I got asked this question today. More specifically, I got asked if I thought that anxiety could be defeated, could be overcome. It got me thinking.
I've always had a theory that when I hit 30 that my anxiety will simply be gone. I'm still holding out hope, but in the meantime, I've no interest in holding my breath. I know I have to spend every day working on my anxiety.
Once upon a time, my anxiety progressed to agoraphobia. In 2014 I couldn't leave my house, even to do something as simple as go shop for groceries. Thankfully, Thrifty's delivered to my doorstep, from two blocks away. I couldn't leave my house without being physically ill. Including my scheduled therapy appointments. I missed my first few therapy appointments, and when I finally forced myself to endure the physical wreck anxiety and panic attacks were causing, it was an ordeal to sit through my first session. This however was where I learned the self-love technique that has rescued me even now, two and a half years later. I still use this whenever I need to. The next time I went to therapy, it was still bad, but it was a little better. It was becoming safer and safer.
Sometimes the unknown is fucking terrifying. In this case, it was for me.
Anxiety is a chemical reaction your body sends to an unknown threat. It's a fight or flight instinct. It's your conscious mind trying to convince your subconscious mind that something is okay, and safe, while your subconscious is provoking the symptoms of panic and anxiety - shaking, sweating, heart palpitations, uneven or difficult breathing, choking sensation, nausea, stomach churning, brain fog and disorientation, racing and rapid thoughts. All of these things are telling you to leave the situation you're in, and you're choosing to either fight, or fly. Don't fly. And don't fight.
Accept it. Allow yourself to feel anxious. Half of the battle of anxiety is pretending it doesn't exist. Wishing so hard before an event that you won't have a panic attack, and then causing one, worrying about whether or not it will happen. Take a few minutes, take an hour, to lie back, to focus on even breathing, and accept it.
Don't let it ruin your experience. The biggest battle with anxiety is reprogramming your perspective and having experiences that don't revolve around anxiety. For instance, when I drive the Malahat, it triggers anxiety in me for some reason. I used to refuse to drive it, because every time I did, I would have a panic attack - I expected this, and I brought it on. It wasn't until this past summer that I drove the Malahat without having a panic attack and I thought, "Wow, I can do this!" The next time I drove it, I had a panic attack. Whoops. Instead of getting angry with myself or upset, I thought to myself, "Hey, remember that one time you didn't have a panic attack? That can happen again." I drive over that stupid mountain countless times a month now. 9/10 times I'm fine, the tenth time, I'll tend to have a panic attack. But I won't let that ruin the experience for me. The other times, I'm fine. And no matter what my subconscious is trying to tell me, I am always, always safe.
I really don't think the focus should be on overcoming or curing anxiety - but learning to cope with it in healthy ways. I think a huge part of it is to be pushing yourself. Start accomplishing small tasks that once triggered anxiety - grocery shopping, driving a long road, going to a show, going to a festival, anything. Tackle the small things, and get them under your belt, then start tackling more and more. Expect that anxiety will make an appearance - it always tends to. Sometimes though, it doesn't.
I almost cancelled a trip to Vancouver with friends a few years ago, because I was feeling anxious at the ferry terminal. I walked back shaking to my car, and told my friend he could have my keys for the weekend and take my car, I would bus back. He rolled his eyes at me, but agreed, until we realized I'd booked the hotel room in my name. I had to go. It was out of my control. So I sat in the passenger seat, and prepared for the panic as we drove onto the boat. I hate, hate, hate boats. The ferry started moving. I was expecting a full-blown panic attack to hit, and it didn't. After about fifteen minutes of rocking in the ocean, I realized it just wasn't going to happen. I got out of the car laughing, grateful, and was fine the entire trip. I don't know why the anxiety didn't come, but it didn't. And it doesn't have to every time. Just like driving over the Malahat, I now have safe experiences about the ferries, and Vancouver trips in general.
Anxiety is situational, and each and every person's experience with anxiety is different - to what triggers it, to the extent, to how they cope and manage. Different things make different people anxious and to different degrees. Everybody has it to some extent. It's all in how we manage it.
I'm fucking grateful for my anxiety. I get to learn the difference between a real and perceived threat. I get to learn healthy coping mechanisms. I got the chance and realization to quit drinking at a young age, and drugs even earlier. I get the daily strength fighting that voice every day that says, "You can drink this away." I've met some very cool people who are as open and honest as myself about mental illness, and become allies in this mutual understanding. I've grown spiritually as a result of it and am more aware and in touch with my body, mind, and emotions than most, because I have to be. And I have the opportunity to promote strength and growth in others, because despite still having it I am able to conquer it daily, be it going to a music festival, or grocery shopping, and show others that you can recover. Whether it be ultimate, or in a constant state, life is still goddamn beautiful.
