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The Downward Spiral...

I can’t believe it was 29 years ago that I sank into the final month of my addiction.  I can’t believe that I was ever that person as much as I can’t believe that it was 29 years ago that I was circling the drain.  And even though the time is long, I can still remember, with alarming clarity, exactly how it felt to be me back then.  How lost I felt.  How unsure of myself I was.  How just showing up for life on a daily basis was excruciating and almost impossible.  How I would wander from one day to the next completely baffled about how I could manage to show up and then equally mystified on the very many days I could not.

Discipline was a word and practice to which I had only a passing acquaintance.  Today, discipline is something that I deploy daily.  I get up early, I show up for work, I move my body, I eat well (most of the time...still have sugar binges that threaten to control my life), I go to the gym six days a week and I get a realistic amount of sleep for someone in middle age.  

The person I am today bears almost no resemblance to the person I was back then...and yet, I can remember how I felt every single day.  Waking up with the instant wreckage.  Being unable to show up for work or life or whatever.  Feeling like I was always behind and could never catch up, then doing so many things that were maladaptive that only made my situation worse, never better.

I always feel a little destroyed as the anniversary of my bottom comes around.  It is like every year, I get to experience some of the feelings that I had back then as I completely lost my way.  I didn’t know that my seeking recovery would change everything in my life.  I didn’t know that I would ever obtain 29 minutes of sobriety, let alone 29 years.  I didn’t know that hitting bottom would be the best thing that ever happened to me.

I just didn’t know.

And I am grateful that I didn’t.  I think the awesomeness of the task would have taken me out for sure.  I am glad that I didn’t know that I would have 29 years of work to do, repeatedly.  I am glad I didn’t know that...

So as I move through this next month, I can’t help but revisit myself back then.  How I was.  Who I was.  How I showed up, or mostly didn’t.

While today’s photo isn’t me, I swear there was a moment in my bathroom when I was 14 that I looked exactly like it.  I remember getting ready to go out to the Yacht Club with my girlfriends, drinking Boonesfarm, sitting on the toilet, already well on my way to the oblivion I sought.  I remember because someone took a photo which is now lost in the shuffle of the intervening years.  But I remember that night like it was yesterday.  I remember thinking how sophisticated I was.  I remember thinking that I had arrived at a place in life that was enviable.  I remember feeling much older than 14.  

And I am sure I was older then 14.  I was at least 25 in my head, which is funny today because now I am 54 and I still feel 25 in my head.  My children remind me all the time that I am NOT 25...because sometimes I am really convinced.  Kind of strange that I have for the whole of my life felt 25 regardless of my actual age.  And 25 is the age that I got sober.  I am sure there is a connection there, I just don’t really understand yet what it is.

When I look back on my former self, I am gifted with the shock and awe, as well as the humiliation, of someone who thought herself so on track, but in reality, was barely living.  And as the next 11 years would go,  it would get worse.  Until the day that everything shifted and changed.  The day I woke up, hung the fuck over (again), bruised (again), battered (again), foggy (again) and most desperate (again).  And the culmination of those wretched feelings would be enough to spur me to ask for help.  And then to actually follow through to obtain that help.  And I see that time and all its attendant horror as nothing less than miraculous.

So as the next month unfolds, and I do the things I know to do to maintain a sober life, I can’t help but be amazed at the moxy I had back then, which was really an inadequate cover for someone who was circling the drain, spiraling out of control, and seriously I was the last to know.  This time 29 years ago, I was a fucking disaster...and yet, I was still showing up for graduate school (some days), I was working five different jobs (none of them well - except the bartending job which of course was my favorite job), I had three different boyfriends in three different states (none of them knowing about the other) and I remember thinking that life was manageable.  That I was doing ok. That I was kind of killing this whole life thing. I remember feeling so caught between the living and the dying - never really sure to what end I was working towards.

That is the depth and breadth of my delusion.  I was drinking pretty much daily.  I couldn't tell the truth to save my life.  I was dying each day and my solution for that impending death was to drink at it, smoke at it, fuck at it, date at it as if any of those things would stave off my own intentions to completely self destruct.  I didn’t know it then, but I certainly do today, I was my own worst enemy.  Throwing myself at situations and people in some attempt to tether myself to something that could keep me afloat.  Seeing now that every one of my attempts only served to push me under further.

And yet, even though I know all of this, there is a wistfulness for the person, that little girl lost, that I was back then.  Not because I want to ever be her again, but because I have developed so much compassion for my deluded and delusional self.  As I revisit my ultimate emotional demise, I think of her quite differently each year that passes. Sometimes I am amused at her audacity.  Sometimes I am shocked by her incredible self destruction.  Sometimes I am bereft at how lost she actually was.  And then I remember that this isn’t someone else.  This is me.  And all those past versions of myself still dwell inside me.  She was not other.  She was not someone else.  She is me and should I ever stop doing the things that I know to do to stave off my alcoholic self denigration, she returns and takes over my life until I have nothing left.  She a demon in curlers, sitting on a toilet swilling down a $2 bottle of what can barely be called wine.

And she still exists...somewhere it the deep recesses of me, she lives on.  Quiet, dormant but without proper care and attention, she shall throw herself front and center and blow my current life to smithereens.  How do I know?  Because I see evidence of her in me still.  All the places where I am still broken, self destructive, self hating, self obsessed.  I see her.  Again. Still. 

And I pray that I never stop seeing her because it is only with this oversight that I can remember where I came from so that I may never have to return.  Because I have learned, painfully, acutely and deeply that getting yanked out of a downward spiral is no easy feat.  And in order to avoid one again, one must always remember what caused it to begin with...again. 


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