Blackout One

I was 15 the first time I remember drinking alcohol. Really drinking it, not just tasting it when I was 9 because I stole my mom’s Zima or one of my family members thought it was funny to give me beer as a child. I mean full on drinking it. I was a freshman in high school and there were a lot of extenuating circumstances. A bunch of us threw a party and it was a bust. No one showed up. So we drank vodka out of a bottle because everyone was frustrated and pissed. Then the seniors started showing up. I don’t remember any of this, of course, because I was already blacked out. 

There’s a photo of me holding a bottle of vodka and chugging it, posing in some goofy split stance of power. I didn’t have any power that night. When I look back on this scene with a sober mentality, I can see so clearly it’s where my true addiction started. I got shitfaced and eventually showed my tits to a senior, who then took a photo and passed it around to the entire school. When I tried to confront these men, they all lied to my face and said they had no idea what I was talking about. Surprise, surprise. I would allow this to be the narrative of my life for a long time to come.

I had been waiting for a guy to show up at this party, one I was enamored with. I was always waiting on this guy and he almost never showed. I learned that night to cope with my feelings outwardly, to express anger by drinking or feeling entitled to my rage or upset instead of feeling it internally, not letting it overtake me. Everyone else was happy to do the same. Throughout the remainder of my 20s, this was the kind of behavior I continued to seek out in friends. It allowed me to blackout drink. It was the only truth I knew. It was my normal.

That evening in question, my friends had decided I was too drunk to deal with and dropped me off at MY HOUSE that night where my dad was asleep. I knocked on his door and said I didn’t feel well. He never mentioned anything about it the next day. I still don’t know if he was subconsciously choosing to ignore the signs or if he genuinely did not know how drunk I was. He was unemployed and drinking heavily himself at the time. It was my first realization that I could get away with this kind of behavior. The next day, the girl I had been partying with the night before posted something on a social media account about what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. This wonderful person would eventually die of an overdose years later.

I will say the most confusing part along my progression of alcoholism over the last 15 years has been that no one ever took me aside to let me know that drinking to blackout drunk wasn’t normal. People thought it was funny. When I told people, they laughed. I didn’t have parents watching over me or, really, anyone that I could confide in who had any sense of what was healthy or to admonish me. All my friends drank this way. We had a high tolerance. Plus I kept my shit together during the week. For a time.

Looking back, I think the only reason I didn’t progress more quickly into alcoholism was, ironically, because of my eating disorder. I used bulimia as a way to numb out the same way I used alcohol. I caused pain to my body to distract me from the suffering my mind was constantly enmeshed in. I created a worry cycle of scarcity, needing to eat, overeating, feeling pain, needing to not feel said pain, feeling a sense of control by giving myself relief by purging. Alcohol was no different. I just used it in secret. I drank openly and suffered through my eating disorder in private. There was no respite.

I’ve been in recovery from bulimia for three years now. It’s taken an enormous amount of introspection to heal years of malignant coping mechanisms for trauma that stayed with me. I knew for a long time I needed help but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I felt like a small child, constantly looking to others to see if my behavior was acceptable. I was a small child in a lot of ways. This behavior felt the same with alcohol. I had been circling around the idea of sobriety for many months but was too afraid and too ashamed to finally say it: I want to stop but I can’t. So one day I just looked at my partner and said it. I called my women’s circle and said it. I had been drinking champagne and I knew I couldn’t feel this way any longer.

The funny thing is, saying those words was the hardest part, both for my drinking and my eating disorder. I love everything about sobriety. Now that I’m sober, I can see that this is exactly where I am supposed to be because it’s exactly who I am. I know I will have challenges with alcohol in my future, but I love spending time at dinner parties being fully present, having no self-confidence issues, and being totally myself. I love myself. I trust myself. Don’t get me wrong – there’s so much work I have to do around this still, particularly with forgiveness and learning to hold the emotions that are really hard for me sober (anger, frustration, embarrassment), but I am willing to look at that stuff now. Because none of it is as scary as the idea of spending one more day out of control or out of my mind.

Does real love exist?