If we focus on managing our anxiety, the looming prospect of being responsible for curing it entirely is lifted from our weighted shoulders. We're anxious. We don't need any more fucking pressures, thanks. I get asked, "Oh, so is your anxiety gone?" No. No it isn't. But I'm learning to cope with it, and I'm learning to manage it on my own, for myself.
Who knows? Maybe someday it will be gone. I don't have the energy to dream up 'someday's' all the time. Dreaming of a possible or impossible future will emotionally and mentally exhaust me. I'm holding out hope, but I'm not holding my breath - I'm living for today, and today I'm regulating my breath to stay present, aware, and within the moment. If I do these things today, then all I can do is ultimately hope that I am creating an anxiety-free future for myself.
Sometimes, anxiety feels like climbing a mountain. Getting out of bed is taking that first step. Tying your shoes. Remembering your waterbottle, your self-care. Telling yourself every step of the way that you can do this. Maybe I'm always going to be climbing this mountain. But after years of going at this unprepared, barefoot, I've now got a really good pair of shoes. A waterbottle. Confidence. Self-love. I'm looking forward to climbing this mountain.
Mental health struggles aren't beautiful.
The first photo was taken a week before a suicide attempt in 2011. The second photo was taken last week.
I struggled horrifically with addiction, depression, anxiety, and mania during my teens to mid-twenties when I was finally diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, became medicated, and quit alcohol. That was two years ago now.
In addition I embarked on a quest of spiritual growth to find the meaning in my life. My purpose in life is to simply brighten others. I have drive, and a desire to better the world. I am determined to do this through my story.
I've been really low and lost and I know I'm not alone. And I know that anybody who encounters it is not alone, but it's easy to feel alone when it's all you can think and feel. You are not alone. We are not alone.
I am not a disease. I am not depressed, manic, bipolar, or anxious. These things are a part of my life, but they do not define me. I am not my illness.
Nor are you.
It gets better. Please, believe me. In 2011 I thought it couldn't possibly. In 2014 I thought it would only ever get worse. It's 2017, and I know that every day is better now than the one before it, and will continue to be.
So let's talk. If you need somebody to talk to, talk. Don't hide it. 1-800-273-TALK is an excellent resource and one that I once relied on.
Your friends, family. Hell, send me a message if you're struggling.
Don't hide yourself or feel ashamed. We are all human, and we all have stories. Don't end your story early. Press on. I promise, life becomes beautiful.
Okay, I'm a total anomaly. Along my travels I've met a few people who like me, don't drink or use drugs, and people like us are few and far between. Maybe even people who choose one or the other, or people who are taking a break. A lot of people I know frequently take a break. But at the end of the day, there is a lot of drinking that goes on the music scene, and why not? It is socially acceptable. Not everybody I hang around with gets blackout drunk every night, or even every weekend. A lot of my friends drink casually, while I don't at all.
I get the same question every time I meet somebody new who finds out I don't drink.
"Is it hard?"
It's a hard question to answer on the spot, because I want to say yes and I want to say no.
When I first moved to Victoria I was completely entranced by the music scene. I had gone to local shows when I lived in Duncan, but I focused a lot of my teenage years on the rave scene and all that goes along with it, the copious amounts of party drugs. Drinking wasn't necessarily a thing. In my teen years drinking was almost a last resort. So to come to a new city with music, instruments, and booze was almost like a complete and total culture shock for me. I couldn't believe that people could be so talented, and that they were just you know, regular people, that I could have a beer with. The lifestyle left me starstruck. I started drinking more than I ever had in my life.
I frequented a minimum of three shows a week, just because I could. Because in this city there is always live music, on any given night you can wander into a bar, lounge, restaurant, and find live music. And I drank at every single one, because I simply thought that it was what you were supposed to do. I drank at the afterparties, I drank at the bars, I had pre-drinks beforehand to save some cash.
I associated live music with drinking, and when I quit drinking I felt a cloud of sadness as I thought to myself that that was a part of my life I would have to give up as well.
About three months into my sobriety I had spent it all avoiding bars, music, and the scene. I started to get that familiar itch, that craving, that desperate feeling that something was missing in my life - but it wasn't booze. It was music.
I started to think to myself, can I do this? I can probably do this. I'm going to try to do this and see how it goes.
