I recently decided that on October 28th, 2013, I would publish a post entitled, ‘Four Years.’ It wouldn’t be about four years of travel, or a relationship, but four years since I last had a drink of alcohol and became a recovering alcoholic rather than an active one. And whilst I think ‘Four Years’ sounds way more impressive than ‘Three years, nine months and four Days,’ waiting for the ‘right time’ to share about my journey as a recovering alcoholic is kinda laughable, because it’s exactly the sort of thinking that qualifies me to be a recovering anything in the first place.
God knows, I’ve spent long enough being ashamed; I don’t want to waste another second being concerned about being me.
But I’ve recently been feeling uneasy about my writing and what I actually want to accomplish with it. It’s the feeling I get when I know a change is coming. I’ve resisted it and wrestled with it, this feeling of wanting to write more truthfully and honestly which scares the hell out of me because of things I have wanted to share here, but haven’t, in fear of being judged, rejected or far worse… ignored.
You see, being ignored was one of the most awful feelings I ever experienced as a child. I remember being in grade three and feeling like my pretty blonde teacher saw right through me. I even wrote her a letter telling her as much (can you believe that?!) and received an apology from her that because I was quiet, well behaved and bright, she didn’t think I needed much of her attention. Being overlooked for being well-behaved and bright was a sign to me that I was boring, and boring kids just don’t get love and attention from their pretty blonde teacher.
I was subject to some bizarre interpretations as a child.
But the truth was that from a very young age, despite being absolutely loved and adored by a wonderful Mother (let’s just get that straight!), for some reason I developed the idea that it wasn’t okay to be me. Being quiet, scared, sensitive and bright Sarah was not enough to gain the love I thought I needed from this big, scary world.
Ever resourceful, I tried out a few methods of love gathering, and learned that, funnily enough, having attitude, back-chatting my teachers and dis-respecting authority got me noticed, which was just as good as being loved, and far better than being over-looked for being well-behaved and bright.
I also used my talents and skills to gather love, entering my first dance competition at ten years old, which I won. I actually really loved to dance, but after that first competition, when everyone told me I was going to win before I actually did, it became more about getting love than doing what I loved, as it became very clear to me that everybody loves a winner.
I went on to have more wins after that, but when the seconds and thirds, fourths and fifths started to roll in, it all just felt like failure to me.
By that stage, I only loved myself if I was a winner because I emulated the love other people had for me. It was the only way I knew how. If you liked me, I liked me, that sort of thing.
It’s funny now as I look back and try to explain this, because while I know some people will not get this, and I hope, for your sake, that you don’t, I also know that some of you will. And it is for you that I write this, because when I read something that makes me want to stand up and scream “Yes! I get that!” then I feel a little more alive and a little less scared and a LOT less ashamed. And since it is my sincere desire to rid myself of the shame I seem to have been born with (or at least gathered up pretty quickly after I left the womb), the very shame that led me to the reason for considering a post entitled ‘Four Years’ in the first place, then I’d like it if you felt a little less ashamed too.
Or a lot.
But a little is also good.
Anyhoo, it wasn’t long before I found the ultimate remedy for my scared, sensitive, love-less little self, in the form of a slab of beer on a hot summer’s day. I was about 15, it was the school holidays and we decided to have a party at my friend’s place in the middle of the day while her parents were at work. We started at about 12, and by four o-clock I was lying in a pool of my own vomit, which was really just beer, because I had found no need for food that day.
It was wonderful, and I immediately resolved to seek out more experiences such as this.
Okay, so here is where you may go, “Okay, I was following, but WTF?!”
And while I hope you are one of those people, and that you and sanity have a chance at a life together, sanity and I have had a rather tumultuous relationship. You see, whilst most people would never want to find themselves in a pool of their own vomit, or if they did, probably figure out how to avoid that situation happening again, other people were not me.
Because, aside from the vomit part, which I did manage to get a handle on later on (practice, my friends!), alcohol was the answer to all my problems. It was the answer to the problem of being me, which was that I was scared all the time, was so sensitive I felt like a layer of skin was missing, was so easily hurt by the world and the harmless taunts of the boys at school, and above all, knew that it was not normal to be that way as it certainly hadn’t won me any friends so far.
