Sixteen years ago today I was at a St. Paul Saints game with a man I met in an AOL chat room. He was a nice guy, though I don’t remember his name and I’m pretty sure I never saw him again. What is memorable about that day wasn’t the game, or the guy, or being stoned out of my mind. What’s memorable is that on this day sixteen years ago I was drunk, and on every day since then, I haven’t been.
Before I began recovering from alcoholism, my life was ruled by fear. All of my earliest memories of drinking center around making me feel better inside. (Side note: Who remembers their first ice cream cone? Who remembers their first fresh picked strawberry? Not me. I clearly remember my first drinks.) There was the time I lifted the massive snifter filled with creme de menthe that had covered my ice cream sundae and as the sweet syrup warmed my throat and tummy I suddenly didn’t care that there was some sort of dramatic screaming festival happening over a credit card that was being denied. Or, the time I was lounging on the floor of the fort these guys made in the woods behind their house and I held up the bottle of tequila by the neck and announced, “The faster you drink it, the less you feel it!”
That was the key for me. Feeling less. I needed to find a way to feel less. Because I am an alcoholic, I believed alcohol provided a solution.
What it was like (before I began recovering from alcoholism) was a disconnected, terrified, determined-to-seem-”cool,” and disjointed life. I clung to solution after solution. After I moved here, things would be better. If my boyfriend would only want to get married and have a Martha Stewart (pre-prison) life with me, things would be better. If I did x, y, or z then things would be better. Live off the land? Tried it (lasted 3 days). Move across the country? (Did it, a couple times.) I was looking for the rules for living it felt like everyone else had that I never got.
In a pet-fur coated sweaty heat wave in St. Paul, Minnesota, I found myself instant messaging with a stranger from an AOL chatroom called “Friends of Bill W.” This person suggested it would be helpful if I talked to alcoholics who had found a way to live without alcohol that, he said (the person said he was a “he”), was “happy, joyous, and free.” At that point in my life, I believed “happy” meant “full of shit lying loser.” But, I was also pretty desperate. I didn’t drink for 24 hours (thus, July 3 is my “sobriety date”) and I called someone who had learned how to recover from alcoholism.
The first conversations I had with recovering alcoholics centered around the idea that the desire to stop drinking was all I needed to have. Because I was pretty obsessed with not calling myself alcoholic if I wasn’t one (I was really worried other alcoholics would get mad at me if I did that…??!?!) having this first conversation center around such a simple idea was a beautiful thing.
It turns out I’m actually allergic to alcohol (that’s what alcoholism is, in great part). When I drink my body goes almost immediately into a fireworks finale of MORE MORE MORE GIVE ME MORE. I always wanted oblivion. There were certainly times when I sipped a glass of wine, or nursed a beer for hours (I never did like beer, though I drank plenty). Mostly, though, that burning warmth going into my mouth and down my throat and in through my belly and through my blood stream and oh wow, yes, whoa I want more of this now. Instead of acting as a depressant as it would in a “normie” (non-alcoholic), it acted as an upper and a number and it was just what I needed. (I thought.) Instead of a rash or anaphylactic shock my body responded to alcohol (a poison for any of us if not taken in moderation) with an overwhelming desire for more.
Combine this allergy in my body with the spiritual sickness that causes my mind to always find a way to believe that I’ll be able to drink normally (somehow, some way, some day) and you’ve got my alcoholism. My mind, despite the fact that I consider myself recovered (not “recovering”), will always turn to the idea that I might drink safely again. The difference these days is I know that and I’m able to use the tools I learned to say, “Huh, must be I’m an alcoholic” and the thoughts just flit on out of my mind as quickly as they flit on in.
When I first began living in recovery, I was surrounded by amazing people. I took life one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, and sometimes a few minutes at a time. I practiced and practiced and practiced living. I kept myself wrapped well up in communities that would support my new alcohol (and drug) free life. It became so much a part of my daily living that when I encountered someone who got a little weird when I said I was an alcoholic, I was surprised. I forgot, back then, how loaded (ha) the issues are for so many people.
As for what it’s like now… I wouldn’t change a single thing even if I could without causing negative consequences. There isn’t anything in my life about which I feel regret in the way that makes me wish it hadn’t happened. It all brought me here and made me who I am and I like that.
What it’s like now is that I live. I live. I live my life and when I catch fear trying to get in here and take over, I have ways of working through it all. I passionately embrace my every moment’s imperfections. My mistakes make me who I am as much as my “successes.”
With the help of other alcoholics who learned how to live before I did, I picked up some great tools to help me function in day to day living. Early on in my recovery, the desire to drink (that mental obsession or spiritual sickness I mentioned) was “lifted.” It just went away. I also found a concept of “god” that became a part of my life in the same way that eating or writing or breathing is. I’m able to rely on this wordless strength-giver to get through things that feel un-get-throughable.
I will always be an alcoholic. No matter how “spiritually fit” I am, my mind will always try to convince me I could drink safely again. But, because I have recovered from alcoholism, I have tapped into a strength that is greater than my mind that allows me to live beyond this wrong obsession. With outrageous and enthusiastic imperfection, I am present in my life. I feel joy and pain and sadness and delight—and all sorts of shades and intensities of feelings—and for all of it, I am grateful.