I get this a lot. From friends, family, friends of friends, co-workers, people who read my blog and write me to share their stories. People say, “I don’t know how to start this so I guess I’ll just say, I think I have a problem with drinking”. If you were to look in my inbox or text messages at any given time, you’d see hundreds of notes with some sort of message containing some version of these words.
There are a whole lot of people in pain out there.
These days it’s often moms that I meet through my kids and they find out I am sober and I become that person. And you know what? I’m happy to be that person. The sober mom.
I cannot tell you if you are an alcoholic. I can only tell you that if you think you have a problem, you likely do. If it’s impacting your life in a negative way or makes you feel as though it is, you likely have a problem.
We know enough today to know that drinking isn’t really the problem. The drinking covers up the problem and the problem is what’s going on inside you. THAT is the really tough part. Sure quitting drinking is super hard and can be quite dangerous so please be careful as you detox (medical assistance is often needed). After that, the real work begins.
People are embarrassed or at the end of their respective ropes. Their lifelines are used up. Or they’re at the beginning and want better understanding of why they can’t seem to control their drinking. Their lives. Their feelings. They don’t know who to talk to and even if they do have people still around and in their lives, they’ve heard it already and people are just well, lost.
Feeling all these damn feelings is hard. And a buffer seems like a really great idea. Until it’s not.
Look, if I knew how to control feelings, I would have all the answers now wouldn’t I? But the truth is, I don’t want to control feelings. I want to have some control over my reaction to them. That’s really at the heart of alcoholism and addiction. The longer I’m sober, the more people I meet in pain, the family members who reach to me for help – who are desperate for their person back – these reactions to feelings are in control too often.
We are all in recovery from something. Whether we want to be or not. From the moment we are born, we are just trying to get through and find some joy. Some hope. And the older we get, the more phases we actually make it through (not over, but through), the more we see that we are all suffering.
Life is difficult slogging through sometimes. Sometimes it’s lovely and we get tricked into thinking it will always be this way and then we get a reminder that it’s not. But those moments when it’s lovely, that’s what carries us through. Luckily life actually does move pretty damn fast and we get to experience all of it if we can show up. Sometimes I cannot actually show up, and that’s ok too. The painful parts, the agony of mere existence sometimes makes us stronger and more resilient if we can just stick with it. I know it sucks. I know.
I actually look around at people these days and wonder what their pain is? I see their faces and wonder what is behind those eyes? I don’t want to shoulder their burdens, I don’t want to fix them, but I wonder.
I walk through the masses en route to jobs, to daycare, to homes, to schools, to appointments, to meetings, to restaurants, to our place. Wherever we are going, we have a destination. Even if we haven’t met there yet.
I used to wander with no destination. It seems like a dream, like a luxury to some. To me, it brings anxiety, panic, a feeling of being lost. I need a destination and when I don’t know where it is, I’m uncomfortable. It’s hard accepting feeling uncomfortable, but that’s part of recovery, and I’ve gotten better at it.
I used to be lost. Today I have a destination. I have people to go to. I have a job where I am expected to suit up and show up and I do just that. Every day, for going on 17 years, since I got sober, I do just that.
But just when I get comfortable, BAM, everything changes. And that’s ok. I have to be ok with that too. Kicking and screaming and raging sometimes, but I have to be ok eventually or I cannot move forward.
Whether I’m at home, or at work, I suit up and show up whether I feel like it or not. And there are plenty of days I JUST DON’T WANT. But I do it anyway.
I see my people on the corners of the bridge with their cups and say good morning how are you and chat for a moment as I do every day, have done every day for years. For decades. Some are the same, some are temporary. Transitory. I know them all.
I walk around and marvel at the world around me still. To this day, some almost 17 years after getting sober, I still can’t quite believe I get to be here. I get this life. I get this chance to just keep going. And while I struggle and fight and admit that every day isn’t the greatest, today is still my favorite. I am not promised anything and tomorrow is never a given, so for today, just for today, I will look up and choose to breathe in this beautiful toxic city air that keeps us going each day. It fuels my rage as well as my gratitude. I need both to function well and joyfully.
So who the hell do I think I am? A recovering alcoholic that’s who.
It’s a strange thing going from someone that society turns away from to someone they embrace. I’ve been both. From being lost in the deepest sense of that word to being seen. I’m still the same person who could drink today and go right back. So why the different treatment? Am I proud of myself, YES I AM. But I also know where I come from and that I am one (one is too many and 100 is never enough) drink away from losing it all again.
Being someone who has been the lowest of the low helps me to be less judgmental and crank up my empathy and compassion. I am thankful for these hard lessons. I am thankful I get to pass this along to my kids.
I got a new to-go cup for my morning coffee on the days I walk to the train to head downtown.
