It has been ages since I blogged. Not because I relapsed but because life got hard, very hard. Now at about 18 months sober, and still that way. But struggling, always struggling. What prompted me to blog this time after so long? Because I miss writing and sharing my story. Even if no one hears it. I also went to an AA meeting last week and realised quickly AA is not for me. This is not a for a second to judge anyone for whom their path to recovery is within the rooms but for me, the air in that room was too thick with shame for me to breathe. I have felt toxic shame since the day I was born. That shame and guilt about who I am and the feeling that something was deeply wrong with me was what led me to get addicted in the first place. So for me, if I continue retelling my story of shame over and over and over again as I did up until a few months ago, I get stuck in that story. I have suffered a lot as a consequence of suffering trauma as a child which led to the addiction, I have paid and repaid the price for the mistakes I have made and continue to pay that price. But I no longer feel that I need to take specific inventory because I am an alcoholic or an addict. I take inventory and ask for forgiveness from my higher power because I am a human, and because of my humanness I make mistakes, and I am jealous, and “difficult” and sometimes do the wrong thing. I do the wrong thing an awful lot less than I did when I drank but I still do it sometimes. I do believe addiction is a disease, and nobody chooses it. Those of us who are unlucky enough to be vulnerable to it should feel no more ashamed than people who have other physical diseases. Over the past few months I have also realised that while I did behave extremely badly when I was sick, many others took advantage of that vulnerability and used it to their advantage – so called friends, family, colleagues, men. I was shamed, humiliated and bullied for years to be honest – mainly because I was bullying and shaming myself on the inside which made it very easy for others to do the same. This week in Ireland we heard that a woman activist and journalist who also had mental health issues ( I fucking hate that description of anyone) “took her own life” . In the days before she died, a video of her had been allegedly posted of her by gardai of her walking naked through the streets of Dublin. That same bullying culture – the traumatic memories of the many times when others have put me down, including a stupid cow who humiliated me into leaving my last job – nearly drove me to suicide in recent months. I am sure this will come across that I am not really sober, if I am so angry and bitter. But for me, my truth also includes not only the wrong things I did, but the things that were done to me. Every addict and (alcoholic) deserves recovery, as Dara Quigley the woman who died recently, wrote. I am not sure that Dara Quigley would want to see me and her in the same light, I was a middle class wine drinker, her addiction was I believe heroin. But still I am sick to my back teeth of alcoholics and addicts being shamed, bullied and humiliated. Rest in Peace Dara Quigley.
I have just made it to ten months sober. Quite honestly, it has been a real struggle, particularly the last couple of months. The struggle hasn’t been with physical sobriety which has been so far a relatively stable process but with facing the guilt and shame and regrets I have about not doing things differently, and not facing my victim hood earlier in my life. I have so often blamed others- colleagues, childhood experiences, friends, situations, men- for my various struggles and when you have thought that way for a long time, it is difficult to let it all go and takes a lot of work, and a lot of facing parts of myself that I really don’t like and find difficult to accept about myself- the manipulative, self righteous, envious, angry parts. But it is either face it or stay stuck. Finally I decided to seek therapy, because I just couldn’t seem to let go of the guilt. Wallowing in guilt and self pity is part of the same addictive behaviour but I just could not, or would not, pull myself out of it without a professional to guide the process. It is the same victimhood that kept me drinking for so long- the why mes and the poor mes. I am also using some kundalini meditation techniques to help me with the process, again I struggle with dedicating myself to a regular practice but when I stick with it, something seems to click inside me. I have felt a lot of anger coming up for me in recent weeks and I really need to watch this as rage is a real addiction in itself. My biggest fear is that I cannot change, that one addiction just gets replaced by another- alcohol by sparkling water, cigarettes by nicotine gum, self hatred by hatred of others etc. But I know that this isn’t true or doesn’t have to be true in any case but it is still hard to believe sometimes.
