My First Sober Heartbreak

By Amy Dresner 05/08/17

Didn’t he realize that nobody would ever love him the way I did? Was it because I was an addict? Didn’t he realize that it’s because I’m an addict that I love so hard?

Girl looking away sadly
Heartbreak is an odd hybrid of grief and rejection.

Heartbreaks have always taken me out. And I mean always. But surprisingly when this latest one hit and it’s been by far the worst, my first thought wasn’t “I wanna use” but the more terrifying, “I wanna die.” Ummm okay. Not good. But right behind it was the old standby, “I wanna use.” There it is! But guess what? I didn’t and I haven’t and I won’t.

I admit sitting on the couch, vaping and staring off into space while tears stream down your face and the Rolling Stones' Heartbreaker blasts in the background doesn’t have the dark destructive cool of taking long hearty swigs from a bottle of Jack or putting a needle in your arm while perched on the bed of some seedy hotel room. But I can’t afford to do that stuff anymore. So I did what “normal” people do: felt the pain and waded through every agonizing inch of it. And it sucked. I’m not gonna lie. It totally blew.

I took long hot showers where I would just rest my head on the cool tile and try to pretend it wasn’t real. I would cry like a small child in my bedroom, the neighbors surely hearing me wail through the thin 30’s Deco walls. I would get on my knees and pray “Please God, bring him back to me” which morphed, as the days went on, into “Please God, keep me sober.” I bought a love candle from the witchcraft store to harness the powers that be and make him change his mind. (That’s right, fuck acceptance. I wanted MY will. And spoiler alert: it did not work.) I lost a lot of weight, too much weight. I got down to 112 pounds, a number I haven’t seen on the scale since my anorexia days 20 years ago. And because of the weight loss and the stress, my period disappeared. It said “Sayonara bitch. Enjoy your mustache!” And when I wasn’t crying, I was sleeping…at least 13 hours a night and waking up drenched in sweat. Sure, I called my sponsor and I called my girlfriends. I went to meetings where I cried so much that people got up to get me napkins. And I’ll tell you, it is only in AA meetings that you can bawl your face off in front of a roomful of strangers and nobody thinks twice. I’ve tried it at the bank and believe me, it doesn’t go down so well. I even tried to go on a coffee date with someone new but I wept the whole way through. He was not charmed.

Heartbreak is an odd hybrid of grief and rejection, making for this unique brew of sadness, punctuated by rage and then finally settling into a sort of a dull melancholy, a numb depression. It’s almost worse than a death because with a death you know they aren’t coming back. But with a break up, you always wonder if they’ll come to their senses and come crawling back, roses in hand, apology in mouth.

And the worst part of a heartbreak is that nothing can fix it but time. And I’m an addict so I hate waiting. I need to feel better now. Really. And I’m absolutely convinced that the way I’m currently feeling is the way I’ll feel forever. I mean anything is bearable if you know its temporary. But exquisite heartbreak feels a life sentence with bad food, no good drugs and shitty books to read.

I’d lie in the bed night after night, tears streaming down my face, staring at the dark ceiling. The bed felt too big. I’d line pillows up so it felt like he, or anybody, was holding me. Nighttime was so quiet and lonely that all I could hear was the screeching of tires as cars pulled into the nearby parking lot and the sound of my own erratically beating heart. Sleep, I would tell myself. But then suddenly flashes of him holding my face, stroking my hair, kissing me. And then hours of tossing and turning and the haunting montage of the sweet moments of the relationship: laughing, feeding each other, holding hands as we slept.

I alternately felt like my heart was falling out of my body and then as if somebody had skewered it with an ice pick. (And researchers have actually found that there is an overlap in the brain between emotional pain and physical pain so no, I’m not being a melodramatic asshole although I admit it is one of my strong suits.) Didn’t he realize that nobody would ever love him the way I did? Was it because I was an addict? Was he afraid of my darkness? Didn’t he realize that it’s because I’m an addict that I love so fucking hard?

I wanted to rage on him, send a flurry of evil silver tongued texts. My sponsor, Jay Westbrook, knowing me as well as he does, said, “Honey if you do that you’re going to have to make amends to him later. And if you’re unwilling to do that, you can find another sponsor.” Oooh. I seriously doubt he would have made good on the threat but it worked. I did not rage. I was a lady. Nice. Probably too nice. But I don’t have one amends to make. I was…get this…an adult. And that’s a fucking first.

But nothing can prepare you for that moment when you come home to the empty closet. I just felt gutted. Naked skeletal hangers dangling there, lonely. A week later I found a random pair of his underwear and socks as I was doing laundry. Do I cry into them? Sniff them like a stalker? Save them in case he comes back? Make a small voodoo doll from them?

I honestly felt too depressed to use if that makes any sense. I couldn’t garner the energy to figure out where to score (I’ve been out of the loop a long time), where to get needles. I felt too depressed to do anything: watch TV, write, eat. “Watch Feud,” a friend said, “it will distract you.” Oh I can’t be distracted from my debilitating depression, don’t you know? I must coddle it and nurse it and give it all my attention.

Friends offered up all types of unasked for advice: “A new beginning. How exciting!” “You made him your higher power.” “This is a blessing in disguise.” “Lots of people break up before they get married.” “You deserve better.” Shut up, I wanted to say. I don’t want better. I want him.

There was one day when using seemed particularly appealing because the pain was just so great. I needed the grief and sadness to stop, if just for a minute. I didn’t think my tiny bony body or aching soul could take one more second. I felt like somebody had chopped off my arm and I was lying there, bleeding out while people told me to “pull it together!” I wanted to feel numb. But at 47 years old with annoyingly active epilepsy and a beautifully enlarged liver, using could realistically kill me. This feeling of heartbreak, despite its furor, would not. And using wasn’t going to bring him back. In fact, it would push him further away. My self-destructiveness had always been particularly terrifying to him and he made it clear that if I relapsed, there was absolutely no chance of a reconciliation. But that’s not why I didn’t pick up. I didn’t use because I’ve done it so many times and it never ever helped. Plus what a joke. Write an addiction memoir with a stunning story of recovery and redemption and eat shit before publication? Nah, I refused to be that person, to do that to my agent, publishers, readers. And thankfully, when you’re a writer, everything is material. So maybe I had just stumbled upon the beginning of my second book. Only time will tell and unfortunately, only time will heal. Time, the addict’s nemesis….

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