Failure is not an option.
Confession: I carry a notepad with me almost everywhere I go. In my imagination I hope that when I say that you visualize a gumshoe or ace reporter of yesteryear—one with a fedora on her head, pencil behind her ear, full of ambition and rattling off phrases like “What’s the scoop?” Because honestly… I do feel quite like Harriet the Spy when I whip out my archaic recording device, flip-open the lined sheets of paper held together by cheap Target dollar spot metal coils–essentially a twisted up paper-clip….flimsy and unreliable….like my brain. Hell, I love the imagery it conjures up. It’s comforting and classically cool.
The reality is, as it so frequently is, less impressive than the fantasy.
I don’t carry it because I am an observer of the world around me… always trying to solve society’s woes or crack a code or thaw out a cold case. Nope. I am utilizing this degree of documentation to fill the void left by years of alcohol abuse. See what I mean about reality and its penchant for epic disappointment?
Drinking as heavily as I was, with the frequency and consistency that I somehow was able to maintain, with the low quality of the tepid wood-varnish variety vodka I had on a continuous IV drip directly through my bloodstream…. I was able to cause irreparable damage to my nervous system. No surprise here. And no debate to be had. Last year, when I made the life altering decision to put away the shot glasses and retire the vomit bucket for good— when I determined that the hangover I had that lasted from the 14th through the 16th would, in fact, be my final throe into poisonous torturous despair…. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that I was going to come face to face with a slew of uncertainties: mental, physical, emotional as well as otherwise. I understood that such transformations could not be entirely predicted—rather only anticipated with hand-wringing levels of anxiety and suspense. I had a tacit understanding with my body and mind that I knew I was in for an uphill battle and that I would do whatever it took to maintain some level of sanity throughout the arduous process. I did the research. I read the facts. I read personal accounts. I brushed up on my science. Yet, still, all aspects of my being were uniformly terrified. Any foray into the unknown gives us some degree of trepidation and this was no different. The fear began to manifest itself in to specific areas of the monumental task I was beginning to embark on. I was not necessarily afraid of abandoning my metaphorical crutch–or of losing my cocktail of mock-confidence–or even at the daunting notion of learning how to fill the day now that you have so much free-time. It was not even the physical taxation of withdrawal that sent shivers down that spine–the one that wasn’t sure if it was quite ready to shirk away into submission or straighten up. Those were all concerns, yes, but, they were not the most crippling of my imminent fears. The victor in the competition to claim the coveted position of “most frightening” was addressing the permanency of the damage that had already been done.
One of the perks of subsisting on a clear colored chemical was that I didn’t have to worry myself with responsibilities or pesky realities of every day life. I didn’t have to be confronted with uncomfortable truths or burdened by facts that might quash my buzz. Any obstacle that managed to unearth itself and attempt to outstretch its reaper-like bony fingers in my direction, beckoning at me with an overly dramatized curl of a limp wrist and begging me to heed its warnings of doom and despair were quickly and swiftly extinguished with another couple of rounds of liquor poured down the ole’ hatch. Anything threatening my carefree consciousness could always be fogged over and forgotten. The blackboard was constantly being erased of all traces of pertinent information needed to thrive, excel or even exist in the world in which we live. My reality, during this muddied epoch, was distant and alternate from the one I share with you all now. All of this was calculated. Although my initial foray into the world of stupor and blackouts started innocently enough—the dark shroud that addiction can pull over you was not a wholly unwelcome one. It was oddly comforting. It protected me. I wrapped myself tighter and entrenched myself deeper into its trenches and into the rabbit hole.
