I want to tell you how much we enjoy your letters, but enjoy is such an odd word choice given what you’re going through right now.
Please forgive me for typing this. There is so much joy to be found in a hand-written letter, but I had so much to say it was falling out of my head onto the paper and I couldn’t write fast enough to get it down before it disappeared. Which was frustrating, because you asked what my getting sober was like, and I have so much to tell you.
Matt and I were in paroxysms at your carnival train metaphor, where you enter through the demon’s mouth and are assaulted by howling regrets and remorse for past decisions. It was so awful, so spot on, so full of the humor and pain of sobriety, and I cannot tell you how much I know of what you speak.
I have been where you are, or near it, and can promise you it does get better. If you’re wondering if you’re gonna be stuck this way and if it’s punishment for bad decisions or questionable behavior, please know you’re not, and it isn’t. You won’t live the rest of your life in this howling and remorseful state.
When we use, we push away emotions that we don’t want to face. It may not seem like it at the time, because it feels like we’re suffering awfully, but we stop fully processing emotions. When we get sober, they resurface with an ax to grind, and we play catch-up at a rate that hurts like holy hell.
I know now that that was one reason I used. When the alcohol left my system, those feelings surfaced, and using was the only way I knew to tamp them back down again to a (barely) tolerable level. But it is only by having the courage to get in, strap down, and ride this motherfucker that we come out on the other end of it, saner, quieter, more whole.
I was a real piece of work when I was younger. You didn’t want to know me, or date me. You really didn’t. I was your mother’s worst nightmare. I was a liar and a thief. I was unreliable, defensive, resentful, manipulative, utterly self-centered, and accusatory, all while feeling really, really sorry for myself. I cheated on boyfriends, was irresponsibly promiscuous, and was starting to be a danger to myself and others. I was not even remotely a good friend. I was not fun to be around. I regularly humiliated myself and embarrassed others with my own behavior while drinking. I drank six days a week, from quittin’ time until I passed out. And it was all somebody else’s responsibility, somebody else’s fault.
Then I had my first conscious panic attack. I was waiting for a bus, and I started to feel like something terrible would happen if I got on, like I would die. My mother had had panic attacks, and it hit hard when I realized the experience I was having matched my mother’s description exactly.
Somehow, I knew I needed help, but thought the problem was the “mental illness” and “weak constitution” that “ran in my family.” (I found out later these were family euphemisms for alcoholism and prescription drug dependence. But that’s another story.)
I called four or five therapists, and booked the one who could see me soonest. I ended up seeing him for fifteen years, and the man helped me to get sober by teaching me what it meant to be honest with myself. Finally, finally, after a year of seeing him 2-4 times a week, I admitted to him that I drank. I still remember what I said. So few words, but so momentous to admit, to say out loud: “I drink a little. Well, no, I drink a lot.” And he said, “Oh?” No judgement. Just a query. Really? Tell me about it. That kind of thing. So I did, and a whole new shitstorm began.
I started to learn about AA, and what it meant to be an alcoholic, what the signs were, the behaviors, and oh, Jebus it was hard when I recognized myself. The next seven or eight months were alternately some of the darkest and most exquisitely joyful in my life, but I’ll start there in the next letter, because you’re there on the farm, and it’s been far too long since you’ve heard from me. I’ll be faster next time, I promise.
Ps: I’m mailing you more of my handspun yarn. I made about 400 yards in a gradient from brown to grey that I blended myself, then spun, plied, and knitted into a scarf. Here’s a picture too. Maybe you can use this yarn in your sock. If you need any more yarn just let me know. I might have some.
(For the rest of my Letters to Asher series, click here.)
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Wall.”