Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Controlled Substances

 There's an article going around Facebook right now that you can ready here:

Giving Up Alcohol Opened My Eyes to the Infuriating Truth About Why Women Drink

I had a gong resonate in my head when I read it. 
All the feels about this article.
Plus..don't you remember this ad?  
I'm pretty sure my therapy costs should be deferred by the profits of this atrocity. 
What did this perfume smell like?
almost certainly vodka with a hint of gerbil....  

The article in the link above specifically targets women....and I (as a woman) do tend to agree that we have a firm grip on the shortest straw when it comes to expectation settings.  Consequently, we also often get the least reward for doing all the things we're told. Thinking about all the people I know (including myself) who have used alcohol to GET THINGS DONE...brings up lots of questions for me.  Like:

What does it mean to abuse alcohol?  
What about caffeine?  
When does something become a drug?
Can anything be a drug?
Isn't a drug just a tool we (over)use to escape the NOW?
Why do we have such a need to disappear?  
What is so wrong with the NOW that we can't be there?

I'm not handling much.  I think I've been clear about that.
I'm not even interested in seeming to handle much.
I am OVER hustling to seem some way that I am not.

However, I am strong in the force that allows humans to project, front, power through. Sometimes in my past, that ability was supported by controlled substances.  I don't think of myself as an addict specifically....but I do identify with using something...ANYTHING (legal) seem as perfect as possible.  For most of my adult life, I've BELIEVED in shoving aside discomfort, grief, or anything I deemed unacceptable in favor of the story my life was supposed to be telling everyone else.  I did this for praise, financial success, avoidance or just plain admiration.  I did it so I wouldn't have to be vulnerable.  So I wouldn't have to connect in the place where we all sit when we know that we don't fucking KNOW anything.  Because that is scary and needy and just plain...plain.

In my college years, I went through periods of abstinence from alcohol followed by weekends of binge-drinking to relieve the pressure valve.  I remember being in the end of my freshman year-a truly terrible time in my life for many reasons-and realizing that I was about to lean into the embrace of alcoholism.  I have a family filled with people who cope this way so when I say the embrace was can understand that I knew this strategy as the ONLY way to keep moving through situations that were uncomfortable, imperfect, or truly terrifying. The only obvious answer to anything was to have a drink.   Mother's milk and what have you....

Somehow, being on my own for the first time and surrounded by possibilities, I looked at that pattern and.... I consciously acknowledged that alcohol as a coping mechanism felt less like a hug and more like a a choke-hold.  By some amazing grace, I very intentionally pulled back from using alcohol as a strategy to disappear and check out. There is very little in my life story from childhood that suggests this was a likely strategy I would ever recognize...much less use... and I see it as GRACE.  I don't believe that I came up with that strategy on my own.  That was not really me who decided...because I didn't know any other way to be....but somehow I did something just different enough to take me from that cliff.

Don't give me too much credit though.....I didn't stop drinking all the way or suddenly understand how to be healthy emotionally.  I was a smart teenager and I was hell-bent on survival but...I am also a product of generations of dysfunction.  I had a ton of rage and anxiety with no where to put it.  So what did I do?  I became very good at walking the line of a safe and socially acceptable level of flirtation with substances that helped me cope.  Party on Thursday nights?  Great-only two drinks though.  Don't 'tie one on', don't party multiple nights in a row, and always, always make sure that you are drinking less than those around you.  That allows you to be both fun AND seem to be responsible.  Win win.  My arrogance and ability to look down on those around me is limitless when no one else can find me out.

In my twenties, I was focused on building my career, my family, and creating stability.  I wasn't quite sure what stability meant but there were a lot of ideas in my head about what a 'good family' looked like and how it would feel when I found it.  My focus was on my home and making sure it was someplace worth being (or at least seeming worthwhile).  I was still stressed...I was just consumed with other ways to hide.  I was a workaholic perfectionist.  I worked 80 hour weeks and then came home and tried to recreate Martha Stewart's talents on a shoestring budget.  I was crafty and driven.  I had one child and tried to keep every over-committed promise I ever made.  I was upended and disconnected-from my heart, my head, my marriage.  I was exhausted.  Coffee was my primary care giver during this decade and alcohol was mostly silent.  Mostly.  There are some notable moments where I learned to not only love wine but to become someone who knew an awful lot about wine.  See how you can turn a coping mechanism into a party trick?  I can order the best wine every time-because I have invested in educating myself for your benefit (not because I can't stand to be here, in my own skin, being charming with YOU).  I've also practiced enough drinking in terrible bars (with people that I don't want to be present with) that I can tolerate pretty much any swill in order to pretend that I'm more charming, sparkly or generally interested than I could possibly be. Eventually I joked I was a wine-o....I could drink any wine although I preferred really good Italian wines.

In my thirties, everything kind of expanded...along with the list of expectations I set for myself.  I needed to be the best at all things:  best mom, best employee, best spouse.  I wanted to be everyone's everything.  I added another sweet child into our family and moved into a nicer, closer to the office house.  I was still disconnected and exhausted.  I was still fronting, hiding and pretending to be someone else.  I became not just a good cook...I was obsessed with creating meals worthy of 4 star restaurants...for my toddlers.  I created this blog as an outlet to share how easy and awesome it was to be everything!  I needed my house and my family to look like they could represent the western world in magazine ads.  This was an impossible target to hit but I was going to do it!  These things called sleep and fun and self-care and...well, those things had never seemed that important in my life and since they weren't on my punch list, we could just leave them out.  See all that time you save?

