Writing My Own Ending

“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.

No.

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.

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.

I’m not.

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.

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.

Yeah, okay.

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.

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My daughter is pretty bad ass.

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Progress Report

It probably means something that the intake form I printed and filled out in preparation for my therapy appointment has a big ol’ wine ring on it.

This was something I wrote last year, when I was floundering in depression and didn’t know how to get better. The intake paperwork sent to me from a potential therapist in town overwhelmed me, because everything overwhelmed me: the laundry, my kids, money, unforeseen circumstances, forms sent home to me in my children’s backpacks.

I found life overwhelming.

So, I tried therapy. But the thing about therapy — and self-help in general — is that if you aren’t completely honest about what’s really going on, how is anyone supposed to be able to truly help you? I sat in several different, very nice offices in town and spoke about my difficulties; those sitting across from me were kind, albeit confused, about why I was struggling so hard to cope.

No one asked me if I was an alcoholic. Why would they? I clearly have my shit together. (Sidenote: I clearly do not have my shit together.)

I kept the truth about the scale of my drinking to myself — after all, the thought of giving up alcohol was more overwhelming that anything life was throwing at me. It simply was not an option.

The biggest lesson I’m learning in recovery is that when people are in addiction of any kind, they don’t know how to stop doing that thing that they’ve been doing for so long. Asking an addict to stop drinking or using is a lot like asking someone to stop breathing or eating or sleeping. How is that done? How will we survive?

My last drink was on February 28, 2017, and I still have to talk myself through taking a shower, blow drying my hair, and putting on clothes every day. Some days are worse that others. Sometimes, I require a nap in the afternoon or a good cry mid-day. I have gained 12 pounds from eating my feelings. THERE ARE SO MANY FEELINGS.

I started exercising because I need the endorphins, and then it occurred to me that I haven’t fed myself normally, meaning in a non-disordered way, since high school. It’s time for me to re-learn how to care for myself: the care and feeding of a 37-year-old woman. It’s amazing how eating the right things at the right time can pep a person right up.

Amazing.

We — and I’m talking about myself as well as other people who struggle with substance abuse — are brain-damaged people. We’ve re-wired our brains in our addiction, and reversing brain damage is no easy task, but the miracle is that it can be done.

Today is day 138.

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A Beautiful Destination

I’m 100 days sober today.

I’ve reached a point in my recovery that is notorious for relapse, and now that I’m in it, I can understand why. I’m unearthing years worth of emotional hurt that I’ve spent half of my life distracting myself from fully addressing, with no way to numb the pain other than to keep pressing through it.

Recovery isn’t just about not drinking or using. It’s not as simple as that. All of us have reasons why we are driven to drink or shoplift or lie or sleep with total strangers or whatever that thing is that keeps you from feeling that thing that you don’t want to feel.

I would go to almost any length to avoid feeling those things that I don’t want to feel, and now that I’m sober, I’ve been sitting in them for awhile. That’s why I’ve found myself doing things like baking cookies and eating the entire batch (on two separate occasions) and then being angry that I’ve gained weight, or working out like a crazy person because I have anger that I don’t know how to process, or calling a friend and just sitting in silence on the phone because the simple act of calling someone reminds me that I’m not alone.

It tethers me to something real. It reminds me that I have support, and even if the person on the other line doesn’t always know what to say to me because she isn’t an alcoholic, she is saving my life simply by being there.

As difficult as experiencing the hard stuff is, the good stuff makes the bad stuff almost forgettable. Just like childbirth made me feel like I was literally dying right there on the table — rationally, I figured I wasn’t actually going to die, but my body felt like it was shutting down and my soul was floating away — but the joy of seeing that little face made me immediately forget. All I can remember is that childbirth is unpleasant. This makes me hope that one day I’ll recall 100 days sober as unpleasant, but not bad enough to kill me.

Drinking would kill me.

As I keep inching forward, the pain lessens little by little. Every day, a tiny piece of my soul is restored … I think. Sometimes I can’t tell if my soul is healing, or if I’m simply losing my mind, but I do know one thing: I can’t go back.

The terrified part of me wants to say “NEVER MIND, I WAS JUST KIDDING!” and go right back to drinking, but the tiny shred of sane self I have left knows that I could never un-know that I’m an alcoholic and that there are things in my past that drove me to this point. I could never un-know that my coping mechanisms will send me to an early grave unless I retrain myself how to cope differently. I could never un-know the joy and peace I feel in my good sober moments.

They say it gets better. I believe them. I have to.

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Ninety Days Sober And I’m Still Here

I’m 90 days sober. This has been the longest, most painful, humbling, frightening, and eye-opening experience of my life.

When I first became a mother, I remember thinking that childbirth was the most painful, humbling, frightening and eye-opening experience of my life. It’s empowering to bring life into the world. The fragility and toughness of babies and vaginas and just the whole motherhood thing really blows my mind. But this.

This.

I was so walled over with addiction, resentment, and pride, so deep into self-medicating to avoid reality, that I had no idea how messed up I was. I still don’t know how messed up I still am, even 2,160 hours into recovery. I don’t know how long or for what reasons I stayed there, hiding from my life, avoiding the discomfort of uncomfortable emotions. I liked it there, in the dark. It felt safe. I mean, a baby feels safe cocooned in utero, but for the sake of her own life, she must eventually experience birth.

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Maya Angelou is my jam.

I’ve had 90 nights of going to bed sober, falling asleep peacefully, knowing exactly where I am and without fear of needing to jump out of bed to throw up.

I’ve opened my eyes on 90 mornings without a hangover. For 90 evenings I have been able to put my kids to bed sober, without stumbling down the hall, dropping my phone because I’m too drunk to find the light switch, or spilling wine all over my pajamas. I ruined a lot of pajamas, because the thing about me when I’d been drinking is that I drank to not care about things like spilling wine on my pajamas. I certainly never had the foresight to spray stain remover on anything.

I am 10 pounds heavier because sobriety is a cold-hearted bitch. She’s not cutting me any slack, and that’s okay, because right now it’s better for me to be fat and sober than not as fat, but also drunk. Please excuse me while I try not to think about Dark Chocolate M&M’s.

Motherhood used to feel hard.

It’s really not that hard.

Sobriety is hard, but it’s making everything else easier.

Day 90

Photo credit: Maverick Hobbs, age 8

Hells yeah.

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