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March 19, 2021

How numbing the pain is the first step & healing the pain, is the final step.

Photo by Download a pic Donate a buck! ^ on Pexels.

Admitting being addicted, and having a problem, isn’t easy…

But if you ever want to stop being addicted, it’s a very first step you will need to take.

Some songs are written about people who drank their sorrows away, looking for a reason at the bottom of a bottle. I wasn’t looking for a reason. I was looking to forget. I was looking for numbness. To not feel anymore.

I started drinking because feeling, started to hurt too much. I started drinking because I was a broken man. I could not see any other way of coming out of this alive. I lost everything. I had to numb the pain somehow, so I drank. Before I knew it, years had passed, and I had become a fully functioning alcoholic.

That was then, this is now. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol for years. I’m not a drinker anymore, but I was. This part of my story is still tender when I share it. The tale of how I stopped, and why I started.

There was a time in my life when I thought; “this is it Marcel, I have to accept that I might never stop drinking”. I have tried to stop so many times that I had lost count. I was a fully functioning alcoholic. I still managed to do everything required of me on a daily basis (work to pay my bills, shopping for food, some irregular social outings and even some training sessions semi-regularly). All this while having alcohol in me, all this while being under the influence.

I never understood what the term “functional alcoholic” meant, until I stopped drinking and became sober. Only then did I begin to understand the full extend of the damage I had done to myself. I say “myself”, because I had kept this a secret from everyone. My secret from the whole world.

My parents knew all along, but this I only found out after I had stopped drinking. I asked them once why they never said anything to me about it:

They replied “…because you were not ready to stop by yourself, and if you don’t decide to stop yourself, you will not stop. All we could do was be there, for if and when you need us”. I love them for this, and for many other reasons as well, but for this especially.

I built a nearly impenetrable wall around myself. I had perfected the perception I wanted other people to have of me: a serious and strong man, that says very little, unapproachable in most cases. A man that does not stress. Someone who is in control. Ironically though, the reality could not be further from the truth. I was a broken man, with a broken heart and a broken spirit. Without direction and without purpose, I was a shadow without a body, stuck in a never ending loop of self torment. I only realised much later, that I chose to feel this way, because it was much safer than the alternative.

The alternative being coming clean, and exposing myself as a hurt, weak, shattered and battered alcoholic, who drank away years of my life, to forget my pain. I didn’t have a reason anymore to think of the future. For the place where I was living in had no future, because my future had become my past. I was living in my past.

During this tumultuous time, I had never completely stopped writing. It was the only outlet I could give myself, my words, written on paper, for myself. Thinking back now, there was even in my most destructive times, always another layer underneath all my pain and regrets, that tried to speak to me. That tried to tell me that everything will be alright, that even this, even this will end. I was so consumed by my sadness that it became my safe place. It became the only thing I knew, and the only place I wanted to be.

I understand why some people drink themselves to death. In the absence of light, there is only dark, and this is how I felt. An emotionless, living corpse, that started to curse every morning I woke up half drunk again, swearing to myself that I am stopping right now, because I do not want to feel this nothing anymore, just to start thinking about my next drink again, in the same thought.

During the early stages of my drinking, I wrote a poem called “The Meeting”. It was like a message in a bottle. A romantic love letter, declaring my hope, and uncertain belief, that there is another half for me out there. That my broken heart will heal. That I, am someone else’s other half and that there is another half, to complete me. I think that this is all I’ve ever truly wanted out of this life – to share it with someone who accepts me as I am, as I was, and as I can become. “The Meeting” lay dormant on my laptop hard drive for years.

Until I met her.


The Meeting

I have been missing you my whole life, I thought we would have met by now, Maybe we have met, Maybe our time is yet to come, Time to be together, forever, You’re so beautiful,

You have forever been so, And will forever continue to be so.

See, how I see you, In my heart first, then my mind,

Then the words come from the heavens, Given to me to speak the truth about your beauty,

For I am blessed for this music that I hear when you enter me, Through my senses I have come to learn of you, My mind helped me to make sense of you, My heart guided me, it always knew of you, My future, is with you.

I know you are out there, somewhere, I pray you are safe and warm, I know you are thinking of me, As I am thinking of you, The knowledge that either of us, Can never be alone again, Even if we never meet, Never comfort, never enjoy, never together,

Even if we never meet, I am always grateful for knowing about you, For knowing that only in time, Will you be delivered to me, There where I will be waiting for you.

I am waiting to be with you, We will be one again, as we were meant to be, Not alone, but together, in life.

My heart does get heavy with wait, Impatient with patience, My heart gets many things, and has many sides, My heart tells me at times, That life is complicated and grey, That the color has finally left our world, Again, then she reminds me Anything is possible, Because it has been possible in the past, so it can be possible in the future. Just don’t give up hope, Hope in our hearts, Heartbeats with equal rhythm,

May we find each other, Sooner better than later, Because I miss you, and I need you, Because I want to hold and comfort you, We know we are in this world,

I know you are my future, You believe in me, I believe in you.

We will meet.

My love,

I miss you.


Our first encounter

I was at work. I had no passion or feeling for my job at that time. The only reason I was there, was to support my drinking habit and whatever it cost to pay what I had to, for my life. I had no ambition to move up in the company. In my twisted mind, I had convinced myself that what they stand for, and what they were doing was wrong. I later realised that this was me justifying to myself, not having to put more work and effort into bettering my own life. But let’s call a tree a tree. I was a sad mess when I met her. What she saw in me, I might never understand, but I am eternally grateful that she saw something. She is the reason I’m sitting here right now, telling you my story.

It was just another day, like many others. There was nothing special about it. The company I worked for had a healthy turnaround of regular staff, so seeing new faces was nothing new. Just like before, there was a long line of new faces, parading down the corridor, on their way to the training room. At first I took no notice, but then I saw the last person in the line.

