Learning to Save Myself

Learning to Save Myself


This post was originally published on September 10, 2013.

There’s a Will Rogers quote: “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don’t let it get the best of you.”

I’ve never been one to be fond of bad luck, nor one to take it “gracefully” (whatever the fuck that means). And you’d think by now that I might have since I’ve had more than my fair share. Still, over the past year, I’ve learned to stop resisting what’s happening and feeling sorry for myself and just embrace all the loss. Shockingly, it’s made all the difference.

I literally lost everything in 2012: my home, my husband, my sobriety and my mind. I got arrested for assault, was 5150’d twice, got separated, and was in treatment for seven months, then back in detox for another week a short time later. I’m in my third sober living now—eight months sober, single, dirt poor, on Medical, sweeping up shit (literally) for community service and working part-time for my old boss, doing fashion PR, getting paid more than minimum wage but less than I’d like. And yet I’ve never been happier.

When I was the wife of a flashy rehab owner, living in a cushy condo and driving an $80,000 car, I was miserable. I was over-medicated, under-employed and totally dependent. It was the perfect storm that culminated in a domestic violence incident, a mortifying, life-changing arrest and an ugly, devastating divorce. I got no alimony and lost my health insurance. Although I am now struggling to make ends meet and was forced to start a bloody fundraiser on Facebook to raise money for my sick cat, I still feel better than I did then. I needed to be humbled so that I could become grounded. And I could only get that way by being self-supporting through my own contributions. This was a way overdue epiphany for a spoiled trustafarian-turned-kept-wife like myself.

Out went the massages, the mani-pedis and the long hours trolling EBay for Barney’s shoes and $200 jeans. Out went expensive meals, movies, shopping at Whole Foods and the overpriced, rarely used gym membership. In came canned tuna, Netflix, Trader Joe’s and the strenuous workout of community labor.  “You’re so skinny and tan!” everybody tells me. Yes, poverty and sweeping the streets for eight hours in the scorching sun will give you that castaway look that everybody in LA is so desperately seeking.

“You used to working office job, eh?” my crew boss asked me the other day as I panted heavily while sweeping the sidewalk. Yes, it’s true: I’m out of shape and housework is not my forte. When you work manual labor for eight hours, you are exhausted, so tired that you can’t think. It’s a peaceful stupidity that I have never known before. And you want to know what? When you feel like that, you have no time for drama. I don’t want to hear about your fucking diet or who blocked you on Facebook or that your spray tan is too dark. I have become a working man: I want a blow job and a sandwich and silence. My feet are black from street soot and I have blisters on my hands from the broom. I’m sweaty and sunburned and everything is throbbing. And this is all just to stay out of jail. I’ve never worked so hard for free—or for my freedom, I should say.

With a mental illness history like mine, it was not hard to get Medical disability.  This means that I can’t see my posh, high-priced dentist, gyno or shrink anymore and that I’m often the only person speaking English in a doctor’s waiting room that contains wood paneling from the 70’s.

When I look back on my marriage, I wish I had mopped the floor instead of hiring a maid and that instead of writing bad dick jokes with other unemployed comics over overpriced coffees, I’d made more of an attempt to bring in money, just to show that I wanted to contribute. I didn’t appreciate how hard it was to make a living, not just for one person but for two (especially when one of the two requires acrylic nails, expensive highlights, costly vintage tees and thousands of dollars in cognitive behavior therapy just not to be an abusive asshole). I wish I had given him his blowjob and sandwich and silence when he got home instead of verbally pelting him with my day full of petty, melodramatic bullshit. So when the restraining order is up, I plan to make that overdue amends. And my second husband will be a lucky, satisfied and appreciated man.

My boss tells me she’s glad to be working with me again. Seven years ago, she fired me and put me in rehab. (That was the second time; there were four more glorious stints after that.) “I have a work ethic now,” I tell her.

“You always did,” she responds.

Uh, no, I didn’t. I was lazy and high and didn’t thoroughly sweep the leaves from your shop’s sidewalk. Now, I know better, thanks to overzealous Mexicans at the Hollywood Beautification Team and the City of Beverly Hills Judicial System.

