{How I Wish I Were Different: After Four Years of Sobriety}

I go to the garden. My reasons are messy and fluid, resembling the task.

The 95 degree temperature hits me in the face as I sluggishly climb out of my car. Searching the field, I identify three backs bent. I see them from afar. Why am I here? There is no turning back as the heat punches then catches in my throat.

There are things growing.  I am amazed my first night by the thought of food coming from somewhere.  I pull up dirt covered onions, cutting of roots and tops.  I learn quickly and try to be efficient.  Drop them in the bin, but not too rough.  Not enough to bruise.  My hands reek of onion and I wipe the moist liquid from the onions on my perspiring arms.  I’m hoping this keeps the mosquitoes at bay as twilight approaches.  I did not spray myself before coming, though in a type A moment I had come prepared.  I didn’t want to come off as a novice stinking of bug spray.  That night was my first in the garden.

I am nervous, as I am doing anything new.  Intensely shy, I do not like meeting people.  I can carry a conversation fine but more often than I like to admit, I’m just too lazy.  Self-centered even, I suppose.  Showing an interest in someone, even when I care about them, even when they interest me, even when I know someone already takes so much out of me.  There is a price.

This is a quality I hate about myself.  How I wish I were different.

I wonder, after getting gussied up for a wedding yesterday, why being with people so hard for me?  I was drained and tired afterward.  Some people relish parties! Though happy for the bride and groom, all I could think about was being exhausted.

Partly this was for the fact that there was an open bar.  That brought up all sorts of unexpected feelings. Damn it, I think to myself, I still resent  that I cannot drink. Being a drunk (former drunk, of course) this is more than a little ironic to me.

It’s just not fair kept echoing through me, whiny and complaining.  Deep and pulsing, a humming in my soul.  Not fair, not fair, not fair!!!  I was feeling deeply sorry for myself. And this is how I know, how I knew, even then that I cannot drink ever again.  I know even now that I am a drunk that doesn’t drink.

I wish I were different.

Four years ago this week I quit drinking – it was for good this time.

I should go to an AA meeting and get a four year chip.  But I don’t do AA.  Not absolutely sure why.

I guess, I like to act like I’m not really an alcoholic.  I just “don’t drink” and when I’m not around it I’m “fine.”  But I don’t think I’m happy not drinking and this scares me more than you could know.

I am finding joy and peace, learning to feel the abundance of my life.  But I need to find out why other sober people are happy even at an open bar. But not me.   

I realized last night, sitting across from a young gal from my church who was kind of sloppy from drinking three giant glasses of wine, that I am not a happy sober person.  I watched her enviously as she made at least three trips to the bar and brought each one back to our table.  And I knew. There are some things that I need to sort out.

I wish I were different but maybe that’s the thing.  I am me.  I was a crazy falling down drunk, once upon a time.  It was no fairy tale. And I am no princess. I am a drunk, I may be sober, straight and clean, but I couldn’t have a good time last night mostly because I forgot who I was.  And I felt deprived.

I wish I were different.  But I am me. 

Trudging through the cauliflower and tomatoes and watermelon plants today, lugging loads of weeds, carrying hefty loads of hay I worked hard.  I worked to help.  I worked for penance. I worked to forget.  Who knows? Perhaps all that and more.

I know this – I am grateful to sweat, for my health, to be here, to be alive.  Yes, even to be sober.

I may wish I were different but I can only be me.

I can only live this one life.  Oh I have regrets.  Watching others last night brought up plenty of regrets, touched a well of sorrow, a deep recess carved in my soul, but in the end as I embraced the truth of Christ’s grace this morning at church, singing gratefully, I was more thirsty for more of Jesus,

You see, I know I’m a sinner.

I know I’m forgiven.

I need to forgive myself.  And perhaps, even give something back.  Four years sober I don’t know much.  I have no great wisdom about how and why.  There is more I don’t know than what I do.  But this is me.  This is who I am.

I have to stop wishing otherwise.

Being Broken by Addiction

My dog Comet is being groomed for the first time today and as I was dropping him off I glanced over at the magazines. I was drawn like a bee to pollen by the cover of  Brava Magazine.  It had an article about the secret addictions of women in Wisconsin, aptly titled The Silent Treatment.

While I am not quiet about my alcoholism here on my blog and person to person I will freely tell you my story, I have never talked about it publicly — as I think that I am ashamed. 

No-one talks about addiction in my circles. And here is what I imagine others are thinking.  Perhaps they perceive that addiction is simply a weakness or a character flaw.  And in some Christian circles a place where you haven’t allowed God victory or healing or aren’t trusting.   How in the world did she “allow herself” to get addicted?  What a mess she must be.  Addicts are just bad people trying to be good.

That’s all bullshit. (Forgive me, but it is.)

And in my clearer moments I remind myself that I am broken like every other person in the world.  We all have some “thing” or more than one, that we have trouble overcoming. Most people’s “thing” can be a secret–food addiction, money problems, compulsive shopping, secret cutting, or pornography.   I won’t pretend to know what your “thing” is.

This article talked about how so many women in Wisconsin have a problem with alcohol addiction.   More importantly, that addiction to alcohol is in some part NOT a “thing” to struggle with, but an illness to work against.  I can tell you gratefully that I am “in remission.”

“[There is a] stigma that surrounds substance abuse in a culture that loves the sound of clinking glasses.” (Brava)

One of my favorite people is Henri Nouwen. 