Over the past few months, as I move forward, I have been reflecting a lot – not just on my own relationship with alcohol but the relationship of those around me and more generally I suppose, Irish society’s. I am not of the view that everyone should stop drinking, almost all of the people in my life drink, often they binge drink but they still hold it together so to speak and I do not think they have the problem that I have – I was drinking to escape myself and fill the deep chasm inside me- or that they should stop. Nevertheless, it does make me somewhat angry that in Ireland anyway, alcohol is still viewed as so much part of the social fabric that sporting events are still sponsored by alcohol companies, and indeed the Irish Rugby Football Union actually lobbied against changes to Irish legislation which would introduce restrictions on the sale of alcohol. When I tell people now I don’t drink anymore their reaction is funny- “What? Not at all?!!” etc. Whereas when I tell them I quit smoking the reaction is completely different. No doubt that smoking kills but so does alcohol and yet those that become addicted, even dependent as I was, or who suffer problems as a result are the bad ones, the ones with “moral shortcomings” and “lack of willpower”. This is not to say that I don’t take personal responsibility for the things that I did – I recognise my part in my crime etc but I also know that alcohol is a powerful, addictive substance that we allow to be marketed and sold as though it is something innocuous.
So the past month I have relapsed, not by picking up a drink but by neglecting my sobriety and health, and seeking validation from external sources, specifically a man who cannot give it to me, well no one can give it to me. It has been a dark few weeks but a necessary part of the path. I am ashamed to admit that I had to ask this person to block contact from me as essentially I have been trying to get him to fill the voids inside. I felt like a child asking him to do that as though I have no control over my actions or behaviour but I did not want to risk harm to anyone else, or any further harm to myself by maintaining contact with this person when the thoughts attaching to the contact were addictive and I knew my reasons for wanting something from him were manipulative and self seeking. It hurt deeply for me to ask and hurt even more when he did so – yes I did check. I have been tempted to go back on the anti depressant medication I was on but I feel by doing that I just end up in the same behaviour pattern that led me to addiction, man rejects me, I turn to alcohol or cigarettes or anti depressants and the same pattern will repeat. Though I am feeling low and somewhat ashamed I am not hopeless about the future and I feel I can go forward with this, even though I feel shame and guilt. And I worry what this man will think of me which is part of the problem.
Thanks to Easy Rider’s comment on my previous post and my own reflections I did some thinking about forgiveness and the need to move beyond pain and hurt without always looking for someone to blame or to pass it to, in other words how to refrain from being judge, jury and executioner and seeking to take revenge. Revenge in words, thoughts or actions. I came across this wonderful sermon by Rob Bell which is worth a watch “Forgiveness is personal”. I know that this test will come up again and again and this wound and pain and hurt has to stop with me. It has to be inhaled, metabolised, absorbed and eventually let go within me and only within me. In the sermon Rob Bell talks about how doing this might even lead to death, but in death there is also the possibility of resurrection and being reborn.
Slowly emerging from a rage and shame hangover – worse than a drinking hangover because I can feel all of it, and can’t explain it away to too many glasses of wine or marlboro lights and deaden the pain with fizzy drinks and paracetamol. What prompted this was that I had turned to someone for support and they let me down, not gently but very cruelly. The person in question is someone with the same name as me, bizarrely. Twenty years ago we met in university. Even back then, I sought his approval, him to like me. He had the power then and now to cut into me with cruel comments -the power to twist the knife. Twenty years on it feels like the school bully is back, and still I gave him that power- I handed him the dagger. And god does he now how to use it. He dropped me off a cliff and made sure the landing was jagged and rocky. I could taste the bloody shame in the back of my throat, like an old internal wound being reopened again. The rage and hurt that I have felt over the weekend has been awful and all consuming. Over the past seven months I think I have been trying to skip ahead in sobriety-skip past the rage and shame and straight onto the peaceful, kind, compassionate parts – forgetting that the reasons that drove me to addiction in the first place are the rage and shame and loss of self. And that what I have resisted will persist until I let it out and let it heal. This rage and shame spiral had me in its grip and to be honest there seemed to be an inevitability about this person letting me down. But I am sick of it, I am sick of replaying my father’s emotional unavailability with every man I come across. It is a tired story at this stage, one that I am tired from anyway. I’ve been googling psychopathy and sociopathy to try to explain this person’s behaviour- which is ridiculous I I know- they may or may not be a psycho or sociopath but deep down I know that this is my relationship with my dad being replayed over and over again as it has in almost all my “relationships” with men. And that scared angry little girl wondering why the hell dad kept letting mum drink and indeed drank himself and didn’t protect me from her drunken rages is still there and likes to make her presence felt at times like this. I thought in sobriety that I would be better able to handle these situations and indeed over the past while I felt I made a lot of progress but this thing, this person really brought out the rage and that old familiar feeling of being let down. It reopened the original wound, the original scar that hasn’t healed. The anxious panic returned. While I do realise there is truth in the phrase “that you teach people how to treat you” I also really resent people, as this person did, being unnecessarily cruel. That said, I can feel a lesson here that I don’t think I would have been as aware of previously. And all of it, everything that has happened and come into my life is all for learning, all of these things are signs from the universe.
