Memory is a funny thing. Some recollections can lay dormant beneath the surface for so long, you believe them to have faded away completely. But then one moment (or in this case one song) can bring them back to the surface and take your breath away.
Most days my addiction to alcohol is like a bad dream. Well, more like a hazy watercolor memory of someone else’s dream from a long time ago. So many fellow recovering brothers and sisters are not so lucky and are plagued by their demons every day. I am so grateful for my present peace.
But it wasn’t a dream. And a few months ago my buried memories resurfaced unexpectedly. I was on my way to daycare after work, driving my SUV like the quintessential middle class mom I have become. The alcoholic girl of yesteryear was but a distant ghost, when from the radio plaintive music knocked the breath out of me. A song cut straight through the years and the pain was back . It was a song of true love ending in resignation: “anywhere I would have followed you. Say something I’m giving up on you.” ( Great Big World feat Christina Aguilera. “Say Something.”) I hear and sing songs every day about walking away from love, but for some reason the wording of this one eviscerated me. The hollow crushing soul ache and hopelessness of every waking moment of my active addiction barreled into me like a freight train. The fatalistic understanding that your people have given up on you because they have no other choice. Seeing that they are about to give up on you and feeling powerless to stop it. Knowing that those who love you to their core are giving up on you is brutal. And I wept. I wept for that college girl I used to be who just couldn’t get it together and lost it all. I wept for my friends who have fallen into the abyss from whom I had to turn away. I wept for my friend Anthony who was lost forever to us because the bottle owned him. I had to pull over in a parking lot to steel myself and catch my breath. No matter how many years pass or how much you change that is a feeling you never forget. The dread. The fear. The loneliness. And thank God you never forget. Because if you’re lucky enough to rebuild your life you need to remember just how precious joy is. And protect it.
Although that pain cut so deep, it was necessary for me to get sober. In my case, alcohol had altered my brain chemistry so dramatically, that just as you think you need to breathe, my brain said I needed to drink. Only the absolute terror of finding myself completely alone in life was enough to inspire me to wage war on my brain chemistry. Of course no two people are the same. I know plenty of people who have turned their lives around with consistent love and support and if that works then that’s certainly preferable. But if you love an addict who is not recovering and not growing, if you’re stuck in a cycle that is hurting you and not helping them, then sometimes walking away is not only a healthy choice but perhaps the best one.
If you do walk away from a loved one and they indeed recover, your relationship with them may never be the same. For instance, there is a slight but palpable distance between my family and myself. I bear no resentment and relationships have been rebuilt, but bonds will never be the same as they were pre-addiction. But let’s be honest – they never would have been anyway. Connections were already transformed irreparably. For myself, so much time spent learning to stand on my own two feet altered me for the better, and things just aren’t quite the same. I have my own life that is healthy and whole. The ex-boyfriend who finally threw his hands up and said ‘NO MORE’ has not seen me since, but we’re both alive and happy. And throwing those hands up probably saved both of us, because he couldn’t fulfill his potential mired in another’s quicksand. When your last hope turns away, there is nobody in which to look for strength other than yourself and your higher power, and that’s when healing begins. That was my turning point.
Even if the thought of losing your relationship hurts you to your core, I promise it’s better than getting the news that they died. In the last ten years I have known three people that died from addiction. Three is a statistically low number most likely affected by the swiftness with which I distance myself from active substance abusers. It is not lack of empathy; it is self-preservation. Let me tell you from experience, relaying word of an alcoholic/addict’s death is dismal stuff. Most people say something along the lines of ‘How sad. But we’ve been expecting this news.’ They then take a deep breath and go along with their day, having already mentally processed the loss long before hearing the news. It’s one of the most tragic things I’ve ever witnessed. Addiction is so scary and tragic. Those of us who rise from the ashes need to thank our lucky stars.
If you are one who is completely alone wondering if it can get better, I’m here to say that it can. It can be amazing, if you fight. YOU must fight for yourself. Nobody else can do this for you. So stand up on your shaky legs and get yourself to the nearest support group. Get there and share, or listen, or knit in the corner; do whatever it takes for YOU to not put poison in your body for that one day at a time.
I have a husband, children, job and life I am ferociously grateful for and protective of. If I hadn’t lost everything and everyone who knows where I would be now. I can’t even bear to think of it.
So if you are on the verge of giving up or everyone has given up on you, I know it hurts. But there is hope. So be kind to yourself, pray, and fight for your life. Sometimes what seems like the end is the very beginning.