There are stories I am not sharing because it isn’t time. Maybe one day I will. Maybe not. They are too dark and too upsetting and I believe as a writer I have no business sharing things I am not in control of. By that I mean, I have not yet worked through having compassion for myself with regard to what happened in those stories. What I did. What substance abuse did to me. But they are there inside of me just the same. They have become touch stones for me as I navigate the wilderness of clean living. Whenever the voice in my mind tries to tell me ‘alcohol isn’t so bad – just have one’ I can recall those stories vividly and they stop me cold.
What you come to learn in sobriety is that you have every right to set up your own boundaries. You can say what you need to say, and not say what you need to keep to yourself. You do not owe anyone an answer or explanation for anything. You need not justify your choices. You can identify your own needs and then make sure they get met. You can walk away from what or who does not deserve you. You can use the tools that serve you well and leave the rest behind.
Perhaps the craziest thing I have learned so far is that getting sober is more about me than about alcohol. So very much more. We are obsessed with drinking in the USA. It’s everywhere. We get trashed in yoga studios and marathons and while painting and celebrating and mourning and everything inbetween. We are surrounded by trash which is all polished and pretty and romanticized and destroying our brains and our memories and numbing out all the good shit.
What an insane journey this is. What an absolute trip to get sane in an insane world.
The bright sunlight is deceiving, as it often is at the beginning of March. Every deadened winter thing is gleaming in the afternoon light but the bite of the bitter cold when I step out the front door is immediately real. Hat, coat, sunglasses. The sound of my boots on the pavement as I walk the neighborhood on a Monday with not a single cloud in the sky.
They say writing is like painting a tiny universe to inhabit for a while. They tell me something happens at sixty days sober. Something in the brain. Like the intensity of the desire to drink gets dialed back quite a bit. I welcome this development but secretly concern myself that if I anticipate it too eagerly it will not come about. I shove my hands in my pockets and take a deep breath of winter air like a straight chilled shot to my lungs. No one is around. All the little sedans are at their various offices waiting patiently in big parking lots for their people.
Cravings are not about liking something. That’s the fucked up part. You need it so bad you are climbing the walls inside of your body and it’s nothing pleasant. It’s loud and distracting. You just want the noise to stop. Like when a kid is nagging you for something and you just want to give in to shut them up. Temporary relief – that’s the siren call. That’s the seduction. It isn’t even that you want the pleasure it’s that you want to end the pain.
There’s a lot of chatter about words like addiction, addict, alcoholic, recovery, etc. These are all words I refused for a very long time to even say to myself in my head. I was too afraid they had not to do with somebody else out there but everything to do with me in here. Inside where all my body parts were trying to keep me alive. People think it’s about how much you drink but it is not necessarily that. It’s about the mental prison alcohol erects around your mind. I was terrified to stop. And now that I am stopped I have moments of sheer terror that I could start up again and lose myself. Lose all the progress I have made, all the ground I have covered. You get into trouble when you are afraid of stopping and afraid of starting at the same time.
I am likely repeating myself. A lot of this recovery jazz is about repetition. Carving new pathways in the brain, entrenching new habits. It takes a lot of time, I’m sure, and I am getting there. What I think is cool is that there are words I was afraid to use but now I use them so often they do not frighten me the way they used to. I am starting to see the addiction not as part of me but as some kind of bizarrely twisted gift.
If it weren’t so hard to quit, quitting could not transform you so entirely. Because you cannot get clean without paying a hell of a lot of attention. I fidget with the keys in my pocket as I cross the street. I feel the skin of my fingers dragging along their sharp jagged teeth.
There’s a guy who wrote a book called Kick the Drink… Easily! Fellow soberlings have raved about it, so I purchase the thing and when it arrives in all of its neon pink glory, I pull it from the box and immediately note its comical heft. It’s three hundred and four pages long. Is the irony lost on everyone but me or am I just a snarky asshole? Anybody’s guess. Doesn’t matter. I toss it atop a stack of, I don’t know – eighteen or nineteen books of the same or similar topic, which teeters like an awkward multicolored tower in a Dr. Suess-type dysfunctional fantasy land.
Quitting is a mind game mostly, or at least it seems to be for me. I’m fifty three days into this wilderness and it is the hardest thing I have ever done. Perhaps I was not prepared or I was naive or whatever the case but here I am having ‘made it’ this ‘far’ (whatever tf that means) and more than anything I do not want to go back. I never want to be at day zero again. Except when I do. That’s the head trip. I coast along like a proper boss until I get tackled out of nowhere. Pummeled to the ground by an invisible threat no one around me can see but I can feel pumping through my veins as though it would bulge right out of my skull and explode all over the room.
Perhaps if it did, more people could understand how all encompassing the cravings can be. They are impossible to explain with words to someone who has never lived through or with them. This is frustrating especially to a writer. I want to show you with my words. I want to show you everything. From the blissed out euphoria of the first crystal clear mornings of sobriety to the shocking, gripping, maddening bite of the itchy cruel desire for just one more.
A couple things help, though. Humor is one but it has to be funny not dickish. Deep breathing is another. I do it as soon as I remember to which is thankfully becoming more often. It’s sort of second nature once you get used to folding it into your routine or maybe what some would call your ‘tool box.’ As in the arsenal of practices which help to mellow you out when your inner booze monster is climbing the goddamn curtains, hissing and jumping like a maniac. I don’t know what the man in the Easily book will tell me but I am skeptical. For better or worse, I am my entire self now. There’s no chemical additives to make me anything other than one hundred percent Allie, as quick to be sarcastic and cheeky as to be tender and frightfully intimate.
Before I grew up and became Allison, my family and friends used to call me Allie. Back when I was free and scrappy and most happy and alive. Before I knew what it ever meant to get trashed. Or to blackout. Or to completely lose control of my innocent body and brain. In all the sober circles, I go by Allie now. It feels right to throw it on back to a time when I was new and clean. Maybe it’s silly but I really do want a fresh start. When you have an addiction, there’s a lot you’ve probably done in your life that you do not remember. But there are also some parts of who you are that you never, ever forget