In a lot of ways, my story is boilerplate. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. Like I said, there was this void inside me, a hole that opened up and was impossible to fill. I was a really lonely kid---that’s not a reflection on my parents, or my family, I was just that way. I was a dreamer and I think I figured out really young that there was no place in the world for people like me, and instead of believing that things would get better, I gave up hope. You can only weather so much. And I wasn’t brave then, and I didn’t know who I was, so I was basically like “fuck it” and pulled a vodka blanket over my head and refused to come out. I started drinking and using fairly young, and it felt right to me in a way that was scary. You could say that it was my first love, and I had absolutely no interest in fighting it. I didn’t realize how deep my addiction went until I finally tried to quit on my own. I couldn’t stop. I tried everything, from moving apartments to switching substances, to therapy and yoga and being a vegan and getting married, and I was still an alcoholic and a heroin addict. I could dress it up and say “it’s because I’m a writer” or “it’s because I got raped,” but neither of those things are completely true. “I’m self medicating.”
I ended up getting sober at 23. I think that everyone has a few windows of opportunity, when it comes to addiction---and the longer you wait, the fewer opportunities there are. For whatever reason, I jumped through this one and I haven’t gone back. I got sober on my own, detoxed in a tiny studio apartment I shared with my then-husband, and decided I could just muscle through it. I didn’t know anything about addiction or alcoholism and figured I was just insane. I thought I would have to go on a mood stabilizer or antidepressants---in fact, I was prescribed both of those things by a well-meaning psychiatrist in my first few months, because I described my symptoms and they were concomitant with bipolar disorder. (Of course, I hadn’t told this doctor that I’d quit drinking and getting loaded, so she thought I was having a mental break of some kind.) I stayed sober on my own for close to three years, and my life got smaller and smaller. I lost all my friends and I was so lonely. I rarely left the house, and I was afraid to walk down the wine aisle at the store. Finally, I got a suggestion to go to an AA meeting, and that’s where my recovery really started.
Top 5 Recovery Tools
1) AA meetings
For me, staying physically sober wasn’t enough. I needed to learn how to grow up, work on myself, and be brave, and I learned all of that in AA. I’ve been sober for almost 10 years now, and in AA for more than 6. The contrast between having a community and trying to go it alone is like night and day for me. I don’t think AA is for everyone, but it can help anyone. It was exactly where I needed to be, and I use what I’ve learned in the rooms every day.
I keep a journal, write letters, and stay creative. Cultivating the playful, imaginative part of my mind is critical for my recovery. I was surprised and pleased to learn that getting sober didn’t turn me into a different person: it’s helped me to live up to my potential. I was a writer when I was drinking, and I’m a writer now: a sober one. A few years into my recovery, I went to graduate school and earned an MFA in Creative Writing. It feels like such a gift to not only be able to finish what I start, but to say “writing matters to me,” and be able to invest in myself.
Where would I be without my people? From AA to the #xa community on Twitter and the awesome friends who have come into my life over the past decade, I feel loved, supported, and seen. When I was drinking, I felt invisible: like I didn’t matter, and that nobody would miss me if I disappeared. Now, I have friends who fill my days and nights with laughter, music, and fun. I have a man in my life who makes me feel like I’m full of stars. I would also say that, in sobriety, I’ve learned how to make new friends without feeling nervous or inhibited. These days, I’m grateful to have quality friends I can count on, and who keep me honest and grounded.
Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is a thing with feathers.” That’s how I live today. I have heard people describe hope as a kind of faith, and I think that’s true, too. For me, recovery is what happens after the initial pain and excitement and drama of early sobriety has passed. Life continues to be life, and I continue to learn. I try to go forward believing that good things are possible, for me and everyone. I write about my hopes, talk about them. I remind myself that my best days are ahead of me, and that if I stay sober and keep going, I’ll get where I need to be. Of all the things I rely on, I’d say that hope is the thing that has truly given me wings. One day, I decided that I had trudged far enough; instead of giving up, I learned how to fly.