On Writing and Honesty

Over the years, my mentors encouraged me to “never stop writing”. I did not do what I was told. I stopped writing.

One should always use reverse psychology to motivate me. Just ask my mother.

I always thought “writing” was synonymous with producing a volume of poetry or a fictional novel featuring intelligent and highly complex characters. These goals were too ambitious for me to seriously pursue. Furthermore, they felt forced. I did not think I had a “voice”.

My variety of literary laryngitis was not caused by lack of direction, however. It was my complete inability to be honest with myself and others. As a teenager, I was already leading the kind of double life one sees on 20/20. I could only speak about myself from behind a veil of metaphor or a curtain of vagueness.

I am not meant to make people up and take them on grand adventures. Nor am I meant to wax poetic like Pablo Neruda. The thing that feels most natural to me is simply experiencing life and reporting what I experience from the vantage of hindsight. Being able to utilize the kind of brutal honesty this requires is a direct result of my recovery.

Today I write because I need to do so in order to stay alive. I do not say this for dramatic effect but because it is true. Helping others is the best way to get out of my own dangerous head. And writing is the only way I know to extend the hope that was and is so freely given to me. I am not the type of person who (currently) has the patience or tolerance for 4 a.m. phone calls from tortured newcomers to recovery. But I have this.

I think people need to hear other people say “hey, I don’t have my shit together”. It certainly may appear so from the outside: I work, I have a place to live, I am taking a course in professional photography, I drive a nice car, I have a loving partner. Underneath the surface things look a little different. The truth is I have a penchant for getting into ethically challenging job situations, I still go on appalling dry drunks, and I have the kind of temper that would make my Irish great grandmother beam with pride (I may look small and sweet… but I will cut you. At least that’s what I fantasize about until I have a panic attack and cry).

In other words, I do not have all my shit together. I am a flawed human being. “Whew,” I think, when someone else admits this, “thank goodness it’s not just me”.

I do not have to strive for perfection anymore and shrink with shame when I do not reach this fallible aim. What a relief.

On Alcoholism

My last drink was on a Saturday in July of 2009 at the age of twenty two. I was attending a wedding reception with my former significant other: an abusive man in his late forties whose role in my life was a direct result of my own self hatred, sickness, and dishonesty. At the blessed event, I was the very picture of class… pounding cranberry juice and vodka and hitting on the woman across the table.

One drink and then another magically appeared in front of me and, even though I was so drunk I could barely handle a trip to the ladies room, I didn’t see any reason to stop.

Here’s the problem with my drinking: I didn’t wake up every morning shaking and looking for a nip but I could never predict what was going to happen when I started. Maybe I would have just one with dinner. Or maybe I would go to the bar and let you squeeze my ass in exchange for picking up my tab. Or maybe I would have a good cry and then attend a movie – during which I would yell at Sarah Jessica Parker across the theatre for having such an atrocious horse face.

Or maybe I would get messed up and slide behind the wheel of a car. Maybe my car. Maybe yours. Who cares? I sure didn’t.

I’ve had arguments with people about whether or not I’m an actual alcoholic. Everybody does stupid stuff when they’re young, right? “You’re too young,” they say. “You didn’t drink enough,” they say. “You weren’t physically dependent,” they say.

A few years into sobriety, I was taking a class in my counseling program and the subject of tolerance as a required “criteria” for alcoholism came up. The instructor knew I was in recovery and also knew I was struggling – essentially having a quiet identity crisis – in the middle of the classroom. He said: “If a client thinks he or she has a problem then he or she has a problem”. He also said: “If someone can’t predict what’s going to happen when he or she picks up a drink, it’s a problem”.

My instructor saved my life.

I like clichés a lot (remember the Titanic cliché?) so here’s another: “You can get off the elevator at any time”. So why did I feel like I needed to wait until I had several DUIs to qualify for recovery? This is the secret: I didn’t. And neither do you.

The battle inside me is on-going. I frequently think: “I didn’t have enough. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m too young”. And just as frequently I dismiss this train of thought.

There is certain literature on alcoholism that talks about “potential alcoholics” and how someone fitting this description might have “years to go” before suffering the hell of a more “seasoned” alcoholic. A very wise man pointed out that no alcoholic can know if the next drink might also be the last. How does this wisdom translate to me? I might have fifteen more years of drinking or fifteen days. Do I really want to find out?

Let’s return to the word “criteria”. Why? Because fuck “criteria”, that’s why. It’s a rubbish word utilized by insurance companies so they can take your money.

In 2012 my biological father died by suicide. He was a process addict, too. But what I didn’t know until I visited the horrific scene of his death was that he died drinking. There were boxes and boxes of empty bottles. Among other things, his death certificate lists ethanol intoxication as a cause.

It was like looking into a crystal ball and seeing exactly what my life would become (or not become) if I returned to my former way of being.

It was the best gift he ever gave me.