I needed help to keep myself believing that the life I longed for was achievable and to keep pushing through. So I turned to my friends caffeine and alcohol.  I remember waking up and craving the first cup of coffee in the morning in a way that makes my bones tingle still.  I would have sold my soul for that first cup.  I've never done any illegal drugs but...I think I get it.  When I was out with clients or in social situations where I was uncomfortable, I turned to my old friend alcohol.  Another super power I have is to the ability to drink significantly more than someone in my weight class should be able to drink and carry on as if I am still basically in my right mind.  Fronting in your normal life can become so natural that you can do it when you're impaired too. It is difficult in social situations for anyone to tell that I have been drinking more than a socially acceptable amount.  I don't stumble, slur or forget things.  I don't black out or throw up.  I can play trivia games, remember every detail of the conversation and still take care of everyone around me.  The only discernible difference is that I feel more sparkly, friendly and altogether better when I've been drinking.  I'm more likely to strike up a conversation or be friendly when I've been drinking.  I'm more extroverted.  And I have miles of energy.  As long as there are people around me or until the next morning...when I need coffee or something salty and deep fried.  And so the cycle continued.

Something in me shifted when I turned 38.  It wasn't just one event that changed...that would be too much like a rom-com.  There were some defining moments during a loooong slow shift of this paradigm that I wish weren't true events....because one day my children could read this but...they are true and I'm trying to own my own truth.

Here's one throw-back moment I'd like to remember but not repeat:  One week in November, I hosted a client event in my favorite southern city that is known for it's party spirit and open container law.  I was the hostess with the mostest-remembering everyone's favorite drink (and buying it), making sure everyone was having a great time, taking everyone to the best rated bars in a walking bar tour that I'm sure I could recreate with participant fees.  

I also was a mother hen-taking care of everyone.  I made sure that boys and girls had fun but stayed separate-none of THAT was going down on my watch!  I told jokes, set up a few funny pranks, and just generally was as extra-specially charming as I could be.  After 6 hours of heavy food and heavier drinking, I escorted two clients that were also my friends back to the hotel (so they wouldn't get lost AND so I wouldn't have to wonder if they got into trouble).  I went to my room and fell promptly asleep.  Until I woke up an hour later in excruciating pain.

I spent the next four hours mentally writing my obituary as my body rid itself of the 9 martinis (and assorted beer sips and cigar drags) that I downed earlier while 'working'.  And crab cakes.  Sweet Jesus why did I eat those crab cakes?  I was alone on the floor of a fancy hotel bathroom.  I can remember the tile like it is tattooed on my arm.

I thought of how it would look if I had to to tell clients and my boss that I was unable attend the meetings scheduled for the day because....I was out of control.  I didn't think about how I might be killing myself, how my liver might be damaged or my stomach.  I thought about how it would look.  I lived for fronting.  I was committed to seeming a perfect specimen of independence and drive.  I could not front through this poison creeping through my veins.  All I kept thinking the fuck did I get here?  Why didn't I stop myself?

Here are some more useful questions:
What are you running from?
Why can't you be here?
Who says you have to be this person?
Do you like being this person?
What would happen if you stopped doing what everyone expects?
What do you get out of this performance?

I'd like to tell you this was a pivotal moment that changed everything.  Of course it wasn' many hard moments, it was just the beginning of a chapter that still continues.  I'm grateful for the pain and the questions but I can't pretend that I've resolved everything that needs resolving within me.  I'm still alive right?  That means I'm not done.

About a year ago, I gave up drinking alcohol and caffeine.  I was trying really hard to figure out the landscape of the here and now...I couldn't afford to hide out any longer.  I don't even remember it being intentional.  

I just COULD NOT.  

Looking at a beer or a glass of wine or smelling coffee made me want to lay down and sleep for days...or want to throw up.  Everything in my soul said NO when something that wasn't 100% healthy and good for me was in front of me.  That applied to people, substances, situations, entertainment, responsibilities, labels..basically the slate had to get wiped clean so I could have space to find truth and sanity.  

Surprisingly...this did not make me popular or better looking.  I haven't found ultimate success or enlightenment.  I have found a hard slog on a rocky cliff-but the view is fantastic and I am free.

I find it interesting where people draw the line on substances that are acceptable to abuse, the quantities (or circumstances) that make it acceptable, and what qualifies as actual abuse.  Every person I know well has had at least one favored substance that they abuse.  Or one favorite person.  Or perspective or persona. I have become less popular with many people...that happens when you realize you have boundaries and that you matter.  Its ok.  I am not pizza.  Or an extra special treat.  Or alcohol.  Or .....  You can't (easily) use me to distract you from reality anymore...and I don't want to use you either.

I was never going to please everyone spite of all of my hustle and strife.  I have tremendous drive and energy...and I augmented my natural dose with substances.  In an attempt to try and get to the place where I could be someone's everything.  It made me my own nothing.  It was a dead end.  At the end of it...I felt dead.  

I have an occasional alcoholic drink now and coffee is in my social club again.  I'm not 'sober' any longer but.....I am painfully aware how uncomfortable I make other people when I don't do what is expected.  And I'm also aware of the scars to me and mine that happen when I put other people's comfort above my own.  I can't do that again and pretend I don't get hurt. 

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