I have been on a dry bender roller coaster for over a year and a half.
If this is the case, what right do I have to write about sobriety? Or even hope? Doesn’t this make me a hypocrite?
As I’ve said before, I am sharing my story because I want to help – and if I share about my mistakes and struggles, perhaps others might learn from my experience and avoid similar pitfalls. Recovery has truly given me the most incredible gifts but it has not been and still is not easy. It requires feeling pain and facing fears and constant vigilance.
About two weeks ago, I broke down at my recovery program of choice and admitted that I had been thinking about drinking. The thoughts were so powerful I could taste the alcohol and hear the ice in the glass. I admitted I was scared and cried for the better part of an hour. During a break, a woman came up to me and told me that it was completely normal to feel this way between the fourth and fifth year of sobriety. She offered a helpful suggestion to combat my destructive thinking. I immediately felt calmer.
I would like to do for others what she did for me – namely, she normalized my experience and reassured me that I am not unique.
So how did I get to this point? Why do I frequently find myself grinding my teeth or sneaking off to suck on an e-cigarette like my life depends on it? Why do I feel like a dry and brittle twig that might snap under the pressure of the most insignificant breeze?
There are (at least) three things that have damaged the quality of my sobriety: self pity, comparison to others, and lack of self-care.
It really all started with lack of self-care. When I was the most serene and centered, I was meditating daily, writing in a journal, seeing a therapist, making time for friends, and striking a balance between work, recovery, and leisure. I remember waking up in my sweet little apartment, making a pot of coffee, and absolutely delighting in everything around me: the quiet, the peeling paint and wallpaper, the way the light filtered perfectly into the living room… I couldn’t wait to see what the day would bring.
But then everything changed. Like a train going off the tracks, my mentor said. I would show up on her couch derailed. Self destruct, self destruct, self destruct. That is my natural inclination.
I went from attending school and providing part time childcare to also working the night shift. Then I started commuting out of state at least twice a month for my relationship. Then I also had to pick up an internship during the day. As these events transpired, my biological father commit suicide, my grandfather passed away, and I moved. Twice. I cut back on meetings, cut out my therapist all together, and rarely slept for more than four hours at a time. The general progression was that everything else came first and Autumn came last.
I struggled to manage the unmanageability. I gave up most of my childcare business and two shifts at work. My boss and co-workers rallied around me. The staff at my college helped me graduate early. My girlfriend’s sister and brother-in-law sheltered me and made sure I ate. No one judged me for crying out of the blue or acting a little crazy.
Despite the support, I faltered. I had broken my healthy habits and returned to old behavior.
And then my old nemeses comparison and self-pity came into the mix. Comparison said: “You’re not an alcoholic. Everyone drank more than you. Go out and prove it.”
The problem is that I am too smart for my own good (or, perhaps, just smart enough to do me some good). Before I was even old enough to legally drink, I realized that I was like my forefathers and it was going to kill me. So I chose to get help before I got too far in my drinking career.
So here enters the voice of self-pity: “Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I just be normal? Why do I have to work so hard to be sane when it seems to be so easy for everyone else? I am defective. ”
It’s true that I have a chronic disease that, untreated, will kill me. However, I bet someone with stage four cancer would love to trade places.
Lack of self-care, comparison, and self-pity. It’s a potent combination.
So why am I still sober? On my worst days, it may very well be guilt and fear that motivates me to toe the line. What would everyone think if I relapsed? On my best days, however, it is gratitude and a willingness to ask for help that keeps me sober. I continue to show up and say “yes” to recovery even if the madness in my head has me convinced that I don’t really want it. Some beautiful and determined part of me knows better – a persistent, gentle murmur in the clamor and noise that is somehow louder than the rest – and it says “Choose life”.
Making this choice has enabled me to recognize and know awe. It has filled me and brought me to my knees before the great majesty and fragility of all things. It is both the question and the answer. It drives me back onto the tracks.