A sweet friend who has only known me in sobriety emailed me the other day after reading something I had written.
“I had no idea you went through all that,” she said. “I’m so sorry. You don’t look like someone who was homeless.”
Ay, there’s the rub. None of us do, at first. The people we pass on the street, homeless, addicted, ill—they weren’t born looking like that. I forget that now, all too easily, and I’ve only been sober just over a year.
These words are a reminder.
I want to remember. I never, ever want to lose the imprint of the desolation of it—if only so that I retain my compassion to every single person I pass, every soul that suffers, every story I don’t know.
I found some wedding photos the other day. My dress is beautiful, my husband is handsome, my eyes are vacant.
Depression had already caught me. The downward descent had begun.
I beg you to believe me. It can happen to anyone. My journey was unique to me, but it is not unique to addiction.
You might begin with depression, as I did. Or little lies, here and there.
At first the lies are tiny. Even infinitesimal.
You make lists of things you’ll never be:
Someone who yells at their husband. Someone who keeps a messy house. Someone who drinks alone.
When these things happen, creeping subtly into your life like dusk creeps over the world in the early evening, you brush them off easily enough.
There isn’t anything wrong with you. You just are stressed, over-anxious. You have a lot going on. You have a child, you are alone a lot.
You will never be someone who drinks during the day. You will never drink while you are taking care of your child.
You will never lie about your drinking.
As these lists turn to lies, it becomes easier and easier to spin out more.
Your husband is away all the time. How are you supposed to fall asleep at night?
You know you are depressed, unhappy. But how can you say that to people when you have a gorgeous, healthy, perfect child? A whip-smart child boy you love to pieces?
You are still capable of running 20 km pushing a baby stroller, rallying to a cause—host a family reunion? Sure – but those who know you well can see the shift in your eyes, the starkness of the weight you’ve lost.
You think you are crafty, but your husband hears the pop-crack pulltab of beer cans after you’ve snuck out of bed at three am. Addicts are notorious for thinking they are sneaky but being laughably obvious.
I cannot count the number of times I hid my alcohol—on myself (not on purpose). I had a girlfriend who, years after getting sober, was out in her yard digging a flower bed and found a full vodka bottle she had stashed for later. We laugh, now. It wasn’t funny when my husband found all the beer cans I thought I had hidden well by throwing them under the bed.
You begin to take notes of phone conversations you have so you don’t repeat yourself.
You’ll never be someone whose husband leaves them.
You’ll never go to rehab.
Until you are. Until you do.
Once things start unravelling, the ball of lies—the ball of life really—it’s amazing how fast it falls apart. You don’t just fall apart, your tear apart, rip into pieces of what was once a person.
Fresh out of rehab, you make new lists: promises that are broken as fast as they are made.
I’ll never drink again.
I’ll never spend a night in the drunk tank.
I’ll never, I’ll never I’ll never I’ll never…I’llnevereverevernever.
But you do.
You are so, so, so, so, sorry. (And you are.)
You wake up in your own urine and vomit too many times to count.
You have to drink in order to live—I had to drink before I could manage to eat. I remember reading a poem that described drinking vodka before breakfast just out of necessity and relating to it oh so well.
You start having seizures.
You lose your home.
You lose the people you love. You aren’t invited to family gatherings. You have to make sure to call your son when you voice isn’t completely slurred, so you usually don’t call.
You lose, you lose, you lose. Lies fly out even when you don’t mean them to.
You wonder when you stopped being hopeful. You wonder when there stopped seeming to be a way out, a light, anywhere.
You are the woman standing in line waiting at the soup kitchen.
You are the woman chugging a bottle of Listerine to take the edge off and stop the shakes because you can’t afford real booze. (Yes, I was her, and I have been on the person that walked by her in disgust, so I need to say this truth out loud.)
You are the person you used to walk by on the street and (say it) silently judge.
You are the woman who sleeps on the mat at the shelter, with your filthy sweater as a blanket, shoving off creepy advances and stumbling to the washroom to vomit in the night.
You realize that for some addicts, rock bottom will be death—and you come to the horrible realization that living like this, wedded to alcohol, would be worse than death. What if you lived like this for forty more years?
I was no different from the woman with the needle in her arm.
Until one day, through a multitude of things coming together, I stopped.
Life changes and grows and becomes so achingly beautiful and overwhelming that sometimes I forget where I came from, the darkness I made my home.
How can I help now? How can you help? By not forgetting. By showing compassion.
By knowing that we humans are far more alike than we are different.
By reaching out your hand to someone else.
“..to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson