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I could have had twelve years sober today.
I tried many times to get sober. I tried rehab. I tried stopping cold turkey. I tried a geographical change. I tried public shaming. I tried meetings. I tried counseling. I tried scaring myself by how low I’d sunk the night before. I tried hypnosis. I tried being too broke. I tried being too sick, too thin, too strung out, too fucked up. I tried.
So when I did get sober, there was initially no way for me to know this time was different. It was October 1st, 2006. I was strung out on methamphetamine. At first I slept. Then I ate. Then I threw up everything I’d just eaten. Without the meth in my body, I was reunited with my BFF for the past six years: bulimia.
Bulimia brought me to my knees and stole away all the joy I found in living. Bulimia ravaged me physically, mentally, socially, and financially. Bulimia stole high school and college from me. Bulimia can fucking suck it.
When I got sober I was desperate. I was at the end of my line and I was choosing between being a homeless tweaker or getting sober. I could not see an in between, and one hadn’t been presented to me. I had primarily been exposed to AA rhetoric, and I was ready for better.
This is the part where I tell you I’d just met my husband. This is the part where it sounds like he swooped in and saved me, but really life planted us in each other’s paths and we somehow came together to mutually benefit each other. Yeah, I was a bulimic meth addict at the time, and I was honest about it, so while the scales may forever appear tipped in his favor, he knew what he was getting into. He chose me. He chose this.
I met Tony at Subway. I worked there and hated my life because, at twenty-one, I felt stalled assistant managing a fast food chain and taking occasional college classes on the side. I couldn’t see my future. I couldn’t see how I’d get myself out of the mess I was in. I couldn’t see what good could possibly come from my predicament.
And then one day there’s a guy asking for my number. So I gave it to him.
But I never answered my phone when he called.
He came back.
I suggested we go out on a date. He took me out. By the end of the date I was calling my mom and telling her I might have found the man I was going to marry.
Only my therapist and recent ex-best friend knew how bad my life was. Until Tony was plopped into the middle of it. Suddenly there was someone who cared about me, up front and center in my life. His presence made all the difference.
Maybe anyone who loved me could have swept in. Maybe it had to be him, had to be there and then, had to happen exactly like it did.
I was off of meth on July 11th, 2006 when I went on my first day with Tony. In fact, I was off of meth for that whole month. But I relapsed in August. I relapsed and it was ugly. Luckily I still had my apartment at the time, so I had space for self-destruction. I relapsed off and on for two months. Two months of paranoia. Two months of skin picking. Two months of rolling in at 3am expecting company. Two months of running with a bad crowd. Two months of wondering if this will last, this relationship, this person, this hope.
I knew I needed treatment. So I got assessed at a local treatment center exclusively for women. They recommended inpatient, but also said I needed three days off of meth before I could come. This seemed a preposterous proposition. If I could go without drugs, specifically THAT drug, don’t you think I would have? I would learn later on this was not a hard and fast rule, more of a cover-their-ass guideline, but I listened. Even as an addict, I was a rule follower.
I never meant to move in with Tony. I meant to go to treatment. I meant to leave my stuff in his spare room and figure out what to do with my life when I got out and could (hopefully) think straight again.
Tony and I were nervous about me leaving, about being separated, about what would happen with my bulimia when I checked in. We weren’t sure I wasn’t pregnant and I bought a Costco 3-pack of pregnancy tests. The first came back negative.
We never showed up for inpatient. Somehow we just couldn’t do it so we no showed. Likely not an uncommon occurrence in the treatment world, but a monumental failing on my part. I called back the next week and asked to be allowed into outpatient. They were hesitant because that was not the level of care my assessment called for but I begged and cajoled. I was told I could try outpatient but one slip would land me in residential. It was exactly what I needed to hear. The hint that I couldn’t succeed. The challenge inherent within that.
I was determined.
I stayed off meth while I waited for my first day. I may have drank a bit and took some pills I got a hold of, but no meth. I still counted October 1st as my sober date.