So seek out more of the same I did.
Over the coming years, my experiences led me to dingy bars and classy restaurants, strobe lit clubs and university parties, micro-breweries and macro-wineries, the beer halls of Germany and the Champagne houses of, well, Champagne (it’s a place!) and even to a first-class seat of a 747, where I sipped Dom Perignon and gazed out over the grey rooftops of London thinking I’d really made it. Eventually, however, it led me to the most confusing, degrading, soul-destroying moments of my life, which felt like it was on track to be very short and very miserable.
It was then that I made what seemed at the time to be a very small decision, to ‘do something about my drinking,’ which turned out to be the most important one I ever made.
After three years, nine months and four days of not drinking, I have learned a lot but mostly this: Alcohol was not my problem, it was my solution.
It rounded my pointy edges, making this square peg fit better in what I perceived to be a round world.
It filled the ‘gap’ of discomfort that existed between me and every other person and thing in my life. It made everything cozy, and snug, and it made me feel normal. All I ever wanted to be was normal, accepted, loved.
Drinking changed my perception of myself; quieted the noise in my head, and drowned out the voice of fear and anxiety. It made me feel like everyone else looked on the outside. But the thing about getting drunk is, eventually, you have to be sober again and therein lied the problem with the whole damn thing.
Gradually, as the years of pretending and hiding and developing an entirely new personality went on, I became completely detached from my true nature. In those quiet moments with myself, usually the morning after the night before, where shame and guilt and soul-sickening sadness ravaged through me, I realized I’d forgotten who I was. So I looked to others to try and see what they saw in order to gather clues about what it even meant to be me.
Then I’d have a drink, and remember.
Oh that’s right, I’m witty, intelligent, not-too-hard on the eyes, and my, oh, my, I am goddamn hilarious!!!!!
At the very end, after hurting too many people, especially Tyrhone, but most of all myself, looking in the mirror had become the most terrifying experience of all.
I had no idea where I had gone, who I was in the first place, and how the hell I was ever going find me again.
It hasn’t been easy giving up my solution. I’ve had to put my everything and then some into working on a solution for this disease which will otherwise destroy me. It sounds dramatic, but it’s my truth. I came pretty close to the edge, and I can tell you it isn’t pretty. As I have slowly, very slowly, begun to negotiate my life as a sober woman, with a LOT of help, guidance and support from other people who are doing the same thing, I have been able to reclaim pieces of myself I thought were lost forever, and found new pieces I never even knew existed.
I am sensitive and fearful, yes, but I am also strong, and loving, and generous.
Today I also have faith, in a power greater than myself who answered the prayers of my soul before I was conscious of them, and who continues to teach me that the love I thought I was lacking, was really inside me all along.
I’ve had to re-learn some things, and learn entirely new things, like how to hold a conversation at a social gathering without a glass of wine in my hand. Oh boy, that was a tough one. It’s funny, but I’m actually not as social as I thought I was. I kinda love staying in on a Friday night and watching a movie, because people talk a LOT of shit at parties, have you noticed?
I’ve also learned how to travel sober, something I never imagined was possible for me, and today my life is bigger and brighter and more meaningful than I ever imagined it would be.
Some days I am still the scared, feeling un-loved girl I always was, but I am learning, slowly, very slowly, something about love that is so beautifully summed up by this quote from my hero of the hour, Glennon Doyle Melton:
“Love is not something for which to search or wait or hope or dream. It’s simply something to do.”
Writing this blog is one of the ways I’m doing love today. I’m honoring the gift of self-expression through the written word which I have been so freely given. I want this to be my life’s work, as well as staying sober. As a writer who tells stories about my life, I want to honour all of my life, not just the shiny bits, but the messy, painful bits too.
Because they are precious to me.
And because hearing other people’s stories of overcoming struggle has healed me more than I ever thought possible. I hope sharing my own will help me to continue to, and maybe even heal a tiny piece of you too.