This post was originally published on May 16, 2014.
My life was a mess. Marriage ended, home lost, job that paid pittance, rapidly failing mental and physical health and two children I could barely manage to care for. My only coping mechanism was alcohol even though I knew it was only compounding my problems. Once upon a time it was the solution to every issue that needed my attention. It was simple, I just drank problems away. Come to think of it, I drank everything away—the good, bad and indifferent.
So after yet another beating from a boyfriend, I toyed with the thought that maybe, just maybe, it was time to do something about this chaos. It appeared that perhaps I drank too much. Possibly the constant negativity and drama in my life just might have something to do with alcohol. Maybe I needed to start paying attention to that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I took a sip of whatever cheap wine I was drinking. Denial was starting to fade fast and I had come to a point when I was unable to enjoy the lead-up to what used to be sweet inebriation.
I stopped feeling the joy that pulling the cork out of a bottle brought me at night when I’d put the kids to bed. Relaxing with my glass of red—actually it was more like two bottles of red—and enjoying the warm feeling as it trickled down my esophagus and into my stomach had now become a dirty, shameful pastime. Drinking didn’t bring me that relief from stress and pain like it once had. With each drop of alcohol that entered my bloodstream, I detested myself more and more. But if I didn’t drink, how would I get through a day? What would I look forward to? How would I shield myself from pain and reality? The realization that drinking had ceased to be a solution for anything in life sent me into a panic.
I became fearful of what my next coping strategy would be. I could go to my doctor and he would give me pills, right? Or maybe if I resurrected my childhood faith I would be saved? Or maybe a new man? Yes, if I found the right man—rich, handsome and kind—everything would be great!
My thoughts flickered before me like an old black-and-white movie. Searching inside myself for an answer about what to do next, my mind settled on something that I hadn’t realistically considered before: Maybe I should stop drinking. Maybe I should seek help. Maybe nobody and nothing could change anything except me. Maybe I might actually be an alcoholic. And there was that word: alcoholic. The word I’d tried relentlessly to avoid sticking on myself. But I’d let the thought into my consciousness now. And it wouldn’t go away.
So I stopped drinking. And I entered the world of recovery so that I could remain abstinent from alcohol and other drugs. I believed that if I stopped consuming alcohol, life would automatically reposition itself to normal and calm mode. I would become the cookie-baking nurturer I’d aspired to be and there would be no more worries.
Not so much.
Things most definitely did improve—they have to when you’re not dying from a hangover constantly, are actually eating real food and are going out with your clothes on the right way instead of inside out. I reveled in the fact that I was alcohol free. I was actually proud of the fact that I was doing this for my children’s welfare and became just a little bit smug at the possibility of becoming a super mother. Months passed and all was well. And then, out of nowhere, the emotional shit hit the fan.
Some big decisions had to be made about moving again and looking for financial support from my ex-husband and I realized that I couldn’t do it. I actually didn’t have the strength to make decisions or to tackle important issues. I was barely able to get myself to my part-time job and my kids to school in the morning. I could only deal with what was right in front of me and anything extra was just too catastrophically huge for me to contemplate. I’d heard people talk about this in meetings—their inability to deal with life on life’s terms and how sobriety was about a lot more than not drinking. I thought I had bypassed all that. I thought that I wasn’t like them and that I was clearly more able and mature than the people I’d heard share.
And so my “recovery” began from that moment on. I had a choice either to drown out all this crap I’d avoided forever or keep moving forward through the mess until I found my way out the other side. I chose the latter. And I’m still pushing forward through the mess that is me four-and-a-half years later. I never in a million years expected to unearth what I have about myself when I made a decision to stop self medicating. Once I was forced to come out of hiding behind alcohol, prescription meds and illegal narcotics, there in front of me stood a woman I didn’t recognize.
There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit. I hear people say all the time that their worst day sober is better than their best day drinking. Well, that isn’t true for me. After heavy therapy sessions, I have been tempted to say fuck it all and go back to numbing myself; the time I realized how warped my thinking was in terms of relationships and how my twisted emotional state kept me stuck in abusive situations was one of those days. But I can’t return to active addiction or stay right where I am at this stage. Living in limbo is not an option for me. I believe that at some point I will know what contentment and peace is but right now I’m still in the learning stage. I understand that knowledge and wisdom can be extremely powerful when used in a positive way. But before I get there, I have to first face all the parts of myself and my life that I find excruciatingly horrible. Anger, resentment and envy once oozed through my pours but these less-than-desirable traits are slowly being replaced by self-love and acceptance. That process has been brutal; I’ve felt emotional pain on a physical level and became ill for months on end with headaches, reoccurring infections and chronic fatigue. There have been times I’ve thought I was losing my mind and wanted to sleep for days. Thorough and fearless recovery is damn hard work.
Sometimes I have to ask myself sincerely if it has all been worth it. My answer to that question depends on the day. Sometimes there is calm and contentment. Other days are horrible and I struggle to keep life balanced. What I am sure of, though, is that if I hadn’t made the decision to stop drinking, I’d either be dead or on my way to death. So far, I’ve won every battle I’ve encountered on my journey. I’m aware that the war isn’t over yet and may not be for some time. But I’ve come too far to turn back now.