Good afternoon, or whatever time it is for you. When I woke up today it was 55 out and we turned on our furnace for the first time in the RV this year. Now it is sunny and 77 and I’ve changed my shoes out for my sandals and taken a few layers off. I got a crisp run in while it was still cool out before meeting with a sponsee in the garden and it was really nice. I still don’t like the cold, but a little change of season is okay with me for a little while. Once it gets cold out for the few months it does in North Florida I’ll be singing a dreadful tune but for now its nice.
I just spent the better part of an hour talking to a parent about their child who is potentially coming to treatment, and I was excited for the hope of a new future and also sad and scared for the reality of what they are facing. Addiction, especially to mind altering chemicals, is a fatal illness. I know if I have to face it with one of my girls when they get older, I am going to need a lot of help. I could tell a lot of what I was sharing about my experience with my intervention and my family was resonating with this parent and maybe I should share it here again. In the hopes that it helps someone out there.
When I was 15 I found some unopened beer with my friend and we of course twisted those hot tops and drank the scuzzy liquid inside. We pretended to feel loopy or maybe we did. All I knew is that I was going to be someone who drank. I imagined tailgating and weekend celebrations with friends, drinking champagne at my wedding and wine with my girlfriends on weekends away (not sure where). I knew that when people in high school talked about going to parties, getting people to buy beer, stealing alcohol or general party antics, I knew I wanted to be a part of that. To me it was very important to be seen as “cool” and I was secretly desperate to be liked by others or at least by the people I viewed as “worthy” including popular, good-looking, charming, wealthy, and athletic types. I was not focused on the people who were good friends, hard-working, quiet, dedicated to their passions, or kids who I viewed as “nerdy.” Oddly enough, I was not very popular myself. I always felt less-than when confronted with outgoing and confident peers. I was a follower. Even though I possessed many leadership qualities, I buckled around the peers who seemed “flashier.”
Growing up I had good qualities and I had many qualities that today I look at as questionable or lacking in character. I won’t blame my parents here, although environment certainly shaped me. I just thought this world was made up of the “haves and have nots,” and I wanted to be a “have” in a bad way. I laughed at their jokes, I followed them to parties, I tried to fit in. Inwardly I beat myself up for being too ugly, too awkward, too needy, too emotional. I decided I hated my body. I decided I would try to make myself desirable to men. I made all of this my focus. Not school, not what I might be good at, not intelligence or integrity, not friendship or sports, but attention. Attention and likeability were my aims.
I guess some of my childhood trauma could have contributed to this shallow mindset, but also, I believe my alcoholism was present from birth. I constantly compared myself to others and I could never quite keep up. Finding alcohol and drugs eased my anxiety when I interacted with others. I found myself more confident and getting more attention and so it became paramount to all other things. When I failed out of my first year at college I started to think there might be a problem, I wrote about it in my journal which I still have in case I need to go back for a reminder that sobriety is still the right place for me. Most people don’t really have great reasons for why they use drink and drugs. They just know they have to do it.
It kept turning on me and I kept beating myself up more and more on the inside. I hated myself. The only reason people hung out with me was as a party friend or because we were going to hookup. My only currency was attention. I had no substance to my life. I wanted to be something important. I thought you had to be something important for people to love you. I realize now how messed up that is, but I had been following around “important” people for so long and had placed so much emphasis on outward appearances that I lost sight of the fact that humans are loveable for the very sake that they are alive. That they are somebody’s or should have been.
My parents hired an Interventionist at the behest of an ex-boyfriend, and I ended up agreeing to go to a 30 day treatment center. The feelings of doom and relief ebbed each day with the realization that I was an addict and would have to give up drugs for good and the hope that I could potentially begin down a path to a life worth living. I might even be able to become the kind of person I had only dreamed about. I drank after treatment but kept going to 1 or 2 recovery meetings every day because these people understood me, but I wanted desperately to be able to control my drinking and “drink normally.” My experiment in drinking normally failed and I found myself around another keg at 6:30 am on my last drunk. When I woke up with that final hangover (at 7pm mind you), I knew that everything I had learned in treatment really did apply to me 100 percent.
My first year sober was all over the map emotionally and my physical sobriety was tenuous at times, but I held on the thin reed of hope and of a Higher Power that I could do this thing. One day at a time, I worked all 12 steps and began to help others.
The reason I agreed to go to treatment was because my father, the only person in the world whose opinion of me still mattered, looked me in the eye and said “you either go to treatment or you get out of our lives forever,” through his choked back tears. I could see the pain I was causing him. This man did not cry at either of his parents’ funerals. And there he sat in front of me, breaking…And I broke a little. I did not care about anyone else at the intervention. They all said their sob stories, and none of them could get through the hardened shell I had become, but my father always believed in me. He always thought I was great. He made me feel like I could do great things and that I was a good person. We were a team. And he had to tell his child that she had to never come back or go get help.