It’s a super cute grapefruit colored number and I am using my re-usable silicone straws because I am a terrible coffee-through-a-straw person but plastic straws are rotten and I’m trying to be less of an environmental monster, so I have this bright blue silicone straw sticking out of my grapefruit colored to-go coffee mug and off I go with my garanimals colored self! It’s embarrassing how often I dress like a toddler, I mean really.
Much like I play bottle spotting bingo wherever I look, I have this terrible habit of guessing what’s in people’s cups. I used to fill my to go cups with all kinds of booze you see, and I know that many others do it too. I mean, remember this drunk wives matter tumbler?
I’ve been sober a long time now, but back when I wasn’t, I would do orange juice in the morning with whatever booze I could find. Often vodka, because it doesn’t smell (HAHAHAHAHAHA!). I am never ever without some kind of beverage, and while today it’s water with a splash of ACV (coconut oil and apple cider vinegar fix everything!) or black coffee, I still have an alcoholic brain that thinks about what is in other people’s cups.
What is in your cup?
I remember the looks of concern and disappointment and shock when people used to wonder what was in my cup. My water bottles filled with vodka. I remember. Today I almost want to ask people, “hey guess what’s in my cup!” but nobody gives a rip. And that’s how it should be.
I can spot somebody who is loaded a mile away. I have this radar for it, sadly. We were at a local park district farm last week and this grandma was there with her husband and grandma kept walking away from her family and taking a drink of her to-go cup and then going out to smoke. I watched her because I was her. I know the tactics to sneak away and drink, to sneak away to smoke, to sneak away, period. I watched her stumble around the farm, yelling on the phone to someone with words that I know she probably wouldn’t want kids to hear had she been in a right frame of mind, and just stand there, glossy eyed and out of it for a while.
The coming back is always harder. When you’ve gone off for a minute to have a drink and then return, people know something is up. When you’re using and your people know it, it’s torture to come back. People look at you with those eyes. Those eyes of “is she ok and what will she do now and how did she even get her hands on any alcohol when we’ve only been here”.
So you overcompensate to prove how OK you are. And the more overcompensation, the more the act fails you. Fails your people. Fails yourself. I failed at this so many times that I have nightmares about these situations some 16 years later. That feeling of knowing you aren’t fooling anyone, and yet you keep up with this ridiculous charade anyway. It’s the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done, and I’m a twin mom. Being an active alcoholic and trying to pretend you’re fine, is EXHAUSTING.
I cannot save everybody. Hell, I did my time trying. Now I look for folks who want my help. I look for folks who ask for help. She wasn’t ready that day. And she was with her grandchild and grandpa was doing a fine job of playing with the little girl and talking with the chickens, so I knew they would be ok. I cannot help everybody all the time. This is something I have to remind myself of often. It’s not my responsibility to fix people, especially when they don’t want to be fixed. But my heart hurts to watch it.
What is in your cup?
Is it heartbreak and sadness and regret and remorse and guilt and shame. That is a damn expensive drink. Maybe you don’t ever want to change. Maybe this is your 100th time trying. Maybe you think you are the exception to the hope thing, but you aren’t. I promise you. I still still still have hope for you. If you don’t want to quit, I get it. I didn’t either. Until I did. And even then I was super angry about it all. You are not alone. Not by a long shot. I can’t fix you and I can’t be responsible for you, but I can be this one person you write to or call or text when there is nobody else you can trust. That’s how this works.
You feel too full of shame to face your life without that buffer? I did too. I still do sometimes. I think about my past and wish I could wipe some things away, but I can’t. I can only work on my living amends every single day. And thankfully I can do that. That is a thing I can do. Living clean and sober, with some great joy, is a thing I can do. And the people in my life see that as an amends. People understand more than we give them credit for. I’ve found that to be true over and over in my life.
Everybody is walking around in some kind of pain. Everybody. Sometimes it’s scarred over and people are out here living their best version of life and that is the goal. I don’t want to be so raw all the time. But sometimes, I need to expose my wounds so others know they aren’t alone in this. So I know I’m not alone in this. Because we can recover. We can move through this. Together. Connection is key. Our pain shared is shared pain and it really does lighten the load. I know a little of what I’m talking about here. I don’t know much, but I know about this. I had to replace what was causing me pain with things that brought me joy and fulfillment. I had to take responsibility for myself because nobody else was going to do it for me. It was hard. It is hard. But there are far more of us out here than you think and the shame you are carrying can go away in time. I promise.
I won’t say if I can do it you can do it because that’s bullshit. But I can say that I’ve seen hopeless folks gain hope. I have seen the lost causes become found and seen. I’ve seen miracles happen. True miracles. I can’t promise you that you will be that miracle, but you never know unless you give it a good, long time to try to get it to stick. And if it never does stick, I still love you. You are still worthy. You are still important and worthy of kindness and love. You’ve got somebody out here holding your hand.
I put a ton of links in here to my posts on drinking and sobriety – please take a gander if you feel so moved.