There is a moment in every addict’s life, the one just before the hit. I know mine. It usually involves a mirror. Have you ever noticed that in almost every bar there are mirrors behind the liquor bottles? When you stand in front of them you inevitably see your own reflection. The first time I noticed, I was seven years old. Until then, I wasn’t tall enough to see my own reflection. At seven, I remember standing in front of my father’s bar and looking at myself just before downing my first vodka, straight from the bottle.
Twenty-two years later, I found myself on a stool, inside a bar at two o’clock in the afternoon. I was on my forth round of vodka and orange juice, drowning my sorrows in a bottomless glass, surrounded by people who didn’t even know my name. I had made it to three months without a single drop of alcohol, but this day I had decided that, instead of calling a friend, I would just take care of the problem myself by forgetting the best way I knew how. I say “best way” because it wasn’t the only way, but the way I chose because I was simply too scared and ashamed to admit that I was scared and ashamed. I can tell you that I struggled for a good thirty minutes after ordering that drink. I stared at it and told myself that I was worth more than this choice I was making for myself, that I didn’t need it and that I could work everything out, sober. I lifted my head to see myself reflected in the mirror behind the bar, raised the glass and downed the first of many to follow. Disgusted, I stayed for hours until stumbling out of the bar and walking home.
You see, it was my nth try to get sober. I had been to more AA meetings than I care to admit. I have read stacks of books on addiction. The problem however was that I was a dry drunk. Sure, I wasn’t drinking but I wasn’t dealing with my issues. I was just pushing them away inside of myself until the stash outgrew the space to hold it. That space being my emotional self and that “stash” being my abuse. Everything stems from something and that “something” doesn’t go away by itself or by drinking yourself into a stupor, cutting up your arms, eating beyond your need, gambling beyond your means, or sleeping your way to salvation. Addiction comes in many forms and all have the same results in that the addict experiences more hurt and sinks lower to the bottom. I knew that if I didn’t stop harming myself, whether it was the drinking, or another form of addiction, that I could very well end up living a life I truly didn’t want to live.
For years, I was victimized, both physically and sexually, and for many years after the abuse I led the life of a victim. I spent years thinking that I deserved what came to me. I watched my father abuse my mother. I watched him abuse himself. He was an angry man, and an alcoholic, that I now identify had his own demons he was unable to work through. Instead, he took his pain and frustration out on himself and those he loved the most. I swore I would never become my father. The truth be told, for many years, I did take after him and lived my life in ways that devastated both myself and those closest to me.
Addiction is a selfish thing, admittedly. You start to lose recognition of who you are, nor do you care to change it. You can fall so low that the bottom becomes a safe place where disappointment is no longer shocking, but expected and the expectation can be less pressure than to want better for yourself. There is a not-so-subtle brainwashing that takes place with abuse, a belief system that is built upon fear and secrecy and is cemented by years and years of self-continuance. It stays with us years after the act of abuse has ended. The levels of consciousness can be more diverse than a thousand layer cake and, almost always, the addicted self will lose track of who they are until one day they are forced to make a choice.
On February 6, 2008 I celebrated six months of sobriety. In AA they have a ritual. They give out sobriety coins, inscribed with the amount of time you’ve managed to stay sober. As they called out the months, I waited patiently and in anticipation for my number to be called. At six months, I raised my hand and walked to the front of a packed room. I took my sobriety coin and a well-deserved hug and walked to the microphone. “My name is Ophelia and I’m an alcoholic. I made it to six months!” As I stood, applause flooded the room and it was all I could do to hold back the tears. This time I decided to let them fall, allowing myself to feel the pride of my hard work. In the back of the room stood my husband and a dear friend of mine, both of whom were instrumental in me achieving my goal. They asked me if I thought I would get to six months and, in all honestly, there were moments when I questioned my own ability. For whatever reason, this time I knew I would make it. It was a choice I made, the morning after my last downer. Ironically, the moment took place in front of a mirror, like some made-for-TV movie. I saw my own reflection in the mirror and told myself out loud that I wasn’t going to hurt myself anymore. I wanted to live my life in empowerment and in loving kindness for myself. It was a choice that I would make and one, six months later I have stayed true to.
I have always wanted to speak a different language and now I do. That language is self-love. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my days and those days are some of the hardest days to work through, in part because all negatives are fighting even harder to be heard. But the time is less and less frequent and ever changing in to something that is more of a whisper of a wounded child than an old man on a soap box. In a way, I have kept my addiction. This time my devotion and dedication isn’t to a bottle but instead to myself and the promise of a better life.