Where the Sickness Hides
If you could watch your addiction, what would it do?
It’s not about the alcohol although that’s what calling myself an ‘alcoholic’ would seem to obviously imply. Right? I don’t fuck with liquor because I cannot have just one drink. I don’t even understand the concept of one drink to be honest with you what’s the fucking point of that? I guess we could say I don’t ‘moderate’ well. This is true about me when it comes to a lot of things, not just drinking. I have an obsessive mind, that’s what they call it in recovery speak. That incessant voice that will not let up in my head that just says over and over: drink, drink, one glass, just one, just one, just one, you just need one is all it’s not that big of a deal jesus christ woman I’m telling you one is not even a thing, one and done I keep telling you why won’t you LISTEN.
It’s the holidays for heaven’s sake. Fine wines. Rich amber whiskeys. Glad tidings of poisonous joy and all that festive fireside delusion. It’s comical to be honest, if you can get yourself into a lighter, less self-destructive headspace about the whole twisted scene. The ridiculous idea that you could be an alcoholic and also have ‘just one drink’ for instance. The fact that you are literally fighting this ceaseless mental battle in your own head, completely invisible to the outside world, is so insane it’s almost funny. Almost.
I lost my shit yesterday. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have read what I shared here. It’s always a bit of a toss up with the social media space like how much do I share? What is worth sharing and what isn’t, and what makes it so? What I shared yesterday came from a deep core belief, a deep and fundamental commitment I have that keeps me sober. And it isn’t about alcohol. It’s about integrity. It’s that I will tell the truth. I will give voice to the very hard, awkward, socially unacceptable rawness of what recovery actually IS. Not what it means, not what it could be if you polished it up and strung twinkle lights upon its well hydrated evergreen bows. But what it feels like to actually be in recovery from an addiction.
I get frustrated with the tidied-up version of sobriety people are so quick to sell. Stop telling me it’s the greatest thing you ever did for yourself even if it is. Of course it is. That part I get. But tell me how it actually feels on any given Monday afternoon. Show me the mess, the dark shit, the underbelly. Stop acting like to be human looks like a big painted on smile all the time. The yoga pants and the houseplants and the face oil and the training for triathlons, christ. Hangover-free mornings are truly bliss, no doubt, and I’m not trading mine in for anything, but that’s only a sprinkle of the whole story.
There are times, as it turns out, that sobriety will kick you in the teeth when you least expect it. Today I’m at 326 days sober and yesterday I should have felt strong as fuck, proud, solid. Or so I told myself. The tricky part about my obsessive mind is that I often tell myself I should be much ‘farther ahead’ than I actually am (based upon absolutely zero evidence that that would be true, but what’s science when I can throw around imaginary stats conjured entirely out of the ether of the smoky halls of my maniac mind). I do this not only in my recovery but in all things. Heal faster. Get over it. Grow up. Move on. Recover already. Are we done yet. Are we there yet. Are we there yet are we there yet. What’s taking you so long. What’s wrong with you. Anyone with half a brain would have knocked this way outta the park by now.
Obsession of the mind. But notice above that it’s not even really about the booze. It’s about the deeply warped desire to want to pretend to be someone I’m not. That’s what claws at me. Be better, be faster, be cuter, be sexier, be smaller, be louder, be smarter, be kinder, be merrier, be whatever will get you the attention you need to know you are loved. To know you are worthy. To know you are allowed to be here. Meet all the expectations of what it means to be a good human. NO. No. Not a good human, the Best Human in All the Land.
What a bunch of egoistic baloney. At least in my crystal clear sober state, I can see that now. Even if I would rather not see it. Even if seeing myself is sometimes seriously off putting. At least I know what I’m dealing with on the reality front.
What I struggle with is the fear of being exactly where I am, exactly as I am, and not faking otherwise, not pushing the proverbial envelope. What I suspect a lot of us become addicted to first is not the substance, it’s the facade, the mask, the false narrative we want others to believe about us, about the stories we tell about our lives. That’s where the sickness hides - inside all the expectations of who and what we are supposed to be, do, and achieve, and what we are willing to lie about (even to ourselves, especially to ourselves) to pretend we’ve got it all figured out.
That’s what makes the sickness hard to see. It’s hiding in plain sight on all our flowery self-improvement memes. What we crave is to get out of our messy needy gross honest selves and into a more cleaned up, presentable, pretty plastic version. And fast, please! Hurry up. Get this over with. Feel better now. If it hurts, cut it off. Alcohol numbs us but we want to be numb because otherwise the only way to get to the other side of the pain of being our basic complicated unsophisticated selves is to be with the pain for as long as it takes to stumble through it. No shortcuts. No bullshit. It is really fucking hard. But it is the only way to heal.
Yesterday, after a whole year of sober firsts, I was staring down the barrel of the holiday onslaught of emotions we are supposed to feel (jolly mostly, with a bunch of tinsel-tossed wonder thrown in there, too) and all of a sudden I was as fragile and helpless as that baby in a manger they sing about at the heart of this beautiful yet overwhelming season of miraculous light. Shivering. Cold. Tiny. New to all this. Full of a strange and cumbersome need without any way to communicate or ‘fix’ my pain, hunger, wildness, thirst. A small bundle of softly confused nerve endings. Unpredictable. Uncorrupted. Innocent. At almost 11 months into my sobriety, I felt like I was right smack at the beginning again. Flailing. Frightened by the magnitude of my own perplexing existence.
As we head into the holidays, I am taking my first sober Thanksgiving week really, really slow. I meditate and journal every morning. I walk everyday for one hour. I drink lots of water. Eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired. Therapy. Lots of crying. Lots of self-forgiveness and focus on peace. On gratitude and quieting the outside and inside noise. I mainly involve myself with activities that can be performed whilst wrapped head to toe in fuzzy blankets. As you can imagine, these activities are few.
Even as I type this I can hear a voice in my head telling me how pathetic this must sound. That I am a grown ass woman not a fragile baby, even if the truth is that being grown can sometimes feel as fragile as being born, when you are new. But I know where that cruel voice comes from now. It comes from the same exact place inside of me that wants nothing more than to see my addiction come raging back to life. Funny how fighting like hell for your own little life can look an awful lot like sitting in front of a fire not saying or doing or changing or fixing or decorating one goddamn thing.