But, that post is for another day. The point of mentioning it is that I had enjoyed living in the mindset that everything was reparable and repairable during this period of time. I was young– my liver would bounce back (It did, mostly, liver function tests are fine—fatty liver remains). My mind resilient. Indomitable. It would recover. I would recover. This was the liquor talking. It was our humanly inherent justification instinct kicking into high gear. It was wrong. So, here we are. It’s been a year. One whole year of slaying dragons, defeating demons and battling the banshees that scream and berate relentlessly in my ears throughout the day. The temptations are strong. My tenacity stronger. Not every day is created equal. But, what I can count on with 100 percent certainty, is that each and every morning provides another opportunity—another opportunity to either crumble under the weight of the remnants, rubble and shambles of my former self or to strap on my armor, assemble my artillery, and through sheer grit and determination vanquish the seemingly indefatigable foes once again. The intestinal fortitude that I have discovered and latched onto throughout this process has surprised me in the most wondrous of ways. I am a warrior. I am a conquistador set to conquer and quell that which they said could not be done. And I am winning at this sobriety thing. I am actually doing it. I am living proof that it can be accomplished and not only that it can…but that it should be done. It is not a sentence of mediocrity or of an existence situated in the mundane… or to just be endured…rather it is a journey in progression to be embraced and celebrated… even the messy parts…even the moments that find you at your most vulnerable and pathetic. When stumbling through the steps of sobriety— the beauty is that you remember each moment…never to forget again. Or do you? Well, that’s a little more complicated. I will explain.
Indeed, reflection and introspection have served me well during the past calendar year. While, as previously mentioned, I may choose to detail out this odyssey in its entirety at a later date, for now I offer to you an area that has proven most fascinating to me on a personal level. The rebuilding of a mind pulled, pushed and put through the proverbial ringer. I was a willing (yet woefully unprepared) participant in experimentation at its most lethal and unforgiving. We took the healthy, yet already psychologically decrepit and emotionally scarred, brain of a twenty-three year old and binge-drank it to near fatal levels for years. Over and over and over again. We started slowly and worked up to the frenzied fanaticism of a newly minted law student out to change the world or the unbridled enthusiasm of a young perky Kentucky blonde getting off the bus on Hollywood Boulevard. I full-throttled this research study…dedicated scholar in the sloppy science of the slovenly and sloshed that I was. I was the shaman of the spiritual world of, well (ha!), spirits (haha!). All of that said… I was a mess for years. I would begin and end the day with a thirst to quench and it was done so with copious amounts of alcohol. It wasn’t a bender. It wasn’t a weekend distraction. It was a 24/7 lifestyle that I carved out for myself. I cannot stress enough how serious my addiction was and for how long it was that grave, dire and severe. BAC levels taken, while still able to walk, talk and process my surroundings, were clocked at over .35. These results are not from a crude party toy that someone’s parents bought them to keep in their car, but the numbers from laboratory tests at the hospital. This was also not abnormal. This was my constant. A handle of vodka (1.75L) would last two or three days. I drank until I was poisoned more than the desired amount or initial intent— I drank until I’d be reduced to an incapacitated, trembling, retching, convulsing, drenched and jaundiced mass of misery on the bathroom floor. Unrecognizable and unworthy. If I ever managed to achieve some version of sleep—I’d fear it’d be an eternal slumber rather than a respite from the living nightmare I was consistently enduring. I’d drink to escape the woes of everyday toils and turmoils and live in fear of being too successful. I drank to forget. I drank to not feel. Sometimes I’d drink to remember that which I forgot (“Oh, yeah, I put my keys into the freezer so they wouldn’t get too hot because it was 100 degrees out yesterday and I felt that they might melt.” Exaggeration, but you get the picture). And sometimes I drank to not feel the physical ramifications of the previous night’s mistakes (hair of the dog). The intoxication was not limited to a smile-infused jovial high, but served as an active contributor to the lowest of lows—the buzz never dissipated, the haze never lifted, the fog grew impossible to elude or escape from. It followed me everywhere. It was unshakable. The dizzying affects made the transition between consciousness and conscience blur to the point of being indistinguishable from one another. I was stuck in some sort of eternal purgatory—unsteadily straddling life and death…unsure which was more enviable. Rinse and repeat. The spin-cycle always in motion—never reaching completion. Or for some “Grey’s Anatomy” parallels— the carousel never stops turning.
Until it did.
And welcome to today.