I binged and purged my way through the days, eating shameful amounts of food and letting my debilitating eating disorder hang out for Tony to see and experience. He was practically a saint about it. Even when I stole his credit card to buy food.
I started treatment in the middle of October of 2006. One week later I gave zero fucks while opening a bottle of champagne we had in the back of the fridge and running a bath. The champagne tasted off and I came across those extra pregnancy tests. I still hadn’t had a period — it had been months — so I decided to take one again.
It was positive.
I stopped drinking. I can’t remember if I ever took the bath or not. I didn’t panic. I felt hopeful. My life had purpose. Direction. It was a huge weight and a simultaneous freeing. I never questioned if Tony would stay, or be happy. I never doubted his commitment once.
I found out I was pregnant and my whole life changed. Suddenly there was a life growing inside me. Suddenly there were two other people in this world who mattered and who I mattered to. Suddenly I had a reason to stay sober, to go through the dreaded re-feeding process and learn to eat again. Suddenly, at twenty-two years old, I was going to be a mom. I was going to have a family.
And that was when I knew this was my shot at sobriety. Staying sober through pregnancy was infinitely easier than staying sober has been at any other time in my life. And then I had a baby. I had a day-to-day, minute-to-minute, reason to stay the course.
Being pregnant allowed me to get on state health insurance. Overnight I had access to care. It took me until my third trimester to go a day without throwing up. And then I went a week, and a month. By the time Ali was born, bingeing and purging was behind me as well.
I stayed sober for nearly six years.
Sobriety was hard and wonderful. I cried myself to sleep feeling left out and I made steady, amazing, progress toward every goal I’d ever had. Both of those are true.
When I celebrated five years sober, I wrote a series on addiction where I named sobriety a “long-term disability”. That’s what sobriety felt like sometimes in my twenties. But, you know what, I think a lot of aspects of ourselves feel like that in our twenties. I see sobriety show up in different ways at different ages. And I hate when one way/age/race/gender/body/experience gets held up as the one for all to emulate.
In my six years sober I got engaged, had a baby, moved to the Oregon Coast, attended community college, settled a malpractice lawsuit against a former treatment provider, moved home to Portland, graduated with my Associates Degree, begin working in the domestic violence field, got married, bought a house, had another baby, got a job working for the county, and graduated with my Bachelor’s in Social Work.
I grew non-stop for six years. I worked non-stop for six years. I became someone in six years. I built a life.
And there I was. Twenty-seven years old and unwilling to be The Sober Girl at work. With an upcoming conference I could dodge Happy Hours — and the jokes about them, and the constant references to them and the expectation that all are interested, and the assumed inherent inclusivity — no longer.
I drank two margaritas with my best friend before a Fiona Apple concert. I drank first hesitantly, then with somewhat abandon, at the conference. I drank secretly at home.
I had to tell Tony.
Telling Tony I had started drinking again was one of the worst conversations of my life. He was so mad at me. I struggled to articulate a reason why. I could only assure him: it was okay. I was okay. Nothing had changed.
But it had.
I belonged now. I fit in.
Maybe I got sober too early. Maybe I hadn’t worked it all out of my system yet, or maybe I needed a more adult experience to fit my new adult life and acquired persona.
I drank for four years before I tried to stop again. Four years is how long I held onto it, how badly I wanted it, how much I felt like I deserved it. Four years before I let myself try life again without.
I could have had twelve years sober today. I don’t. I don’t even have a day sober. I haven’t had a drink in six-and-a-half months. But I still use marijuana. So I don’t call myself sober. Though I do pronounce being in recovery.
It’s a fine line to walk, this not-a-drinker-but-not-sober chasm I fall into. I suspect I’m not alone. I suspect there are more like me out there than there are platforms for us to jump upon and speak our truths.
I wonder what might life might be like if I had over a decade of sobriety under my belt. Maybe it could have gotten even better. Maybe I could have avoided some hurt and heartache. Maybe I’ll never have five years sober again. Maybe a lot of things.
Maybe I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t relapsed, stumbled, struggled, and gotten myself back up again. Maybe it really, really is all about the return.
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