This is about addiction, and isolation, and recovery; and it is written by one of the bravest people I know.
The Wee Hours
You know, after countless hours of talking from behind podiums, in intimate irregular circles and in classrooms, you’d think I’d have some clue on how to start a short written piece about my experience with addiction and how it relates to depression. But I don’t. Luckily, Gwen has taught me something that can be applied–she probably doesn’t know she taught me this; in fact, she probably doesn’t know about a lot of the things she’s taught me (I bet she’s squirming right now just reading this happy crap) but she has taught me a lot, and something I will now apply is that in order to write anything, you must first WRITE SOMETHING.
So hello, I’m an Alcoholic, (among other things) and I’ve been in recovery (successfully, thank God) for about 4.5 years now, and everything seems to be going very well. For those of you reading this who know me, note that I’ve chosen to remain anonymous, and I ask that if you feel the urge to comment, please respect that. Okay, onward.
I feel it’s necessary to point out that I have a unique perspective on what ‘going very well’ means, and the gratitude that comes with such a statement. For years things did not go very well at all; things were dark, and terrifying, and sometimes in the wee hours before dawn, when the fog cleared enough for me to look around and see what was really happening, things could be hopelessly unbearable. But the feeling I remember the most, the one that made all the difference, that made the dark darker and kept the shades drawn tight, was the feeling that I was completely, utterly alone.
And that, I think, is where we may relate.
I won’t go into the tale of how I became an alcoholic. Needless to say I always was, I just wasn’t allowed to express it for a long time – so when the opportunity came, I took it.
I spent my drinking years in a strong denial of what was happening to me, but those ‘wee hours before dawn’ were the rare times when I was sober enough to see that my life wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t see how it could. I didn’t understand how the rest of the world functioned – how people went out and lived life without a substance was a myth to me, and I believed – to my core – that I was the only one.
Nobody felt like me, nobody had the same problem as me and if somehow my terrible secret were ever to get out, nobody would ever, ever understand me. I was unique. Terminally so.
I think this feeling extends to many mentally based illnesses (or conditions or situations or whatever label makes it okay for you). This feeling of being unique, of being the only one – drowning in a world where somehow the rest of the race seems to have learned to walk on water.
So what’s the deal? Did I miss that particular class in kindergarten when the teacher said “Oh, and by the way, the following short video will teach you how to be normal.”. I don’t think I did, I just think my–or dare I say ‘our’–view of normal gets horribly out of sync. We look at the rest of the world and we see a bunch of swans gliding gracefully across the water, but we forget that just below the surface, they’re all paddling like hell. If you think about it, the best part is that to someone else, you’re the swan! You fluffy little devil, you.
The scariest thing for me about getting sober was my family finding out. I can tell you, addition is a full time job – it takes 24 hours a day of lying, hiding and switching masks on a per-person basis to keep those who love you from finding out that you are literally killing yourself – but I did it, because in my mind (and that’s the key right there) them finding out would be worse than death itself. In fact, I used to be scared sometimes that I wouldn’t wake up – not because I would be dead, but because of what they would find out. I was okay with dying, but I wanted a bit of warning first so I could, you know, shine the place up for the wake.
If it wasn’t for the feeling that I was oh so unique, I may have known long before that it’s okay to say “hey, I’m having some trouble and I think I need some help”. I might have realized that the people who loved me, actually loved me, and that means they’d do anything to support me. I thought the word ‘help’ meant ‘fail’. It doesn’t. To me, saying ‘I need help’ is saying ‘I am human’. We all need help – It’s like when you’re sitting in a classroom and you don’t understand but you’re too afraid to put your hand up and say so. What we don’t realize is that NOBODY understands. Next time, put your damn hand up, ask the question and watch the heads nod. Us upright waterfowl gotta stick together.
Alcoholism is a strange thing. I once heard it described as the only disease with a ‘fun phase’, but we who are in recovery have each paid a hefty toll, and although we sometimes laugh at the impossible situations we’ve survived, we do so out of gratitude for the second chance we’ve been granted, and for the knowledge that no matter what someone has been through, someone else has gone through it before. I think that two of the most powerful words you can say to someone else are ‘me too’. One brain is not a big enough place for the shit we live through in this world, so share a little pain and get a little hope – nobody is ever the only one.