Oh, you guys. The relief of that last post, from the processing that always comes with writing to the way every kind comment and email feels like another support beam holding me upright. I cannot begin to thank you enough.
What a strange, unhappy week it’s been. Like many of you, I am sad and worried about what’s to come over the next four years. I read this phrase recently, You cannot hold back the tide, so you may as well work on building a better boat, and I have been carrying that, cupped in my hand like a bird. What’s done is done, and we must all find a way to live in this new reality. It’s like getting sober: the past is over, the future hasn’t happened yet. So what can I do today, to reinforce the vessel that will carry me through the waves? Maybe even make it strong enough to someday help others who may be getting pulled under?
I realize leftover Halloween candy is not necessarily a great long term building strategy for this endeavor, but I am for sure allowing myself a few shoddy materials this week.
In the non-chocolate-based self-care department, after years of eye-rolling the influx of adult coloring books that seem to have taken over the publishing industry I now find myself drawn — oh ho HO! — to them. I finally just printed a page online and have been studiously beavering away with my Crayola fine-tips, and I’m not sure if I like the activity or not. There’s something undeniably pleasant about the mindless concentration involved, but it also starts feeling like a task with no end in sight: like, am I ever going to be done with this thing?
I nearly trashed my page after realizing that completion would take hours and I didn’t much like the colors I’d used and honestly the laundry’s piling up while I sit here coloring like a preschooler, but I’d picked one of those chirpy motivational message designs. I imagined the relief of tossing it out … followed by the Et tu, universe? feeling of knowing what was lying in the recycling: a piece of paper printed with intricate swirls and patterns, and partially-colored letters that read “NEVER GIVE UP.”
It’s familiar, this lineup of discomforts. The flu-like state that started with three days of crushing fatigue, tossing and turning in bed, unable to get up for more than a few minutes. The shakes, the headaches, the stomach cramps, the dizziness. The agitation that sets my heart pounding double-time, jumping at every suddenly-too-loud sound, blinking at the sun: was it always so bright? The so-called “sleep disturbances,” which manifest in a combo plate of insomnia, vivid nightmares (relentlessly on-message: here I am, caught in a trap, unable to escape. Here I am trying to talk or scream for help, but only a nearly inaudible whisper comes from my mouth), and sweating so profuse I sandwich myself in towels each night, continually peeling away disgusting, soaking-cold fabrics. The sensation of having electric shocks going off in my brain, triggered by the smallest of eye movements. The anxiety which ebbs and flows, sometimes receding, sometimes so overwhelming I have to remind myself how to breath: slower inhales. Stop panting. That noise is a plane going overhead, a perfectly normal flight path, it’s not going to crash into the house yes it is yes it is no it’s not.
If you’ve ever stopped an antidepressant cold turkey rather than tapering, you might have had a similar withdrawal process. Excuse me: discontinuation. People who are actually prescribed medicine may choose to discontinue something — addicts withdraw.
I had all these symptoms when I sobered up in residential treatment, I have them again now because surprise, I did not stay sober. I had months of sobriety, then sporadic bouts. I was clean for a while. Then I wasn’t.
In the last few months I’ve just receded, bit by bit. I didn’t act out, or embarrass myself, or make huge “life changing” decisions that I thought were amazing and self-empowering. I wasn’t euphoric, or manic, or outgoing. It wasn’t fun. It was numbing. I could get through my normal routines, but I was living a blank existence. No joy, no spark, no desire, nothing to keep me from floating ever inward, further and further away from everything beautiful and beloved in my life.
It was like I have been a forest, eaten by disease, whose canopy hadn’t died yet. It maybe still looked okay from the outside, but underneath: a greying, empty wasteland.
I can tell you why I got sober in 2015. I was afraid of losing my family. I went to treatment because people wanted me to go. (There is a saying in recovery, that you have to want it for yourself, but I was never sure about that. There has to be some good that comes from being pressured into getting help. Why do interventions exist, if not for the hope that external motivation may work when the internal fails?)
This time, I became afraid of losing myself. No: I was afraid that I was already lost, and I was never going to find my way back. I was/am disgusted with myself, ashamed, and so very tired.
There was a day when I found myself with the dull thought that if I didn’t have children, I could kill myself, and at least it would be over then. I tell that specific part of my story to illustrate how unexplainable addiction is. How can a woman with everything she could ever want not only choose on a daily basis to piss her life away with a soul-stealing substance — this, after decades of all the problems I created for myself and everyone around me during my alcohol years, after countless fights and tears and rock bottoms and a stint in rehab followed by months of ongoing treatment — but also get herself to a place where, faced with the realization that things cannot go on as they are, mulls over suicide instead of putting down the goddamn drug? How can I have been so proud of the months I’d accumulated, so sure I was going to make it, so aware of what would happen if I picked up again, and be here instead?
I know and I don’t know. I know, in the sense that I don’t believe addiction completely removes our will. No one sets out to be an addict, but we make choices, and whether or not there is any truth to the theory that some are more susceptible than others, it is the cumulative effect of those choices that brings addiction to life. I know my triggers and I know I drifted away from an active recovery program and I know I starting thinking that eternal red-alert vigilance against my own demons felt like … a punishment with no end, I guess.
At the same time, I can’t understand it because my own actions defy logic or sense. I want to be healthy and sober more than anything in the world. God, why isn’t that enough? Why am I so goddamned broken?
Something finally snapped, or maybe started working again: I quit using. I asked for help: from John, from Serenity Lane. I got back in an outpatient program, 3 hours a day, 3 days a week. I found a new counselor, one who’s familiar with treating addicts. I have been asking for help silently, to my closed eyelids, a whimpering litany that somehow soothes: help me, help me, help me.
And here I am telling my story, publicly, because I need that kind of help too. I need for this part of my life, this most recent humiliating chapter, to be out there, come what may. I need to talk about it because I am scared and sad and I am tired of having so many secrets.
I’m so sorry. It is inadequate, typing that, but it is a whole-heart truth. I’m sorry for so much, maybe especially the fact that I have spent so many years creating burdens for those who care for me instead of helping to lighten them. I wish — ah, but there’s no point in wishing away the past, really. It cannot be done, believe me. Instead, it’s time for action, for confessions and deep breaths and hot baths and hard internal work, for doing whatever it takes to make it through these miserable early days. For not getting mired in shame, for staying in the moment instead of worrying about the future. For picking myself back up, again.
Can I do that just for today? I say to myself. (Yes. I can.)