It’s my birthday soon. 5 years clean and serene. Or at least, 5 years clean and sober. I could never have imagined that when I couldn’t go even 5 minutes without drinking towards the end. Good beyond words to be off the treadmill of addiction, the constant obsession, your mental and physical energy directed purely into securing the next drink or the next drug. The gradual isolation as people drift away, seeing your problem.
Waking up at 4am like clockwork every morning (if you're lucky enough to sleep at all after coming round from blacking out), shaking and sweating, heart beat erratic, liver pains, stomach pains, kidney pains, knowing you’re killing yourself and making promises – if I make it through the night, I won’t drink or use tomorrow, I’ll stop tomorrow. The grey arrival of dawn and the inevitable scramble to find a bit of booze, a hidden bottle. The self-loathing and fear as you pour the first drink: the mixture of relief and brief respite followed by despair and hopelessness as the alcohol takes its effect. Sometimes in a moment of strength the night before pouring the drink away, or flushing the drugs down the toilet and thinking: thank God, a fresh start tomorrow. The cursing and disbelief the morning after: the why? What was I thinking?
The passing out, the throwing up, the dizziness, the blackouts where people tell you you didn’t seem drunk at all, seemed absolutely fine. The blackouts when they don’t and you struggle to put together some picture of what actually happened, your only guide the disgust and judgment in the faces of others as they turn away. Prescription drugs are no harder to let go of, the drinks vary and the drugs vary but the results in the end are the same: pain and chaos. That feeling of betrayal, the ultimate betrayal when the thing that helped you to start with, the thing that seemed to be your friend, the only thing you could trust, turns against you, becomes the problem rather than the solution.
I didn’t drink the way I drank, or use the way I used, because I was happy. Neither was I under the illusion that to do so would be without problem. But it helped, to start with. I couldn't foresee quite how problematic it was to become. It pulled me through when life was unbearable, when what was going on around me, what was happening to me, was too much. I always felt pain acutely, and finding something that helped take the edge off that was a real eureka moment. When I lost a parent, it helped. When the violence meted out by my partner and friends overwhelmed me, it helped. Numbed out through the alcohol, with drugs, it became easier to say it doesn’t matter, what they do to me doesn’t matter. I didn’t want to be present for it, didn’t want to remember it. And sometimes I was lucky and I didn’t.
But the solution becomes the problem. The inevitable overdoses, the constant illness, mental and physical. The hallucinations, the paranoia, the black tide of depression. The horrifying realisation that came for me quite close to the end that I actually couldn’t stop. Until then I’d told myself that I just chose not to. Knowing I couldn’t was a different proposition entirely, the stuff of nightmares.
I am incredibly, incredibly fortunate to be in recovery. The obsession to drink and use left me fairly early on, once I’d come off it. I have a programme of recovery which I work and good people around me, because recovery is not something I can do on my own. All the energy I put into my addiction I now put into my recovery, a necessity to stay clean and sober. The ability to talk, to articulate my feelings and emotions, even to identify them, has taken time. To put a narrative to my past. Fucking tough, feeling, re-living, seeing it unclouded by chemicals, processing. But now I have my words back, and I have the right people to help me build a life, rather than just scraping through, surviving. I have a chance. For that and each day sober, I am so grateful. I never want to go back to the hell of active addiction, and I don't have to.