A year ago today, I published a poem along with text messages from my father, outing him as an abuser and an alcoholic who refuses to take responsibility for his actions. I was always there for him and remain unappreciated. I have forgiven him for what he has done to me. What I cannot forgive is what he said about my mother. And I learned from him, and took a step forward, and haven’t spoken to him since.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the rooms of a 12 Step Program. Try as I might I couldn’t get my head around a higher power, and around having to give up drinking for the rest of my life at the age of twenty-three. I viewed it as an ending and as a compromise of my ideals.
I first entered the rooms in January of 2014. I went to meetings, went to work, and stayed sober for ninety days. I celebrated this achievement with a shot of Wild Turkey 101, followed by anything and everything else I could get my hands on that had an alcohol content. [Half-drunk is a waste of money.] This pattern continued. I listened to people and their stories and I went to meetings and I hid bottles in my bedroom. I lived alone. I still hid them. Shame is a progression of my illness. Shame, and guilt. And those two things built a wall around my life that I couldn’t climb over. I didn’t yet understand that what I’d have to do was tear it down.
I turned twenty-four in July of 2015. My family came to see me, told me they were worried about me, and we made the decision that I’d move to North Carolina to be with them, to have support. But I was in The Madness, making excuses to drink and making excuses not to. I probably drank alone that night at Yorktown beach, standing with my feet in the waves and gin disguised in a bottle of Vitamin Water. That happened a lot. I wanted to be better, I did, but for so many years I had loved my addiction more than I loved myself. I didn’t know how to separate the two. Who was I without the only thing that I’d ever had, consistently, in my life?
My partner came to visit me that summer, and we went to concerts and big cities and small ones. I walked down the Las Vegas strip dying inside for a drink I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have, keenly aware of everyone who walked by with a giant margarita or a beer or an anything. I went into Starbucks and got a coffee and sat for a minute, fighting back tears and trying to hide my shaking. I put on a smile. We went back to the hotel later on and I locked the door and I could breathe. But I couldn’t tell him how I felt- wasn’t I reformed or something? Wasn’t I supposed to be strong?
I got a part time job that October. Looking back, I think I drank every weekend. I went to occasional meetings. I felt only emptiness. I missed my partner and hated myself for putting my family through this over and over again. Hadn’t we all had enough? But I guess I hadn’t.
The Holidays came and went and with them went my will to live. I’ve attempted suicide several times in my life, the earliest was at age eleven, maybe younger. I took a bunch of pills and went to bed. It probably wasn’t enough, given that I woke up, but the intent was there. And again at seventeen, I made extra deep cuts across my wrist and my hips and I sat in my shower until the water ran cold, clutching a bottle of brandy or bourbon and praying to a god I didn’t believe in for death. I woke up shivering. At twenty-four, I considered driving off the road, off an overpass or maybe into a tree. The possibilities were endless. My last drunk happened at a New Year’s Eve party I wasn’t even invited to. I don’t know what happened that night but the imagination reels. Desperate for any sort of relief I had made a plan to spend six months in the UK with my partner.
In the movies, you meet your person and that’s the end. That’s the happily ever after. I clung to that Cinderella story as hard as ever, all the while, knowing better. Seven years previous to that I’d thought I’d found Prince Charming, who turned out to be a narcissist and abused me in ways that make my father look like a saint. This wasn’t going to be like that- he was [and is] a good man, and I would go to meetings, and I would beat this.
January 18th, 2016, I arrived in England, and went home with my partner. Within a couple weeks I was in meetings. I got phone numbers of the women I met and I called them. I went to meetings with them. We did coffee. I learned to navigate the metro. I laid in bed at night and sobbed, desperate for relief. I got up, hit another meeting. I walked past the off license and gritted my teeth. How easy it would have been to pick up a bottle, to drink it before my partner came home. But I did not. And after about five or six months, the overwhelming desire lifted, and all the things I’d learned came into focus.
Who am I to scoff at the idea of a higher power? I already had one- alcohol. It had run my life for over ten years. It dictated every step of my life. And I should be dead, and the next drink would certainly kill me. And I couldn’t kick it alone- I tried and failed at that for a year.
The people I met in the UK this year changed my life. They saved me, and I am eternally grateful. I was wrong before- giving up drinking was not an end, but a beginning. And I learned the skills to deal with my emotions. I learned to be honest, not just about the past or in my journal but really, truly honest in the moment. And most of all, I let go. And I continue to let go every single day.
Today, I am back home in North Carolina. I am engaged. I am surrounded by family and I have the support of so many inspiring people [both drunks and regular humans] all over the world. I got a job, a good one. Soon, I’ll be in my own place. And tomorrow I turn twenty-five.
What I want to say is that I am no worse or better than my father, or anyone else. No one’s life is worthy of being the yardstick by which I measure my own. Today I am alive, and not just sober, but In Recovery. I will be recovering for the rest of my life. I will always be improving and growing and learning and I will be of service to others and I will go to meetings with my fellow drunks, my brothers and sisters In Recovery, and we will laugh and cry together and I will share my secrets and fears and regrets and hear theirs and we will all listen and understand.
My illness is terminal, but I no longer have an expiration date. I used to joke about not living until twenty-five. I prove me wrong every day.
Here’s to the next twenty-four hours, and maybe even twenty-five years.
I love y’all.