By day two or three of getting sober, a mechanism in my brain starts to lure me back like cordyceps lure an insect to high ground. I walk into the seven-eleven on autopilot, but I’m on my way to Safeway. We stock our fridge with groceries. I’ve cooked more in a week than I had in a month. I start to notice what it feels like to think with a brain full of nutrients. My brain is healing. The paranoia and feelings of victimhood fade away. I start to realize the fear and guilt and shame shadow of addiction was an illusion built by my own actions and consciousness to keep me complacent so I don’t have to take responsibility to living up to a greater potential.
My fear and uncertainty subsides, replaced by strength and conviction. This is what alcohol was stealing from me.
Probably the hardest part about quitting, other than the physical symptoms—heartburn, gastric discomfort, nausea, panic, dizziness, and for some delirium tremens, seizures—is owning up to what a selfish asshole you’ve been. I’ve been a selfish asshole. I think a lot of people start on the road to recovery, begin to see themselves clearly, and decide they’d rather drink than face that mess. I know I have.
Recovery is work, at first. You come home feeling guilt and shame which were the feelings you were covering up related to how you relate to yourself and others, your traumas, your poor decisions, your tendency to trust the wrong people and never fully open up and the way you never learned to manage money and feel always like a child wandering around in an adult body hoping things work out, whatever, just chill and have a drink. No. You want a drink, have a kombucha or some ginger ale and make yourself some dinner. Alcohol is poison. The feeling you’re looking for is nourishment.
Nourish what’s good lover.
The work looks like cooking a meal, practicing chakra work to heal feelings of inadequacy and clear energy around how I relate to people, yoga, nature, mindfulness, the Tao Te Ching, Ram Dass, inspire. I envision healthy skin, a family, comfort, friends. My ego deflates, shrivels, dies, and a new one begins to form, like a snake that has shed its skin, or a crab rather, soft and fresh, off to weather the world where its shell will again harden.
This isn’t my first attempt at getting sober by any means. The last two years of my life were pretty much an exercise in how to approach sobriety from an angle that I’m not going to talk myself out of. Most alcoholics only meet this angle when they hit rock bottom.
Those words are almost playful compared to the reality. “Rock bottom.”
I was a homeless teacher once. That’s my rock bottom. No…it was the relationship I entered into after that in order to justify my continued alcoholism, a relationship which I then had to end after going to AA and realizing I wasn’t going to make it out with him drinking by my side. I felt hopeless. I’d fucked up a perfectly good life. I drank heavily daily for a couple of years. Many years. They seemed like a couple of years until I counted them.
When you run from yourself, the storm in your wake affects others near you. My best friend’s boyfriend called and said he was afraid of coming home and finding her dead and that he thought her parents would take better care of her, that they were better equipped. I wasn’t sure, but I knew the spin of a dawn-to-dusk drinking cycle and I saw that my friend drank all day to ease her pain. Watching her decline lessened my alcohol intake, gave me the courage to go to AA, and the conviction to leave the toxic relationship I was in.
I wish the real rock bottom wasn’t when my friend died and I lost my mind for a while in the midst of all of the restructuring of perception and rewriting of personal narratives which had to occur after her wake. My best friend was dead.
We were supposed to grow old together. It took a lot of time to rewrite our story in such a way that it ended in her dying, and a lot more time going over what I might have done better, why did we ever have that first drink, why did I ever follow in those footsteps which led us to drinking together? Hadn’t I learned from my family? How had I traced those same footsteps? We never had to drink. How different might it have been?
The guilt was immense once, but I’m resolved now. She made her decisions and I made mine. Sometimes we think we are making choices that will lead us down one path only to find our estimation of consequences missed the mark. I fear this outcome in terms of global warming if only because I saw how suddenly the consequences can go from possibility to reality, but hope is a major ingredient in recovery I think. What matters is how I proceed.
Or maybe the hardest part of recovery is vulnerability or realizing you aren’t worth anything to anyone and that this is the key to finding worth in little things like breathing summer air on a rainy day, seeing flowers in bloom, sipping tea, eating good food.
As my appreciation grows for these small pleasures, I find these pleasures are the ones to live for. A kiss on the cheek, a shower, the smell and feel of clean laundry, silence, the strain of my muscles in the middle of a run. I start to appreciate things that make me feel alive, that build my strength. The little things become bigger things. I read a book and my sober mind grasps the words and sentences differently than the drunk one. Words plug into linear structures called sentences instead of swimming around in a soup of subconscious symbolism and half-tangible ideas.
The every day, the mundane, is sweet and innocent, plain and sometimes boring, but it’s all I could ask for. My body doesn’t ache every day with thirst and withdrawal. The paranoia, guilt, and shame are going away. The mood swings are becoming less intense and the Taoism plus sobriety is helping me to navigate my emotions with reason.
My mantra lately is Relax.
Everything that was taken from me by alcohol came about through worry, stress, anxiety, and efforts to carve myself into something I am not, prevent things that haven’t happened yet, or to bolster my ego when she felt too small.
Approach with curiosity. Do you know you?
I start meditating on what comes into my life with the alcohol leaving. What’s new? What did it take away?
My favorite part of sobriety is that DJ and I haven’t had a fight since I quit. People don’t tell me I’m repeating myself anymore. Those circling meditations on who was out to get me or where the world was fucked up or how it’s all going down don’t occur anymore.
I’m grounded. We’re juicing and eating well. We are connecting. I feel better about offering myself and my time to people because I hate myself less and am remembering I’m as much a person as anyone else and no, there’s nothing wrong with me, and yeah no I don’t drink and that’s totally fine.
I wonder how many alcoholics get sober when they turn thirty. Turning thirty is nice in the fucks-giving department if you’re hoping to give less of those someday. Thirty is like the purge. Purge all those fucks.
A woman comes into my work and buys two bottles of wine on Friday, two more on Saturday, two more on Sunday. I can’t tell if she’s unable to get up from how drunk she is or how many pills she’s on when she sits down to look at the wine. She looks like a pill popper who drinks. She acts like a pill popper who drinks. She argues with me about the cost, about a membership she buys which saves her 5% off and would have paid for itself weeks ago.
She apologizes if she was mean when decides to keep the membership she paid for after I explain it has paid for a third of itself already and maybe she could try it out and save herself some money since I don’t have the code to refund her and what is she out doing purchasing things when she’s this fucked up anyways? She seemed so much less fucked up than the last time.
I see this woman and know she is my future if I drink. Her belly is swollen like a wine sack and her legs are slender sticks in jeans that are in their fourth or fifth wear judging by how they sag. Her shirt is a mesh knit, black stripes and a pinkish beige color that is the same color as her skin. It’s the kind of shirt that needs something underneath but she must figure no one can tell. Over it, she wears a fashionista Army-issue knock-off coat that covers some stylist-dyed do which sticks out of her hood flock of seagulls style.
She has money. Money, I thought once, would help me solve so many of my problems. But my problems were character flaws, values, and the dissonance between who I thought I was and who I really was.
Now that I’m not fiending anymore, I’m starting to see the blessings again. Money isn’t a concern at all at the moment. We’ve been saving and spending responsibly. We aren’t drunkenly spending on things like this woman who I hope to sell some food to next time she comes in and who I hope finds a way to see through the fiend to her fortune as well.
Word of the day: Humility
Practice: Active Listening
Will yourself today to hope, to listen, to be humble.
Writing exercise: What is coming into your life now that alcohol is leaving it?