I Finished a Book

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.

The Story of my Relapse

It was two years ago this very day that I relapsed after coming home from rehab. It’s a story I have alluded to on here whenever I talk about my recovery, but I’ve never told the story in full. To anyone really.

I remember so vividly that it was this day for two reasons. Nobody would shut up about how it was Pi Day, and my husband had a very massive surfing accident that earned him extensive surgery and an overnight hospital stay.

The day started off like any other, really. It was a Saturday, the boys and I were having a lazy morning at home. Brien went off early to surf, as he often did.

As I was getting out of the shower, I heard the doorbell ring. At that time, we had a gate on our house and you had to unlock it with a key, or get buzzed in. Brien did not bring his keys with him when he surfed, so I was pretty sure it was him. I told Bowie to let daddy in. Instead of pushing the button upstairs, he decided to go downstairs and greet daddy.

As I was getting dressed, I heard Brien yelling my name. And saying, “Bowie, go back upstairs, it’s too scary.”

I went down there and Brien was covered in blood, and his nose was…not where it should be. “I think I broke my nose,” he said, cool as a cucumber. “I need to go to the emergency room.”

So, off we went. And the boys and I waited in the waiting room for a while after Brien got checked in, eating breakfast from the vending machines. I got texts from him every once in a while with an update, but he didn’t know much. Eventually he told me we might as well go home, it was probably going to be a while.

And then I didn’t hear from him for hours. When he did text he said he needed surgery, he’d text when he was able to again.

In my mind I’m like SURGERY. Dammit. Is my husband ok? How much will we have to pay for this? I was going into what I can now recognize as Panic Mode. A state that, once I am in it, I have a hard time regulating my thoughts and emotions, and I have a hard time coming back down to earth.

Hours and hours later, I still hadn’t heard anything. I took the boys to the park to get my mind off of things. And, I talked myself into having a drink. I figured that rehab had “fixed” me. That it was ok to have a little wine to take the edge off. I went directly to the grocery store and bought a bottle. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Afterward, I regretted it, of course. But I didn’t crave more, so I still thought I was ok. But, I did crave more in the days that followed. Every couple of days I’d have more. Until eventually, I was right back where I started.

My dad and younger sister came to San Francisco for a visit a few weeks later. I drank my way through their visit, using it to “calm my nerves” or whatever nonsense alcoholic thing I was telling myself. Meanwhile I made a fool of myself and ruined their whole visit. I regret it deeply.

My husband and my rehab counselor urged me heavily to return to the rehab house for a short stay, get my feet back on the ground, try some new strategies. I refused. I insisted that I was fine. Everything was fine. Just a slip up from the stress. I was ok.

Except I was not ok. One afternoon, I picked Bowie up from his OT appointment and as I pulled away from the curb and realized I had a flat tire. A totally flat tire, not the kind of flat tire I could have limped home with. So, I pulled over and called Brien to come help me.

I can change a flat tire. I know how and everything. It’s just that…I was in no shape to be changing a flat tire that afternoon. He knew it, I knew it. Bowie’s OT knew it, everyone at Ferris’ preschool knew it, it was one of the lowest and most humiliating moments of my life.

I went back to rehab for 10 days. I was terrified. If rehab couldn’t work on me, then what hope was there? Would I ever be able to get over this? Would anyone ever want to speak to me again? After a few days of drying out, I was able to see very clearly how and why I wanted to stay sober.

Seeing life as it could be, with me feeling happy and strong, and then returning to that dark and awful place, showed me that it was the happiness I wanted. Everything they were teaching me at rehab suddenly made sense. And I finally, finally took the advice of three doctors, two rehab counselors and dozens of friends and accepted medication for my depression and anxiety.

When I returned home, things were very tense between me and Brien for a while. I didn’t know how to interact with my kids. I didn’t know who knew my secrets, who was mad and judging me and who still wanted to be my friend.

But, I got a part time job, and I went to AA regularly, and I soldiered on. Turns out the majority of people didn’t know, and the ones who did know didn’t judge me. The ones who did judge, they were few, and I knew my life would go on without them. I had help, I had support. I made it to a year without a hitch. That day, as many of you know, is April 22.

I would not recommend a relapse to anyone in recovery. The fall is so much harder than the first time around, and the pit is so much harder to climb out of. It is a very, very dark place. You will regret it.

But what I will say is that for me, personally, it was one of the best things that could ever have happened to me. I finally fully hit rock bottom. Before that, I had been hovering just above. I had my eyes opened to the damage my addiction was really making. I was aware of the control that alcohol had over me, and I was determined to regain that control. I finally admitted that maybe my mood disorders were too much for me to handle on my own. And by taking medication and seeking therapy, I was among so many other people doing the same thing.

I hate Pi Day, for what it represents for me and my family. It was a dark, scary day and I have a lot of bad memories of all of it. And worst of all, I caved to my addiction, which I still feel pretty ashamed of, even though they all tell me not to be.

I learned a lot from the whole situation. I’m not proud of it, but I also can’t discount the benefits it created, ironically. They say that relapse is the rule, not the exception. Not to condone relapsing, but to remind those of us who have relapsed that we are still ok, we can still beat our addiction, we are still worthy of recovery and still worthy of love.

I’m lucky to have been surrounded by an extremely supportive community, and to have a team of people working with me. Some are not so fortunate, but you can be an advocate for someone who is suffering. You can’t force anyone to recover, they have to be ready to do it on their own, or it won’t work, it just won’t. But, you can let them know you’re there for them. Millions of other addicts have gotten better. There is help out there.