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Crazy in Love

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By Taylor Ellsworth

09/16/12

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When I would call my sponsor, grand sponsor, or any woman in AA and tell her that I couldn’t stop crying because my boyfriend left to hang out with his friends and I was afraid he would leave me for freaking out about it but I couldn’t stop and I felt like my mind was slowly eating away at my soul and I wanted to fucking disappear, I was usually told to simply pray about my feelings. Nobody in AA is qualified to give psychological advice; sponsors are there to tell us what they’ve done to stay sober and nothing more, which is why none of the women I confided in knew what to say. They gave suggestions of the most general variety, and when I followed them to no avail, I felt like I was failing at AA. In meetings, people refer to themselves as “crazy” or “insane” without the steps; I assumed I was just another one of these people and I couldn’t understand why the program wasn’t making life livable anymore. I don’t remember when Chris began encouraging me to find a therapist but I know he was one of the only people to do so. In the rooms, they call it “seeking outside help” but because mental disorders and other addictions are considered outside issues, I don’t think it’s always obvious to alcoholics that they’re suffering from depression, anxiety and myriad other addictions and issues. I am, without a doubt, one of these people but because I came into the rooms at such a young and impressionable age and was taught as a child not to trust my own feelings by my addict parents, I soaked up the idea that the 12 steps are the ultimate solution. When it came time to find a therapist, the idea filled me with exhaustion. But I did it, with the help of the boyfriend that I never believed I deserved.

Therapy changed everything. My counselor was incredibly perceptive and kind. She taught me within a few sessions that the debilitating anxiety I was feeling was the residual effect of the loss of an emotionally present mother. I had never experienced so deeply the fear of being abandoned prior to my relationship with Chris because, in my addiction, I diligently kept people at arms’ length, never giving anyone except the bottle the power to hurt me. In sobriety, finally letting someone all the way in activated an impulse to assume the worst about absolutely everything in order to somehow predict or prevent any future losses. In addition to sorting out the emotional web that had little to do with my alcoholism, my therapist determined that I needed some neurochemical balance and I began taking a mood stabilizer. In a matter of months, it was as if I had taken off a pair of thick sunglasses that had been darkening everything I could see. The excruciating, endless hours of lying in bed, smearing mascara all over my boyfriend’s pillow were, for the most part, over. For the first time I could remember, I was able to take things at face value. Chris could tell me I had a stain on my shirt and I wouldn’t even begin to think he was subliminally informing me that he was no longer attracted to me. As time went on, I found an entirely new level of freedom.

I’ve been forced to go head to head with the most gruesome parts of myself and come out the other side a stronger woman, rather than taking a left turn at the sight of pain and pouring some rum down my throat. 

If I were still drinking, I seriously doubt I would’ve ever allowed anyone to get close enough to allow my deep-rooted abandonment issues to surface as they did, and sometimes still do, in my relationship with Chris. If I had somehow met him out there in my drunken Adderall haze, I would have attempted to get him to cheat on the girlfriend that came before me, painting a picture of myself as a slutty party girl and probably ruining any chance at something real. Truth be told, Chris and I have gotten lucky. At an age when most people spend their weekends having anonymous drunken sex, and in a community where sex and people are often treated like just another drug, we’ve found something much more meaningful. I’ve been forced to go head to head with the most gruesome parts of myself and come out the other side a stronger woman, rather than taking a left turn at the sight of pain and pouring some rum down my throat. Some AA’s say that nothing reveals our character defects like becoming romantically involved with another alcoholic, as if it’s a negative thing, but I’d rather believe that nothing teaches us more about ourselves than giving another human being the power to break us.

Taylor Ellsworth writes from Portland, Oregon. She also wrote about getting fired by a sponsee and managing her eating disorder, among many other topics, for The Fix. Follow her on Twitter here.

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