I promise you, I’m not going to write an entire post about how I finished a book. And I promise you that I do finish books. It’s just a bit of a rare occasion since I became a mom. I also have an attention span problem with books. As of this moment, I’m at least 1/3 of the way through 5 books. So, it’s a big deal that I finished one. Yes, it’s only 200 pages, and yes it’s a collection of essays, and yes it took me about 2 months, but I did it. I finished it.
The book is Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter. And it was amazing. It is a collection of essays about Kristi’s journey in recovery. It is beautiful, honest, sharp, funny and heartbreaking, and it spoke to me. I recommend it to anyone in recovery.
The moment I finally realized I could get better was when I realized how very much alike each and every alcoholic was that I met. How much they were like me. Of course we were all different ages, from different places, our journeys began under many different circumstances. But the habit itself, the alcoholism, was extremely similar down to the most minute details. When I found that kinship, when I no longer felt alone and hopeless and messy and unforgivable, that’s when I knew I could do this.
I sat in an AA meeting while I was at rehab and listened to a woman in her 90s tell the story of how she always bought a loaf of bread with her bottle of vodka, so the cashier wouldn’t think she was just there for the vodka. And she just ended up with a drinking problem, and a freezer full of bread, and a very confused husband. I laughed through tears at her story, remembering how I would throw something else on the conveyor belt with my wine. I did that too. I was more like these people than unlike them and that gave me a very warm feeling.
Kristi’s book is no different than those stories I would hear in AA that struck me. Sometimes the stories were so similar, it’s as if my voice was coming out of someone else’s mouth. And it’s the same with these essays. It felt like she somehow got a hold of my journal and told my story for me. There was one passage in particular that hit me hard. I cried. Not out of sadness, but of that emotional freedom that you feel when someone finally sees you. Really sees you. Knows your struggle in a way that neither of you can express. It’s from the essay entitled The Barn.
“I love the taste of wine, but I hate wine tasting. For one thing, even though I’m a diligent spitter-not-swallower, it still gets me a little buzzed, and I have no interest in being anything other than a lot buzzed. But I also don’t want to be like those tasters who spill out of limos, all red-faced and loud and looking like the kinds of people who use “hot tub” as a verb. So, I’m stuck being me–someone who pretends to like sipping tiny amounts of wine, when really she wants to hunker down, alone, with a bottle.”
I mean, this. This was my struggle. In my 20s we went wine tasting a lot. And I had these exact thoughts. These. Exact. Thoughts. And to a normie, I’m sure this all seems very absurd and self-indulgent and reeks of excuses. But to an addict, this is life. This is the struggle. You read this and you get it. You know it. You lived it.
And I have been wondering lately about the real root cause of addiction. The opioid epidemic being what it is. And I’ve also been musing on the way society deems one addiction shameful and disgusting while other addictions fly under the radar. They’re even considered cute and adorable. For instance, how is it that “Wine Thirty” is a thing among parents now. They all post their drink on Instagram at 5:00 as if this is just what’s done (and I used to think that was true). I have lamented a lot about the ugly affair that parenting and alcohol are having in our society, so I won’t bore you with more of that now.
It occurred to me as I spoke with my psychiatrist a few months back, it’s not really the substance we are addicted to. But rather it is the dopamine blast that we have found that our particular addiction gives us. When you find something that gives you that feeling, it’s hard to give it up. Alcohol, drugs, nicotine, food, not eating, self-harm, gambling, shopping, exercising, sex, all of it. You are just addicted to the dopamine. And if you think about it in that manner, and look at it from a clinical, medical point of view, it’s much easier to have compassion instead of disdain for an addict.
The lucky among us will find their dopamine blasts in gardening, art, cleaning, running marathons, volunteering, things that are good for them. Things that benefit not only themselves but others too. And the truly fortunate just have more dopamine than the rest of us. They are optimists. They are happy, fun and bubbly with nothing helping them along. It confounds me.
The unlucky among us find that half a bottle of wine will numb us enough to take the barrage of painful emotions that come to us each evening. And that at a party, getting that first drink in you will help ease your social anxiety and awkward introversion. That “social lubricant” that they talk about in AA. And since you’ve found something that works, you stick with it. The trouble is, over time, you will need more and more to achieve the same effect, until you’re waist deep in alcohol and it’s rising and you’re not sure what to do or how to get out.
So, I finished a book. And I felt heard and seen by a woman I have never and likely will never meet. We connected even though she doesn’t even know I’ve read her book. This is what carries me through my sobriety: knowing that I’m not alone. Of course, your battle is yours alone to fight. But when you see the army of people around fighting their own battle too, you are emboldened. You can do it too.