Breaking Through.

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I stopped drinking. I broke my addiction. I never ever thought I could do this. I was trapped, alone, in fear, sick, terrified, getting worse, getting scared, alone, isolated, losing sleep, losing time, watching years flee, feeling tears flow. Day after day of morning pages, I would talk about it. I would never call it by name. Almost as if speaking it out loud would make it even more real and scary than it already was. I spoke of it in ambiguous terms, so that if anyone ever read it, they wouldn’t really know what I was dealing with.
I’ve found years’ worth of New Year’s Resolutions. Vision boards. Journals. All of them list giving it up, all of them depict a life of health, happiness, hope. But year after year they went unmet. The despair grew. More and more until I just stopped making the resolutions, goals, visions altogether. The hopelessness grew. The acceptance started becoming the new normal: this is just how it is now. I guess I’d always been fucked up. It’s just that before I was able to hide it. As my unraveling became harder and harder to conceal, my will to even try dwindled. I started quietly, in the back of my mind accepting that this had always been my fate and all of my dreams, goals, hard work, education were just me fooling myself. This is why I never had what other people had. Little girls who weren’t loved don’t get white dresses and picket fences. They get left. They get hurt. They get bruised. They struggle and no matter how long or how hard they try to measure up to the normies, they just never do. So bottom’s up. Might as well give in.

It’s like those lost-at-sea movies where the heroine tries everything she possibly can to escape the swells, the sharks, the sub-zero temperatures.  For the longest time, she tries.  She gets creative, fights like hell, gets hopeful, kicks, screams, cries, believes rescue is coming, but it never does until finally and without fanfare, she just stops. Succumbs. Takes the SCUBA tank off, leans back, and surrenders, almost welcoming the inevitable end.

That’s what drinking had become for me. What was once a vacation, fun, an escape suddenly became the perfect storm with my entire life at it’s eye. Before I knew it, I was shipwrecked – day after day. Alone, beaten, dehydrated. Dying. And worst of all – hopeless.

As a child I’d experienced so much trauma, instability, abuse and pain, it was easy to see why drinking became a comfort to me. In the beginning it truly was just social. Everyone did it, so so did I.

Fast forward to adulthood and I started noticing patterns in my life that terrified me. I never viewed myself as someone that lacked intelligence, self-awareness, or integrity.  After all, I’d spent a lifetime trying to prove to complete strangers that I had it all together.  A Control Freak Extraordinare.  Yet the overall blueprint of my adult life was bleak at best: divorced, thousands of miles from family or friends, broke, overweight, and doing absolutely nothing with my life aside but trying to survive and barely making it. My hope had been dashed along with my marriage and joy was so rare, I hardly remembered what it felt like. How could this have happened?

Meanwhile, I was struggling with mental health issues from the trauma of my childhood and abusive marriage: I got my first diagnosis of major depressive disorder in my mid-20’s, PTSD in my early 30’s, and generalized anxiety disorder shortly thereafter. My panic attacks started getting worse and more frequent. I had no idea what was happening to me and I sure as hell didn’t have time to find out. I had a child to feed and an image to uphold. So, in short, I drank. Not sloppy so everyone knew right off the bat. Just enough to let me take in a full breath. Just enough to help me cope with the never-ending pressure of single motherhood, financial suffocation, and emotional pain.  Just enough to give me something to do when I went home to a dark, empty house every Friday with nothing to do, but laundry and bills. Just enough.

And for a long while that worked.

Until it just didn’t.  The thing about coping with mental illness (or just life in general) is that you can’t do it with substances.  It’s a high-stake game and you never win.

A few years later, despite the fact that I was in a stable relationship with a wonderful partner, my panic attacks had worsened and the self-medication was getting messy.  Frustration and exhaustion were eating me alive.  I was in the habit of picking fights with my significant other, so we would have something to focus on instead of what the real issue was: ME.  My imperfections.  My secrets.  My lies.