I would have loved to have known him and even been his friend, as we share a common lifelong struggle with melancholy and depression and need for affirmation and community.  He wrote this:

Jesus was broken on the cross.  He lived his suffering and death not as an evil to avoid at all costs, but as a mission to embrace.   We too are broken.  We live with  broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds or broken spirits.  We suffer from broken relationships.  How can we live our brokenness?  Jesus invites us to embrace our brokenness as he embraced the cross and live it as part of our mission.  He asks us not to reject our brokenness as a curse from God that reminds us of our sinfulness but to accept it and put it under God’s blessing for our purification and sanctification.  Thus our brokenness can become a gateway to new life.

Few understand that addiction is an illness like cancer.

There is a perception that somehow addicts cause their illness.  It is both an illness and an opportunity for self-control and inner strengthening.  As we grow in our understanding of our broken hearts and lives, we can become stronger.  How can we embrace our brokenness of addiction when the Church and (some) Christians make one feel as if you are cursed with a mental illness or lack self-control.

Yes, my alcoholism reminds me (almost daily) that I am a broken person.  The days and weeks when I try to avoid thinking about it, and (almost) pretend that I’ve got it all together, those are the times when I feel the farthest away from who I really am. I become lost in the idea of wellness that denies that I am and will be until the day I die an alcoholic in remission.

For whatever reason, I am an addict.

My deeply thoughtful thirteen year old daughter asked me recently why I can’t just drink socially?  We had been to party where there was a lot of drinking and I was having a hard time having fun.  I have been completely honest with her about my addiction and so I value her questions.  I believe she needs to understand my alcoholism, because it is a family illness and because one in four children of alcoholics become one themselves.

So why can’t I now drink socially?  “There is something in my brain that switches off after the first drink,” I told her.  “After that point, I have no ability to stop.”  I learned from my D&A counselor that every time I drank, my brain sends the signal to have more.  The well-worn pathway in my brain needed more, each time, to have the same impact as the last time I drank. I’m three years sober July 17th, 2011 and if I had a drink to celebrate I would need the same amount of alcohol as my last drink — about two bottles of wine, if I remember correctly — to feel any high.

As a Christ follower, it is even more complicated.

Or perhaps more simple depending on how you look at it. My addiction humbles me daily.  Drives me to my knees.  I go to church in a bar and I laugh, joyfully with the irony!  I don’t mind the reminders of my addiction because then I am drawn to the truth that my life is so improved — clearer, better, more meaningful sober. 

But three years of sobriety brings me to a place of acknowledging that I am still full of pride.  I have not been willing to help others who struggle with this addiction.  I have not been willing to speak out locally.  I have hidden my secrets and tried to live in a drinking world as a secret alcoholic.

The article in Brava was a challenge to me.

No, I am not at risk to drink, because I have created enough awareness of those around me of my illness, that the accountability keeps me sober.

But why am I so silent, so secretly ashamed? More importantly what can I do to give back?  I want others to know that this is not a shameful secret in my life, it is a disease of addiction that has harmful effects on people, families and communities and that recovery is possible with support.  It is not only possible but it is transformational!

What can I say about two years of sobriety?

I am very happy to be sober.  Full of joy all the time?  No.  Of course not.  No-one is, if they are completely honest with themselves.  But being sober equalizes things for me.  Brings me back to the middle.  I still swing toward sorrow and fear at times.  And though still too infrequent I have many, many days of contentment and joy.

I know this for sure, my ability to stabilize the bouts with depression is improved with not drinking, as alcohol is a depressant.  You don’t want to believe that when you are drinking, but it’s true that alcohol exacerbates the bleak moments, dark moods, the feelings of despair.

I don’t work a program, though I believe that some of this would be easier if I did.  There is a sense, when you are an alcoholic that you’re Alone with a capital A. Alone in a room of drinking people.  The world is full of people (my husband is one) that can have a drink or two and stop.  Alone in that others don’t have that “thing” that you do, which makes it impossible — to — stop once you have started.   The inner compass that directs your soul, that moderates your actions and behavior.  That thing is broken when you’re an alcoholic.  During the last two years of drinking I just didn’t want to stop.  Every time I drank, I wanted more.  I was able to control it for a while by not letting myself have access to a lot of alcohol.  One bottle of wine in the house at a time or whatever.  But an open bar, or party, or what not pretty much guaranteed that I would be plastered.

Anyway, that’s all boring.  Being a drunk is sad and boring.

Being sober is beautiful.  I can feel my feelings.  I can see my kids, hear them, and know them.  I appreciate my life, my husband, my blessings.  Friendships are sweeter.  Writing and photography — all the goodness in my life —  is connected to sobriety.

Most of all, I know that being an alcoholic (though at times a real bummer cause I wish I could still drink ) makes me need.  I take that “need” and hand it over to God.

I am helpless.  Hopeless.  Lacking in anything good without God and so grateful to know I am loved.

Tonight in YOGA, I heard God say to me :

B E L O V E D.
Over and over again, BELOVED. 
YOU are deeply loved by me. 
Let go of what others think of you (or what you think they might think.) 
Why do you care. 
The only thing you need to care about now 
is that you are my BELOVED.

That’s all I need for tonight.

Mel

I have written a lot about sobriety both poems and prose.  If you ever want to talk about any of this, I am available. I’m no expert, but I’ve been told I listen well and care deeply.  melhhanson@yahoo.com