Finding the Joy We Used to Have
I remember there was morning light streaming through the window the morning I started my journey with sobriety, and the room was full of an eerie glow that made it feel like time was standing still, or like it was dawn and dusk all at the same time. I was cold and sweating and shaking, and I recall a lot of pain, but mostly what weighed on me was the fear. In times like that, it seems like there is no hope: you feel as though you have slipped between the cracks while the rest of the world moves on. You wonder if you will ever get out, or if you’ll be able to catch up should you succeed.
That is a terrifying thought and one that often burdened me during that time in my life. I let it get the better of me, and worst of all, I allowed my fear to control me. Fear, I would learn, was the ultimate enemy. It kept me from living, it led me to drink, and then it held me in its grasp while I languished in solitude.
My path to sobriety was not a conventional one, nor was I ever likely to have taken that route. I have never been much of a conventional person. I had just turned 22 and was attending college, and I had been drinking hard for 4 years straight. I was young to be an alcoholic, but all the signs were present and clearly known to myself and those around me: I developed an impressive tolerance, prioritized drinking above all else, would routinely black out, suffered from serious withdrawal, and was generally not at the helm of my own life. Even at a school famous for its drinking culture, I was known as “that guy”. But as time went on, I went from being the fun drunk to being the lush passed out on the couch at 8 PM — an hour before the party even starts — and that’s not a good look for anyone.
Toward the end, I drank constantly, ate little, and vomited often, and as a result developed a bleeding tear in my stomach, a swollen liver, and a multitude of major nutritional deficiencies, among other issues. I was a wreck, generally looked it, and struggled to keep up with the events of my day-to-day life once those problems took center stage. I was regularly canceling, rescheduling, disappearing, and failing at things important to me. I let down everyone in my life and retreated into seclusion more and more.
When my failing health caught up with me, I was hospitalized and ended up in a brief inpatient detox at a local hospital while I was supposed to be studying for my finals. I was forced to make a break from the life I knew.
I was failing my classes anyway, and my interest in my academics had waned to near non-existence due to factors beyond my alcoholism. Everything in my life had come to a halt, and I desperately wanted another shot. So I dropped out with only a few classes left to go, moved away to a town where no one knew me, and started over at life. Even at the time, I knew that I couldn’t run away from my previous existence and expect it not to follow me eventually, but I felt that I needed a new world to look at, both literally and figuratively.
I found a good job (better than I thought I deserved), rented a little cottage in a quiet, run-down neighborhood, and began the life I thought I had started when I left for new pastures nearly 5 years prior. I quickly discovered what a crutch alcohol had been for me, and how it had stunted my personal growth by allowing me to hide from reality behind the curtain of intoxication. I was not ready for life as I knew it, and this hit me deeply as a person who always desired to see himself as the culmination of his ideas. Over time I would come to learn that it’s essential to be able to accept yourself as a work in progress. We are imperfect, flawed beings, but the incongruity that we manage to embrace can allow us to draw inspiration in order to grow.
For a long time, I was frustrated, lonely, and confused with life. I relapsed several times; I felt cheated by alcohol and devastated in sobriety; I felt like suddenly the identity I had forged for myself was gone. Upending my life and beginning anew was not as seamless as planned. I was forced to become a different person in order to keep my addiction from slowly taking my life, but for too long I sensed that the only way to do this was to start from scratch, instead of rekindling the values and ideals that had sculpted me before I was a drunk. Therein I found a place where I could still be bright-eyed and idealistic, and wonder at the world around me. There was a land I had seen which was perfect: a life in which I was confident, happy, and on the adventure of a lifetime.
For the first time in many years, I began to feel that I had that life within reach. It was as though I had been given the unique gift of sobriety when my life had been destined for nothingness. My train was headed for the end of the line but for some reason, I had the knowledge, will, or sheer luck to get off at the first stop. To not embrace the fullest life the universe might offer me seemed absurd. I allowed love and beauty to flow into my life, and put aside my pain and my strife. From then on, I never felt like taking a drink again.