“I simply do not believe the conclusions I have drawn from my present condition, which has already lasted almost a year, my condition is too serious for that. Indeed, I do not even know whether I can say that it is not a new condition. My real opinion, however, is that this condition is new-I have had similar ones, but never one like this.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, December 15, 1910
This is not my first time being sober for a year. This is the first time I have been open about it. I am filled with great anxiety as I approach this milestone. Again.
I know the daily grind of sobriety as I “trudge this road of happy destiny.” Happy destiny. At times, it seems like a race I am running and my family and friends are on the sidelines cheering me on to the finish. But, with sobriety, there is no finish. It is a daily condition I must face, and with each step, I cannot forget what my goal is. My goal is for this time to be different. I cannot let my guard down. This is what has gotten me into trouble before. I do the work. I run the race. Then, I get tired and quit. I cannot imagine my life without taking a drink.
This past year I have thought to myself, “This time it is different.” Then, I get comfortable, and those old thoughts return to me. The thoughts that maybe I can drink just one drink. When this happens, I must recollect my last drink or drinks. There was never just one. I am one of the lucky ones who made it back into recovery. I am one of the lucky ones who can recall how bad my last drunk was. I remember the misery and the desperation.
In the past, I held my sobriety in secret with only my family and a few friends knowing what I was going through. I did this because in the back of my mind I knew if I were open I would never be able to drink again. I would say to myself, “keep your ace in the hole.” This meant for me that I could try again to drink normally one day. I can’t drink normally.
As I sit writing on this beautiful Autumn day enjoying my porch, I know this time it is different. Alone with my thoughts, I don’t have an ace in the hole. There is no going back. I must only move forward and do what it takes each day to make this time different. Alcoholics, alone with our thoughts must remember we are not alone. There is a solution. That solution for me is recovery. I will continue to stay sober. This is not a race. This is one day at a time. This time, it must be different.
“Of course, one never knows whether the despair one feels is warranted or unwarranted. But reflecting on it can give one a certain support; in the past, I have suffered from the lack of this knowledge.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, December 19, 1914
I am suffering from lack of chaos. I have so much peace. Serenity. I am an alcoholic, and my mind is swirling. Like a squirrel on crack, I want to rush here and there and do something. Something is wrong with me. I am even keel today. It is scaring the hell out of me. I can’t take this. I need to run here and there and DO SOMETHING.
This is how my mind works. Maybe I should be doing more. Doing something. Looking for that next excitement. What if nothing fun ever happens again? What if this is it?
I hope this is it. Peace. I have peace today, and I want to screw it all up.
I am an alcoholic. That’s what I do. I am attracted to chaos. I need excitement, and if I don’t have it, I will create it.
Fun and excitement are perfectly fine and should be celebrated, but so should peace and contentment. I should be satisfied with contentment. Recovery and taking an inventory of my personality traits, good and bad, make me aware of this. I would never have been able to do this without recovery. Without recovery, I would not have had the willingness and honesty to look at my character defects. First, I wanted to stop drinking. I had to stop drinking. So I had to be honest with myself and admit I had a problem. I cannot drink. I have an obsession with alcohol. My brain wants to calm itself, and for years, I thought alcohol could make me happy. I thought it could calm me down. I thought it was my answer. Once I took the alcohol away, my mind swirled with other obsessions. Impulses. I mistook being still and calm for boredom. I thought I was in a rut. I needed FUN! Something to do! The next high! I needed LOVE! I needed the excitement of SOMETHING NEW! I needed the next shiny new thing. I needed....I needed....I needed...THE EXCITEMENT of life! But, so many other needs and obsessions can be as bad as alcohol even if they don’t kill me. They will screw with my serenity.
Today I am serene. I thought I was down, but I am not. I am at peace. I am calm, content, and I have everything I need. I can run and have fun, but I think I will sit here and just be. I will just enjoy this thing that recovery promises me. Serenity. I can still do new and fun things, but I need to understand to balance all that I do.
I am an alcoholic. I have a problem with perception. The last few days I have been anxious. Anxious because I saw peace and serenity and I didn’t know what to do with it.
I have suffered from my thoughts. I see it all now, and I can breathe easier knowing what it is. It is serenity. It is peace.
