The so-called "civilians" outside of 12-step culture have similar problems and solutions; in fact we're no different from struggling addicts.
Ever since my miserable teenage life started, I have been a drinker, a smoker, and taken some recreational drugs—starting with paint thinner when I was 13. I enjoy having sex and I've never disliked gambling. But though at one point I drank heavily and my father is an alcoholic, I was lucky enough not to be addicted or have a severe attachment to any of these habits.
But there is one thing I cannot quit. That is my anxiety.
I was physically and verbally abused as a child. Growing up my mother judged every single thing about me negatively. I was too short, too thin, my complexion was too dark. I was too ugly. I never ate much (another addiction I don't have) and every time I brought my lunch back from school, my mother would yell at me for not finishing it, and then force me to eat it. She divorced my father when I was 12, and started working three jobs, from 5:30am to 1am every day. So I was promoted to cooking the family meal.
My heart beating so loud and fast, tips of my fingers getting cold and numb and I can feel like I am the worst human being in the world. This is exactly what I felt when I was a kid.
I had to be home from school by five o'clock, with the food bought so I that I could be done cooking dinner by six o'clock. She never really taught me how to cook, so I taught myself. My mother would yell at me for being slow, and for not cooking everything at the same time. She yelled at me for making food that was too salty or sweet—then forced me to eat whatever she didn't like. Of course this made me feel inadequate, stupid and frightened so I learned how to cook three things at a time; I became a super multi-tasker, which became useful later in life when I would be dashing from my restaurant job to auditions. But at 12 years old it was not so fun.
One day my mother found out that the day before I had skipped school and smoked a few cigarettes with friends. She picked me up at school, brought me home and beat me very badly. Ever since I have been very afraid of people and I constantly feel that people are criticizing me, saying bad things behind my back and getting ready to hit me.
I am an actress (struggling!). It’s a competitive world. Many times when I go to auditions casting directors become my mother. I feel like they are watching me and waiting to say how bad and stupid I am. Once in a while I get a panic attack and can’t even remember a single line in the script. Logically I know they are not my mother but it’s just automatic. I initially wanted to be a dancer but I was too insecure to pass auditions. I became more and more depressed and suicidal.
I didn’t want to admit it but finally—like my addict friends—I had to ask for help. So I started going to see a therapist. First I saw a Japanese social worker who saw me on a sliding scale but after few months she left the facility. They switched me to a different social worker who was also Japanese. She was quite sweet. But a few months later she also announced that she was leaving. I felt so abandoned and asked them to refer me to someone who wouldn't leave after a few months, and perhaps someone who spoke English.
I have been seeing my current therapist for over nine years now. It was, and still is, hard to trust her. Sometimes her suggestions are so simple it makes me angry—if I could just take her advice then I wouldn’t have to come and see her. But over the years I realized that I was the one who really had to open up and start talking about what’s going on inside. I think I just became more comfortable talking about myself in the past few months.
When I was feeling quite depressed, she suggested I take a medication. I got very angry. I DON’T NEED MEDICATION! I am very resistant to take psychotic medication, but when I saw a regular doctor for a check-up once a few years ago, he prescribed me Zoloft. It made me feel sort of alright but I didn't like that the feeling was created by a chemical. I took them until I finished the prescription but never refilled it.
I constantly talk about this anxiety issue with my therapist and I've begun to realize that I've become comfortable feeling this way. It is as if without this constant feeling I wouldn't exist—my heart beating so loud and fast, the tips of my fingers getting cold and numb, and I can feel like I am the worst human being in the world. This is exactly what I felt when I was a kid.
I have been taking this acting class for the last 12 years. The same problems have come been pointed out over and over by my teacher in relation to acting which is connected to my life issue. Some of the problems have gotten better but I still struggle from the sense of being an underdog when I work in front of people. As much as I hate it, I am definitely addicted to the 'nobody loves me' pit of despair.
I came across with various types of people in the class—some crazy, some timid, many just invisible. I also come across a lot of people who go to AA and NA meetings. I admire some of them, but others never seem to change themselves or try to see the core of their problems. I wonder how many of them go to see a therapist in addition to the meetings. One person in particular doesn’t seem like he wants any improvement—he craves people’s attention so much but as soon as he thinks he cannot take advantage of someone, they became invisible to him. AA also became a networking place for him to hang out with famous people but that doesn’t seem to have worked out.
Of course I had to work on a scene with this man. During a rehearsal he said to me, "You and me, we are the same people." I didn’t understand him and I was highly offended—because I am clean, I’m not an addict. Later on, I kept thinking about it and I realized we are both addicted to failure.
The best example of failure in my life is at the casting call and audition process. Dozens of men and women cram together in a small studio space, holding their head-shots and resumes. A lot of us know each other from acting classes and past auditions. We file into to a room, one by one, and leave with fake smiles or heads hung low. The odds of getting the part are more distant than winning the lottery. There is the occasional ecstasy of booking a job, the thrill of being in a production. But more often the casting director offers a polite word and you know the job is for someone else. But every single time I go through this process, for over a decade now, I get a sudden surge of excited drama. And weirdly enough I feel aroused.
I don't want to continue living this way, and I am not willing to take medication. So what am I to do? I find freedom in my acting but I've found I needed more. I recently started to run, and I've just completed two four-mile races. That took the edge off and I found a little more of my competitive streak. I started to meditate twice a day. I've opened up more to my therapist. I started taking ballet classes every week. Everything suddenly feels like it might have been worthwhile, like it's all heading somewhere. Perhaps all of this work will even push me to become more confident and competitive in the acting world.
Brie Daniels is pseudonym for an actress in New York.