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.

Sober Curious

This past weekend I did a staycation. I spent the weekend in San Francisco eating out and ordering expensive wine, drinking tequila out of a flask with my boyfriend while atop one of those horrific tourist buses (which, in fact, are not as fun as you think they would be). My partner and I ate good food and drank good wine for two days before I called it quits. The city was too loud for a highly sensitive person like myself and there was too much chaos around to relax. We decided to head north to wine country and spend a night in a quiet town where we did wine tastings instead. We went to some small wineries and talked with the people pouring and had an okay meal with bad service before getting too drunk and getting into an argument over something ridiculous that we never would have fought about before drinking wine all day. We almost never fight. This felt like a warning sign to me.

I woke up the next morning and felt like I was trapped in my own body again, a feeling I hadn’t grappled with for some time. I wanted to stay clear mentally all day, but I had a goodbye party to attend before leaving for college on the East Coast, where I knew there would be champagne. And a lot of it. Fuck it. I went and I drank and, as much as I wanted to have a good time, I was tired. Tired of drinking alcohol. Tired of who I was when I drank. I didn’t do anything offensive or embarrassing, but as soon as my partner picked me up, I realized I couldn’t lie to myself any longer. I hated alcohol. I hated that I wanted to have one glass and instead had more because saying no was too hard. I hated the pattern of it all. Mostly I hated myself.

After three years in therapy, I realize now that I no longer need to use alcohol as a way to protect myself. I’m doing well enough on my own. Alcohol no longer enables me to numb out. Instead I feel everything tenfold. I realized that if I wanted to stay alive I had to quit drinking. The first time I took a drink I was 15 and I blacked out. I wish I could say my relationship with alcohol was different from that moment on and that I learned a lesson, but I continued to blackout drink my entire adult life, probably the product of an addictive substance I didn’t realize I had no control over as a teenager. I didn’t know how to regulate my drinking. I have never had a healthy relationship with alcohol. I’m not sure why that was so hard to admit. I was entangled with a group of people who never saw this as a problem, and perhaps that’s why I never questioned that everyone drank like we did, but as an adult it’s time to say enough is enough. Alcohol is harmful and scary and it’s okay to decide that it’s not a good fit. I wanted to make this decision for years but I’ve been too afraid to label myself as an alcoholic. Our society is not kind or forgiving to people who can’t consume alcohol like a normal person. Maybe I’m not normal. But I know I can be whoever I want in this world, and I know now that person is sober.

Trigger Stuff

Trigger warning for those sensitive to material about eating disorders.

I have been in remission from bulimia for some time now. Lately it’s been coming up for me. I am moving across the country in a month and am working a stressful case in order to have enough savings to get my through my last few years of my bachelor’s degree. Tonight someone made a joke in front of me about being triggered and I snapped back that triggers are a real problem for those of us that actually battle with eating disorders. It was an ugly way to handle the situation and I later apologized and explained I am struggling. It was a reflection of my own inner nastiness. None of it felt good.

The frustrating thing about an eating disorder is, as much as you’d like to think yourself well versed in your own triggers and healing, the truth is it can be a slippery slope in recovery if you aren’t diligent about self-care. I’m working too much, not eating healthy, and exercising almost nil. Any of those things alone are manageable for me, but not all at once. And I’m frustrated because I don’t feel like going to the gym because I’ve been pulling long days and I’m tired. Plus I am afraid to put on exercise clothes. None of my jeans fit right now. Pulling on a pair of leggings that are too small makes me feel fat as fuck. I already feel bad enough. I can almost see the comparisons my brain will make about how not-in-shape enough I am compared to my past self and all the other people around me.

But I know the answer to my problem: I HAVE TO WORK OUT. So I’m going to go to the gym tonight and get my heart rate up and then spend ample time in the sauna. That’s all good self-care. I want to share that years in remission is not a free and clear field. This is a long-term battle for some people. It’s okay to not have it together. Just keep trying.

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