Hi, my name is Angela and I’m a recovering alcoholic. Aside from two lapses (for which I will NOT reset the sobriety clock), I have been sober since October 17, 2015.
Lucas Carlson says, ‘If you’re ever lost, one of the best things you can do is write about the process of being lost….If there’s one thing that you should not ignore from this book, and if there’s one thing you can learn that will radically transform you as a…leader for the rest of your life, it’s the importance of writing.’ (Finding Success in Failure: True Confessions from 10 Years of Startup Mistakes)
I didn’t follow Carlson’s advice the good part of 2015. I didn’t have the humility to accept that my steps could waver and recurse right into the same spot of yester-dragons. I had collected vagaries of wisdom and strength boosters along the way of besting this beast years ago, but here I was getting schooled again– no idea where my chest of arms went.
Today, I’m going to take a stab at committing humility to my chest-of-arms by writing about being lost. Being deeply personal is uncomfortable. I am going to lose some prospective employers or clients, get damned and my professional ratings downgraded if not for my sickness, then for breaking the arcane and archaic professional vs. personal dichotomy (thankfully loosing steam with the Millennial mindset). But this is good for me— good like knee scraps and battle scars.
Years ago, I wrote about my ‘bedside bottle, standing alert like a royal British foot guard with the redcoat and towering black burly mop of a hat.’ In true-story romantic ‘sagas,’ alcohol was a proverbial costar ‘gently tugging down my guard the way one peels away his lover’s robe. Thank god, my gateway in a glass existed.’ I spent a good part of my young adulthood growing up or staving off adulthood or oscillating between the two, cupping glass in hand amidst laser-lit backdrops, beats, beaus, and breakable beauties in the nightlife.
Don’t make the mistake of picturing me as a drifting, rank-breathed loafer on head of hair and stilettos. Most people throughout my life would label me a workaholic and/or perfectionist—with one or two astute observers warning me at one point of letting my career-centrism subsume other meaningful spheres of my life. My pretty, functional flaws ably hid the ugly ones that couldn’t be lyricized. I could be tearing new records (and tearing a new one for our competitors, if-you-know-what-I-mean ) in my business of recruiting, dripping powerful words out of my fingers like sauce from a jar, giving life-coach ‘Ted Talks’ of sorts on metacognitive matters; while waking to panic attacks and turning over to swish down swigs because breathing moment to moment had become nails on a chalkboard. The narcissist in me understood so well Jeanette Winterson’s characterization of the “Hopeless heart…that gnaws away at the night-time hours desperate for a sign and appears at breakfast so self-composed’ (“The Passion.”) I am a person with sharp edges and, as bloggist Heather Nann puts it better than I ever could, ‘I wanted to feel that buzz; the softening around my edges.’
I battled off and on, in my life, with depression and anxiety. And, then, to add gunpowder to the keg, I let success derail me from process to finish line, from authentic love to love with conditions, from mental awareness of prosperity to the Joneses, from oxygen to fumes. I saw the alcoholism coming, like in those slow-mo cinematic scenes of bullets ‘ flying.’ Well, it was slow-mo but it also got there before I knew it, even while I was watching. Other good way to describe this is how I described my eating disorder, another past illness in a healthline.com interview when the journalist asked how I’d know if I was ever crossing the line again: There are an infinite number of ways you can erect your own fox traps. I used to think of myself as the anomalous type of ‘survivor’ that would never even have an urge to relapse. But I found that while it’s not loud, it’s there… Like ivies on a wall, it grows.
Ironically, this interview took place the day after I got arrested on a DUI and spent twelve hours in the slammer. By that time, I was several months into around-the-clock drinking and was drunk more hours than sober: 6pm, 12am, 3am, 5am, and repeat. The short lived hour(s) of sobriety (when my body would finally revolt and say ‘ Fuck you, brain; I need to detox’) were terrifying because I had forgotten how to work, write, watch TV, do much anything sober. (The odd thing, as I’ve been told, is that I can be blackout drunk and still carry on peachy, like carrying on anything from colloquial banter to epic verbal jousts— at my most obscenely best, earning me business follow-up calls the next day. It’s like I had an alter-ego that, as drunken a sot as she be, was just as Type A. It was effortless to be a closet alcoholic.)
The county under which my DUI charges were incurred, required my car to get ‘outfitted’ with an interlock ignition device. Here’s when it started to hit home that I really had a problem: It wasn’t a random surprise test; it was an in-your-face, you-have-to-blow-to-start-the-engine test spelled out to me, and I failed it, several weeks in. This means I got into the car, still unsteady from my ‘repasts,’ knowingly blew, and failed the test. I panicked and called my fiance. We talked about how this was my wake-up call. A week later, I failed the test a g a i n. Around the same time, my psychiatrist said the time was nigh to suspend treatment of my depression and address the alcoholism first, and he gave me the number for a detox clinic.
This is how you know you are an addict. When you of reasonable intelligent mind do and, then, keep doing insanely stupid things. My mind reeled right after the screen displayed, in red letters, RETRY. ‘How and why in the f*ck, what just…’ …Couldn’t begin to form or finish what I had just let happened same way I wouldn’t, ‘can’t even’ with someone who tossed their baby into a well or a full garbage bag onto lit stove burner. Can’t even. Even at that juncture, knowing I was on the brink of getting actual incarceration time; losing my health, my life and really everything of value in my life, I wasn’t sure I could stop. But, October 17, 2015— the day I failed my interlock ignition test a second time— was the day I started trying.
What I have learned so far: It’s easier to slip back than you think, but it’s also not as hard as you think it is being back on the other side. Seen through the addict’s mind, the greener grass yonder looks like scorched earth. And, there’s no denying the beginning of the fight is painfully hard. But, whilst as an alcoholic, you start thinking there’s no joy in sobriety because you just can’t remember what that was like, know that thought is a lie. I still sometimes struggle with enjoying certain breaths to next, or finding new ways to manage stress. But, there is joy. From vegging out in front of the tube, to trying a new fruit, getting all DIY (thanks, Pinterest), outlining a op-ed fiction in which Christians will have become the villianized-as-radicalized bunch (see how we like a taste of our own meds), to doing Sudoku puzzles [For some reason, I was ESPECIALLY surprised to learn I enjoy Sudoku just as much, sober.]. Three months ago, these were things I didn’t know how to enjoy sober. Today, that I’m writing without the elixir-hand of a drink and even enjoying many parts of this process, is a big deal.
Today is a big deal.