I came home from a walk this morning with the thoughts in my head cranked up to eleven. If I could anthropomorphize the synapses firing inside the cranium, they would strongly resemble the coked out weekday warriors of Wall Street in the mid-1980’s…with less strippers..way less strippers. I could not, for the life of me, silence them… or even quiet them. Ideas were bouncing off the interior of my skull in rapid fire succession. POP POP POP. My body was in recovery mode from the heat and rigor of the outdoor work-out, but it was as if my brain was just now getting started. It was revved up, roaring and ready to go. But, to where? Problem was… there was too much at once. The thoughts were non-linear, scattered, and jumping from topic to topic in such a way that they could not be corralled, controlled or quarantined. I couldn’t concentrate on one long enough to give it a chance to blossom and bloom from concept into actual. They flitted about in such an erratic fashion that I am sure that the emotions in the cortex control room (think Pixar’s “Inside Out”) were probably bopping and bobbing their heads about like they were watching a ping pong match or a fly buzz around the room. A brilliant spectacle, our mind at its most optimal and finest showing, to be sure, but a wasted one. It took a long cold shower to calm the fervent storm into a far more tolerable, yet still quite frustrating, drizzle. I could once again focus. I could breathe without my chest pounding comically from the excess stress and adrenaline. Whew. Crisis averted.
But, this is the type of challenge that I now welcome and even appreciate. It’s reassuring in that it proves that I’m still here—that I’m still capable of formulating concepts and ideas. That I’m not completely broken or fully lost. That knowledge is not irretrievable or absent. That there is still a thriving world beneath the skin and bones housing the most important parts of me. This is, however, also indicative of some of the lasting issues I struggle with even now—even with 366 days of sobriety under my belt…. hence, I carry my trusty sketchpad with me—always armed with the tools necessary to transcribe onto paper any of the words or thoughts that spontaneously and unceremoniously erupt as I go about my day. Always unannounced, always intense, and ALWAYS extraordinary and miraculous in their sheer existence. During the course of the past twelve months—there have been moments, many moments, where my mind would work against rather than in cohorts with the rest of me. I would attempt to vocally convey my thoughts and end up grasping at thin air where I foolishly expected words to appear. Nothing but blank spaces and dotted lines against a black backdrop of empty space. To be fair, this still plagues me on a daily basis, but the issue has improved dramatically since the first couple of months.. where it was a welcome surprise when a coherent sentence was formed or when I was able to communicate on a level above that of the most rudiment of cavemen. Guttural grunts would probably have been more effective than whatever gobbledy-goop oozed from the corner of my droopy dopey lips. For a WordSmith (!) this proved the most frustrating of the side-effects that I have encountered. Even still, I am able to recognize my good fortune and do not take any of this for granted. My body has bounced back from the brutality it encountered at my own hands. I Benedict Arnold-ed myself. And I am lucky to be here. There is no explanation for any of this, but I am stronger than ever. I did not deserve such an auspicious outcome, but I treasure it. And through an immense amount of faith, patience as well as self-prescribed therapy through writing and blogging— my brain has, for the most part, returned to its pre-drinking performance level. It’s impossible to know for sure how much I lost or how much harm was actually done through the years of heavy drinking I partook in. I will never have the imagery or scans of my pristine untarnished unblemished mind of which to compare and contrast its current state with. Perhaps there might have been no limits to the level of genius I could have reached had I skillfully managed to maneuver this tragic detour–had I chosen to avoid diving head first into the deep end of alcoholism. I will never know. I cannot know. And I should not dwell on that which I cannot change. Oh, I see now why AA embraced the serenity prayer with such ardor (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference).