It has not been easy. But what good things ever are? I’d always heard annoying sayings about how happiness comes from the inside but, as a Beverly Hills princess with a hefty “clothing allowance” at 16, I just didn’t believe it pertained to me. When everything is taken from you, though, you have no choice but to shift and adjust.

Believe me, I’m not enlightened or working some amazing program. I saw all my defects of character when I did my first fifth step and learned that I was passive aggressive, dramatic, lazy, entitled, spoiled, abusive and self-obsessed. But those qualities were just hurting other people. It’s only when they started to directly affect my life that I changed. Honestly, it was only when those characteristics were going to kill me and make me homeless that I was willing to let them go. I was just so fucking tired of being unhappy and in pain and clear about the fact that no man or money or pill or therapy had been able to fix that yet. Only when it became increasingly clear that nobody or nothing could or was going to save me did I decide to finally save myself. And it wasn’t a minute too soon.



  1. Reminds me of when I was writing my sex inventory or last part of my Big Book 4th Step, I got a lifetime of self seeking conduct to mull through, a notebook full anyway, the real me, complete with results of my character flaws where others are concerned. The Higher Power showed no shortage of ink here..It was all about how I harmed others with my selfish conduct. It was where I was selfish, dishonest, inconsiderate, where did I unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion, bitterness.. Whom did I hurt? What should I have done instead? I got this all down on paper and looked at it just like the directions showed.. Great, lots of answers..I was finally seeing what others saw so I could atleast be willing to change whereas before this I just didn’t understand, I was very sick and not capable of understanding, I was much too self centered to see another’s view, I couldn’t read a book I didn’t write….Anyway.

    Not long afterword I was driving along just kind of minding my own business and from nowhere got this blast of jealousy over what I thought was happening between my old girlfriend who I hadn’t even seen in years and another old boyfriend of hers who she said wasn’t really her boyfriend because she really loved me. I could see her standing there lying to me about her one night stand that to me was a giant event of dishonesty and betrayal..I was sure it all happened as I imagined. This whole head movie was taking place in a house we rented where I was locked in the bathroom yelling if you don’t love me I kill myself!! ( years before the song came out) and I had picked up and dropped the bedpost making a dent in the hardwood floor in a jealous rage minutes before…I was in there dying for attention, waiting for her to stop me, threatening to disassemble a disposable razor and she got in the car and drove away not allowing my desperate cry for love arrangement to work? Whew! Why can’t someone just shut me off when this happens like some surgery to install a on/off switch on the back of my head? There, click! time out!

    Where the hell did that come from? I’m just driving along with nothing on my mind really and all the sudden BAM! low bridge! duck! Too late..Christ! I’m a freaken whacko, sober? In AA? What’s wrong with my head now? shouldn’t this whole abandonment, please don’t leave, save me mommy, everyone’s everything and I’m not, stuff be long gone? I am Big Book 12 Steps aren’t I? Meat and potatoes? Friend of Bills? Sober now with all this love to give? I even said the “R” word the other night when the topic was recovering.

    Geeze, I sure can keep a secret from myself. How come I didn’t cover this stuff in my 4th? Maybe I did? I was a bit overwhelmed with the ex-wife situation at the time..Not sure, let me think about it. Why would I want to re-live such a self defeating scenario in my life. Why all the fear and jealousy? Why would I just go for the jugular and try to emotionally kill myself with inner pain and suffering. I’ve learned how not to treat others this way so why still do it to myself? I must still really hate myself, everything is personal to me, all the guilt and shame, my secret world…Why can’t I accept myself as sick too? maybe this whole one day at a time Spiritual reprieve thing is real and I’m not taking it seriously enough.. There’s more, more is being reveiled and I need to open my eyes, ask for help? pray for direction? something… Maybe it is a process where over time I come to care enough about myself to stop beating myself with people. I mean, I’m never going to be good enough, I did see that pretty clearly. I’m always measuring my self esteem by what I think you think or in a pinch, what I thought they thought for a quick beating.. Every time I fail, I prove I am no good, I’ll never be any good, I’ve never been any good.. But why do I have to keep failing? Even when others say I’m not, I think I am? Nothing is still ever good enough. I can’t even take a compliment, well.. maybe sometimes..I guess the issue now is how to start treating myself right, I’m doing so much better with others, now it’s time for me? Yeah.

