Addiction · Autobiography · Mental Health · Relationships

Two Years Sober

"Windows Molde Norway abstract" © Les Haines, 2012. CC BY 2.0.
Windows Molde Norway abstract” © Les Haines, 2012. CC BY 2.0.

Tomorrow will be my second sober anniversary and I am terrified. So terrified I’ve found myself lying on the floor, still in my coat and scarf, kicking the wall, and sobbing. So terrified I drove to my parents’ house after dinner to cry onto my mother’s shoulder. So terrified I’m struggling to find the words to write about it. Terrified.

Because the second year is when I learned that not drinking isn’t the end of the battle. That I’m still sick. I still have bipolar disorder and it’s still something that needs to be managed. The second year is when I learned that there’s a difference between giving your all and giving enough.

The second year is the year I learned that yes, I have PTSD. Yes, some horrible things have happened to me. Yes, I’ve been hurt by people, but they didn’t do this to me. The second year is when I learned that no matter how much other people have done, the fact that I’m sick is nobody’s fault and I have to stop blaming them. That blaming them is just letting them do it again and again.

This year I finally learned that if I’m ever going to get better I have to mourn the loss of normality. I have to let go of the idea that if I can just stay sober everything will be okay. I learned I have to manage my medication, go to therapy, exercise everyday, avoid caffeine, get regular sleep, and write daily. Just like not drinking, these aren’t options for me. They’re not perks. It’s just what I have to do if I want to be okay. And I want to be okay.

If I’m going to do that, some things have to change. I have to admit that I’ve been wallowing in my marriage in order to avoid discovering who I really am without booze. That I’ve let a relationship become my defining attribute, so that I don’t have to figure out what my defining attribute is. What I want it to be. I’m going to have to admit that I’ve been using love and food and video games and sleep to prop me up the way bourbon used to.

I feel like I just barely made it to the finish line this year. I feel like a dry drunk. But I also know that–just like when I quit drinking–realizing what I need to do is half the battle. So in the next year I’m going to give myself the space to figure out who I am as a person. Give myself the space to manage my illness effectively. The space to stop blaming my character flaws on what happened to me in the past. The space to stop confusing character flaws and symptoms.

Because when I hit my third year, I want to know I earned it. I want to know I’m stronger. I want to know I did it different.

Addiction · Autobiography · Mental Health · Personal Development


"chain-link fence" © liebeslakritze, 2013. CC BY-SA 2.0.
chain-link fence” © liebeslakritze, 2013. CC BY-SA 2.0.

There’s a patch of grass above the freeway near my house. The fence around it has several “No Trespassing” signs tacked to it. But the fence is easy to bend back and sneak in. So the homeless population sets up camp there. Today on my way home I saw city workers repairing the fence. They do this every month or so. Go in, evict the residents, clear out all the trash and cardboard boxes that have accumulated, and repair the fence. Double it up this time, maybe. Make it a bit taller, the wire a bit thicker. As if that is going to take care of the problem. As if that is going to put people in houses and off the streets. As if that is going to take needles out of arms. The city workers will always find a new way to reinforce the fence and the homeless will always find a way back in.

It occured to me that this is exactly the same as my substance abuse issues. Stop drinking and start smoking more. Stop smoking and start eating more. There’s always something that comes in to take the place of unaddressed emotions. The difficult problems. The things that are not easy to sit with. The feelings I don’t know how to feel. Something always slides in to take it’s place until I take care of the problem. Lately it’s disappearing into bowls of pasta, bags of potato chips, pints of ice cream. A hunger that has nothing to do with food and everything to do with drowning out feeling. Just like bourbon used to. Just like cocaine. It reminds me how much of a process this is. How far ahead I can be, but how far I have to go still.

I think about what I was like five years ago. Going through the motions of getting help, but never committing to it fully. I’d show up to my 10 AM therapy appointments still high on coke from the night before and not say a word about it. Only partially brave enough to face the things happening inside my head.

I think about what I was like two years ago. Just starting to re-admit that I need help. Finding myself sitting in my therapist’s office with lots of “I don’t knows” dripping from my lips. Never dropping in words like “worthless” and “suicide” and “desperation”. Refusing to admit that maybe I needed more support than I thought I did. Than I wanted to admit. That this thing is bigger than I’m equipped to deal with.

Only three months ago I finally started talking about how bad it’d gotten. It wasn’t the first time I was that scared. Wasn’t the first time I started investigating ways to end my life. But it was the first time I reached out to anybody. And I reached out to everybody. I told my therapist, I found a psychiatrist, talked to my medical doctor about it, lined up a DBT program. I told my family. My readers. It felt like unzipping my skin, standing up all tissue and bones. Terrified.

But that shows me that my capacity is growing. That I’m moving toward something more stable. So even when I feel like this isn’t working and I’m never going to make it. I just have to remember that I already am. I’m taking steps to address the problem, not the fence.

Addiction · Autobiography · Mental Health


23” © Mary Jo Boughton, 2015. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It was my mom who told me I’d been sober for twenty-one months this Tuesday. Because I don’t celebrate small victories. Anything less than a year doesn’t mean anything. They tell us “one day at a time”, but I have trouble giving praise between the markers. Only get credit for the grand achievements, for the fireworks, for the things that take breath away.

Exhausted. The lack of worthy accomplishment leaves me feeling like a constant disappointment. And failing every day just makes you want to quit. That’s why people like me relapse. That’s why we don’t reach our goals. That’s why we stop trying.

In therapy I told Leif, “I come up to the edge of my natural abilities and I just… I quit. I get terrified of failure and I just walk away. I don’t know how to push.”

He looked at me like he didn’t believe an ounce of it. An explanation drenched in feelings of inadequacy. My words refusing to give me any credit. He said, “You know how. You’ve never had to push this hard before, but you know how to.”

I just shook my head.

In the morning I went running. I left my GPS watch. I left my heart rate monitor. I brought my headphones. Bright red shoes pounded pavement in the dark. Bob Dylan wailed in my ears, “It’s-a hard, it’s-a hard, it’s-a hard rain’s a-gonna fall…”

I ran and I tried to forget that I should be running faster. That I should be able to run further. That this hill shouldn’t be so challenging. And at some point in the second mile I did.

For just a few moments toward the end of my run my brain got quiet. The only time during the day when I didn’t think about how disappointed I am in myself. Didn’t think that I’m completely incapable of any of this.

I’m not even sure how I think I can do this wrong. All this. I just get the idea in my head that there is a way I am supposed to be living. Because I think I’m broken. Because I think I am somehow uniquely fucked up.

Or maybe I want to be. Maybe I need to be because I recognize that person. I know the version of myself that needs fixing. And that’s what this is all about really, isn’t it? The great realization that if I do the things I say I want to do I will become a person I don’t recognize. That if I get healthy and safe I will have no idea who I am.

Not knowing who you are is way more terrifying than being a junkie, a drunk, a basket case, a slut. Not knowing what labels to put on yourself feels aimless, like floating, a sheet blowing in the wind. You start to wonder if maybe you don’t mean anything at all.