One night, mid-manufactured-fight, I gave up. Without any thought or warning, I simply said “I can’t stop drinking and taking pills.” That was it. I’d never said it out loud in my entire life. But there it was, hanging in an irreversible bubble over a small town in western Missouri. I knew right then and there my life would never be the same. The party, so to speak, was over. I couldn’t put the words back in my mouth. I couldn’t unsay what felt like a nail in my already closed coffin. It was out there and now he knew. It was time to get my shit together. The next day I called an outpatient treatment center and started treatment the following week.

I’d been to an AA meeting in the past, but I clearly hadn’t been ready. This time it was different. I still didn’t feel “ready”, but like broken furnaces and pregnancy, is there ever really a perfect time? This was just as good a time as any. And I could no longer deny that what used to be fleeting thoughts of not being able to handle life were slowly turning into suicidal tendencies on the reg. It was now or never.

I took my last drink behind a gas station across the street from a cemetery. Like every other shitty, abusive relationship I’d had in my life, this one ended just as unceremoniously and ugly as the rest.

It’s been 110 days, almost to the minute and every day that I’m sober is better than the last. Let me just get real honest here before I start gushing about how sparkly sobriety is. I drank every single day (minus hospital stays and a 3-day white-knuckle attempt in 2016) for the past decade plus. Had I thought about quitting? All the fucking time. Did I ever do it? Never. I “tried” all the time. I made daily, sometimes hourly, deals with myself. I bargained and manipulated and wrote verbal checks my addicted brain just couldn’t cash. I was in way over my head and like I said, I’d all but given up on the idea that I could maintain a sober life. I even listened to podcasts and AA speakers on YouTube – WHILE I was drinking. I WANTED what these people had. I just never could see it happening for me. So, if you feel like I didn’t drink like you or my story is somehow different from whatever you’re going through, it’s not. I could NOT imagine my life without alcohol. Even after seeing what it did to my childhood. Even after watching my stepfather die from liver failure. Even though every day for years I said the affirmation “I don’t drink” thinking maybe one day it would stick. It never did and deep down, I was too scared to let it.

Here’s a word from the other side: sobriety is nothing like what I thought it would be. I thought, for years, that it would be lonely, boring, and difficult. It’s NONE of those things. My relationships are better than ever. I don’t have enough hours in the day because I have the energy and desire to do more than I have in years. Yes, I still have cravings and triggers sometimes, but I’ve already learned what those are and how to navigate through them when they wash over me. And here’s a secret: a craving is just that. A craving. It’s not insurmountable and it does pass. It’s a powerful feeling to stare that craving down, nose to nose, and let that bitch know who’s boss. Time after time, I watch her shrink like a wicked, rotting violet. As time goes by, she’s less like the boogeyman and more like the “monster” shadows in my room that turned out to be the bookshelves – far scarier in my mind than in reality.

After years of living like a crazed control freak, I am finally 100% in control. I had to give up the need for control to actually get it. How’s that for a mind fuck?

In the back of my head, I always wanted to be someone that didn’t drink, but I might as well have said, I want to be a unicorn. Nice to imagine, but that level of peace and happiness just didn’t exist for “people like me”. Turns out, that’s some bullshit. Sobriety is not only possible, it’s fan-fucking-tastic and that’s no lie.

Every day that I live not just sober, but happy, peaceful, and content, I feel like I’m living a dream. I take nothing for granted anymore. Nothing. After walking this planet an anxiety-riddled zombie for 10 years, it’s like I somehow rose from the dead. I’m finally alive. I have a life. A life that I love. A life that doesn’t involve alcohol. And it was here all along! I don’t like thinking about the years I wasted. It breaks my heart and brings me down. Instead I stay right here, in this moment, grateful for every breath, every moment I get to live free and honest, and every sunset on a day spent productive and sober.

Hello to you, new friend.  I’m Jacqueline.  I don’t know a lot about many things, but I know a whole lot about one thing.

There’s only one aspect of life that’s better without drinking: everything.

 

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