It is entirely conceivable that life’s splendour forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. This is the essence of magic, which does not create but summons.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, October 18, 1921
It is there. I must summon it. I met with my therapist today. He just thinks I should write it, and it will come. I am in pain. Everything hurts. I don’t know how to write about pain eloquently. Getting sober and feeling everything is a bitch. To become really sober and find true happiness I have to find out why I am unhappy. I am not unhappy with people or my life in general. I am just struggling to be happy. I wish I could just have a drink and relax and not have to think about it. I can’t do that. I won’t do that. So, I sit with my feelings and my emotions. I feel spoiled. Childish. I have so much. The root of happiness. The root of unhappiness. I just want to shake myself. Snap out of it. I cry out to God. I don’t want to be this person. I am an unhappy person. There, I said it.
It’s there. We just must find it. The right word. I looked up the opposite of pain. I looked up the opposite of fear. That’s what I want to summon. That is the life I want. A peaceful life where I am courageous and brave. Most days I have this. Then, there are days that I am paralyzed by life. I would like to say I don’t know why, but I do. Because life is life. I fear losing something I have, or I am anxious about not getting something I want. This is the bottom line. Philosophically I understand this, but when I am in my thoughts, I am overcome by the words I don’t want to summon. Pain. Fear.
I know what to do to get out of myself. Be grateful. Do something for others. Pray. Meditate. There was a time I could have a drink and relax. Take a pill and chill. Those days are over.
Recovery has taught me that I must do an inventory. I must get to know myself and understand why I am the way I am. I have avoided pain and fear most of my life. I run away when I am afraid. I avoid when things hurt. I escaped with humor. I escaped with alcohol. Now, I am facing my pain. I am facing my fears. I am grieving what I have never grieved. I don’t want pity. I am summoning a new word. Strength. I want to be strong in all that I do. The pain and the fear will pass. I will always get to the other side. I do not have to drink and I won’t.
I am afraid to say this, but I am. I wish there was a place where I could get an infusion that would kill this disease or at least attempt to do so. I wish I had a disease that a pill could cure. That is why recovery is so hard. There is nothing to make this go away, but working a program of recovery. It is simple, but it is not easy. I want to claw this inside of my brain. The inside of my head. I want to get this out.
It seems so easy to think all I have to do is get out of my head. Get out of my thoughts. Don’t obsess about numbing my pain. I am at a place where I want to get the “fuck-its” and just go ahead, and a have a drink and just numb the pain. But, I can’t. I won’t. I can’t drink like normal people. I must do this one day at a time and keep moving forward. People do die from alcoholism. I have seen it, and I don’t want to be one of those people.
I don’t expect anyone but an alcoholic to understand this. We don’t want pity. We want to get better. We want to be happy people. We can be happy. We just have to do it one day at a time. I know these feelings are all normal....for an alcoholic. For now, I am going to summon another sober day.
“Yesterday incapable of writing even one word. Today no better. Who will save me? And the turmoil in me, deep down, scarcely visible; I am like a living lattice-work, a lattice-work that is solidly planted and would like to tumble down.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, April 8, 1914
Lattice is an intertwined framework designed to be used as a screen or used to display something. I am lattice-work. I am solidly planted, but some days I would like just to tumble down. I wasn’t always this person. Why did I become this person? Because of life and the way I handle it. I took in life and buried it. I am learning how narcissistic and shallow I really am. I thought displaying the sunshine would make me feel loved and happy. When that doesn’t work, I used my life as a screen. The root of my lattice-work began to crumble in the dirt.
168 days ago I took my last drink. Many drinks. It is easy to remember how awful that night was and the consequences from my last drunk. Personal consequences. Loss of respect. Shame. Self-loathing. Not wanting to live. I don’t want to go back to that place. I have proven time and again, it is not a good place for me. Alcohol is not my friend nor even a healthy acquaintance for me.
I am in recovery now, so life is good. Right? I no longer drink. Now, I have to learn to live sober. I have been doing this one day at a time since October 31, 2015. This is what recovery suggests for me to do. Live one day at a time. I am not unique. Every human being must learn to live and cope with life. We all must learn to how to handle relationships, our obligations, our thoughts and just life. We can all descend into a state of feeling that we are going to tumble down.
I share my story with you in these essays because I know many people who do not make it into recovery because they do not think they are a bad enough as an alcoholic. Bad enough. I have found out that bad enough is whatever is unacceptable to me. My last bottom was bad. Compared to some it may not have been so bad. But, it took me to a place I cannot return. I am convinced I will not live through it. That is why there cannot be a next time.
