There is hauntingly terrifying scene in the sci-fi film Gravity, in which Sandra Bullock’s character breaks free from her tether while out on a space walk. It’s horrifying watching her float off into deep, cold space seemingly alone in the universe. Call me a cynic, but I think in some respects, we are all set adrift in this life, and we find strength and hope by tethering ourselves to the loved ones closest to us, to institutions, or to our faith, all in an effort to keep us buoyant in the turbulent times we face. As a recovering alcoholic, I see my sober-self as sitting in a lifeboat. In the almost 17 years I’ve been clean and sober, I have spent a lot of time bailing out my lifeboat just to keep afloat—to stay sober another 24 hours.
What I find most achingly frustrating is that if I let down my guard and allow things to “slide”, I quickly find myself ankle deep in water again. There are certainly no guarantees in this life, but experience has taught me to have trust or “faith” in my ability to ride out another rough patch. It feels as though it hits me right out of the blue on days like today, and it takes every fibre of my being not to just say “fuck it”, and to pick up a drink. Intuitively, I know this won’t help anything, but that knowledge does not inoculate me from these feelings.
In every AA meeting, someone will read aloud “How It Works” from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. There’s one line that always resonates with me: “Remember we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help, it’s too much for us.” The first time I heard this in a meeting it was as though someone else had finally articulated what I had been grappling with my entire life—alcohol’s almost voodoo-like powers over me. I’m convinced that believing that alcohol was some mystical entity to be not only respected but feared, was the cornerstone of me staying sober for my first 10 years. In my evolution as a recovering alcoholic, I have started to question this belief, and I have sought to unlock the mystery of these words.
To assign alcohol the human quality of being “cunning” is in itself problematic. When I think of cunning, I envision a fox sneaking up on a chicken coop or a wily used car salesman. Today I think that this conception is detrimental to me because it reinforces the idea that alcohol somehow has an “agenda” against me. Although this belief does keep me sober at times, it also leaves me feeling sorry for myself because alcohol has in some way targeted me and not other people. Referring to alcohol as “baffling” is also counterproductive because it assigns a “mystical” quality to alcohol. Even my limited knowledge of the science of addiction informs me of the chemical responses of addiction that take place in an addict’s mind. Booze, itself, is not “baffling”—what’s baffling is my desire to numb my feelings with the depressant drug known as alcohol.
Every addict I’ve ever met hopes that someday the obsession to use the drug will be lifted. I am only speaking for myself when I say that I believe that this obsession will remain with me until I draw my last breath. I believe my respite from the addiction does not lie in prayer, meditation, or therapy. Instead, it involves a process of continually pealing back the layers of what triggers me to want to pick up a drink or a drug. In other words, my addiction is but a symptom not the root problem.
All of this brings me back to the funk I’m in today. What I’m left with is reflecting on what possibly triggered my desire to pick up a drink again. I’m not going to lie to you—sometimes I would do anything just to get out of my head for a little while. Trying to explain that feeling to a non-addict is like trying to describe a sunset to someone who has been blind since birth. I do find solace in running, and to a lesser extent in yoga too, but without drugs and alcohol, I no longer have my “escape hatch” or “safety valve” to quiet my mind. I do appreciate all of your messages of support and encouragement, but I feel that my primary purpose in writing this blog is to “keep it real” and to allow you a brief window into my journey. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, or if you, yourself, are in the throes of addiction, all I ask is that you be patient and kind because love, be it “self love” or “love for another” is really the only balm to soothe the pain of addiction.