The past two weeks have been tough as I descended into a tailspin of anxiety prompted by an external trigger of family related issues. When I drank and smoked I never really suffered from anxiety as such- well I did but I didn’t call it that, as I had the release valves to mask the anxious feelings. This external trigger has been my first real test in sobriety in that it is the first thing that has happened that has caused me proper stress. Now that I am much more conscious of feelings and present all the bloody time, I’m just reminded again that there is no escape. Talking to a friend recently about the stressful thing that happened, she mentioned that she had also been going through some stress and had had a couple of glasses of wine to relieve it – I felt insanely jealous! While I feel I am coming out of this tailspin and on the upward curve at the moment it has also stopped me in my tracks as I thought by becoming sober I wouldn’t become anxious or depressed any more. I have been trying to release it with exercise, with yoga and with breathing but it is still there and it does make me concerned as to how I can effectively learn to manage this in the future without allowing it to take over.
The other thing that I have been thinking about in the past few weeks is how much I am changing but also how annoying it is when people treat me as if I haven’t! I recognise that this sentence in itself is very telling- in that I still depend far too much on other people’s reactions and validation. I spoke to another friend recently about a problem. As I should have predicted, she responded in a very judgemental way, aimed at shaming me and making me feel small. In the past, her judgemental response would have made me feel exactly that- ashamed, small, etc. This time however, I was able to see her response as a reflection of her own stuff and not mine but it still hurt me a bit that she would speak to me in that way. I know by thinking/brooding over this is just a further reflection of my codependent issues but it is also hard for my ego not to feel hurt and not to want to react/respond. I haven’t responded – I thanked her for her input but did not highlight that her response made me feel that way. I think that I have learned my lesson about this particular friendship and that I really need to take a long step back from this person, in order to protect my emotional well being. And in fairness if someone has been a certain way for 20 years, then it is difficult to imagine that they will change. I thought that way about myself for so long and until I stopped drinking I really didn’t think I could change but I do feel that I am evolving, albeit slowly
I have now passed the six sobriety milestone- on 8th november 2015 I had my last alcoholic drink and am nearly at seven months! As children our parents always remind us to say thank you to others who have done or given something for us. As adults, I think we often to forget to thank others, or thank ourselves, or the world. Like brushing my teeth everyday I am attempting to make the gratitude process a daily practice and ritual, even on the days it seems impossible. As I approach the seven month milestone, I thought I would write down and reflect on what I have learned so far….
- I have discovered that gratitude is a muscle and requires exercise. This is a big one for me. I have often seen myself as “hard done by”. It’s not that I never felt grateful for my gifts or the opportunities that life has given me, but when you only see yourself in comparison to other people it’s very difficult to feel truly grateful for what you have already rather than seeking external validation. In sobriety I have discovered that I can be a very jealous and resentful person, always looking at other people and what they have and comparing myself and my lot unfavourably. I didn’t really covet material wealth as such but coveted other people’s successes. As I move forwards in the sobriety journey these jealous feelings are gradually depleting and have been replaced by feelings of, if not contentment, at least a greater appreciation for the privileges and blessings that I have had in my life. A tool that has really helped me with this gratitude practice is Gabby Bernstein’s “May cause miracles”which is a 42 day fear cleanse that I discovered thanks to the blog hipsobriety by Holly Glenn Whitaker. Hipsobriety is a wonderful resource for those on the sobriety journey and has really helped me along the way.
2. Angels exist, even though they often take the form of beasts. The guy who told me that I was on a path to self destruction before I stopped drinking took this form, but did me the greatest favour.
2. There is a path laid out for all of us. This is not to give up our power over our lives and our actions but our power is to change the way we think and feel about the obstacles that come up in our way and in doing so to overcome them
3. God is there, somewhere, everywhere. After a life of having no spiritual belief or practise and being completely disconnected from the divine, sobering up has given me some sacred space and as I feel my way through this unknown and as yet undiscovered space, I can feel something awakening in me. I am not sure what to call it, yet.