The first show I went to was hell, I'm not going to lie. I was riddled with anxiety of being in a bar. I quickly ordered a ginger ale so I could have something to sip on. I was shaking and afraid, and the only time that I felt remotely calm was when the music was playing, when I reminded myself that I was there for the music. I drank my ginger ale. I walked about the crowd and got beer spilled on me. I stayed strong. Looking back I was totally playing with fire. I also had my trusty defense mechanism, my car. I knew I wouldn't drink and drive, therefore I knew I wouldn't drink and leave my car somewhere. I also had the power to leave at any point.
After that initial first experience I didn't necessarily feel any stronger, but I had the sensation that I could do it again. Maybe the anxiety would lessen, maybe over time, things would and could get easier. I went home and I stocked up on ginger ale. It's become my security blanket.
So I decided to do it again. I don't remember if it was any easier. I remember it felt like an accomplishment. I felt like I knew that I had done it once before, and I was going to do it again. I started going to shows again. Not three a week, maybe one every two or three weeks. Just to prove to myself that I could.
Slowly, and then quickly, my life started to become about music again. Not only was I going to shows, I was coming home afterwards and playing my guitar. I was going to karaoke and I was singing. With each and every show and time I went out I had another night under my belt. I had a brand new sense of pride. I started introducing myself to people, meeting people, making friendships, and it felt so good.
Initially I was afraid to tell people I didn't drink. I thought that maybe people would judge me, or hound me on it. I wasn't ready to tell my story or answer any questions. I let people assume there was either booze in my ginger ale, or they wouldn't notice. Initially, only the bartenders knew my secret and grew to know my drink. Then it started happening and I started using my voice. People started to know that I didn't drink. And then the question - "Is it hard?"
So my answer is - yes. Yes it was fucking hard. It didn't happen overnight. I had to dip my toes in the water and weigh out the options. I knew that a life without music and all of the stuff that comes along with it, was going to make me miserable. So also my answer is no. Because cutting music out of my life for me just wasn't an option. It will never be.
It's been almost two years I haven't had a drink. It's been almost two years of me going to shows, of me going to the afterparties, the pre-parties, the campfires, the open mics, the festivals. It's been almost two years of ginger ale, and sometimes I mix it up with cranberry juice. It's been almost two years of clarity, of always getting myself home safe, of never blacking out, it's been almost two years without a hangover or the mental anguish of the way I used to drink. It's been almost two years of doing what I love, with a fresh perspective, and loving myself and taking pride in it. It's been almost two years of finding out that even though in this scene drinking is a norm, that there are countless people who support me. That there are people who take pride in me as much as I do in myself, and aren't afraid to open up to me about their own struggles with drinking.
It's been almost two years of shedding the alcoholic skin and being comfortable in my own skin.
On December 24th I celebrate my two years sober. This year, like last year, my sobriety will be my greatest Christmas present to myself, but every day it is the greatest gift I could have ever bestowed upon myself.
Sobriety for me has become the norm. I've spent more time now of my life in Victoria, in the scene, beside and part of the music, sober, than I had before drinking. The sober times outweigh the drunk times. The memories outweigh the blurred regrets.
Once upon a time it was hard. But slowly and so slowly with confidence, with support, and with enough love for myself ... now it's easy. Sober is just who I am.
Life gets stressful. We all get stressed out from time to time and it takes its effect on our bodies, minds, and souls. Unfortunately we tend to try to push past these stresses, or shrug them off, not allowing them to fully exist. Until - boom!
You crack and crash, like I did yesterday. I was on my way up island, I was stuck in traffic in an overheating car for an hour in the blazing heat, my phone was going off, and I just thought to myself, "Fuck this," and I cut across traffic and turned around and went home.
I locked myself in my room and sent a message to my roommates in our house group chat basically saying, "Hey, I love you guys, but I really really need to be alone right now and just not think. Have a good weekend," then I uninstalled Facebook messenger from my phone and had a nap. I spent all of yesterday and last night in my room reading, and it felt fucking amazing.
I take these 'me' days every so often, I try for once a month or once every two months. Where I literally do shut out the world and focus on myself and allow myself to breathe and truly feel my stresses without any distractions. When I first realized I needed a day like this, I was working as a content co-ordinator for a magazine and the deadline stresses were wearing me down to the point where I caught a nasty head cold. My mental health declined to the point of my physical health declining as well. It was an eye-opening experience and a reminder that I need to take time for myself.