Does real love actually exist? Like the kind that everyone is always waiting for. Or is this just a long wait in vain and a never ending string of filtering through people that for some reason or another start to annoy you or disappoint you or you realize you’re the fucked up one and you leave to head off the entire mess? But you don’t actually ever leave when you should, in the beginning, because the bandaid would hurt to rip off fresh so you have to wait until it gets dirty and is already peeling around at all the edges. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop filtering through people because being alone is scary and boring and sad. It’s sad. It feels sad. Instead I want to keep connecting with people and believing that they’re the one and that I’m going to be happy with this person and that they’re the answer to every question I’ve ever had about whether I’m good enough and deserving enough because they are actual living, physical proof, an embodiment of how good I am and how lovable I am and a guard against anyone who thinks anything otherwise. I am lovable. But that’s really a form of using someone and not actually loving them, isn’t it? That’s fucked up. That’s what I do. I am fucked up. The story I tell myself about myself is that I am fucked up. I am not good. I am bad. I am spoiled on the inside but my packaging is nicely designed and so it fools everyone into investing in me and then I’m really just rotten to the core and will make you sick.

But what are the facts? The facts are that I fall in love easily and that love feels tangible and whole and like life should be and safe and beautiful. The facts are that I connect deeply with others. The facts are that I fall in love with everyone I meet. The facts are that I have good intentions. The facts are that when I am with that person the feelings are real. The facts are that romantic relationships are the only sustainable way for me to receive as much attention and love as I need in order to feel connected and to survive without sucking everyone else in my life dry. The facts do not make ripping the fresh bandaid off any easier.

I believe I have become a person wholly incapable of commitment. I cannot bear to pin myself down to one person forever right now. I don’t want to because then I have to be disappointed by someone. Or more honoestly, because then I have to disappoint someone. I cannot cuddle anymore for fear of sex. I hate sex. I love sex in the beginning when I am in love and then I hate it when all the sparkle fades and it’s just two people’s wetness spilling out everywhere. I don’t want to have sex. But of course I do because admitting that I don’t want to have sex all of a sudden is shocking and scary and hurtful to my partners. They take it personally and think they are the faulty factor in the relationship, when really of course it is me. It is always me but people never assume it because the packaging is so delicate and beautiful and how could anything be ruined when I am so good and give so much to others?

Last night I dreamt that I birthed a child. I was swimming, at one point, in a pool of my own placenta and fluids and it was wet and disgusting and I had to get out. Then I remembered I had this child. It was clean and dry and warm and sexless. And I kissed its head but didn’t really want to hold it. My partner was some vague amalgamation of every person I’ve ever shared romance with and they left, angry, disappointed, the baby a burden to them, turning their back to me and bowing their head and strutting off to some corner of the world where I would never see them again. And alone I realized I had to tell everyone I had to give this child up for adoption. So embarrassed to disappoint everyone who I had told about the child that I actually didn’t love it after all and that I was going to have to give it away because I was leaving for school and school is my number one priority, I’ve been saying that all along, so obviously I can’t keep this child. It was sort of really someone else’s fault because I’ve always had these plans to leave for college and I made that very clear so it’s not really my fault. Please don’t hate me.

Then my shadowy partner returns, on his knees, crying. I am heartless to lump these people together, even subconsciously, every tender person who has ever given themself over to me, and here I am, leaving again, because I feel I have to. Because I cannot stay for this reason or that. I am tired of hurting people. It has become a responsibility, or perhaps it always was, just one I could never see or comprehend before, to abstain from hurting people. So I can’t commit. It has to be my responsibility. There is so much at stake. I am sorry for giving the baby away. It takes two people to care for this thing. But I can’t hold up my end of the bargain. I feel sad. I look for solace in other people’s approval of my actions.

Going Back

It’s a peculiar thing, self-sabotage. I think by this point I’ve become an expert in it, yet I’m still always surprised or upset once I’ve done something to get in the way of my goals. We do it to keep ourselves rooted in a way, I suppose. Moving forward requires change, and our brains would rather stay right where they are, surviving, even if our existence is flat. Taking chances is scary. I’ve  put off writing this blog for many months now. The vulnerability it takes to put my thoughts down for others to see scares me. I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want others to see how messy I really am. But I also live in a reality where I feel frustrated by a lack of meaning and honesty in the world and I don’t see any other way around that belief than to open myself up and expose what’s really going on. So I sabotage. It’s the easiest and most unconscious way of making sure I don’t have to publish anything. I’m too anxious. I’m too fragile. I have to do this or I cannot do that. I make bad decisions that I can point to and say, “Look at this. Look at what you did. You ARE messy. You cannot share this with people.” And I struggle with being open. But here I am. Here is my chance to connect. To offer something genuine to a world where others want to appear infallible. No one is untouchable. Everyone struggles with something. It’s part of being human. It’s the beauty of our species: in it blooms compassion and empathy. It’s so easy to see this in others and forgive them for it, and so difficult to give ourselves space to struggle and accept our faults, and at times impossible to love ourselves despite. But no one else is going to love us enough or support us enough if we don’t do the work first. It seems like a simple truth, but it’s difficult to overcome the part of the brain that wants us to remain stagnant, safe. You have to argue with that voice in your head. You have to set goals and decide to do what it takes to meet them even when it means coming to a wall and seeing no way around it. You have to get uncomfortable.

