I’m 18. I’ve dropped out of college. I’m on Zoloft. I’m gaining weight. I’m stuffed to the brim with toxic shame and suffering. I don’t yet know how to express anything or to ask for help, and I don’t yet know how to accept that I am an alcoholic.
Not a place I’d ever want to return to. Ever. It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.
But the only way out is through. Thank God I made it through.
When I returned from Boulder, I was filled with shame. I felt like such a failure. I didn’t even want to tell my closest friends that I had dropped out. My father was disappointed in me. He thought it was because I couldn’t hack it. I believed him, allowing his projections to draw conclusions about myself. I understand now that I was incredibly unwell, and what I needed was support and compassion and unconditional love. That was never my father’s default. He never gave it to himself, so how could he give it someone else?
I returned to my therapist and agreed to do a 90-day dual-diagnosis outpatient program through Cedars Sinai. Despite my therapists urgings, I did not feel it necessary to go into some treatment facility. I thought that was extreme and ridiculous. I still had my misgivings about being an alcoholic. I still thought I didn’t qualify. I didn’t think my story was bad enough. I let a lot of what my friends thought dictate what I thought. They saw me as a girl who liked to party and sometimes got out of control. I wanted to much for this to be true. But it wasn’t.
It’s very very easy to minimize addiction, and it’s very very common to do so, especially when you’re young. Part of the illness is denial and rationalizing and convincing everyone that it’s not that bad. Some people will believe you, too. In my opinion, it’s a form of refusing to have to do the serious and often brutal work of addressing deeper emotional issues and trauma and coming to a place of healing. It is why so many people who struggle with addiction don’t get help or can’t get well. You can hit a lot of rock bottoms, and you can choose to seek recovery at any bottom along the way, or you can keep falling until you hit the final one – death.
But I didn’t think my “rock bottom” was rocky enough. And I still blamed external circumstances that I believed at the time were divorced from my alcoholism. My weight, my dad, my self-esteem and tendency toward depression. I thought if I could fix those issues, then maybe I wouldn’t have such a compulsion to drink. Other way around, sweet girl. But I didn’t know.
The trouble, too, with attempting to get sober and recover while you’re young, is that, well, you’re young. I was eighteen, and eighteen year olds don’t know shit. They just don’t have the experience and the wisdom to understand much about how the world works, let alone their feelings and their thinking. They’re just fragile, often misguided creatures. And despite me being a fairly intelligent and insightful young lady, there was so much I didn’t understand yet about myself and the true nature of this feral monkey on my back.
But I tried. I really tried.
It was perhaps one of the darkest periods of my life, and not because I was feeling so much pain, but because there was this complete absence of feeling at all. It was bizarre. I remember feeling that entire time like I was trapped in a glass box underwater without any clue that I would drown. I was numb. I was sick. I was completely miserable. I overate and kept gaining weight, I cut my arms with razorblades. I slept around. I was prescribed a ridiculous amount of anti-depressants that shut me down completely. I managed to put together a few months without drinking and taking drugs, but I may as well have been.
I look at it like this: alcohol and drugs were the only tools I had to cope with life. They had been with me since I was a young teenager and rescued me from having to feel any difficult emotions or having to deal with the trauma of my childhood. I had never dealt with a thing. I had no clue how to feel. I hated myself. So when I got sober, my body and mind went into shock. I really think they did. And I think it was just too much, too fast, and the only way I could think to take care of myself was to pick up these other self-destructive habits. Sweet baby girl. It was the only way I knew how to try to take care of myself.
Writing about this can feel very tender. This is a place I don’t like revisiting. Sometimes it makes me angry that I suffered so much. Sometimes it makes me once again resentful that my parents didn’t take better care of me. Sometimes it makes me feel that old pulsing sting of shame. Mostly, it just makes me sad. But I have compassion for that part of my life today. If I could go back in time and see myself at eighteen, I would hold that young girl and tell her I loved her no matter what and that I wasn’t angry or disappointed or ashamed and that I would never abandon her or hurt her. That I would patiently wait for her. That I would listen to everything that she needed to say. That’s what I give myself today. But I didn’t know how to that ten years ago. All I knew how to do was beat myself up and self-destruct.
Part of 12 step programs is learning how to take care of yourself and develop healthy tools to live sober and/or comfortably in your skin, one day at a time. It is no overnight matter. It takes a lot of time and a lot of ups and downs. That is why so many people relapse early in recovery – the beginning stages of beginning to feel your feelings and to live without your coping mechanisms can feel like walking the earth without skin. That is why so many of us take up chain-smoking and chugging coffee and bingeing on sugar or getting into relationships. We need distraction. We need something to take the edge off. And that’s okay. But work does have to be done in order to build a foundation and eventually keep letting go of all the self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.
I didn’t stay sober that first go around. And when I went back to drinking, it was worse than ever. I totaled my car completely drunk. I kept sleeping with strange men. I was doing a lot more pills and cocaine and speed. I was buried. Broken. Numb.
Finally, in July of 2004, right after I had turned nineteen, I told my parents I needed to go to rehab. I moved down to South Orange County and entered a three to six month program in Dana Point. It was the best decision I have ever made and began a journey out of the darkness and into the light.