People choose to drink. People do not choose to get addicted. Do you have any idea how important that distinction is? Do you know how many people will never speak up about their addictions because they think it is something they’ve done to themselves?
Today I wrote this on my palm:
You don’t do it for anyone else.
I wrote it down mostly because I didn’t want to forget the thought. I’m trying to be teachable and one thing I’ve heard from every successful writer is keep paper and pen around at all times, so when you have a thought, you can write it down. I’m a slow learner so I only had a pen on me.
When I first came to terms with the fact that I had to do something about this drinking thing over a year ago, I reached out to two people I knew who had been sober for a long time. One was a partner at the agency I’d just left. He’s been sober twenty-something years and while we’d never discussed it, we had a close connection (and I’m guessing he knew and was saving a seat for me).
I wrote him an email one morning very early with shaky hands. Subject line: chat. I said I was scared, that I know he’d been around the block, and could he meet me for coffee? A couple days later we did – on the new greenway in Boston – and it was a hot, sticky July morning. I remember what I had on: a black t-shirt, jeans, flip-flops. I also remember that I was shaking and sweating. From fear. From booze. From not knowing what the fuck was going to happen. I put on my best I’m-fine-I’ve-totally-got-this-covered face and luckily, he didn’t push too hard on me. He asked me if I’d come to a decision or not about it. I said yes (I had not).
I said, “It feels really, really precious. Like I could step on the wrong crack in the sidewalk and find myself drunk again.”
“It is fucking precious, Laura. It feels like that for a while,” he said. This comforted me, oddly.
He told me his story, just the basic stuff. The stuff that’s important to hear when you’re shell-shocked. Enough to know that you’re not as alone as you imagine yourself to be. Enough to swallow and exhale once more.
I talked a lot. Anxiously. Fidgeting. I said, “I know I need to do it for Alma.” And I explained what had happened that forced me to face this. He didn’t flinch. (This is something you find shocking for a while with people in recovery. You expect someone – anyone – to go “WOW. That’s really FUCKED UP.” And nobody does. Usually your own worst personal traumas don’t even register. Nobody blinks.) As my dad said to me once when I was complaining that I was afraid to tell the truth in a meeting, “You can’t scare these people, Laura. You can’t embarrass them and you can’t shock them. They’ve heard everything.”
Two things he told me that day have stuck with me.
The first is, “At first it gets better, because the horrors stop. Then it gets worse. Then…it just gets different.”
It just gets different.
In my year going in and out and staying sober or not, I’ve never really stuck around long enough for it to get different. I think I know what he means, but if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that I really probably don’t have a fucking clue.
Second, he told me, “You don’t do it for Alma. You don’t do it for anyone else. It won’t work if you’re doing it for anyone else. Even if it’s your kid, or your family, or your boss, or your husband. That sounds selfish, but it’s not. If you can’t find reason to do it for you and you don’t actually come to believe that you deserve to stop killing yourself, it won’t work.”
I am really only now grasping this. What brought me to my first meeting was Alma. My family. My back was against the wall and I had nowhere – Literally. Nowhere. Else. To hide. If someone would’ve shown me a loophole in the universe that I could access, even if I had to swim in shit and eat black olives for a month to get to it, I’d probably have done that. I did not want to quit drinking. I wanted my life to stop exploding, but I did not want to quit drinking.
So I took the first steps to my first meeting because of other people, but I could not stay for them. I wanted to cut the shit out for a relationship – someone I truly loved – and that didn’t work, either, in the long-run. Maybe here and there I’d stay away for work, because once my brain wasn’t addled by booze all the time, I really started kicking ass at work and that felt good. But nope, not a sustainable reason. Not love, or money, or even my own flesh and blood daughter – the human I love more than all other humans – could ultimately make it stick.
There was no light bulb moment that got me to see I had to do it just for me. I don’t even know if those words are the right words. I just know that at some point, through falling down six hundred and seventy thousand times and getting up just one fraction of an inch more times than that, a little flicker-light inside of me started to fight for my own lifebecause there's something in me I don't want to let die. Because I want to dare to live for real.
It’s like this. One of my favorite lines from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things:
“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
It’s like that.