She had a green knitted jumper on, with jeans. Long and slimline built, like a swimmer. With long brown hair and big blue eyes. I immediately found myself wanting to avoid her, to not look, to not get close. Of all the hundreds of people that had walked through those doors before, she was the only one who ever made me feel uncomfortable. I could not fathom it.

I remember once when we came very close into each other’s space. Her hand was on the desk, and without realizing, I put my hand only a few small, gentle centimeters away from hers. I could feel the energy between us. The only way I can try to describe it, is if you would try to imagine a warm, flowing magnetic field, she being the positive, and I being the negative, pulling slowly and with certainty towards each other.

Did I mention that this scared me? It scared me so much that I felt like a wild animal that just needed to run away. Was I able to love again? Was I able to let someone into my heart again? Can my broken heart heal again? These questions weighed heavy on my thoughts, but I knew for certain, that there was the potential for something life changing here. That somehow, the woman I wrote about in “The Meeting”, was alive and well, and in front of me.

I probably have to explain that all of this was happening in my mind, and in my mind alone. At this stage, she was still just trying to get me to meet up with her outside of work, for a cup of tea. Which by the way, I was avoiding with all my willpower. And don’t forget, I was still drinking very heavily here as well. One particular evening, there was a work party that everyone was invited to. She asked me if I would go. I said yes.

That is the short and simple version. What was really happening inside me, was that I knew that once we got close enough, that I would have a decision to make. A very serious and life changing decision. I would have to stop drinking. Without her ever knowing that I had a problem, or by being honest and coming clean, telling her from the start that I have a problem with alcohol, and that I need help to change my ways. The second part was not really an option for me. I could not be rejected even before I was accepted, and this fear drove me to lies.

Lies I today wish I didn’t tell, but that I also understand now, I had to tell to learn the value of honesty. It is painful to be honest. It hurts when one is full of fear that they would not be accepted if they show their truth to another human being. I was terrified of not being accepted by this human, because the longer I knew her, the closer I felt to her, and the more I thought of her.

So after a long and very serious monologue with myself and my thoughts, I made a decision – that I would go to the party, and that I would let myself go completely.

That night we ended up standing on the river bank at 3am in the morning, in each other’s arms. My world stopped completely. All my thoughts stopped for the first time in a very, very long time. When I held her in my arms that night, it became quiet in my mind again. This was the night my life changed again. The night I decided to give up control and let go.

We moved in together after about 3 months. I will never forget when I brought her to my apartment for the first time. Being an alcoholic, and having lived alone for the past several years, you can imagine that cleaning was not high on my list of things to do. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a pig sty, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone eating off the floor in there. I always had the curtains closed because then it would be easier not to see how dirty it was.

It was very hard for me to bring her home, because I honestly thought that she would just have one look, come to her senses, turn around and leave. But I knew that if I was going to open up to love again, I cannot hide what I am to this woman, and that meant she had to see where I lived as well.

When I woke up the next morning, I found her in the kitchen, cleaning. In one week she helped me clean the whole apartment from top to bottom. I knew then that I could love again.

I tried so many times in our first year of living together to stop drinking, but I could not. It only got worse because now I was hiding it. Always eating mints, going to the shop at awkward times to buy “ice cream” or “chocolate”, sleeping the whole day. We were fighting very badly most of the time. Now, on reflection I can see that I was always projecting my insecurities about myself on her. I was avoiding any serious conversations of basically anything that involved making a decision that would impact our future. I started to drag her down into my blackness, my dark emptiness that never left. I was hurting her, and I didn’t know how to stop. I hated myself for this. I couldn’t understand why I could not just be honest, why could I not just come clean, why could I not stop myself? This was one of the most challenging times of my life. I didn’t want to lose her, but I was also destroying her at the same time. This is when I started realizing that I needed help. That if I didn’t get help soon, this was never going to end well for either one of us. Today, in retrospect, I realise that I was so scared of losing her, that I convinced myself she would leave me if she knew the complete truth. A double edged sword.

She was the one who decided that she had enough, that she did not want to be in the relationship anymore. She was the one that was strong enough to do what was necessary to protect herself. She left me. I was broken again. What I had feared so greatly, happened and I caused it.

I decided that I will not drink anymore. I gathered all the courage I had, and wrote an email to Alcoholics Anonymous. I explained my situation and that I needed help. It was a Sunday, the day I decided to stop drinking completely. I haven’t had a drink since. It has been many years, and it will continue to be many.

Later I came clean, and told her everything. I told her how long I had a drinking problem, and that I was hiding it from her, that I wanted her to know that she was not responsible for the relationship not working, and that there really wasn’t anything she could do. It was all me. I was responsible. I was the one to blame. It was me. This was the first time since I met her that I was completely honest with her.

Losing her, made me realise that I never again, want to cause someone I love and care for, so much pain. Without realizing, I somehow became my father… I stopped drinking because the pain I felt when she left me, was the first time in years, that I could feel real emotion again. It was like the pain woke me up again, and showed me that I am still alive, that I can still feel and that I still have time to design a life. This was a thought that has not visited my mind for at least 10 years. This is how I stopped drinking.

The Lesson

Even when you think that this is it, that your life will never change, don’t give up. You don’t know what can happen.

Pain is a teacher, but only if we allow it to teach us. We are human, we are fragile, we are easily breakable and very complex. If you ever find yourself at that place where it feels like the pain is just too much to bare, please remember – you are not alone. You are not the first to feel this overwhelming hurt, and you will not be the last. Many before you have also visited this place. Some decided to stay, and other decided to leave again. Both options are possible, only you can decide which choice to take.

For as long as you keep breathing, your life can change.

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Marcel Coetzee  |  Contribution: 1,420