“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
— Brené Brown
192 days. That’s how long I’ve been sober, and for most of that time, I thought that the reason why I ended up being an alcoholic was because maybe I just suck at life. The books I’m reading tell me differently, of course; addictions are usually caused by an unfortunate combination of genetics and circumstances. Maybe I found myself here because I was just self-medicating away anxiety and depression. Or, you know, MAYBE I JUST LIKE ALCOHOL.
It took 6 months for me to recognize and own a part of my past that I’ve never written about publicly. It took days and months of slogging through my personal history, turning over rocks I didn’t want to turn over, weeks of feeling like I couldn’t breathe and countless afternoons of feeling so tired from the exhausting task of being awake and walking around with all of these thoughts and feelings that I parked the kids in front of the TV while I took a nap.
I never nap.
Sober Harmony needs a lot of naps.
I’d much prefer to leave the past in the past — I’m a forge-aheader, I’m defiant, and I don’t like to look or feel weak. What’s the point of dwelling in things that happened a long time ago? I take pride in my ability to suck it up and keep moving. My daddy used to say, “I didn’t raise no wimp!” and he was right.
A few days ago, I was sitting in the living room with my 4-year-old daughter. She climbed into my lap, grabbed my face, and licked my right cheek. I don’t think she meant to lick me — she was kissing me, actually — but she’s little and kids are weird and that’s what happened. It felt like the air was sucked out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to cry, I wanted to run, but my daughter doesn’t know that I have PTSD from being attacked in my dorm room my freshman year of college.
She doesn’t know that four girls I knew and trusted somehow finagled their way past the front desk clerk at a private university with key card access in the middle of the night and barged into my room. She doesn’t know that my roommate happened to be gone that night, and my suite mates too, and that those women beat my face in, slammed me against the wall, and threatened me.
She doesn’t know that before they left, the oldest one got down next to my ear and whispered, “You better not tell anyone about this,” before putting her tongue on my right cheek and dragging it all the way from my jawline up to the top of my cheekbone.
Why would anyone think it was a good idea to do that to me? That’s a valid question — one I ask myself still, all these years later. They were upset that their brother asked me to marry him. I wasn’t good enough. I was going to derail his life, they said, and because everything they’d already tried wasn’t working to break us up, they decided to take matters literally into their own hands.
That did it.
Ever since that January morning in 1999, I flinch every time someone touches my right cheek. For some reason, that’s the one everyone kisses; I’ve learned to mask my repulsion because I can’t go around punching people in the face when they get close to me.
Alcohol helped with those feelings.
And then, Robbie and I had kids. Children like to pretend they’re dogs and cats and they slobber a lot. Struggling with flashbacks to something that happened so long ago, something I worked tirelessly to forget, drove me to drink. Kids also sometimes yell terrible things like “I HATE YOU!” or “YOU’RE A TERRIBLE MOM!” Sometimes, they push and shove.
I drank to forget.
I drank to stuff it all away and keep it in that box, where it belonged. The thought of those people’s actions affecting my children fills me with a rage so deep and vast that it scares me. I drank to numb the rage.
In sobriety, I’m being forced to process through trauma from 18 years ago without anything to numb the anger, fear, and sadness. I’m not going to lie: it sucks. I’m sad. Sometimes I cry for no reason. I’m experiencing all the feelings now, that I should have had then, because I refused to acknowledge any of my feelings after it happened. What I did do, was allow the local police to photograph my face and my room. I took my attackers to court. I sat in a plastic chair next to my parents in the courthouse while the girls, plus their parents, brothers, and my now ex-boyfriend filled a bunch of other plastic seats and stared at me.
The parents of the girls called everyone who knew me and said I was crazy, that their daughters would NEVER do that. “She beat herself up,” they said.
Trauma causes shame. Even though what happened to me was not my fault, I still feel shame, and shame feeds addiction.
Today, I am choosing to write my own ending to this story. I can’t control what other people have done to me or said about me, but I can control my reaction.
I used to drink. I don’t anymore.