The Most Important Person in the Room

By Rebecca Rush 10/08/18

There’s no need to worry about my career, or lack of intimate relationships, or future, or even quitting nicotine. I’m taking it easy, I’m in my first year of sobriety.

Woman lying in bed looking depressed, head in hands.
I’ve never been sober long enough to date, to move, to make any major life changes within the constraints of the program’s suggestions.

Every time I relapse I forget I am not God.

I am no longer able to allow the darkness to bloom into the grand external circumstances I once did; when it does, while the bigger picture slowly darkens, there's a life constantly poised to begin.

I think that continuous sobriety is boring; I must, based on the evidence of my own life, of my own lies.

Imagine this: You are playing soccer. You’re on defense, almost as far away from the goal as you can get but you take the ball from the other team, all the way through their offensive and then defensive line with intense speed. You’re in front of the goal now, with a wide open shot. You flub the kick. The ball rolls just a foot. The goalie grabs it. It was all for nothing. This is how I played soccer. 

Imagine the beginning of the semester: You love beginnings and showing what you are capable of, so you get A’s and read everything for the first month or two. Then you lose interest, get bored maybe, stop paying attention. You let your grades dip until it gets scary, until a note gets sent home. And then you have to work your ass off to get back to maybe a B+ final grade. If you really pull it off you might get an A-. That is what kind of student I was. 

It seems like I need others and myself to know that I am capable, but also that I can’t be counted on. I want you to know that I can win, but I won’t. I don’t want to be expected to. It’s been almost ten years since my first attempt at recovery. I’ve never been sober long enough to date, to move, to make any major life changes within the constraints of the program’s suggestions.

I’m addicted to each part of the cycle - the descent into not giving a fuck, the bloody climb from the pyre of my own making. As I get too close or move too fast towards what I want, the part of me that knows I am not worthy of it, the part that's sure I don’t want the responsibility of a better life screws me. There’s a lot of fragmentation.

When we—and by "we" I mean my perception of you and the culture-at-large—when we look at a chronic relapser, our tendency is to look at the drug as the thing they can’t let go of - and it is, mostly. For those of us who know what the other side can hold and yet continue to throw the ships of ourselves against the rocks, chasing siren songs, the guilt and shame only add fuel to the orgiastic pull of destruction. 

Shame is our primary emotion and perhaps our greatest addiction.

I recall every slide toward rock bottom I created, every flail out, the night spent hurling my body into the door of the drunk tank with piss-soaked pants, finally settling down to bite off each fingernail and howl. And I remember what comes after; being so broken I would allow help, would allow others to love me; how my father would prove he cared by letting me use a lawyer from his firm for my DUI case, how a nice lady from a meeting paid my October rent, how friends brought me to look for a job. 

I get a new boyfriend, a new job, everything working out until I find myself moving down the mountain too fast, and, turning the tips of my skis inward to slow down, I fall.

And when I come back to recovery, it’s the same. Just a few people to believe that this time’s different. The climb feels like springtime, that’s why I make sure to do one at least every spring. In fact, looking back over the data, a bottom out in winter followed by a good 4-6 month sober stretch is my usual.

I won’t take AA seriously until I have nothing else left and nobody left to talk to. Or at least, that's how it used to be. Now it’s more of an internal emptiness, as the fear mounts that I may not get another shot to take the ball all the way up the field. Until I start to feel better, until my life starts to get bigger, until I’m in front of the goal again. I choke, over and over and over, and I climb back out, over and over and over. I raise my hand: “I have two days back,” and I get the applause, again and again. I’m the most important person in the room.

There’s a sense that I will always be on the verge, never quite crossing the line into success. I want more, or do I? The cycle is a familiar distraction.

There’s no need to worry about my career, or lack of intimate relationships, or future, or even quitting nicotine. I’m taking it easy, I’m in my first year of sobriety. And there’s always new people.

I almost believe it. 

This is the place where I used to blame my abusive mother, and believe me, I would really like to. She loved nothing more than to break me so that she could comfort my brokenness. But I’m an adult now. Once I was a victim, now I am a volunteer; now I have internalized my abuser. I have some of her weapons, and some I have added. I do it when I talk to myself, when I won’t get out of bed, when I couldn’t finish this article for a month.

And at the same time I have a picture of three-year-old me, my inner child, and ten-year-old me, my outer child, on my refrigerator. I talk to them, too. I tell them they are good enough, worthy of love and happiness and all the things the rest of the world seems able to allow themselves to have. I hope that one day we’ll all believe it. 

What if life on the other side of a year of continuous sobriety isn’t beyond my wildest dreams? No need to worry about that, I’ll probably never get there. My promise is an unopened present, though I have shaken the box more than a few times. Now, it's possibly rotting.

How do I change? When does my sobriety and not my ego, not my love of a pattern repeating, become the most important person in the room? Will this time be different? Every time is. Will it be different in the way that I need it to be? I don’t know. 

If the first step is honesty, these words are my only hope. These are the thoughts I keep in the shadows, the patterns with which I choose to keep myself trapped, the self-victimization through which I am still waiting to awaken, still waiting to let down my golden hair for some knucklehead prince to save me.

What if I could climb past the first plateau of growth in recovery and keep climbing? What if I could continue to work on sobriety on the days I don’t feel like I need it? What if I could stop wanting to be something and start working on becoming it? 

Every time I come back, I remember that I am not God. That I don’t have to do it on my own, that nobody really cares if I’m happy besides me.

I would say wish me luck, but I’ve had so much of that. Wish me consistency over time. Wish me willingness. I am tossed by the waves yet I do not sink; I have proven that. Wish me, to stay.

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Rebecca Rush is a stand up comic, writer, and constantly evolving human. Former horse girl. Witch. Bylines include Fodor’s Travel,, The New Haven Advocate, Big City, Lit, and the Miami New Times. She was on the Viceland show Slutever 03/17/2019. Her podcast is called Comic’s Book Club, and features a comic or author talking about a different book every week (also available on iTunes and Spotify). She has performed at clubs, colleges, and dive bars across the country. Upcoming dates can be found on her website, You’re also welcome to follow her on Twitter and Insta. She lives in West Hollywood with her little dog. Friend of Bill W.

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