I have 70ish days sober now. I finished and submitted my six grad school applications last week and my shelter dog comes home with me on Monday. Things are pretty solid. My mood is stabilizing, I’m staying away from men, and I’ve embraced my introverted tendencies for the first time since high school.
This has required a number of what I’m hesitant to call sacrifices. I’ve cut off contact with most people, save for my former sponsor, a new sober friend in the suburbs, and a sprinkling of old friends here and there. I don’t go to Chicago. I stay away from parties, concerts, and large social gatherings. Most of my time is spent in my room, in my therapist’s office, and on sidewalks with my headphones on.
The suburbs aren’t my idea of an awesome time, but that’s not what I’m here for. I needed a reset — to remove myself from toxic surroundings and temptations in order to get back in touch with my truth. It’s happening. It’s hard as hell, but it’s happening. I’ve set boundaries, blocked numbers, cried tears, and screamed f-bombs.
Some days I feel like Sisyphus. Some days, the inability to cave into my cravings makes me want rip my skin off, take a fork to my eyeballs, and throw the whole shebang in a blender. I’m a mid-tantrum child screaming, “WHY ME WHY ME WHYYY MEEEE.” I try to remind myself that those feelings aren’t bad. They make sense and I don’t have to fight them because I will eventually feel empowered again.
The truth is that being an addict/alcoholic/whatever the fuck does suck in a lot of ways. It sucks to not feel normal. Part of me still wants to go to parties and throw back a beer and make stupid jokes with strangers. Part of me wants to be able to reenter the dating scene, maybe download Tinder and swipe left on all the muscle men in the area. Part of me wants to get in my car and drive until I don’t recognize the street signs.
I’ve always loved flight.
But the second, more pressing truth is that I’ve managed to do a lot of damage in the past six years and I don’t know how many more opportunities I have to save my life. The reality is that no one can stop me from going to parties and throwing back that beer and reentering the dating scene and driving to Mexico. And no one can stop me when that party turns into a drunken flashback and that one beer inevitably turns into ten and that dating attempt becomes an obsessive quest for validation and the road trip results in a car crash.
Only I can stop me.
I am fucking sensitive. I’m sensitive to gestures, glances, postures, phrases, and overall assumptions about peoples’ intentions. My sensitivity, from what I can tell, is my body’s attempt to recognize rejection, abandonment, disapproval, judgment, etc. before my loved ones walk out on me. It’s a trauma thing. It’s a shitty thing. It’s an embarrassing and often faulty thing.
So what does this have to do with anything?
Well, for one, it’s ended many of my relationships. I’ll overanalyze, ask too many questions, and hold grudges because I’ve made an assumption about someone’s energy that has registered as terror in my body. Confrontation with the other person leads to phrases like, “Leif, you’re emotionally draining.” “Leif, I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you.” “Leif, you’re being too sensitive.”
I know. I KNOW. I seriously motherfucking know and have known since childhood when kids stopped hanging out with me because I cried too much.
When I was 18, I made a conscious decision to stop being a sensitive homebody. I was tired of identifying as a victim and being hurt over and over again. I changed my name to Leif, shaved my head, bought a pair of Timberlands, and tattooed insects all over my body. I learned how to drink without grimacing and how to smoke without choking. I was a badass homeless prostitute with a foul mouth and a pepper spray keychain.
I never really changed. I still tasted aluminum and felt my arms go numb and wanted to hide in a closet and cry or maybe die when my feelings were hurt. But I wouldn’t let it out. I couldn’t. I was Leif, the viking warrior. Leif, the drunken clown. Leif, the whatever you wanted me to be.
Here are a few things I know about myself that contradict how I’ve been living:
I don’t like being drunk. I don’t like getting high. I don’t like big crowds or parties. I don’t like going to concerts because I hate standing. I don’t like social climbing. I don’t like eating meat. I don’t like cities.
Sex scares me. Driving scares me. Men scare me. Darkness scares me. The media scares me. Women scare me. My feelings scare me.
I like writing. I like being alone. I like having my own room. I like my cat. I like falling asleep sober. I like cartoons. I like trees. I like staying in at night.
What about you? Are you doing anything that goes against who you truly are and how you really feel? It’s tough to face this shit because it requires a lot of undoing. Sometimes we don’t even know when we’re doing things that go against our core beliefs. I spent years overriding my truth. I mean, I told the factual truth, but I never really listened to my body. The body knows what’s up. Seriously, if you can befriend and start to listen to your body, you’re that much closer to personal freedom.