    Soo..I’m definitely armed with lots of facts about myself, all I do is review every little thing that goes on around me like a frustrated analyst, I just stopped acting on all of it..Now it’s time to let it go, now I can change, me, is this really possible? to stop making myself pay for how I think I’ve failed at life over and over again?? I think so, I want to believe it can happen, lets start right now. Eh, not so easy. but definitely doable.. Hey, I’ve done bad things, thought bad thoughts, planned bad moves, no doubt about it, I’ve been bad. But today? right now? I don’t want to be bad.. I mean this whole Spiritual Path Big Book 12 Step thing is so I can live with myself and others sober right? undergo a psychic change sufficient to overcome alcoholism? If I continue to hate myself and relive my horrific guilt and fear filled shame then well? I’m not going to make it….On the other hand it does say outgrow fear not poof! fear is gone. Yeah, fears fall from us as we grow in the Spiritual Path..Yeah! I like that stuff! Hope.

    I need to get out of the I’m all fixed because I did some 12 Step work mindset.. This is life, life changes, living is a process. Today I will pray to serve the man who suffers, that’s the next Step apparently. Give and when I’ve given it all away give some more, I pray for more to give freely… I can already see where I have basically dropped that ball. I’ve been waiting for my vacation or some kind of happy joyous and free perk I see others living with their beautifully landscaped lawns.. Damn! I see it! it’s the selfishness! The subtle selfishness again! The Step 10 continue to watch for selfishness thing.. I keep thinking I have a grip on it all. After all the work I’ve done well? I must have an edge right? I keep thinking that I’m finally normal, watch me prove I’m normal, here goes! .. So anyway, I’m putting the work into my recovery today, this is my course .. I’ll continue to pray to the Higher Power for direction, for the next right thought or action, I will remind myself I am nolonger running the show even when it looks like I alone could easily handle it or when I think because I’m here God is automatically here too..

    That’s why it says this thought must go with us constantly. The Spiritual thought. Because well, I’m alcoholic, I’m always here. I’ve got plenty of fact finding so now it’s time for some fact facing if I’m going to survive sober. Time for some Spiritual growth for me..I have to say as crazy as it seems sometimes, I believe, I believe in the Spirit of all things, I am willing to grow in understanding and effectiveness. Like I have prayed for direction this morning in my Step 11 stuff upon awakening. I would say that no, I will not drink today and if I see myself drift into morbid reflection? I pause and pray for direction, a decision, what my next step is to be.. Small price to pay really. I seem to get out of it what I put into it. Pretty fair deal. Big Book 12 Step recovery is not unreasonable. I’m the one who see’s what they want to see. I’m the one who can worship people for the instant gratification and not my Higher Power for the long term courage and strength offered..It all comes back to me. Where am I with the 12 Steps today.

    It does say “continue for our lifetime.” This kind of adds a bit of realism. The seriousness of my condition..

    Sorry.. I felt like talking I guess.. Be good to yourself that others may benefit.

  2. I suffered an apocalyptic relapse after 12+ years of sobriety. 3/4 Million, 3 felonies, 6 major surgeries and a relationship than turned absolutely deadly all occured in a two and a half year period. Now after 3+ years in 4 treatment centers I am finally feeling at peace within myself (for the most part). Am very grateful for the recovery community as a whole, especially since some positive and needed changes have come about (CBT, etc.) Best Wishes!

  3. I’ve definitely had the totally broke but driving around in the expensive car Dad paid for scenario. And honestly, I didn’t take the idea of being self supporting very seriously until I got sober. It was only when I stopped taking money from my parents that I realized what I high price I’d been paying for it.

    (BTW, trying out a new commenting system around here so not even sure this will show up as my name…)

  4. Your honesty and openness is awesome. And obviously you are really funny! While things were never quite as bad for me, I totally know what is like to go from having everything and not knowing that you do, to having nothing and really somehow appreciating it. Don’t get me wrong: being humbled sucks! And I know what it’s like to having no health insurance and carrying a freaking Chanel bag at the same time.

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Amy Dresner is a writer, comic and all around fuck up who is working on her first novel.