Although my kitchen is in shambles and I’m washing dishes in the bathtub, life is pretty good these days.
Despite my challenges (kitchen), I embrace most days with some sense of gratitude and adventure, although some days I question everything I knew was right just the day before. For example, two days ago I thought it would be a good idea to tear up the kitchen, now I question that.
As gratifying and intriguing as life can be for me these days, it hasn’t always been so.
I recall times when I really just wanted to give up so much more than I wanted to fight. But there was something inside of me refusing to let me give up despite my brokenness and fading spirit. This very literal force is what I call The Fire.
There was no mistaking that its very purpose was to strengthen and guide me through the most difficult battles. When all strength and perseverance vanished, this fire saved me.
I know what it feels like to want to surrender and to look away from life, to look anywhere but where the truth resides. I am familiar with hopelessness. I also know what it looks like on the other side, after the battle has been fought and won, again. Hope and determination rise, motivating me to move forward with renewed strength and purpose. My perspective transforms and I can move closer to authenticity and I learn to accept that every day is a unique journey with challenges and blessings. Many of my most significant life changes occur while I am fighting a battle- whether it be spiritual, personal, physical or emotional. It’s as if the magnitude of effort catches on fire and becomes a great force all its own.
One of my biggest challenges and blessings is recovering from alcoholism.
This is a part of my journey-one of the biggest battles I’ve ever fought. I honor that journey as the one that set my life in motion. It is one that significantly defines what this fire represents to me. Most people who know me are aware that I am a recovering alcoholic. It is nothing I advertise but I don’t hide it either. It’s not my dirty little secret. When I feel it’s appropriate and will serve a purpose, I share it with others. It is just simply one part of who I am.
My journey into a life without alcohol is one of my most beautiful and painful journeys.
Anyone who has been addicted to something understands how impossible it is to just stop being addicted. Even it is destroying our lives. This is a heartbreaking existence. We KNOW it’s killing us but we just can’t stop simply because we want to. Everyone we love wants us to stop but we can’t even stop for them. Being an addict is being a prisoner to a faceless cruel master.
But I wouldn’t change it for anything in this world.
I wouldn’t change that battle. My history with alcohol is long and brutal. It was the beautiful demon in my life that I loved to hate and hated to love. Fighting my addiction was a formidable battle but it made me the person I am today. Every single moment of that fight empowered me to face new challenges. Addiction is a battle many fight daily, and it is no small feat to overcome and make peace with. I have the greatest respect for people fighting their demons. If you are an addict reading this, there IS hope! There is a fire inside of you. It was inside of me-which leads me to:
How it all began.
The fact is, I was in pain. I was in emotional pain all the time and needed the alcohol to numb that pain. If I went too long without it I didn’t know how to do my life. It made me who I was. It made me able to function in this world. It made me strong, capable and fearless. SO fearless!
Alcohol made me “normal”.
The first pivotal moment came when I no longer denied that I was an alcoholic. Although it was obvious to everyone, I had been good at lying to myself. I just didn’t care anymore. I was tired of everyone *accusing* me of having a problem compelling me to defend myself. The Big Exaggerators! So *that* day arrived when I embraced my alcoholism. “Damn straight I’m an alcoholic and I don’t plan to change that. I’m going to be the best alcoholic I can be!” I thought, “FINALLY, I can be an alcoholic out loud!” I was prepared with comebacks to such questions as, “don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?” My answer: “Why, of course not! I’m an alcoholic, you idiot”.
And so it was.
There was a sense of freedom with that acceptance, but also, defeat. I couldn’t quite identify what began to fade inside at that moment, but something began to die. I stopped fighting for myself and everything that was important to me. And I knew it.
I had given up.
I entered a new chapter of my alcoholism. One that would lead me the darkest roads. It was in that moment of surrender, disguised as acceptance, that I exposed myself to an entirely new level of suffering. I had entered Hell.
As my life began to crumble in every way possible even more, I continued to forge on desperately determined despite it all. I was determined to live a fulfilling life of contentment, peace, purpose and love with alcohol by my side every step of the way. But it’s challenging to accomplish those goals in a blackout. I was blacking out more and more. I never knew when or after how many drinks it would happen. Maybe three, Maybe ten, but pieces of my life went missing while I was drinking. Sometimes I had to find out what I did or said the day before through cleverly questioning other people. Other times I had to blatantly ask, “do YOU remember what happened?” I hated myself for that. Why couldn’t I control my stupid alcoholism? Why wasn’t it behaving? Why could other people drink and keep it together? I was a full-time student, working two or three part-time jobs AND raising children! I was Superwoman! But those closest to me (and one of my college professors-embarrassing!) knew that I was barely hanging on by a thread. Either that or I was going insane, which wasn’t too far from the truth. Everything I cared about in my life, suffered.
Yet, I couldn’t make myself stop.
The next pivotal moment, the fire that burned from ashes, and the one that changed my life for the better, was when I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. That realization didn’t come easily. It was a hard truth to find out. After over two decades of drinking, I literally could not numb myself anymore. It wasn’t working. The pain was getting past the barriers of alcohol, it was leaking into my soul, my mind, my body. I thought about dying. I thought about how I couldn’t live with it or without it and how could I live either way? I saw my life flash before my eyes in ghostly shadows. Everything I loved floated by. The greatest betrayal of alcohol and drugs is when they stop working, leaving us with the corpse of the person we could have been had they not drained our life force
I couldn’t live anymore.
But I couldn’t die.
I lay on my bed sobbing and rocking myself to distraction.
I felt everything.
For once, I felt what was real. And what was real, hurt.
The pain ignited my fire.
I had to feel it. I had to hate it, to be angry at it, to want to fight it.
I had to see my children float before me like ghostly shadows.
I don’t remember much after that. I don’t remember how I made it through that night. I prayed a lot. I had to accept that I couldn’t accept what I was doing anymore. I had to acknowledge and believe that I would be denied everything I hoped for and everything I loved. I had to know that I would die. My children would never see me be who they deserved. It was that or death. If I continued to drink I would die. I was already dying.
After that realization and acceptance, I took steps towards *getting sober* and living an entirely different life. Everyone finds their own way to the light in recovery. I chose to reach out and connect with those who had traveled similar paths and were living a life free of alcohol. I chose this because clearly, I wasn’t doing it on my own and I had no idea how to be sober, so I thought that I could at least learn from people who did it every day. Sometimes we need help from someone else.
That was the beginning of my new life.
For someone like me, that is a miracle.
My life didn’t transform into perfection overnight (or ever) but it did transform. I doubted myself, I questioned my sanity (that hasn’t changed), I *slipped* a few of times but the fire raged on and so did I. By that time in my life I had already fought so many other battles I was too stubborn to allow anything to diminish my efforts, but that damn alcohol was a Demon and I almost didn’t make it to the next chapter.
The hope in all of of this is that we have the power to overcome, even when we think we don’t. It is possible to change direction, to move past our greatest challenges and onto the best part of our lives. It’s possible to have entirely new lives and be new people. Because of some of my own challenges, I’ve learned more about what I can do, how I can live and who I am. I’ve discovered things about myself that were hidden all those years. Good things.
My freedom arrived when I let go.
Something must die to be born again, and the journey begins.