4. There will be bad days, and weeks, and even months. The struggle is not to eliminate these but to sit with them, face the pain, face the anxiety and the discomfort and be in it without letting it grow too much and take over. Not to feed the beast but to accept its presence. I thought going sober would help eliminate all of these negative feelings but I am coming to an acceptance that there will be fear and anger and frustration and resentment and rage alongside the positive feelings. Sitting with the discomfort does get easier, the more I have practised it but it is an ongoing, daily, sometimes hourly struggle.
5. Being kind is the thing to do, not because of what you get back, but because anything else damages me and makes me feel disgusted with myself. It does not matter what others do, I need just to be comfortable with my thoughts, my actions. As I was writing this part, I happened to open Pema on the chapter of “doing no harm”. She describes this as the ability to refrain from instant reaction, which I have always struggled with- hence the numerous addictions and aggressive reactions to other people. As she says “Mindfulness is the ground, refraining is the path”. I have always struggled and continue to struggle with wanting to be “right”, about facts, about politics etc. What does it matter really? When discussing these things it is not an exam I am doing, which will determine whether I can move to the next stage. What does it matter if someone gets something wrong or is misinformed, why do I see it as a personal attack on me? I wind myself up into a spin of self righteous anger and indignation
In many blogs and posts I have read about recovery, I often see people refer to themselves or others as high functioning alcoholics and addicts. This term makes me feel a little strange, and to be honest a bit uncomfortable. I don’t think by any standards that I was particularly high functioning when active in my addiction or even now in recovery, for that matter. Yes I have and had a job, a home, and am educated. I don’t think anyone who knows me would describe me as a high achiever, personally or professionally. I am more or less ok with that, some days more, some days less. Maybe I am misinterpreting the term high functioning and whether the term is more generally used to describe folks like me who weren’t buying flagons of cider as soon as the off licences opened every day, but were still struggling with addiction and indeed struggling with life. But it is not a term I am comfortable with, as I feel it makes a distinction between the high “functioners” and the low ones. By whose definition is one high functioning ? I suppose if people self identify that way and are happy to describe themselves that way then I guess I shouldn’t have a problem with it. I just think it is a funny way to think of things, are you a better person/addict if you managed to maintain the outward signs of respectability while battling your addiction? Using the term high functioning I think has the effect of making those who are not so high functioning the “other” and somehow less than. I always had a sense that had I been born in an area where for example heroin was readily available, I could have taken that path. And even with my other addictions my class and level of education has cushioned me against many negative effects of addiction and depression. Working in a professional environment, having had the access to education that I have had and access to resources both when I was active and in my recovery – all of these things have been given to me as gifts, and as an accident of birth- no more and no less.
I haven’t joined AA or any other real life support addiction recovery network yet. To be honest, it is because I am too terrified! But I think it is something that I will need to do in the near future as although I am accessing a lot peer support in the form of books, blogs, social media etc created by those who are more enlightened than I, I think the real life connection is that something that I do need. Later I will link to those resources and the amazing wise and wonderful women and men who have saved my life but to do so right now may compromise my anonymity. Hopefully one day soon I can find the courage to attend the first meeting and take it from there. But meantime I have been reading about the steps and in particular step 4, taking a moral inventory of myself and my actions and behaviour. I did this sometime ago and wrote a list in my journal. But now I am sharing here- though as no one is reading this blog So here goes…
- I let friends and colleagues down
- I missed work and other commitments
- I was aggressive, selfish and mean to friends and other people
- I allowed myself to be used by men for sex and I used them to fill up holes in myself
- I used sex as a substitute for affection
- I made people feel uncomfortable, awkward and bad because I wanted them to feel my shame
- I spent days in bed and didn’t look after my dog properly
- I spent days in bed and didn’t look after my home properly
- I neglected my physical health and wasn’t grateful for my generally good physical health
- I spent money I didn’t have and then had to borrow from the mother to make up the shortfall
- I made people worry about me- friends, colleagues, family
- I played the victim all the time
- I ranted and raved
- I made other people feel responsible for me- for my actions, my behaviour and my emotions
- I hurt myself
- I hurt others
- I lied
- I envied
- I abused my spirit
- I abused my brain