This article was originally published on September 19, 2014.
In early sobriety, the fact that I had never been to jail, been arrested or ended up on Skid Row made me doubt the gravity of my disease. I was in fact convinced that my bottom hadn’t been low enough.
I’ve always compared myself to other people. I never wanted to be who I was and never felt like I was enough—professionally, emotionally or physically. I was never able to acknowledge my value and worth—only my defects and the many mistakes I seemed to make over and over without ever learning from them. I envied everybody else’s life, hair, house, career and anything else I could think of since the day my brain started connecting feelings. I’m pretty sure I remember feeling jealous, passive-aggressive and competitive at around the age of three.
Once I got sober, I had one question for God, who—in my opinion—hated me. Why am I still alive?
Friends had died or been caught by the police; others were repeatedly involved in car accidents or hospitalized. I, on the other hand, would only black out, bleed or get drunk and be taken to the ER without further diagnosis, handcuffs or criminal charges. Rehab had always been an option I resisted. For years, I dreamt of a heart attack, an accident driving on the snowy Alpine streets with my car lights turned off or an OD to finally get over with life.
Why am I still alive? I kept asking this same question for months at every meeting. I listened to stories of jail and homelessness and instead of being grateful for my circumstances, I flirted with danger and seriously considered abandoning AA to punish myself some more and come back worthy of the label of alcoholic.
Though I’m naturally good-hearted, I had been anything but a saint. I had stolen, after all; I had lied, cheated and put people I loved at high risk. I had caused others pain but I couldn’t accept it. So I stayed sober but binged and threw up, cut myself and engaged in sexual acts that I knew would only hurt me.
When I was nine months sober, I visited my parents in Italy and tried to steal the Oxycodone my father had been prescribed after a minor cancer surgery—yet another unforgivable mistake. “Maybe they’ll arrest me at customs,” I thought. But my mother caught me and said words I will never forget: “You have lied to me for years; I’m not going to stop you if your tooth really hurts. Just make sure this is really what you want to do.” I’m paraphrasing, of course; she spoke to me in Italian.
I came back to Los Angeles sober and yet I still wrestled with my sick self, wondering if I should commit a crime—maybe driving drunk and killing somebody or living on the street and stripping for a fix.
My mistaken idea about what a rock bottom was supposed to be had become so extreme that only now can I see to how much it derailed my journey of recovery. I used “I’m not bad enough” as an excuse to not work the steps or be of service. Of course, it was only when I stopped making excuses that I could look within and let the healing start.
Even though I was aware of AA’s only requirement for membership—the desire to stop drinking—I continued to compare myself to those who looked more badass than me. In retrospect, I think I did this because I was terrified by the idea of finding out who I could be.
Luckily, my sponsor reminded me of experiences I’d had that I’d told her when we’d done my first step. They mostly involved me having a complete lack of self-respect when it came to sexual behavior and an alarming absence of love and basic acknowledgment of those who cared about me. After talking to her, I remembered my first meeting—where I’d never been asked for a drunken résumé or to pass an alcoholic admission test.
We reach the bottom when we stop digging, the Big Book says.
So one day—exhausted and desperate—I finally put away the shovel. I couldn’t keep punishing myself for what had not happened.
I’m incredibly lucky not to have ended up on Skid Row or in jail and not to be living knowing I’d killed someone; I see that now. I also have an answer for why I’m still alive while many others have died: luck. I reached a bottom and started climbing up; what could be luckier than that? I had just been so blinded by my own resentments that I couldn’t see my life clearly and admit that I had indeed reached a bottom—my very own, and perhaps more than one. Pain, as it turns out, doesn’t have to be put on a scale.