- Mental Health
I was a highly sensitive and intuitive child; something I now see as a good trait, but back then I was labeled critically as ‘shy’, ‘too quiet’, ‘too sensitive’. I was born with a visible and painful vein malformation that also added to my feelings of insecurity, self-consciousness and being different.
I set out on a path of feeling like I didn’t fit in, like there was something terribly wrong with me and it was quite possibly a huge mistake that I had been born at all. Being taught how to effectively feel and release emotions and how to think in an effective way to elicit positive responses from the body and mind are not priorities in our society. Going to school and being told WHAT to think; falling in line, doing as you’re told take precedence over how a child is actually developing and coping on an emotional and spiritual level.
Negative thoughts about myself took root at an early age. Fear and insecurity ran wild in my mind and manifested as stress and tension in my body. Eventually the discomfort was so great I began seeking relief. I recall beginning to consciously entertain negative thoughts about my appearance and weight as early as age 12. By age 14, I had begun running excessively and starving myself to alter how I felt. I had also discovered that by causing myself physical pain I could induce a rush of adrenaline and endorphins that would momentarily bring relief to the mounting emotional pain and anxiety I was feeling inside, as well as give me a false sense of power and control over overwhelming circumstances in life that I felt powerless over.
I vividly recall the exact moment I took my first drink of alcohol. The euphoric, instant and powerful calm that washed over me ignited the idea that THIS SUBSTANCE WAS MY SALVATION.
I remember making an instant, gleeful plan to never be without some of this magic elixir that not only removed my anxiety and emotional discomfort but also filled me with confidence and self-esteem such that I had never known! I had found my solution.
Sadly, a chemical solution soon becomes its own undoing. Having a constant and steady supply of alcohol became my number one priority; as did hiding this need from everyone around me. For a time, I managed to live a double life. I performed well in school, I travelled, I worked. All the while, I was servicing my addiction in the shadows and bathroom stalls. Every now and then, with growing frequency, I would indulge too much in the company of others and I would later chastise myself and instead of seeking help for the problem, I would commit to spending more time alone.
My entire existence revolved around the getting and consuming of alcohol and anyone or anything that threatened that would be pushed out of my life; avoided. Thus, my world grew smaller and darker and lonelier. I needed more and more alcohol to maintain my sense of relief. I became more and more careless about my safety and I sought out lower companions who would not question my appearance, lifestyle or excessive and near constant alcohol consumption.
After nine years of battling to fit into life and maintain the right balance of functioning and drunkenness, I gave up on controlling my addiction. I made a conscious decision to stop trying to control and limit the amount of alcohol I took. I surrendered and gave myself completely to my addiction.
Thus began my one year free-fall to my rock bottom. I had already been consuming an inordinate amount of hard alcohol on a semi-daily basis, but that changed to a mind boggling average of 40 ounces of vodka per day for one year straight.
In that year, I maintained a service position in the food industry that allowed me to consume at least one meal a day. I maintained an apartment and kept my cat fed and looked after. At that point, my cat was the only sentient being I felt no shame around and who provided a sense of unconditional love. He, along with my lingering and persistent aspirations as an artist, were what eventually became my true saving graces.
On the morning of September 6, 2006, I had a stark realization that exactly one year had passed since giving up the reins to my addiction. I also became aware that on that day, one year prior, I had promised myself that if I were to live through that inebriated year I would simply end my life to end the torment. And there I was, unable to even get drunk and find relief with any amount of alcohol; I was left with myself and a choice to make. I could end my life and find peace. Or? As I sat with that thought, a second option presented itself to me; instead of surrendering to my addiction I could surrender to the pain.
I picked up the phone and called for an ambulance. I told them I was about to end my life and I needed help. In that moment of stepping out in faith, into the void, in complete surrender to my reality– my addiction was miraculously and inexplicably lifted. The craving vanished in an instant. I felt I was carried in loving arms to the hospital, to my parents’ house to detox, to a residential treatment center, and home again a few months later; sober and reborn.
Notably, I had shocked myself when I phoned a detox center for help. Upon learning how much I had been drinking, the man suggested that I go out for a beer lest I suffer delirium tremens. I hung up on him with the words, “No, I’ve had enough.”
