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.)
There is a special kind of parental suckage when it comes to your child experiencing the exact same struggles you did, isn’t there? I still remember how I hated homework when I was in elementary school, and how I chose every single increasingly problematic alternative to knuckling down and getting it done. It was miserable then, and now that I have a child who views homework much as I used to, it is miserable now.
Riley mostly got on board with my eat-your-frog approach to homework, and this year he has none outside of reading — fifth grade apparently decided to opt out, for reasons that aren’t fully clear to me. (I’m not really complaining, except that 1) it’s not consistent with other grades, and 2) it seems like middle school is going to be one holy hell of a transition.) Dylan in third grade, on the other hand, has quite a bit, and he’s a completely different kid when it comes to schoolwork. He’s bright, he’s capable … and he’s stubborn as a goddamned mule.
He has no internal motivation to get it done, he rushes the instructions then can’t figure out what he needs to do, he shuts down almost immediately and becomes surly and uncooperative. He’s also eight, so, you know, I realize things aren’t exactly dire, here. That rabbit hole of doom has such a pull to it, though.
My least favorite assignment is the daily response journal. I remember Riley slogging through this a couple years ago: the idea is to read a short chapter or two in a small provided book each day, then write your responses in a notebook. Response meaning how did you feel about the story, did you like it, what do you think is going to happen next, that sort of thing, as opposed to a summary of what happened. Dylan gets stuck on wanting to recap the basics of the plot, and when I try and help, I end up putting words in his mouth. His memory isn’t a problem, nor is is grasp of language, exactly … it’s the part of reading where the book comes alive in your imagination. That’s not happening.
This seems in line with his preference for picture books as opposed to chapter books. He’s a dreamy kid that spends a lot of time in his own head, but books aren’t his thing, at least not yet. The response journal activity is surely intended to teach him reading comprehension, but it’s an uphill battle at the moment. I hate everything about reading being a dreaded chore, where something I wish was enjoyable just feels like punishment to both of us. I hate the fact that I already went through this homework nightmare, and here I am again, seeing things in a new perspective from which — surprise! Sorry, Mom! — it turns out the whole experience is even crappier.
Most of all, I hate that the familiar terrain doesn’t give me any special superpowers to help my kids avoid the same pits I fell into. Third grade homework aside, I am thinking of larger problems they may come to face one day. There is almost nothing I fear more than my children facing addiction. I know one thing isn’t necessarily connected to the other, but it sort of feels that way, in my heart. Like a thousand landmines tied together with string, and I am afraid I don’t have the strength and wisdom to help guide them into the clear.