The Voice in My Head, My Voice

| by Teal |

I’ve never hid my drinking. Never stored bottles around the house in places where only I could find them. Never drank every night or needed a drink to get me out of bed in the morning. Never had a brush with the law or lost a job because of drinking. Never had more than the occasional glass of wine during the eighteen months it took my body to form two beautiful, healthy babies. But, in AA, I’ve learned to tack on the word ‘yet’ to sentences that start with ‘I’ve never.’ Because for the lucky people, like me, born without the ‘off switch’ that tells normal people to stop after a few drinks, it’s only a matter of time before the ‘I’ve never’ becomes ‘I did.’

My decision to stop drinking has been a long time coming. Twenty-two years, to be exact. For twenty-two years, I’ve used alcohol to lower my inhibitions, to make awkward social situations more enjoyable, to shut down the constant chatter in my head of doing and worrying and being. Because just being is sometimes really scary and alcohol takes the edge off. Or, at least that’s what I told myself until I couldn’t anymore. Until I was forced to be honest with myself and admit that drinking too much on the weekends is still drinking too much, that a blackout isn’t okay when you have little ones that are completely dependent on you, that waking up with a dull headache and a lazy brain is wasting the precious few days I get to spend with the people I love most in this world. For me, making the decision was the easy part. The battle is staying honest and accountable, refusing to allow the ‘I’ve never’ to become ‘I did.’

In AA, they say that every good alcoholic has a vivid memory of their first real bender. The first time your brain lights up in that special way that tells your body to keep drinking even though you’re already drunk. My first time was a New Year’s party my freshman year of high school. My assistant volleyball coach was just old enough to buy alcohol and invited a select few of us to party with his friends. I remember feeling special that I was invited, I remember feeling awkward when I got to the party, and I remember taking the first sip of a white russian and tasting the bite of vodka almost hidden by the deceptively sweet drink. What I don’t remember is anything else about that party because I kept drinking until I blacked out. I woke up (came to, regained consciousness) on a dirty sofa lit up by Florida sun that was making me sweat and squint and wonder what the hell happened to the night. I remember going home that morning paranoid that I was still drunk and wishing I could make the alcohol disappear from my body, or maybe just wishing that I could disappear. When I got home and looked in the mirror, I discovered that my front tooth was chipped and I vaguely remembered trying to open a beer bottle with my teeth. And that was it, a night I barely remembered and a chipped front tooth, and I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Part of the recovery process, the twelve steps of AA, is conducting a fearless moral inventory of everything we’ve done that caused pain, regret, shame, despair, and sometimes even horror. Everything we should atone for in our newly sober life. This is one of the first steps, the step that I’m on right now and it’s rough. Because I’m still fighting the voice in my head, my voice, telling me that I’m really not that bad, that I’m not an alcoholic, that I only drink too much sometimes, that I can control it, cut down, just be a social drinker. But, I’ve tried that and all it brought me was through the doors of my first AA meeting.

So, I’m forcing myself to do the inventory, to write down every blackout, every angry outburst, every time I became someone that I’m ashamed to be, every time I woke up wanting to hide from the world and thinking that my friends and family would be better off without me. Every time I’ve cursed the part of my brain that lights up with the first sip of alcohol and encourages me to keep going long after the pleasant buzz turns to slurred words turns to spinning room; the part of my brain that keeps my body in motion even when I’m no longer storing memories or even remotely conscious of my words or actions; the part of my brain that makes me an alcoholic. Because this fearless moral inventory is fairly solid evidence that the voice, my voice, is lying to me, I AM that bad.

Part of the reason that I’m sharing this journey on SYS is to keep myself accountable and honest with myself. If I don’t share my story, it becomes too easy for me to listen to that voice in my head, my voice, telling me that someday I’ll be able to drink like a normal person. Someday, I’ll have two glasses of wine and my brain won’t light up and I won’t want to finish the bottle. I’m hoping that writing will expand the better part of my brain, the kinder part, the part that tells me that I’m a good mother, a good friend and a good person. I’m also sharing my experience here because I’ve drawn strength from the stories of my sisters fighting addiction and bravely standing in their truth despite a culture that often shames and vilifies women, especially women who happen to be mamas, who have no control over alcohol.

One of my sisters in recovery, Jowita Bydlowska, wrote a heartbreaking and beautiful memoir that I just finished, Drunk Mom: A Memoir. Before I bought the book, I read an interview with Jowita that I still can’t get out of my head because it made me so angry and immediately protective of this woman I’ve never met, but that I intimately know. The article is titled, “When is telling all too much…” and predictably accuses Jowita of being too honest, sharing too much, endangering herself and her loved ones with her decision to stand in her truth no matter the consequences. The interviewer brings Jowita to tears and I hate the fact that the interviewer is a woman because that makes her callousness seem so much worse, like she’s betraying the imaginary sisterhood that I want to believe makes women more empathetic to the struggles of other women.

I bought the book right after I read this interview because I knew I needed to read it and I knew that I wanted to support this woman who refused to be silenced by the harsh judgment and condemnation of people like this interviewer. People that are afraid of the truth, people who would prefer to live in a world where our secrets stay hidden, buried so deep the toxins take years to poison the secret keeper. I knew, before I read the first sentence that Jowita wrote, how painful it must have been for her to write, how terrifying it must have been to relive her lowest points, to tell the world about her most shameful and regrettable actions.

My story is not Jowita’s, not even close, but I can see myself in her addiction, I can see the road ahead of me if I don’t stop now and I’m so very grateful for her courage in telling her story because it helps me make the decision every day not to drink that first glass of wine. At the end of her book, Jowita pays tribute to the boyfriend that stuck with her and the son whose mama will always be fighting the demon of addiction, “…this book is an attempt to make amends to my greatest love, my son, who I hope will one day be able to forgive me for this transgression.” Her words make me cry in their vulnerability and realness. Her words make me want to confront the interviewer that shamed her, the world that expects fake perfection and every person who is terrified of the truth. Because often the truth is painful and haunting and scary, but like most things that we’re afraid of in the dark, they are much less paralyzing when the lights are turned on.

What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was also what got me here?

What if I was never redeemed?

What if I already was?

~ Cheryl Strayed

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