Alcoholism Doesn’t Care How Long I’ve Been Sober
I can’t remember exactly when I started feeling like I wasn’t enough. From an early age, I felt “different” from my friends, and afraid they would notice. I did things I didn’t want to do to “fit in,” and be “normal.” Much of the time it was out of the need to feel comfortable in my own skin. I have rarely just allowed myself to be who I am without fear of rejection.
There were years that I didn’t like who I was and was certain no one else would either. I was the girl in high school that had a friend in every group, and shifted from one to the other depending on my mood or what day it was.
I learned, pretty early on, how to be a chameleon and blend in.
When I found alcohol, it got easier to hide the fact that I was a scared little girl trapped inside the body of an adolescent, and then adult. Alcohol gave me the power I had been searching for my whole life. It allowed me to be whomever you wanted, and act accordingly. If I stepped out of this role and disappointed you, I could always blame the vodka. I was totally convinced that vodka made me violent. It wasn’t until I got sober that I realized it was deep-seated anger that made me act that way. As I child I learned that being outwardly angry was dangerous, so I stuffed it away…until I got drunk.
When I got drunk, I told you what I really thought. I had no filter, and used that state to berate and beat you with my words, and often my fists. It was an escape for me that came with what I thought was a “Get out of jail FREE” card. I lost count of how many times I used a drunken night to excuse inexcusable behavior. “Sorry, I was drunk” was about as close to a genuine amend that I could make back then, and I remember feeling totally victimized if my “apology” wasn’t immediately accepted.
After years of sobriety, when it came time to make official amends to those I had harmed with my words and actions, I had to accept full responsibility for all of my half-hearted requests for forgiveness.
I had to admit my tendency towards manipulation wherever and whenever it suited me. I had to admit my selfishness, and tell the truth.
Most of the people I sincerely apologized to accepted it graciously. When asked what could be done to rectify the situation, most just asked that I continue my journey of recovery so that the offenses would not repeat.
“Old behavior,” was replaced with healthy boundaries and awareness. I continued to take the action necessary to be rid of the selfishness and dishonesty that promoted my need for instant gratification and control. Then I hit a bump.
Something happened to me that provoked a fear I had never known. When I tried applying the tools I had learned—the ones that helped in the past—they didn’t work. Depression grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go. When I reached out to the people in my life that had taught me how to use these tools, I was repeatedly directed back to them. I got questions like, “What are you NOT doing?” and I couldn’t answer. I was doing everything in my power, and still feeling lost and afraid.
I began to feel abandoned by the people who once saved my life, and I started making excuses not to see them.
They were too busy, or didn’t want to hear about my problems anymore. I knew what they were going to say if I called, so I didn’t. I created rifts in many relationships, and then used them as an excuse to end them. I started to isolate myself.
I was still practicing most of the principles I had learned, but started to rely on my ability to pick and choose which should apply. “Old behavior” started to creep back in as possible solutions to the way I was feeling.
One night I went out with two of my high school friends and a woman I work with. One of them had a night of bar hopping planned. I didn’t say no. I’d been sober for fourteen years, and it wasn’t my first time in a bar. I was sure I could handle it.
I was asked to buy a rum and coke and hold it while my friend went to the bathroom. I did.
I had no intention of drinking it, but the resentments started to brew. Why had someone asked me to buy a drink knowing that I’m sober? Why had I not responded the way I should have? What happened to self-awareness and ability to set boundaries? What was I doing at a bar in the state I was in?
I felt so uncomfortable, but I couldn’t leave. I had agreed to be the designated driver. I manipulated myself into staying.
I didn’t drink, but I got mean. I started acting just like the girl I was at the bar fifteen years ago. I embarrassed my good friend because I was lashing out and like a selfish jerk. Even the next day, I justified my behavior.
Days later, I felt awful. I did what I knew I had to. I processed my part of the whole situation, and was completely honest with myself about what I had done wrong. I called my friend and made proper amends. Then I got my ass back in gear.
I know that I will never be cured of alcoholism. I have recovered, but I am not immune to relapse if I don’t remain vigilant in my recovery. I hadn’t been doing the things that I know work.
I had shut myself off from connections with people who remind me that it’s a day at a time. I got cocky.
This was an eye opening experience and one that I hope to never repeat. I put myself in danger, and my friends in a terribly awkward position that night. I am not proud of my behavior, but I am proud that I was able to recognize my need for help. I still need help no matter how long I’ve been sober. I hate being messy and not having my shit together. I dislike having to call people and feel like I’m whining about problems, especially if I’ve created them. I despise the fact that I have to rely on other people. It’s true, I do, but you know what I hate more than any of those things?
Julie Maida lives in Massachusetts with her amazing husband and three children. She has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000.
Julie is eternally grateful for all the gifts of recovery and fiercely determined to advocate for, and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me.