Phase III

I don’t really understand how the healing process works. It’s so long and there’s so many parts and people involved. And emotions. It’s difficult to name or describe such a big thing. It happens in fragments. Pieces that take you off guard. And the next thing you know you’re on your knees weeping. Tonight was the first time in my life I have wept from joy and not sorrow. I recently decided to stop overdrinking. I’ve been avoiding it through my recovery from bulimia and then again throughout the spiritual process. But last week I gave it up. I saw my future self calling me from across a river bank, beckoning me to join her on the other side. She looked healthy. I suppose I trust myself now because I followed.

Today, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I left a party early after discretely pouring out my beer and headed to a park to watch the sunset by myself. I did a walking meditation. I breathed the fresh air and felt it on my skin, realizing that nature is what my soul has been calling for for so long. I missed my ex-boyfriend. I sat on a bench and watched the ducks diving under the pond. I was present, and then not. I got home and prepared a bath with oils and salts and visualized my old emotions and patterns of behavior as scabs, turning to dust and being carried off by the wind. A dew descended and covered my new skin, nourishing, healing.

I realized that I would, after this day, never be the same. There are some things you can’t undo. I had transformed. It brought me to my knees. I wept at this final shift. I felt it coming on for a few weeks now, this great letting go, a release of such sadness and destruction and safety. I wept at my strength and my beauty and my ability to hold myself, to care for myself, to love myself and protect myself, and I wept for the power of all the work I’ve never given up on for three years. Tonight was the time. The time to let go and move on. To release the fear around my power to control my life and who I want to be for others. The power I have to love each person I meet for who they are and expect nothing back. The power to love myself the same way. The power to feel discomfort arise and simply be.

Tonight I stood over a toilet, for the first time in my life embracing its cold porcelain to support the weight of my weeping body, not because I was purging or numbing out or fucked up or drunk, but because the totality of this healing work set upon me tonight and I had the strength of someone who has supported the world for so long that she couldn’t hold herself up while it all came out, releasing hormones in my tears, leaving my body once and for all. Tonight I wept because I am a woman of self-care, of love, of understanding of my faults, embracing my fuckups, my insecurities and missteps and misguided attempts at bettering myself and the world. I wept for the loss of who I was. I wept for the sanctity of what I have always pictured my life to be, realizing that, in that moment, my life had come to embody everything I had always wanted it to be, and accepting how long the journey of recovering truly is.

A letter to the editor

Dear Sarah,

Maybe it will prove challenging to write this letter, but only because your adorable cat won’t let you type without putting her face in between your hands. It’s pretty cute.

Anyway. Here we are, the many parts of us that we have discovered along the way. The part of us that is a tiny little girl, confused and looking for comfort and approval from everyone around us, to the teenage punk kid who doesn’t give a shit what anyone says and blacks out to avoid the pain that life has delivered unrelentingly for so many years, to the wise woman who quietly sits and observes it all, to the put-together work woman that provides, the brilliant student, the long-term girlfriend, the caring and consoling friend, the fearless beauty, the vixen, the saboteur, the bleeding heart, the truth teller, the socially awkward one, the lonely girl with an eating disorder, and the woman who sits behind the keys, the one where all of those parts are represented equally.

Today I write you a letter, future Sarah, to remind you how difficult this journey has been. And how long. To write from a different perspective of a journey that has been undertaken in the name of mental health. It is easy to think back on the past and come from a place of shame. Shame has underlain almost every suicidal thought and destructive behavior I have engaged in. It is a second home. But it would be a lie to say it is something I have conquered. At least I can say it is something I loathe. But the future is not emboldened by any past behavior. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that. Now I stand at a great forking of my paths. To the right is a future where I envision and make happen everything I’ve ever wanted for myself. I harness all my power. And to the left lies a softer, gentler struggle through the same muddy swamps I have been navigating for years. I am ready to let go. I am ready to become the woman I was meant to be.

