeling everything without abandoning it. It can feel quite glaring. It can feel like your skin is being burned off your bones. Exposure. The bareness of shedding years and years of protection, armor, calloused skin. Life is an exposed nerve.
This weekend is the Easter stuff. I like to read about and think about and celebrate the way the pagans once did, way back before the organized religions capsized the raw beauty of nature and cycles and seasons. Rebirth. Renewal. All the gorgeous bursts of brand new life sprouting and shaking easily in the cool spring winds. There is warmth in the veins of the trees. They spread their wild fingers out into the frigid morning air. They think not about fear. They do not shrink. They reach and reach because the reaching must be done.
For over a decade I wanted to be a sober person. I was so jealous of sober people. How much sweeter a life it must be to drop the act. Finally put a stop to the torture in the mind which is divided against itself. Drink / don’t drink. Drink / don’t drink. Do I or don’t I have a problem. Can I or can’t I keep this up. Will I or won’t I ever get better.
Life. Death. Resurrection. First the pain then the waiting then the rising. Spirals and tendrils and coincidences and miracles and mistakes and all the time, all the lives, you can never get back. The moon will be a full one this Easter season. We cry and we crawl and we fly and we turn, turn, turn, like that song about seasons which is really about the parts of the soul we try so hard to understand. We run and we fall and we dance again.