I’ve changed quite a few things since I started listening to my body. I’m vegetarian again. I go to the woods more often. I stay away from cities because they overwhelm my nervous system. I smoke fewer cigarettes. I don’t crave sex. I write more. I read more. I take more walks. I appreciate my cat more. I pay attention to little things, like shiny rocks in the driveway and dust on my dashboard and the state of my pink orchid. I have never been good at taking care of plants, but she is thriving.
And this brings me to the biggest and most controversial change I have made since starting to listen to my gut. Before I dive into more of my heretical viewpoints, I must reiterate (as usual) that I am not writing this to convince anyone of anything. You are totally welcome to disagree with me, but I will not engage in an argument with you. I am writing this for people who have similar concerns, fears, and internal debates. There are enough supporters of the following to tune out dissenters like me.
12-step programs are not my jam. I don’t believe in giving up my independence and turning my life over to God. I don’t believe in character defects and I certainly don’t believe that I can pray them away. Shit, I don’t even know if I believe in god. But I do believe that I’ve brainwashed myself into believing these things for long periods of time. And it worked for a while. You might have noticed in my last two posts that I was trying to commit to the program 100%. But now, just two months in, the doubts and concerns and frustrations have turned my remaining faith to shit.
(Again, if you’re reading this and want to yell at, correct, or insult me, please crack open a notebook and unleash your rantings on paper and not at me.)
Man, I just deleted and undeleted all of this. That’s how fucking scared I am of speaking out. I have tried to speak this truth in meetings and have repeatedly been silenced. I have been told that I’m just defiant, that I have a thinking problem, and that I need to let go and let God. When I ask questions, members tell me to, “keep coming back,” which is basically the 12-step way of saying “please shut the fuck up.”
The silencing feels wrong. It feels cult-ish. If the program is so strong, why can’t it tolerate dissent, questioning, or disbelief? Why is it widely assumed that not fully giving myself and my life over to the program will lead to my relapse and death? And why do people care so much about what I think? Is the foundation really that shaky?
I know drinking and drugging don’t work for me. I know that I have to stay sober if I want to lead a fulfilling life. I also know that something about 12-step programs feels really, really wrong to me.
Look, I love that this program works for people. I think it’s important for sober folks to be supported by fellow sober people with similar life goals. I need that, too. And I love some of the people that I’ve met in the rooms. I adore my former sponsor, I had an awesome sober boyfriend, and I have quite a few friends that are still working it. I love that “the program” is free, that it’s run by members, and that the ultimate goal is to help people, and I really don’t want to deter anyone from trying it for themselves. Unfortunately, I have tried multiple times and I still can’t shake the feeling that I’ve fallen into a well-intentioned cult and can’t get the fuck out.
I didn’t feel the same way in Minneapolis as I do in Arlington Heights. There are a few amazing folks here (especially one little lady who knows who she is), but I’ve also felt silenced, shunned, violated, and outcasted. I spent my first month of sobriety feeling like there was something wrong with me because I was taught that having problems with the program means I have problems with myself, that leaving the program means inevitable relapse, and that I’ll never make it if I don’t surrender my life to “the God of my understanding.” (And let’s be real — the BB is talking about a very specific God.)
It’s insane to believe that there’s only one way out of addiction. I don’t know shit about math, but I’m pretty sure that’s statistically impossible (which is easily proven by AA’s success rate).
My current abstinence program involves writing, music, nature, my cat, my friends, and a hell of a lot of reflection. It involves the dialectical approach to addiction, which holds abstinence as the priority but plans for and takes action against slips. Most importantly, it involves listening to my body. Last week, without the help of AA, I had an unnerving gut feeling about a relationship that I was able to end by my own free will. My intuition (which was silenced when I was using) holds a lot of the answers I’ve been looking for in the rooms.
My program revolves around being a better person by my own standards. It emphasizes embracing the positive parts of myself, rather than constantly reminding myself that I’m an untrustworthy piece of shit. My program has involved building a fort in my bedroom, signing up for a trauma therapy group, buying a stuffed animal at Toys R Us, creating a shrine on my dresser, watching cartoons, filling out DBT worksheets, applying to graduate school, playing games at a nickel arcade, calling supportive friends, walking through the woods, and attending a non-religious Unitarian church. My program is forever unfolding, shedding, arranging, and rearranging itself. That’s what works for me right now.
My road to recovery has been long and occasionally idiotic, but I’m finally starting to trust myself — my real self, not the heartless, self-destructive viking. Don’t get me wrong, though. There’s still a warrior in me, fighting her ass off for survival. The only difference is that her heart is big and beating steadily.
On a lighter note, here’s a conversation I just had with my brother: