Getting There

I don’t often share publicly about my sober journey. Perhaps because I am afraid it will change the way others perceive me – that they will assume me less competent or less stable. But the truth is, I don’t believe I am any less or more of anything because I used to drink. And I am not ashamed. So I am no longer going to be coy about this part of my story. It’s been 6 years and 282 days since my last drink. In that time I have lost and gained a lifetime. I have found a community that embraced me heart and soul, every little flaw and sparkle. I found a tribe of women that tenderly hold my heart, helping me piece it back together each time it breaks apart. They have taught me how to live with integrity, how to apologize when I am wrong, and how to love myself and others without conditions. The truth is, I didn’t know who I was before. I was uncomfortable in every situation. I did not know how to be in my own skin. I was told to “just be myself”, but I didn’t know who she was. Authenticity escaped me. In the beginning, I didn’t have a problem with alcohol, I had a problem with me. Alcohol was my solution. Until it wasn’t. I drank in order to emulate my surroundings, to quiet the voices of shame and fear inside my head. I drank to feel like I belonged. I drowned out all the voices, including the knowing ones. I understood that I was consuming more than “normal”; I could not ignore the warning signs. But I told myself I could “manage” it. I could be a “functional” alcoholic. Afterall, others in my family had “succeeded” in doing this. I just had to learn to hide it well. And so hiding became my way of life. I was hiding from myself as much as I was hiding from the world. The more I hid, the more disconnected I became. I drifted further and farther from any understanding of myself and therefor closed any doors to anyone else getting to know me. My children were my only connection to something real. Somehow, underneath all that confusion, I knew how to be a mother. It came instinctually to me. When I first laid eyes on my newborn babe, I felt like I had arrived. Time slipped away. It didn’t matter if I didn’t belong in the world, I belonged in his eyes. I had purpose and my life suddenly had meaning. That didn’t mean I stopped drinking though. I’d been able to put down the bottle for nine months. And I told myself that this was proof enough that my problem was manageable. That I could stop, if I really had to. But each time I picked back up, I drank more than the time before. I slid down the hill faster and hit harder. More pain, more booze. More booze, more pain. The few things that connected me to the world slipped away. I assumed myself already lost, so I set my sails on a sea of alcohol and accepted a fate of blurred existence. By the end, I was more or less a walking zombie. I had long ago stopped writing. I only occasionally moved my body in any healthy or beneficial way. I felt too awful in the morning to engage with the world meaningfully and by midafternoon I was too hazy to really be present for anything good. I fought with my husband all the time. I brought two bottles with me everywhere – milk for baby, vodka for mommy. I drank myself to sleep at night. The last thing to go was the laughter. I felt the depression settle into my bones but I knew only one way to cope. The world felt too harsh to face without numbing first. And I convinced myself that I’d made it through hardship specifically because I’d had the help of a drink. I’d obtained two degrees. I’d graduated with honors, twice. I’d landed a career and birthed healthy babies. I’d moved away from home and gotten married. I’d done all the things I was “supposed” to do. I looked every bit the part of happy, successful, well-adjusted human being. I felt none of these things. I felt hollow. I looked for answers in all the places outside of myself. Antidepressants, CBT, chiropractors, ayurvedic traditions, homeopathy – it all came and went. I had herbal remedies and stacks of self-help books collecting dust on my nightstand. But you cannot find solutions when you are actively hiding from yourself. I looked in the mirror and saw the puffy, swollen face. I saw the circles under my eyes grow just as that glimmer in them went out. My skin became sallow. The sadness I felt in my soul became evidenced in my body. I might have been sunk here, my story circling back into a generational pattern of abuse had there not been a window. It had been opened by my mother when she dared to speak her own truth. Although not an alcoholic herself, she did not shy away from owning this as part of her childhood experience. And in so doing, she gave us permission to speak its name without shame. It would take me years to choose to peek out of that window myself, but when I did, it was other people’s stories that pulled me all the way through. When I began to hear my own experience echoed in the voices of other women, my faith grew. Women that laughed with such genuine exuberance that I could not help but want a taste of their freedom. They gave me hope that there was something better on the other side. And faith! Faith that life could be joyful in sobriety. Faith that there was a program that worked. Faith that I would not be alone. In the darkness of my drinking I was completely isolated, until one day, seemingly out of the blue, I said enough. I wanted healing for myself and for my children. They deserved better. I said yes to something different. I said yes to a life worth living. I got help. And I did the work. Lots of therapy. Lots of rebuilding what I had spent years tearing down, of finally facing what I had run away from for so long. But it was that first time I laughed again, really laughed, from that deep place inside my belly, that I knew something inside me had come back to life. I took that first glimmer of hope and ran with it. I have never looked back.

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