This post is a departure for me. A big, scary, whoa-what-am-I-doing kind of departure. It’s not filled with pretty pictures of DIY projects and party decorations. It is personal, intimate, and honest in a way that leaves me terrifyingly vulnerable. But I think it’s important. So here goes….
I have to be honest – sometimes I forget that all of you haven’t been riding shotgun with me since I was a kid. I forget that we haven’t been best friends since kindergarten. I see myself as such an open book (and such a chatty cathy) that it catches me off guard when someone is surprised by my past.
Recently, I was out with friends and in the course of a conversation told a story from my younger days. Some of the crowd were people I’d only just met, some were acquaintances, but one was a good friend. After I finished my story, which I didn’t think was a big deal, I felt *that* beat of silence. You know the one – where you wonder if you said something out of line or maybe you have food in your teeth and no one wants to tell you? I launched into a joke to power through the silence, but it was only afterwards that I realized that my story had been more than a little surprising to my compatriots that night, and especially surprising to my good friend sitting next to me.
Why? Because the story I told was a very abbreviated version of the sequence of events that led me to get sober at the ripe old age of twenty-one. (Full disclosure – we were in a bar at the time, and because I wasn’t drinking, the subject came up very organically.) I’m not secretive about my sobriety and have never shied away from explaining why I don’t drink if asked directly. I think a lot of people assume I’m “straight edge” or just a goody-goody. (HA! If they only knew…) But I’ve also learned that sometimes my sobriety can make people uncomfortable because they just don’t know what to do with it. Here’s this young (relatively -ouch), happy, outgoing wife and mother, and you can almost read it on their faces, “SHE is an alcoholic? Hubba-Whaaa?”
Yeah. I am.
Even though it’s been 11 years since I quit drinking, I’m still “one of them”. I always will be. I won’t ever “give it another try”. I don’t need to see if maybe I’ve outgrown it. I definitely don’t think it was a phase. I’m not interested in experimenting to see if I could handle it better nowadays.
I get it. It’s hard to reconcile who/what you see now with what we all think of as a drunk, right? But yeah, that was me. I drank to get drunk and in that endeavor, I was phenomenally successful. Not every once in awhile, not on special occasions, but EVERY SINGLE TIME. The story I told a couple weeks ago was about the time that a friend from college saved my life by being in the right place at the right time and saw me passed out on a city sidewalk in Texas, just as a bum started to drag me into an alley. It’s not a particularly scary story for me because a)I was a blackout drunk and don’t remember any of it, and b)I’ve told the story a bunch of times in AA meetings. It’s just one of the litany of jackpots that eventually led me to spend two and a half months in rehab. The stories that still scare the bejezus out of me are the ones that I don’t tell that often, like the time I came out of a blackout sitting on the stone ledge of a building, six stories up. When I figured out which window I’d climbed out of and rejoined the party, I laughed uproariously about it… and then drank some more.
It’s no longer embarrassing to me that I did spectacularly humiliating things while drunk. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m an alcoholic. I am deeply regretful of the way I hurt the people I most loved and the dangerous ways in which I behaved, but I don’t think I’m a bad person. I think I was a sick person who has been committed on a daily basis for 11 years to staying well.
So, why would I admit this to the entire world? Because we all have bits and pieces of our lives we’d like to forget. Because our secrets keep us sick. Because I’m one of the incredibly fortunate few who have managed to stay on the straight and narrow, and turn my back on the siren call of an “easy” good time. Because one too many times I’ve had people comment on how “together” I am, or how perfect things seem, how remarkable it is that I have everything under control, and how I make everything look easy.
No. I am not together. I am not perfect. I do not have things under control. And most certainly, there are very few things in my life that have come easily.
I operate in a constant state of grace. I have a daily reprieve from my demons. I say thank you every day for a second chance to live my life better. I struggle, I plod, I mess up, I apologize, I strive for integrity, and I make a conscious decision every single morning that I will not drink, just for today.
The way that life is portrayed to us these days is so filtered, so produced, so edited. Y’all, we are not those people. I’m as guilty as anyone – you think I didn’t chose the most flattering photo I could find as my profile pic? Of course I did. But I also try to show you what my house looks like behind the scenes of a photo shoot. (It’s a disaster area in every square inch that won’t be on film.)
You know why I’d rather admit to the whole world that I’m an alcoholic, the kitchen island is almost always a wasteland of junk piles, I let my toddler watch an episode of Curious George pretty much every morning so I can get dressed, that I often just want to eat Captain Crunch for dinner instead of actually cooking, and that I require strict deadlines to accomplish even the most menial of tasks, and even then I procrastinate? Because that’s the beautiful reality of life, it’s my truth, and I honor it.
The level of perfection that’s portrayed as “normal” is EXHAUSTING. I find myself mentally doing a side by side comparison of everyone else’s FB, Twitter and Instagram – and finding myself, my life, my abilities, my creativity, my marriage, my parenting abilities, and my bank account, seriously lacking. Roosevelt said it best: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Rather than try to change other people, the media or the world, I’m going to do what I know works: I’m going to change my own behavior. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m going to tattle on myself. And I figured why not start with a whopper? I used to be a hot mess. Because I don’t want to be that hot mess today, I don’t drink.
I also eat Smarties one by one until I get a blister on the tip of my tongue, but that’s a story for another week.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. This? It’s a lotta words. You should totally get a certificate for reading achievement.