My recovery from alcoholism: a story of paradoxes

Drunken days

Drunken days

October 1, 2006, I woke up in the

Guest bedroom of my best friend’s house.

My infant son was in a crib next to me

Crying like he had been crying for a long time.

A white rug on the floor was stained with red-wine vomit.

I popped a pacifier in my son’s mouth and

Dragged the rug into the bathroom

Where I hoisted it into the sink and

Vainly tried to scrub the vomit out of it.

There was a mirror above the sink

And if I looked in it,

I surely looked down again quickly.

I wasn’t in the habit those days of

Looking myself in the eye much.

The vomit wasn’t coming out of the rug,

So I filled a pail with cold water and

Left the rug to soak in the shower,

My feeble attempt at cleaning up after myself.

I brought my son downstairs.

My friend and her infant daughter were in the kitchen making lunch.

My son and I were spending the weekend, and I,

As usual,

Had shown up with a box of red wine

Which had been finished off to the point of

Opening the box and

Taking the foil bladder out and

Squeezing every last drop of wine out of it.

I was probably still somewhat drunk;

I don’t remember being particularly

Hung over that morning,

Which usually meant the

Alcohol hadn’t worked its way through my system yet.

I sat down at the table across from my friend,

Therese,

One of my best friends ever,

And grinned.

She didn’t grin back.

“I’m not going to

Drink with you anymore,” she said.

“You can do whatever you want,

But I’m done.

You’re out of control.

It’s too sad to watch.”

The look in her eyes.

It wasn’t anger exactly,

And it wasn’t sadness either.

It was resolve,

And it was protection.

She needed to protect herself from me.

She was putting up a wall.

I think I sat in silence for a while.

Our two babies were playing on the floor.

My son.

Thirteen months old.

I was getting divorced from his dad,

And I knew my drinking could put me in danger of a

Custody battle.

I thought:

“I’m going to start losing people.”

It’s become a pop-culture trope:

That moment when the alcoholic or addict

Lifts her quaking eyes up from the tabletop and says,

“I need help.”

What I didn’t know until my moment for doing it

Was that that act of surrender

Took more courage and strength than

Anything I had done in my life up until that point.

It wasn’t weakness to ask for help;

It was a last gasp of strength.

A few days later,

I found myself sitting in an

Empty church sanctuary.

I had attended my first 12-step recovery meeting,

And I been unable to muster the words,

“I’m Jen.

I’m an alcoholic.”

I knew if I was going back,

I had to decide.

So I prayed to a god I didn’t believe in,

A god I had spent my whole life being

Skeptical about at best,

Vulgarly mocking at worst.

Screwing up all my energy into a tight little ball, I said,

“Okay, ‘god.’

Am I alcoholic or not?

Yes or no?”

Nothing happened.

Nothing.

Fuck this, I thought.

And at that moment,

These words came into my mind

As if spoken out loud:

“You are precious and delicate.

And it’s okay.”

I wept, friends.

It wasn’t the answer I had been looking for—

God or whatever you want to call it

Doesn’t tend to answer questions so directly,

I’ve since learned.

But it was permission to be powerless,

And it was a gentle, loving exhortation to

Start treating myself well.

It’s been more than eight years since my last drink,

And that’s important.

But as most alcoholics and addicts know,

Our drinking is but a symptom.

If I had never taken a drink in my entire life,

I would have filled that gaping hole with something,

Possibly an eating disorder

Or even more destructive sexual behavior

Than I had already engaged in.

Why do alcoholics drink and addicts use?

It’s truly insane.

We poison ourselves sometimes to death,

We destroy our lives,

The lives of people we love and

Sometimes the lives of strangers

Who have the misfortune of

Crossing our paths at the wrong moment.

If you had asked me on October 1, 2006

Why I did what I did,

Why I drank every day

At the most inappropriate times,

Why my eyes for years were

Unfocused and glazed over,

I would have been as baffled as anyone.

3,227 days later,

I’m starting to have a glint of understanding.

Alcohol is called “spirits” for a reason.

Alcoholics often describe themselves as having a

God-sized hole in their soul,

Into which they pour booze.

And for me, I know now I had a

Spiritual problem that needed a

Spiritual solution.

With recovery from addiction,

There’s often a feeling of being reborn.

As a religion skeptic,

It took me many years to feel comfortable

Identifying my experience as that,

But there’s really no other way to describe the

Fundamental perspective change that happened.

I began to understand that

The way I perceived the world was in many ways

Opposite from how the world actually worked.

This showed up for me in several of the

Paradoxes that are inherent in recovery from addiction

And in living a spiritually based life.

The first paradox is that

Suffering is often the door through which

We enter a spiritual life and

Gain some peace.

Before my recovery from alcoholism,

I had thought that spiritual people were

Just born that way–

If I thought about them at all.

There were spiritual people,

And there were unspiritual people,

And spiritual people were

Weird and weak,

Ergo, I was definitely not

One of them.

Now I understand that

It took me an immense amount of suffering

To surrender to a spiritual experience.

A spiritual life is not for the faint of heart.

The path to some measure of

Serenity and peace

Was a very painful one.

In that sense,

October 1, 2006 was one of the

Most difficult days of my life,

But it was also one of the

Best days of my life.

That’s another lesson I’ve learned from

Living a spiritual life:

That once I stop turning away from

Life on life’s terms–

Which is essentially what I was doing

Every time I put a drink to my lips–

There’s a depth to the experience

I had never known could happen.

It’s completely possible to

Hold several profound emotions

All at the same time,

To be wracked by them all,

And not be overcome.

I experienced this when,

After a long journey with Alzheimer’s,

My mother died when I had about

Five years of sobriety.

I felt so many things:

Grief,

Gratitude,

Relief,

Joy.

To plumb the depths of this

Experience of life at that level is

Such a gift,

And one I can only truly experience

When I’m consciously living as a spiritual being.

Another paradox I’ve been thinking a lot about is

The axiom that,

In order to keep something,

You have to give it away.

This is one of the three pillars of the

Recovery fellowship I’m a part of,

And we regularly see people who are

Not focused on being of selfless service to other alcoholics

Relapsing.

I had no idea what it meant to

Be of service

Before I embarked on this

Spiritual journey of recovery.

It wasn’t anything that was

Remotely on my radar.

I was completely focused on myself,

Or at best on a select group of loved ones.

I suppose I was faintly aware that

There were people in the world who were

Generous or gave of themselves,

But any thought I gave them was

Couched in cynicism:

They were just doing it to

Look good or

Make themselves feel better.

I had no idea of the profound joy,

The symbiosis of how

Me helping someone else

Helps me

Just as much as it

Helps them.

It’s one of the most beautiful parts about life,

And I’m privileged to have the chance to

Experience it every day

If I want to,

By being of service to

Other alcoholics in recovery.

There is no more satisfying feeling

Than to spend an hour

Sitting across a coffee shop table

With another woman in recovery

Sharing my experience, strength and hope,

And receiving hers.

A final paradox that I,

As a writer,

Particularly appreciate is that

The stories of my worst moments in life

Are actually my greatest gifts.

When I think about the moment of

Desolation and fear on October 1, 2006,

When I realized that

I could not live with alcohol

But I could not live without it,

I had no idea that that story

Could be a gift I could give to

Other women

Suffering from untreated alcoholism.

My most difficult moments in life

Are also that ones that most deeply connect me with others,

And in that way I see them as

Gifts that I’m obligated to share.

One gift I get to share with others now

Is the gift of the words that I heard

In the church that day.

I get to say to you

The words that were said to me:

“You are precious and delicate.

And it’s okay.”

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