All I can do now is focus on each day as an individual entity separate from the one prior. I must accept and acknowledge the challenges that stem from each and every one as they come. For every twenty-four hour cycle is presented to me wrapped up nice, neat and tidy-like with a bow. It is confounding, even to me, even now, how I welcome this opportunity with such inscrutable conflicting feelings so simultaneously polarizing in nature: impassioned excitement and debilitating fear. But, the rational side of me continues to win out with the acknowledgment that when my eyes crack open after a night of slumber to a world filled with light and life—that I have been provided a gift that is both undeserved and seemingly against the odds. I embrace the struggle of the daily dealings that existence dictates as I navigate through the treacherous waters without a compass or guide just like everyone else…one foot in front of the other. Instead of lamenting the time that I wasted or drowning in despair reminiscing of the failings of the past or the setbacks that I faced— I think of the future and what all is left to discover and to accomplish. I stick my hands into my chest and grip the sinewy fibers surrounding my heart and feel the unmistakable “tha-thump” pounding and pulsating within the confines of my ribcage…everything within ticking-and-tocking like clockwork…despite the battering and splintering, and wearing and tearing. Those are my war drums. They provide the rhythmical soundtrack that leads me into battle—that give me the strength and perseverance necessary to wade through the residual muck left over from my the mistakes in my rear-view mirror. Through necessity my entire internal processor has reformatted to provide me with the best possible chance of survival— my negativity replaced with an upgraded unit capable of putting a positive spin on the most atrocious of realities. Sure, I am still a realist… a Dr. Temperance Brennen, a Daria, a Debbie Downer. But, when it comes to keeping my personal outlook and morale up—I am Sunny Sunshine. I am a living personification of my moniker. I find solutions to the problems scattered in front of me—one at a time… or if you prefer your overused cliches in the Roman Emperor variety: brick by brick. I have learned to chip away at the insurmountable— breaking down the massive infrastructures into less formidable opponents, with my tiny little pick-ax hard at work, never a moment’s rest (think of the diamond-mining dwarfs of Snow White lore size.)
So I have lapses in my memory? I admit it— I have a mental handicap when it comes to my ability to conjure up every detail my mind formulates during its name-worthy brainstorm sessions. I might say something out loud and not be able to repeat what it was thirty seconds later. So what? I write it down. I document that it occurred and have the scribbled out proof to remind me of its existence at a later time. I consider it not as a damnation to suffer a life of mediocrity or as a weakness dictating the quality of my existence or definition of my character, but as a reminder that we are not infallible. We are predictably imperfect. Industrious, inventive and ingenious, yes. But, all susceptible to missteps, setbacks, bungles and collapses in judgment. It does not have to be a death sentence. I am out to prove that I am as erudite, sharp, quick-witted and annoyingly intelligent as ever. It’ll take some time to get everything back…. but, my patience is paying off. And who knows? I might be able to help you with your grocery list at some point—I do make a note of just about everything that wafts into my ear canals these days!
The negative ramifications and consequences don’t end there. They are not all silent. My body is scored with scars—remnants of ripped flesh, deep wounds, rash decisions and liquored-up logic. The physical toll of internal issues left dormant and untended to until they became impossible to ignore any longer—coaxed out through the songs of the Sirens— They serve, not as notches on a belt and worn with traditional pride, nor are they stored out of sight and hidden in shame. They are constant reminders of what I went through and what I endured…of what I survived. They cannot be erased. They cannot be minimized. Their existence cannot be denied and their truths cannot be diminished or down-played. The past isn’t pretty. But, I unabashedly maintain that my future is a dazzling array of hope and glory and fully ablaze with light and luster. This tissue, no matter how marred, pepto pink and grotesque, is painted with a silver lining. For I am one of the lucky ones. I made it—not entirely unscathed, no— but, one year later and I am back and better than ever. Hyperbolic? Hardly. My days are more good than bad… and there was a time that I never believed that I would be able to say that with a straight face…. guess I still can’t… because I cannot peel the smile from my face. My cravings are more few and far between. My optimism unrivaled. My dedication unwavering. My desire to continue to exceed everyone’s expectations, including my own, inextinguishable. Maybe I’m just having a particularly revelatory type of a day. Maybe. But, just for today… nothing can dampen my enthusiasm or tamper with the goals I have set for myself. I will be the best that I can be. And look forward to seeing how high I can fly or how far I can soar….. notepad, pencil and fedora in tow. So, there’s the scoop, ya see?