On Recovery

It has occurred to me that the way I left my last post could be a source of frustration for those out there who are currently struggling or suffering. “There are answers,” I said. And maybe someone thought to him or herself: “That’s great and everything but… what exactly are those answers?”

The truth of the matter is that the answers are different for everyone and I certainly don’t claim to have them. I can only share what works for me. While I find a twelve step program to be my personal saving grace, it may not be the answer for all. That being said, my blog is neither affiliated with nor does it promote a particular program of recovery. I expect that future posts will merely be vignettes from my own life.

I know there are those who may believe there is only “one way” to find recovery. That’s okay. That is one truth. The following is mine. I am writing not just from the standpoint of a person in recovery but also from the perspective of someone with an education in the mental health and substance abuse counseling fields. I do not say this to qualify myself as some kind of expert (because I most certainly am not!). As a matter of fact, by writing this blog I have disqualified myself from ethically (with respectable practitioner-client boundaries) practicing under a license. I only wish to share what we were emphatically taught in the classroom (and what I truly believe!): Everyone is an individual with his or her own path to wellness. Recovery is as unique as the individual seeking it out.

In my experience, there are some key components. First and foremost, I need to reach out and ask for help. I also need a clean, sober, and/or behavior abstaining support network. Finally, I need to deal with the issues underlying my addictive behaviors. I was (and often still am) a fear-driven creature.

It’s ultimately not my place to advise one on exactly how to find recovery. The best I can do is try to successfully describe it and hope that maybe I inspire others to ask for it.

I am wired for self destruction. That is my first and most natural inclination. But now – on a daily basis – I choose to re-wire myself for survival. And not just survival. Beautiful, vibrant living.

My recovery is a state of wakefulness. It is noticing the world and reconnecting with a sense of awe. It is a sense of profound gratitude. It is striving not for supreme happiness or euphoria but contentment. It is finding contentment and knowing peace. It is being able to sit with pain and accept joy. It is when what I have is enough and I am enough.

Today, I am awake. I notice the Winter sun filtering through the blinds and warming my skin. I can feel the dull pain of a headache behind my eyes. I am aware of the rise and fall of my own breath. A slight flicker of fear crosses my chest as I consider once again making myself vulnerable before the public eye. The feeling passes as quickly as it arrives. It is imperfectly perfect.

Finding the Carpathia

I think I was born an alcoholic/addict. Everyone seems to have a different point of view on the subject. Some believe they were afflicted from the womb and others believe that it didn’t happen until their nightly glass of wine suddenly – with no apparent warning – turned into three bottles.

I am of the first camp. Yanked forcibly into the world by a pair of forceps, I viewed reality with pronounced distaste from the moment I drew my first breath. At first my escapism was fairly benign. Like the summer in my elementary years when I read close to a hundred Nancy Drew books. So…what? I was an avid reader. Well, you can bet your behind I would have cursed the very existence of anyone who tried to take my books. Literally. A band of neighborhood kids and I believed we had magical powers. We left “witch food” for the poor postmistress taking her evening walk around the block. The swings were a portal to an alternate universe. I hid my wand in a drawer in my bedroom. If the innocent postmistress could elicit a vile witch concoction, what kind of resentment would one invite should he or she dare cut off my supply of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, or Boxcar Children?

As a child, I secretly wondered if there had been some kind of mistake. I didn’t believe I was meant for the world. I never felt like I quite fit. Or that I even deserved to fit. I couldn’t put a finger on it but I knew that losing myself in outside things provided relief and salved my pain. As I entered adolescence, my voracious reading habit quickly escalated into compulsive behavior. I spent hours and hours and hours on the internet obsessing over the lives of my favorite celebrities or fictional characters. I fell into a deep depression if I was cut off from my technological fix. By my mid teens, I had entered my second toxic and abusive online relationship with a significantly older individual.

This was the turning point for me. Because when I didn’t get what I wanted from my relentless pursuit of toxic and unavailable people, I turned to substances. I never wanted to party because partying was “fun”. I wanted to be numb. Unconscious even.

There was a void inside me that I simply tried to fill with “more”.

Perhaps some of you reading this may – not unlike myself at one point in time – want a neat label for what I “am”. The clinical term would be behavioral or “process” addict with secondary alcohol and drug issues.

I prefer the all encompassing term addict.

Someone very wise told me: “You can change seats on the Titanic but you’re still going down with the ship”. I spent a lot of time bouncing around on the Titanic…until one miraculous day it suddenly occurred to me that there was a lifeboat. But saving myself was a counterintuitive process. It meant I had to let go (of toxic relationships, credit cards, alcohol, drugs, and my illusion of control) rather than hang on.

The underbelly of addiction doesn’t match the societal perception of bums drinking out of paper bags or junkies with needles in filthy motels. The truth is that people are killing themselves with a multiplicity of things, including but not limited to alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, shopping, sex, toxic relationships, and/or a combination of all of the above.

My intention in sharing my story isn’t to end social stigma. It’s to reach someone out there who may be looking for answers or who – having had a common experience – is feeling alone.

There are answers and you are not alone.