In 19 days I will have a year sober.
In 19 days it will be one year since I was lying on the couch, at 4:30 in the afternoon with the two bottles of wine I would mix with diet ginger-ale and vodka until I would gently pass out around six pm before my boyfriend could even walk through the door to talk me out of it.
It become clear to me now that I was trying to kill myself, but wanted to choose a method that a.) wouldn’t hurt, b.) wouldn’t take my air and c.) would give me plenty of opportunities to back out. Alcohol met all three requirements, with the added benefit of anesthetizing my brain into a white room of quiet equanimity where I was able to simply exist.
That first drink of the evening (or morning) felt as if I had taken a steady slow inhale, the second drink was a warm and gentle yawn, and the third drink was the sweetest exhale I have ever known.
It must be excusable, I must forgive myself.
I had good reason to drink.
Things happened. I was born.
This is where I could undress my pedestrian traumas, and otherwise… but instead choose to trust that human suffering is human suffering.
I had good reason to drink.
I say this again in order to assuage my sense of guilt, my shame, I say this because saying “I drank my medicine” feels self-indulgent. Maybe it isn’t, but still I must take responsibility for all the times I chose oblivion over waking.
In this past year, I have painfully and reluctantly come to believe that my agency is to be preserved and protected, and when I drink I am forfeiting the reins hitched to what sense of self I have. But I do miss being an observer, I miss the quiet-passivity, stillness and warmth of being drunk.
I have given myself brain damage. I do not know if it will heal.
I can’t remember the exact moment I decided not to drink until my breath slowed and my heart gave out. What I do remember is that I prayed to the saints of my childhood for help.
They were bashfully mute.
I have a picture of myself at two years old on my mother’s lap, sharing my complete joy and surprise over the jack-in-the-box I was holding performing its one function, and performing it well. My mother’s face was of a feigned surprise, that sweet half opened mouth with eyebrows vaulted in pride that she had made me, and I was on her lap—safe and round and hers.
A treasured shrink of mine once told me to think of myself as a mother, and imagine how I would treat my two-year-old self. Would I put stale wine and vodka in a bottle and feed this theoretical baby this poison everyday until the child would sweat and tremor in the elixir’s absence? I can say with certainty, No.
Like a hologram, I projected an image into the future; as my present was walking on razors.
It stands to logic then, that I should be able to transfer this sense of protecting, and cherishing of a theoretical baby, to my actual grown-ass self.
That worked, to a point.
I must pause for a minute to mourn my loss of memory. Not just the memory lost from a black out, but the brain damage I suffered from long years of binge drinking.
There are holes all over my life, and at times this is a simple mercy, because perhaps my heart could not bare the damage I have done. At this moment it is an albatross, because I cannot conjure moments from my recent past that matter.
My heart fills with what feels like a heated vinegar and I must arm wrestle my tears for sovereignty over my eyes. When I salvage what memories I still have I do remember someone, either a yoga teacher, a therapist, a friend, a book, a commercial, a box of tampons. I remember hearing the advice that what decisions you make today will either bring you a step closer, or a step further away from the version of yourself you want to become.
What would that person say to this sick, hurting lady on the couch?
What is her life like? What is she wearing? What does her average day look like? How does she make a living? Get as specific as possible…(This came from the brilliant Ana Forrest’s book “Fierce Medicine.” All that tear grappling for nothing.)
Anyway—I did what she said, and I am slowly crafting myself into the adult woman I would most like to be.
I was surprised at what I saw.
She was roughly my height (thank Jesus) she had long straggly hair (done!) She was near the ocean, with a big rescue dog. She put food on the table with her words and as she walked towards me she folded forward corking her hands into the sand, and lofted her feet into an effortless handstand.
It was as clear as a painless stigmata, that if I intended to be whole, that I was going to have yoga in my life.
In Fierce Medicine, Ana talks about her sun-salutations being her 12 steps. My relationship with AA is hot and cold. It did me so much good in the beginning, but as time passed I began to find my steadiness in other packages. I have not quit AA, I do not bemoan it, I merely accept that we are in the throws of a constant lover’s quarrel.
One of those land-angels that wears a lot of black.
The reality is less pastel, and surviving long enough to have an opportunity to heal was, in short: rigorous.
My detox was long. My post acute withdrawal symptoms were many and they were vocal. Getting on the T to get to yoga, or my job, or the facility I attended a day program for addiction took all of my strength.
It took about seven months before I could travel without going pale and feeling nauseous to the point of salivating. When I think of how much heavier I was in both my physical and spiritual body, I shudder.
I was lucky that the day I was released from detox, I signed up for my first sober yoga class at Back Bay Yoga. I walked into an afternoon Forrest class taught by Nicole Clark. I was so scared. I took whatever piece of literary fiction I was attempting, and read until class started. I kept a book, any book near my mat at all times. Nicole became in short order, one of people that (if you are lucky) arrive in the landscape of your life, and change the backdrop.
What I am clumsily trying to say is, I found a teacher that made me feel safe, and welcome and that in some way I belonged on the mat, that I would not always sweat vodka.
The Gift of My Hand Tremor.
I am not all better.
I still crave getting wasted. I still get weepy when I think of what I have done to myself, and the people around me.
I have started to find some quiet warmth and a touch of oblivion on my mat. The more I practice, the better it gets.
I am only almost sober for a year, and they say the first year is for your body, the second for your mind. I don’t appreciate that breed of algorithm, but it is useful for me to think that it can always get better, that I am not done getting better.
I am not finished healing.
My hands wear a tremor.
Whenever I lift them to my partner’s face, grip a pencil too tightly, or hold a gesticulation too long, it is noticeable. For me the trembling is a gift.
It’s what gives me away to people with vivid imaginations. It’s what keeps me honest, and prevents any cockiness about my sobriety. It is a reminder of what I have done, and where I have been, and how important it is to stop trying to jump off every bridge made of steel, or words that I cross.
I know my addiction hasn’t gone anywhere, that she is just lifting weights in the basement of my brain. I know I still can’t execute a graceful handstand, and that my apartment won’t allow dogs. I know that there is work to be done and mistakes to be made.
I know I do not have to fret about most things. That if I can just be here, now—not forever fleeing—that my future will take care of itself. I know that staying awake is my one function, and I am just beginning to perform it well.
Kate is a yoga teacher in and around Boston. She received her certification at Back Bay Yoga. She also is the author of the book “Darling Angel Meat” from Shoe Music Press and has her MFA in Poetry and Literature from Bennington. She doesn’t fit in most Lululemons clothes, and frankly could give a damn. You can more of her musings on Facebook.
Ed: Elysha Anderson