It Wasn’t Always Easy
Before I got sober, every single relationship in my life suffered. I believe it was due to my inability to think about you; mostly because I was so wrapped up in fear of what you thought of me. I knew I was shit, and I worked very long hours ensuring you wouldn’t notice.
I was “self-centered to an extreme.” When I got sober, I heard that statement a lot and learned that it had something to do with my alcoholism. Apparently fear is pretty typical where addicts and alcoholics are concerned. Over the course of my recovery, I have discovered that self-centered fear is actually a human condition. If you are breathing, you have experienced it; possibly even to an extreme.
I spent the majority of my first year of sobriety in treatment, surrounded by staff and other people “like” me. I have always been a bit of a social butterfly, but I think from an early age, much of my enthusiasm to chat you up was to determine how easily I might manipulate you into liking me. Not the real me – obviously, but rather the me I would adjust to suit you.
I did not participate in these behaviors to hurt anyone, and I certainly didn’t spend much time thinking about it. It’s the way I was wired as a child, and it was more of a survival skill than anything else. Again, I knew I was shit. I had been told many times, and the evidence had been drilled into my consciousness.
I would never actually be good enough to do anything, so I learned how to pretend – to act “as if.” I watched people around me who seemed to attract what I wanted, and I adopted whatever mannerisms or “props” I thought would help me to get it. Sometimes it was as easy as a pair of red-rimmed glasses, other times it was a string of lies that made me sound more interesting.
As I type these words and read them back, it sounds almost like an exciting little game; except it was never fun, and always coupled with enormous amounts of fear and anxiety – fear of being found out. Because the risk wasn’t just that someone might one day realize those glasses weren’t real or that I didn’t actually have a twin sister; it was possibly exposing the avalanche of horrifying truth behind those distractions.
When I found alcohol, it was like being released from a life sentence of imprisonment for a crime I hadn’t committed. I felt truly free for the first time in my life, but also really pissed that I had been held captive for so long. Drinking quieted the voices I had replaying in my mind telling me I was useless, and calmed the fear of being uncovered. Because, FUCK IT. I was clearly the victim. I settled firmly into that role, and allowed every ounce of abuse, neglect, and trauma I had ever experienced to fuel my new-found passion for life.
Alcohol became my side-kick, and together we ventured to make right all of the wrongs I perceived needed fixing. It didn’t take long before I was exhibiting the characteristics of someone I swore I’d never become.
After I got sober, every single relationship in my life suffered. I believe it was due to my inability to think about you; mostly because I was still wrapped up in fear of what you thought of me. I knew I was still shit, and I worked even longer hours ensuring you wouldn’t notice.
The newly sober me was very much like the girl I was before the drinking started. I spent years of my sobriety conforming to whatever others wanted me to be – adjusting, adapting, and pretending. It took a very long time to admit I was still focusing on my outward appearance to hide the ugliness inside of me…sober.
Like many humans, I kept thinking in “if only.” If only I could get that job or move over there, or look like her or have more of that thing, I would be okay. And sometimes those things did work and I did feel okay – for a minute. Inevitably each stopped working, and I had a choice.
Continue to hide and exhaust myself pretending everything is “fine” until the pain was so great that drinking again or killing myself sober seemed like a reasonable solution – OR – let someone help me.
That sounds like such a simple choice to make, but it wasn’t.
I had no idea what would be revealed if I was honest. I had YEARS worth of layers upon layers of bullshit to sort through. Some days I was convinced that death would be less painful. I thank God for the women who allowed me to lean when I needed to; all the while encouraging me to keep walking. Each with their enthusiastic pep talks about how wonderful life was just on the other side of Yuck.
Since then, I have built many unbreakable bonds with women just by acknowledging the fact that I am a fearful and flawed human being. It is terribly ironic, but I have found an indescribably wonderful sense of freedom being very honest about my fears and feelings with others. The identification that often results has become my driving force.
That choice between “fine” and asking for help is one I get to make daily. I know who I am today, and I’m no longer worried you’ll see me. It has taken so much for me to get here. It has been quite a journey.
People often comment on how open and honest I am, and how it seems so easy for me.
It wasn’t always easy.
Julie Maida has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000. She is 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.