I had always secretly believed that there was some kind of direction or guiding force in life; be it intuition, energetic, synchronicity- just something. I was delighted to be able to speak about this ‘higher power’ in treatment and look back on all the ways I had been directed in life even through some of the most terrible experiences. Because I had reached such a pure surrender, having tried so hard and so long on my own strength to utter exhaustion and collapse, I felt excited and relieved to tap into a loving and helpful source of power. I felt that the minute I truly chose from my heart to seek my own healing and redemption, the universe orchestrated the right people, situations and conversations to assist me.
When I returned home from treatment, I was guided to attend 12-step meetings and met a friend who introduced me to a Big Book Study. I attended twice a week for three years, in addition to other meetings. In that time, I learned the course of action as laid out in the text book.
I went to a few meetings and spoke to several different people before meeting my first real sponsor. As I went through the steps thoroughly, I experienced real and tangible results. I began to change inside. My reactions began to change; my thinking began to change. As a result, my outer life began to grow and change in new and healthy ways. Slowly, slowly (sometimes agonizingly slowly) my path unfolded. My capacity to express myself increased, my confidence grew. My relationships with my family improved.
My experience of recovery is that it is serious and hard work on a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. I felt I was rewiring my brain from the inside out. Special care and dedication was required. A softness and compassion for myself that I had never exhibited had to be learned and applied as I relearned how to live life in a new way. I felt like a child. I felt like I was seeing and experiencing things for the first time, with new eyes. I felt like I was rising from the ashes of my former self.
This is the core of what I learned about alcoholism: I was dying from a spiritual malady caused by an allergy to a drug– alcohol. When I would ingest the drug, I would feel an immediate sense of relief and it would trigger an insatiable and uncontrollable craving for more. This is the physical aspect of the disease of alcoholism. I also suffered from the mental aspect of the disease; the insanity that led me to repeat over and over again the consumption of a drug that was slowly eroding my sense of self and destroying my life.
In order to recover, I needed to completely abstain from the drug and face, uncover, and deal with (HEAL) the true root cause of my suffering. My suffering was my own distorted thinking, my own repressed and unfelt feelings that I was running from; my own instincts run amok.
As I grew stronger in my understanding of the steps by practicing them over and over, I began to seek out new forms of spiritual and self-development that called to me. I began sensing the new freedom that comes from applying the steps and with caution and courage, I explored activities like singing, dance, music, art and sport that had always interested me but I had been too afraid or too drunk to try. All of these things were whispers of my soul that were there all along and now that I could hear and respond, my spirit soared. Opportunities, friendships and growth poured in. Having to learn to feel and release negative painful emotions built up from the past became more and more supplemented with having to learn how to manage and process influxes of sheer joy, peace and happiness!
I was in my addiction for ten years. I got sober in 2006 and have remained sober. I remind myself often that every single moment on this path is precious and not to be taken for granted. Sobriety in a world saturated by the horrors and rampant normalization of drug use (including the drug; alcohol) requires diligence and daily maintenance.
I have known countless people who have begun the path of recovery and then relapsed. Some have died. I have had to make the difficult choice to walk away from friendships because I was growing and developing healthy behaviors and the other person was not. I have had to call crisis lines in the middle of the night; making myself vulnerable and using every ounce of courage and humility I could muster to hang on and work through a rough patch of emotions. I have had to find strength and courage to vocalize and articulate boundaries in my life; self-care has to be a priority every single day. I have had to face fears and be rigorously honest with myself and others in spite of fear of what others will think.
Bottom line is that my sobriety has to come first in my life. Along with alcoholism. I had also suffered from severe anorexia, depression and self-mutilation. Self-care has to be practiced and I found support with this through help from a psychotherapist. Addiction is a symptom of deeper underlying issues and it takes time, patience and more practice to heal and develop new neurological pathways in the brain.
If I can offer advice, I would say work hard but be patient with yourself. Be patient with others. Recovery is a lifelong commitment and any amount of time living a life in recovery is a monumental achievement. Enjoy the journey, look for things to be grateful for, take time to get to know yourself and find out what brings you joy and most of all reach out for support when you need it knowing that you deserve it; you matter.
I believe that like ripples on a pond, a person can influence countless people simply by ‘being’. By shining their light and walking their path and taking opportunities like these to share with raw honesty. Their story becomes the web that connects us.
Sharing allows it to grow stronger and helps more people’s light grow brighter. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t close my eyes, get still, and silently honor every person that has touched my life and supported me on this path and the miraculous unfolding that has led me to where I now am. Sobriety truly is heaven on Earth and I am eternally grateful.