When I first entered recovery in 2004 I looked at others around me who had what I considered “bad bottoms.” Each time I came into recovery, it was always after a bad night. I swore I would not drink again. I was miserable. I did not have trouble every time I drank, but when I did have any trouble I had been drinking. I did not get a DUI. I did not lose any jobs. I did not lose my home. I did not have legal trouble. But, my life became unmanageable for me as I continued drinking. I would have what I thought was my bottom which would always take me back into recovery. I would immerse myself into my program and then I would, once again, compare myself to the others and think, “I’m not that bad.” I would quit working my program because I thought I was different. Or, I would start feeling better and think, “I don’t need a recovery program. I don’t need to do this daily.” Then, I would think I could drink successfully. For a small window of time, I could. Then, the window kept getting smaller and smaller. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It doesn’t get better. It keeps getting worse and worse as the alcoholic drinks. For me when I started drinking again in May 2015 I drank every day until my last drink October 30, 2015. I drank for many reasons. I drank because I thought I could drink and have fun. I drank because I was sad. I drank because I was depressed. I drank because I was happy. I drank because I got to a place where I could not stop.
I didn’t start out this way. At first, I just had those bad nights that made me question if I was a real alcoholic. I know now if I had continued in my recovery I would not have reached the point I did in October 2015. My life would have had less hurt, and I would not have hurt those around me because of my drinking. But, it took me getting “bad enough” to make me realize that I am a real alcoholic and that I need help. I got help, and I am so grateful.
This is not an eloquent piece, but it is what it is. Each week I have people reach out to me about their drinking. They ask me, I suppose because I didn’t appear to be an alcoholic. I didn’t appear to live an unmanageable life. I was using my lattice-work of life to display a manageable life.
How can I be sure if I am an alcoholic or not? In my experience most people who are not alcoholics do not question this nor do they drink with a fervor that creates chaos in their lives. Most people have a bad incident happen and realize drinking is probably not a good idea for them, or they can take a drink or two and stop. An alcoholic can do neither of these. An alcoholic will continue to have problems and not think that maybe if alcohol is taken out of the equation, my life would be better.
I had a professor in a theater class in college tell me that I would be the type of person who would get a disease and create all sorts of drama around it to make myself the heroine. I have never forgotten this. She said it in jest, but I thought to myself, “for God’s sake, I am in a drama class.” It makes me feel shame and self-loathing that I shine. I think that is why I retreat after I shine. I am ashamed that I have given off so much sun. I just want to learn how to blend in. I am learning in recovery to love myself. To shine and be who I am. I am also not ashamed that I share, if dramatically, my journey as an alcoholic. It is who I am. Recovery works. If I work it. It is a daily journey and a daily walk because I am so flawed. I am flawed, but I am a bright light because God made me that way. I am grateful that I am learning balance in life. I want to be the root that is firmly planted. I want to continue growing.
“What I still am now is revealed most clearly to me by the strength with which the reproaches urge their way out of me. There were times when I had nothing else inside me except reproaches driven by rage, so that, although physically well, I would hold on to strangers in the street because the reproaches inside me tossed from side to side like a water basin that was being carried rapidly.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, July 19, 1910
I don’t want anyone too close to me. I like the company of strangers better because if you got to know me, you would not like me. This is how I think. Once you get to know me, you will leave. I have too many flaws inside of me to let you get too close. On the outside, I seem well and fit, but on the inside I am broken. In my experience, many people feel this way. I am not unique. Everyone experiences life differently and handles their brokenness differently. As I read this 1910 entry into a brilliant writer’s diary, I realize he and I, this ordinary Southern girl, have a lot in common. I am no brilliant mysterious creature. I am just a woman who wants to grow, so I give thought to why I am the way I am. I will acknowledge that my inner self is a whirlwind of objects that make no sense, but I know that through growth and daily work I can create something like an assemblage artist who puts together odd pieces to make a beautiful piece of art. That is how I see my flaws coming together.
I wish I could take each person who is hurting and who feels so broken and sit them down and tell them there is a solution. I wish I could tell them that I wake up daily with great anxiety and fear. I feel so unworthy. I feel so afraid that you will get to know me and that you will not like me. The first thing I do each morning is pray that “I am divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives.” I pray that my thoughts are directed in this way during the day. If I find myself heading in the wrong direction, I stop and do this. If not for recovery and realizing the need to re-train my brain I would not have learned this. This can work for anyone. Alcoholic or not. I believe this way of life can help everyone. I know it has changed my life.
I woke up this morning as I do many days. In total fear and anxiety. Fear that something would be taken away or fear that I would not get something I want. Fear that strangers might get to know me. Fear that my friends would see my flaws. I spoke this prayer and meditated. I want to learn to be divorced from these thoughts so I can be that amalgamation of flaws that fuses into a beautiful spirit who is not afraid to be known.