Anyone Else Almost Drink November 8th? Me Too.

By Bridget Phetasy 11/12/16

Emotional maturity is tested when I DON’T GET WHAT I WANT—not when everything is going great.

Donald Trump in front of an American flag
Life is teaching me what I need to know... even now.

I’ve already written about how challenging this election season has been and I’ll be honest, the night of November 8th was the closest I’ve come to drinking in over three years of sobriety.

As an alcoholic, I’ll look for any excuse to drink and many would have forgiven my slip on a night as emotionally charged as election night 2016. Looking back, I started laying the groundwork for a relapse days before, as I expressed to anyone who would listen that it felt like the eve before an epic battle between good and evil. “This is some Lord of the Rings shit,” I said to my yoga instructor. Yes, because creating the narrative that if things don’t go my way it could quite possibly be the end of the world is SUPER healthy for an alcoholic.

And honestly, who am I kidding? In my Lord of the Rings analogy, I’m not one of the good guys like Samwise or a valiant warrior like Aragorn. I’m Gollum—and all that consumes my focus, no matter what battle is playing out around me, is “my precious.” Or in my case, drugs and alcohol.

As it became clear my side was losing, all I could think about was how badly I wished I could be numbing myself. As the women on my couch sunk lower and lower into their seats, panicking, crying, shocked—all I could think was, “Tequila shots sound great right about now. Or ten.” It felt like 9/11 all over again and for the record, I spent the entire Bush administration and post-9/11 decade high, drunk, or preferably blacked out. Like so many alcoholics, I didn’t drink to loosen up or relax; I drank to get out of my head. To be free of the incessant chatter. To avoid whatever uncomfortable reality I didn’t want to face.

But for better or worse, I’m sober and I no longer have the option of smoking the feelings away (even though it’s legal in California now) or drinking them away, or retreating into a permanent blackout or smoking myself into a psychosis, or ODing on heroin. I needed to sit there and face what was happening head on. 

I moved through six of the seven stages of grief in an hour. It wasn’t pretty.

Shock: Holy shit. This is happening in real time. A shot will snap me out of it. (Although to be honest, I wasn’t shocked so much as disappointed. I’ve been mentally preparing for this reality since last year as a form of self-protection.) 

Denial: There must be some mistake. This is a dream, an alternate reality. If it’s an alternate reality, I can definitely have a beer right now. I’m not an alcoholic, I just had a rough patch. I can totally drink like a normal person. Three years is a good run.

Anger: First my anger manifested as displacement; I lashed out at my roommate for being from Texas, yelled at my dog for pacing and said things like, “Must be nice to be able to smoke weed right about now!!!” and “WHY DID I QUIT DRINKING THREE YEARS BEFORE AN ELECTION THIS IS BULLSHIT.” Then I wanted someone to blame; I wanted to drink at people, places and things: the president-elect, the media, the establishment and the Hollywood elite.

Bargaining: If only I didn’t get sick the day I was supposed to canvass in Nevada. Maybe I made too many jokes about it on Twitter. Maybe if I start drinking again, it will change the results. I’m just gonna drink tonight and start my sobriety fresh again tomorrow.

Depression: Nothing matters. Everything is awful. Humanity is doomed. We are pieces of shit and we deserve everything we get. What’s the point of trying to do anything good? This was the moment I came closest to, walking down the street to the nearest bar and ordering 10 shots, my dark night of the soul. I sulked. I pouted. I took the election personally. I withdrew into self-centeredness and threw myself a pity party in the corner of the room. All I could think of was how delicious a scotch would taste.

Testing: I threatened everyone in the room and also via text and phone. I told them I was going to drink and they couldn’t stop me. “There is no way I’m gonna be sober through the next four years.”

I was behaving like a petulant child and I didn’t care. All of my character defects boiled to the surface. Resentments were piling up faster than I could label them. Justifiable anger fueled my arrogance. Fear blinded my faith. My wise friends told me it wasn’t worth raising my hand as a newcomer. My mentor called me out. “It sounds like you’re in a lot of self-pity. Just don’t drink tonight. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

His harsh words were the slap across the face I needed; cold water flooded my spin cycle. I realized I needed to move into acceptance as quickly as possible because I’m an alcoholic. I don’t have the luxury of reacting online or off. As much as I’d love to, I don’t get to retreat into self-pity, righteous anger or a post 9/11-like ball on my couch because if I do—I’ll definitely drink and I’ll probably kill myself, whether it’s slowly or quickly.

Luckily, after three years of practice, I have smart feet. By 10:30 p.m. I was done with the news cycle and in a diner with a friend sharing our experience, strength and hope with each other. The next morning I was in a meditation meeting and the love and unity everyone shared was inspiring. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world, we are all united by one thing: alcoholism. A woman said, “I realize many of you are struggling and some of you might be happy—YOU ARE ALL WELCOME.”

I let myself feel the feelings, but I didn’t indulge them. I reached out to people to make sure they were okay. I got back to work. I did the opposite of literally everything I wanted to do and it felt great. By the end of the day I felt at peace.

Yesterday, after too many hours online, I found myself feeling guilty for not feeling more outraged. “You don’t get to feel that way, Bridget,” my friend said. “Be okay with being tranquil. You’re an alcoholic; you can’t get carried away with emotional hysteria because it means death for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t take action, or protest, or fight for what you believe in—but you have to do it with love in your heart. You have to come from a place of serenity because allowing yourself to fall down a rabbit hole of negativity is dangerous. Trust you’re exactly where you should be. On your couch. Feeling calm.”

The German poet Rilke said, “Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.” Life is teaching me exactly what I need to know. I just need to trust that—even if I don’t like the lessons.

My emotional maturity is tested when I DON’T GET WHAT I WANT. The strength of my program and my recovery is revealed when things don’t go my way, NOT when everything is going great. I can use this as an opportunity to expand my empathy, open my heart and my mind, increase my compassion and faith, or I can shut down in bitterness. This is where the rubber meets the road. I realized I could look at this as the end of the world or view it as a free four-year membership to the spiritual fitness gym. Today, I choose to shore up my spiritual defenses for the next battle—not between good and evil, that battle is always going on—but the real battle against my inner Gollum, always searching for his “precious.”

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