I do not write this last sentence with any disregard for how difficult my journey still inevitably will be. If choosing to become the person you want to be was an easy choice, everyone would do it. The world would be different. But I am acknowledging for the first time I am aware of the power I hold in getting to that destination, and reminding you that, no matter how many times you fail from this point onward, it is our responsibility to continue to forgive ourselves and try. Because, of all the lessons that have been learned these past three years, forgiveness reigns supreme if the self truly wishes to grow and continue to move forward. There will no doubt be missteps. A lot of them. Wide ones that last forever. Ones that make us forget what it feels like to really live, unforgivingly so, without doubt about our true beauty and purpose in this life. Thoughts of suicide will come to pass, and with all strength and grace this world offers, we will see them through to the side of safety as we always have. That personal statement didn’t mean anything if I wasn’t honest about seeing others through as well.

I will tell you this, if you will believe nothing else when reading this letter again in a time of desperation or solitude: You are destined for great things. You will figure out what it is you are supposed to be doing one step at a time. You will study whatever it is you’re supposed to study. Become a therapist or a doctor or any variation thereof. Whatever you choose, you will be great. Because you have deep and caring compassion. And whatever is standing in the way of your self-esteem and your goals today are just that: they are obstacles. Life is filled with these. Keep forging on, my fierce and brilliant beauty, and someday the world will feel like home. And if it doesn’t, then at least we may have changed it for one person. One soul. One heart who bleeds the way ours does, who is desperately groping in the dark for answers. Let’s give them all we’ve got. We will never forget what it’s like to be hungry.

I love you.

Sarah

The Human Condition

I realized today the expansiveness of the human inability to inherently experience negative emotions. Why is it so hard to do? Why do we avoid it like it will kill us? It happens to everyone. The pervasiveness of it is what is baffling to me. We all run from it in some form or another. It is what drives the madness of the world, the unending suffering. The inability to sit with anger instead of acting on it, or the need to run from loneliness and into the arms of those who aren’t right for us, the itchiness that boredom brings, the escape we find in drugs to remove ourselves from the pain we don’t want to feel, the dark and rich abyss of an alcohol-induced blackout instead of drowning in our shame, the satisfying twinge of pain of biting our nails over the anxiety that plays on a constant loop in our heads, the need to feel some form of relief to the extent that we stuff ourselves to bursting and throw it all up or starve ourselves to death to feel some level of control in our lives. The irony is biting.

We do things that will kill us instead of sitting with an emotion for thirty seconds that isn’t actually harmful, yet we associate it with levels of discomfort so unbearable we wind up putting ourselves in real danger. Is this societal or is this the human condition? Can the answer to this be learned as whole? And better yet, taught? Must we continue to suffer as a species or can we evolve? I wonder how many times these questions have been asked by greater thinkers than myself, by smarter and more studied philosophers and buddhists and everyone in between.  Why can’t an answer be synthesized into something more tangible? I want a pill to swallow. Why must healing and suffering be so complex and so personal? Something with the answers to nourish my body if I drink it with a glass of water. Why can’t there be some simple, step by step solution to explaining this process to someone else? Instead we’re all running from our fear, or at the very least turning our backs steadfastly to it, if not drinking or fucking it away. So we suffer.

The Fire

In all the parts of self-growth and discovery, being honest with yourself has to continually be the most difficult piece. It never gets any easier. It always evades you, even when you want to see it. Even when you open yourself to it. Even when you’re asking for it. And then half the time it blindsides you.

I was walking along Highway 37 last night. There were hundreds of other people walking with me. We were escaping. The hills around us were on fire. It was closing in on us all, hundreds of us shutting down the highway without a car in sight. My mother was in front of me when I realized the fires were going to engulf us. I asked her what we were supposed to do, and she moved forward into the crowd and gently let go of my hand. I was alone. I felt a deep sadness knowing my time was over. I pulled out my cell phone to text my ex. I told him I would never see him again, but I wanted him to know what a deep and aching love for him I still had. That feeling of needing to touch but you’re just too far away to reach. It’s an inexplicable sadness that aloneness creates. It’s shattering. It’s so quiet. I couldn’t tell if my text was going through.

After I awoke I laid in bed this morning for a while realizing that my relationship was over. I spent all day trying to feel anything. I can’t tell if I’m heartbroken over the idea of us not ending up together or whether I’m actually facing being alone now for the first time, even though it always feels like the first time and I’m always still just running away in some form or another. I convince myself I’m doing the work and then it hits me from the back. I never see it coming. There’s been a numbness to my sadness these last few weeks. To my life, really. Am I ready to move on? My life here has become a small blossom of beauty, but mostly I feel adrift. Always at sea.