Hating other drunks, I was no social drinker. Drinking, for me, had always been something personal. Like with most things in my private life that I won’t go into, I kept things quiet. My immigrant parents were obsessed with how people perceived them and instilled in me that you show a near perfect persona to the outside world. That also was a huge factor in the development of my preferred isolation from the world.
During my recovery, I read that a closet alcoholic couldn’t remain hidden. At some point, the need for drink would force them out.
Into my third year of sobriety, I know that’s not true. My family belonged to a large church denomination that didn’t allow alcohol consumption. That didn’t stop me from indulging during my days at a prestigious small college in New York State. My degree wasn’t the only thing I took home with me upon graduation; I also took home my growing alcoholism.
Yesterday-the second anniversary of my sobriety-was bittersweet. It was also the anniversary of my leaving my rehab facility. The bitter part came as I allowed myself to reflect back to my detox, the first and most grim stage of my recovery; mine came complete with hallucinations and convulsions.
Stabilized, I got through it and made it to the next stage. Looking back, it all seemed so appropriate…almost matter-of-fact. I know better.
The stakes are always higher and the promises to yourself and others always carry more weight when you’re battling addiction. Those who are currently in recovery will probably agree with me. When you set a goal or make a plan, you feel as though the weight of your entire recovery and well-being rests on that plan, and that if you don’t follow through, you’re a failure. The problem with this is that you start to feel so heavy of a weight in your perceived obligations to others, that you lose sight of the one person that actually matters and that you’re getting help for: you.
I always thought that I was just one of those people that was broken; one of those people that would never be completely normal. I would feel these incredibly low lows and worry about everything to the point where enjoying life ceased to be an option. I couldn’t explain it, nor did I ever think that there was anything to explain. It seemed clear to me that this was just life and that I had better accept it. When I started drinking, I found an outlet that allowed me to feel happy and relaxed; an outlet that allowed for a temporary escape from the real me.
For years it felt like I was living in darkness. I didn’t know how to feel good or normal. If I didn’t know what was wrong with me, how could I fix it? My parents did everything they could to try and make me happy, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough. I think that if someone would have recognized my depression for what it was early on then I would have had a much better childhood; but in my family, clinical depression wasn’t even a concept. Everything could be cured through circumstance. It was a very superficial way of looking at life, but it’s all anyone knew.
One of the things people in recovery talk about most is what they lost in the wake of their addictions. They’ll talk about broken families, destroyed careers, dysfunctional relationships and everything else; but I’ve rarely heard someone discuss how addiction makes you lose yourself. I had abused alcohol for five years, during which time I ceased to be the person I had always been. At the end of it all, this is what has stuck with me the most. I had lost the pride and the integrity that made me who I was and, to this day, that has been incredibly hard for me to reconcile.
For a while, I didn’t know what I was feeling; I just knew that I wanted to stop feeling it, and that the only thing that seemed to make it better was alcohol. I was an incoherent ball of emotion and drank to calm myself down. Depression had ruled my life since I was 15 years old. I missed out on a lot of things as a child because I didn’t want to associate with anyone outside of my house. School was a nightmare, to the point where, one year, I missed 68 days. There had been no real trauma that I can pinpoint that had caused this; I just felt sad all the time.