Just. Stop.

On June 5, 2010 I was arrested for DUI. Before that moment, I was a closeted, suffering alcoholic feeling trapped in my addiction, desperately wanting to escape it but unable to IMG_3150 (1)see a way out. The moment I saw cop lights in my rear-view mirror, I knew it was over. In a nightmarish instant, as I was handcuffed and placed into the back of a police car, the solution presented itself: Just. Stop.

There is so much noise and dogma in the world about recovery, twelve steps, one day at a time and higher powers. Before the arrest, all of that overwhelmed me. Escape from my alcoholic patterns felt inaccessible, as if it required a gauntlet of complicated machinations of which I was simply incapable. But in that moment as I heard about my right to remain silent, I crossed a threshold into a new reality that had been there all along: Just. Stop.

That day was the beginning of what the addiction treatment world calls my recovery. A fuck-ton of recovering did indeed occur in the weeks, months, and years after that day. Contrary to the tenets of the “disease theory” of addiction, I do not consider my recovery from alcoholism a lifelong state requiring perpetual focus and work. Rather, it was a finite series of phases I passed through, ultimately emerging as a recovered person. This is not to say that I rid myself of the tendencies and fundamental wiring that led me down the road of daily alcohol abuse, but I learned how to see those parts of me with honesty. I learned how to be healthy with their presence as part of my being.

For the first three months, I was overjoyed at how easy it was and how brilliant the world had suddenly become with my newfound sobriety. I had solved my drinking problem! I was already on the other side of it! Life was amazing! I didn’t know it then, but it is common for newly sober people to experience this “pink cloud”: a period of euphoria and manic energy in the first few months. It is fueled by the physiological jolt when the daily inebriant is suddenly discontinued. There is an acute awakening of emotions and sensations; every day feels like a thrilling adventure. I remember being excited to go to bed at night during that time because I JUST COULDN’T WAIT for the next amazing day.

The three-month mark is a common point of relapse for addicts and alcoholics, and I know first-hand why that is (although I have never relapsed myself). As autumn began, my euphoria began to give way to a much less pleasant state of being. I had lost significant weight over the summer (removing several hundred calories per day and exercising like it’s your job will do that), and my weight loss continued to an unhealthy point. I started having trouble sleeping, and soon was sleeping only one or two hours at night. I became anxious and irritable, feeling like my skin had been peeled off exposing every nerve. I felt incomplete and became intensely dissatisfied with myself and every aspect of my life. I began taking anti-anxiety and sleeping medication and was able to return to a semblance of normalcy, but piercing angst was my constant companion for the next year.

In hindsight, I see that all the years of drunkenness had inhibited my development of basic coping skills. I thought about drinking sometimes because I knew it would cure the pain I was feeling. But, I had mentally removed that option from the realm of things available to me on the day I was arrested, so I never got anywhere near close to going there. No “one day at a time” for this gal – it’s all or nothing with me. I never wanted to revisit the decision again, and I never really have. I don’t drink; that’s part of who I am and will be for the rest of my life.

Over the next two years, my life became unrecognizable from what it had been before.  Where I lived, where I worked, who I lived with, my role as a mom, how I looked, what I did with my days, how I thought… It all changed, drastically.  I escaped the life of a lost, sick, and guilty alcoholic. I figured out how to blow my secrets into oblivion and claim my freedom.  I gathered my shame into a pile and set it on fire.  I flailed and squirmed and hurt and suffered as my being expanded into who I really am.  I went through a period of self-absorbed narcissism as I woke up, and l hurt people I love.  I behaved unpredictably as I rushed to fix everything. It felt like an emergency that my life was not what I needed it to be.  It all worked out.  New truths announced themselves, and I found the strength to accept them. I did the work of honest self-examination and self-acceptance. I settled down and learned how to live with balance.

On June 5, 2010 I decided to Just Stop, and I have recovered.

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Calling Off the Fight: Anxiety Redux

Anxiety Face
Anxiety Face

A boxing match is about to start. As I step into the ring with my biggest fear, I size it up and see that it is nebulous, which will make it a tricky opponent. Its form is not well-defined. It looks impenetrable yet ready to engulf me at the same time. I step back and study this thing, and I realize that its nature is to shape-shift into a dark cloud over any circumstance. Its strategy is to cast shadows and hide the light, distorting things. As I consider my plan for doing battle with this being, I decide I will give it a name to disarm the ambiguity it wields as a weapon.

My biggest fear goes by Dali (Disaster And Loss Imminent). He sits at the periphery of my mind, trying to poke holes in my happiness. He has a knack for creating a pall over a perfectly good situation, although I hardly ever pay attention to him. But, there are moments when he morphs himself into a thought or feeling that grips me and throws me down on the ground in a panic. In these times I feel terrified that I am on the verge of losing everything that is good in my life. I can see myself alone, living in abject poverty with a crippling broken heart that will eat me alive. When these moments descend on me, I let Dali have his way with me for a little while; I whimper and whine and curl up in a ball. Then, I dust off the essence of me, which is rational and optimistic, and I put up my dukes.

Standing toe to toe with this mean-spirited joy thief, I come to understand that I am well-equipped to handle him. It turns out that defeating him is not really my aim. What I need to continue to do is to acknowledge his existence, and maintain the same approach to life that has gotten me where I am now. I am exceedingly grateful to be leading such a charmed and luxurious life, and I give due credit to dumb luck for its part in sparing me any real suffering thus far in life. Alongside that luck, though, I see in myself a particular combination of ingenuity, endurance, creativity, and courage that have served me well in constructing a life that I love. I believe that if old Dali were ever to coalesce into some concrete shit-hitting-the-fan threats to my well-being, I have the balls and strength to handle it.

I contemplate the most nightmarish scenario I can conjure (the death of one of my children), and I know that if something that painful ever happened, it would not destroy me. It would wound me profoundly, and I would stand at the edge of complete disintegration. I would flail and rail and suffer. But I would survive and learn to flourish again with those wounds. Looking at Dali across the ring with this knowledge in mind, I realize that we have made a mistake in choosing a fight scenario to work out our differences. We are not adversaries. He is part of me, and I need him. He fosters gratitude in me for the amazingly wonderful life I am living. He keeps me constructively humble. He is fundamental in helping me act in line with my values. Without him I would have a blind spot and I would be incomplete.

The fight paradigm supposes that fears are best handled by defeating them. There is a school of thought that says we should banish them from our consciousness, because to engage them is to perpetuate negativity. I don’t buy this. There can be a healthy balance between denying the reality that these fears exist and dwelling on them. I believe they are best handled with self-inquiry, patience, and acceptance. I have decided to call off the fight. Dali is part of who I am, and I appreciate his contributions to my wholeness.