Our childhood stories tell us about happy ever afters, knights on white horses rescuing damsels in distress and fairies that grant you your greatest wish. Society tells us that being successful is to obtain the perfect nuclear family, have a wife that looks like a Barbie doll, a husband that looks like GI Joe and kids so sweet they could be extras on Little House on the Prairie. Of course don’t forget the big shiny car and a home with a private bathroom for each inhabitant and a pool in the backyard. So what happens when, after striving for this perceived ideal all your life, it turns out to be a crock of shit and your reality at the age of 39 is that you’re in recovery from every addiction known to man, your GI Joe turned out to be the Incredible Hulk and you’re blindly trying to raise two children alone while attempting to keep your intensely confused, slightly psychotic self in order?
Well from my experience, what you do is you suck it up, accept that knights and happy ever afters are not for you and make the best of it. I suppose you could say that up until age the age of 35, I expected my life to be a fairytale. Good and magical things were supposed to happen, right? I mean I’m a damsel, I’ve had my fair share of scary dragons to be rescued from and I’ve seen lots of white horses around. I know I’m no Barbie—perhaps more of an overfed Jennifer Lopez—but I’ve got my good points. So where the heck is my knight?
And so came recovery and my departure from fairytale-deluded damsel to reality check chick. Yep, I heard it loud and clear from day one. I heard it so loud that there were days it echoed in my head and was so disturbing it had the same effect as someone standing beside me constantly scraping their nails down a blackboard. The truth of this world for me is that nobody is responsible for my happiness, achievements, choices, success or lack thereof except little old me. No amount of ass-wiggling, lip pouting or cleavage showing is going to make a knight jump on a horse to come save me. And in the unlikely event that he does, there will always be some other damsel for him to ride off in the sunset with after sweeping her up on his stallion (lesson learned: beware of the rescuer type).
Yet as much as I kicked and screamed in early recovery to have someone come fix my messy life, sooth my broken heart and wipe my fevered brow, I eventually had to give in and become my own rescuer. This is referred to as surrender. How I hate that word; it grates against my stubbornness and feeling of entitlement. But despite my tantrums and protests, there were a multitude of amazing people there to give me guidance and teach me that the 12 steps were not hanging on the wall for decoration but there to keep me sane and sober. And to my amazement, there were people who cared enough to help me when I fell off my white horse and couldn’t quite manage to get myself back up on the saddle. Indeed, I still have times when riding that white horse becomes difficult; I slip off and end up being dragged around with my foot caught in the stirrup. Thankfully, those same people are there to gently push me back up; when I let them.
There are countless tools to choose from in the recovery process—most of them free—but all are useless if I’m not willing to use them. There was and is no spoon feeding in recovery for me—just hard ass work and the realization that living in denial will ultimately leave me miserable and probably back out drinking and using. But even though the work to rectify my lost self is hard and ridiculously painful, after four years I’m definitely seeing the results in a way I hadn’t expected.
I’m still nowhere near having the shiny car or pool in the backyard, nor will I ever look like Barbie. But you know what? That stuff is totally irrelevant to me now. I have found a depth to life and living that was a complete mystery to me from the time I started drinking at 13. I knew that there was something more than I could see before then but I stopped believing in the true essence of life pretty quick. Yes, past nasty experiences added up to the loss of that belief in life and subsequent nasty experiences enabled me to stay in my drunken haze. But today, on my last day of being 38 and four days away from my fourth sober anniversary, I can safely say that I’m regaining my zest for real life. More importantly, though, I’m regaining my zest for being the authentic me. As unpopular as it is in some circles to talk about spirituality being a valid treatment for addiction, I can tell you that it’s spirituality that got me here and continues to work for me. I view all of my 12-step work as spiritual, including the connection I have developed with others in the program, the meetings, the conversations, the feeling inside a recovery room, my ability to not pick up and the true me I come to know from being present.
I’m affectionately known to a particular person as an Irish Warrior Princess. It’s still a bit fairytale-ish for someone who’s lost faith in Happy Ever Afters but at least these days I’m stepping up to the challenges, fighting my own battles, telling my own story and doing it all with my own sword.