And let me tell you, had he done anything less, I don’t know if I would have made it. I write all of this with tears in my eyes. Sadness, gratitude, wonder at how it all worked out for me. How in the world was I able to get and stay sober? Some of it is purely divine intervention, with a lot of hard, honest, work along the way. I had just prayed for the first time since I was a kid a week prior to my intervention for God to take my life. I meant that I wanted him to help me get rid of myself either through an accident or an overdose or something, but I was done with this life. I was laying in a dirty bed surrounded by a filthy room after another filthy night, and I looked up at the stars and I just wanted it to all be over, I lost hope.
Remember how I talked about my shallow ideas about life? The thought had come that night, that there had to be more to life, but maybe not for people like me. I wondered how I could have gotten it all so wrong. I hated how “weak” I was. I hated that there was no laughter, no lightness, no fun left. I was finally sick of all of the show. I was sick of the performance I was giving every night. I was sick of watching other people perform their act. I knew there was more to life, I just wondered why I hadn’t been interested. I knew there were people out there not drinking like me, doing real things, honest things, sacred things. How could someone like me get somewhere like that?
The last year of my drinking is a blur, I don’t know where I was, who I was with or what I was doing. All I know is that I was trying to make the pain go away. I also knew it wasn’t working…
The first AA meeting I went to was on a Saturday after I got to treatment. I sat along a far wall in the back. I was there to listen and observe, but not be a part of. A person spoke at a podium, a man I think with a white beard for about 10-15 minutes. I don’t know what he said. But I remember a young man, maybe a few years older than me standing up and sharing during the open discussion portion after, he was talking about his drinking and using, and it was like mine. I paid attention because he was my age, and he was happy to be there. And he was joking and shouting, and people were laughing in agreement when he shared, and I hated him. I shot arrows at him for his joy and levity. Then a woman to the right of me spoke, and she was softer, more serious, and she shared about how she secretly felt crazy until she found recovery. That she had a mind that just wouldn’t leave her alone. That she felt so happy to have an answer and solution to her problem through working the steps and service to others. I loved her, and I accidentally got lost in her share. Then I caught myself identifying and my mind snapped shut. “No! I do not want to be one of you!” I put my head in my hands and tried not to cry. What was happening to me? Why are these people talking out loud about all of the secret stuff that has been inside of me my whole life? Make it stop, no,no,no,no,no…This could not be my life. The reality of my situation began to dawn. I was in rehab. In real life. This was not a dream. I am an alcoholic.
A few days before I got out of treatment a random member of the recovery community came up to listen to my 5th step in the program. She was kind, and tolerant, and we cried and laughed together for hours. She was doing this for free. She was doing it because someone did it for her. I never saw her again. She was an angel in my life. I asked the Universe to take my life, and it did. I had laughed a real laugh for the first time in years. I had fallen asleep without drugs for the first time in years, and I had woken up, clear headed. I started to love how I felt. I wanted a life worth living again, I was scared to go back home. The people in treatment knew me better after 30 days than anyone had ever known me in my entire life. They loved and accepted me for who I was. I started to like that crazy guy who would shout and share in the meetings…
I wish I could say that my depth of character came back immediately, but it took time. I think it is still in the works really. The kind of person I want to be, and the kind of person I hope to be as an example to my girls is someone who is well, kind. Someone who is a good friend, someone who is passionate about contributing to the world, but not someone who is overly concerned with achievement. I want to love others for the very fact that they are around me and that they deserve it. I want to be a giver, not a taker. I want to be a good steward of people’s time, feelings, and dreams. I want to be a good steward of the earth. I want to experience art and creation and follow the callings that are on my heart. I want to encourage others to follow the callings of their hearts and celebrate with them. I want to create a home and a sanctuary for others to feel safe and accepted. I want to be a humble servant. I have a long way to go and many lessons before me, but that is okay. I still crave attention from time to time, but it is more like an old friend or a scar that makes itself known from time to time. I don’t have to scratch at it or change it, I just see it and try to love it when it comes.
My hope is that in reading this you feel more connected, and you feel hope. The disease of addiction is often tragic and filled with pain. As is often said in the rooms, “we are not bad people trying to get good, we are sick people trying to get well,” and isn’t that true for all of us. We all want to be the best version or vision of ourselves. When I was little, I saw myself as a good person, and that went away for a long time, but through recovery I have been able to live my vision. It is not perfect all the time, but its pretty great. May your journey be filled with real laughter, and may you find your community of acceptance wherever you wander. Much love.