Trying (and failing) to be grown-up
I was trapped in a corner of a houseful of recovering alcoholics at a sober party. Everybody was having fun, laughing, talking, singing — except me. I felt like an alien. My hands were sweaty and the wide smile on my face felt like it was about to snap like an overstretched rubber band. I desperately had to pee but I was afraid to get up and walk through the crowd to find the bathroom.
After two weeks of sobriety, I discovered that quitting drinking is the easy part of recovery. The hard part is learning to live life without alcohol, or as the alcoholics say living “life on life’s terms.”
It was explained to me that alcoholics stop developing spiritually and emotionally when they start to drink. Unlike most people who grow into responsible adults by learning how to handle the experiences (good and bad) of living, we dealt with everything by getting drunk so we never grew up. When we quit drinking we find ourselves at the same age (or younger) emotionally as we were when picked up that first drink. I was a 30-year-old woman with the emotional age of a teenager. Furthermore, as a result of the ravages to my self-esteem during my drinking years, I had lost even what few social skills I had back then.
I was incapable of making any kind of tangible plan for my life and could only indulge in grandiose fantasies. I fancied that I would spend only a short time in recovery before going on to become a rich and famous something, like a politician or a best-selling novelist. This sounded just like the idea I had, as an 8-year-old, of becoming a famous figure skater without ever learning to skate. Or like the stories I had spun in the bar about the various ways I was going to save the world. Then as now the fantasies skipped over doing the necessary work to meet the goal.
My mind seemed to have a mind of its own and was completely beyond my control. It would hook onto something and obsess endlessly. One minute it would tell me I was an intellectual giant, destined to do great things and then the next minute it would tell me I was so stupid I didn’t deserve to live (alcoholics referred to this as “an egotist with an inferiority complex”). My moods were like a rollercoaster, up and down, over and under and around. Beneath everything was nameless fear that came over me in waves and paralyzed me. I couldn’t sleep and I had to force myself to eat.
The people in recovery still seemed weird to me and I balked at getting too close to them. I kept trying to be a grown-up and take care of myself. But I couldn’t do it and there was nowhere else for me to go. So I hung on to Jen who had been sober for the eternity of two years and who offered to “babysit” me in the beginning. Months later when I finally worked up the courage to ask her, Jen would become my sponsor but in those early weeks asking somebody that question was unthinkable so I just followed Jen around town like a puppy. She took me to meetings, introduced me to other recovering people and listened to the sad saga of my life ad nauseam. She pushed me to do things that scared me, like making me talk to people I didn’t know and dragging me to sober parties.
Most of all, she (and the other alcoholics) gave me something to hang on to by reassuring me, almost on a daily basis, that I was not unique, they had all felt the way I was feeling, had the same kind of thoughts and obsessions and that in time this would pass and my life would get better. It is not an exaggeration to say that this saved my life.
This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism. I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation.
If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!