Initially I felt guilt. I started calling them Selfish Days, and it was an unhealthy label, because instead of relaxing I would feel as though I was procrastinating or avoiding. That's simply not the case. I handle my responsibilities, and then shut everything off and walk away. The guilt accompanied these first few Days, before I snapped out of that mindset. If you feel like you're being selfish, you are defeating the purpose of these Me Days. You are taking the time to rest, relax, and to truly recharge.
In fact, my Me Day has extended to today as well. I'm at home all alone, my roommates are out for the weekend. I'm strangely not lonely. I'm cleaning, I'm organizing, I'm cranking the music as loud as I want to (sorry guys), I'm playing guitar in every room of the house, I'm cooking, I'm reading. I am truly enjoying being on my own, with my thoughts. I've gotta say, uninstalling Facebook Messenger from my phone has been an incredibly liberating experience to boot.
By spending time with myself, by myself, my attitude has completely changed. The stresses are washing away, slowly but surely. Before this weekend I couldn't remember the last time I took a day to myself like this.
Life gets hectic and it gets fast-paced and suddenly there aren't enough hours in a day to accomplish everything that you want to do. Balancing friends, work, relationships, that's hard enough - and the ultimate sacrifice is the time that you need to be spending with yourself, for yourself. So fuck it. Take a Me Day.
Stay in bed. Have a bath. Read a book. Sleep. Dance around your kitchen. Go for a drive. Write it out. Play your guitar, sing, and sing loud. Eat that fast food meal, that comfort food - eat ice cream. Wear your pajamas all day. Turn off your phone. Write a letter. Go to the beach. Do anything that your heart and body is desiring on your Me Day (within reason) and really make that day about yourself. Don't let yourself feel guilty for needing to take time to yourself - feel proud that you recognize it, and hopefully before you end up stuck on the side of a highway in a car ready to break down ...
And if you do, turn the fuck around and go home and focus on you. You deserve it.
I think I made a promise to stop counting the months, because now I'm counting the years. But it was really interesting this morning to scroll through my On This Day on Facebook and see last year I was celebrating 8 months sober. I did some quick math and thought ... holy shit.
It's crazy to see the positivity on my On This Day since I quit drinking, compared to my drunken or passive-aggressive Facebook statuses from years past. Those make me cringe. When I look at posts from the past twenty months, I can see authentic and genuine happiness.
Without Facebook's little reminder, I would have been completely oblivious to a monthly milestone. In all honesty, today has been a day just like any other day - wake up, errands, work, creativity, relaxation, and indulging in some much-needed Me Time, today has been a definite Me Day. And that's the funny part - is that today has been just another day, just like yesterday, and tomorrow. How quickly I have adapted to my life without alcohol. I every so often get that strange and sudden realization of how long it has been without a drop and I feel this incredible pride. It's no longer a struggle.
And in four short months I will be two years sober.
For me the most interesting challenge to remain in sobriety has been what I have chosen to do with my sobriety. I've learned through trial, error, and a relapse in 2013, that you can't just quit drinking and have that be that. For me I have learned to take pride in my creative projects and to express art on any medium necessary, and to truly create. I hang paintings, poetry, drawings, dream catchers around my room, I wear my clothing and my jewelry. I play my guitar. I do things that make me happy that I can take pride in.
In the past few months I have also started writing - more than I have in a long time. I've been writing my story. I've been writing about my struggles, my addiction, and I am now writing about my recovery.
I don't want to think that the years I spent wasted were wasted years. I know that I can't just not drink, that I do have to do something with my sobriety. I'm looking forward to sharing my story, my whole story, no holds barred, and publishing my memoirs this winter.
Growing up as an addict I used to turn to recovery memoirs to offer me some sort of hope and strength. At first I told myself, "These people, these are the ones with the real problems," and as time went on I found I could no longer deny the similarities I saw within myself. I then found myself skipping over the gory bits and diving straight into the end - how could a person find themselves clean, sober, and happy? During my writing this has been my struggle - I want to skip the bad and go straight to the good.
But you can't. You can't have the good without the bad. You have to honor the struggle, because it is part of the person that you are - my addiction has turned me into the person that I am. As with my anxiety, I am grateful, yes, grateful, for the experiences I've had, including my struggle. Because without things to overcome, I wouldn't be the person that I am. If you don't climb the mountain, you'll never reach the top.
Almost two years.
I look back and I honor and cherish the changes that have come into my life after cutting out one simple thing - drinking. Life on its own isn't always roses, it comes with a new challenge every day, and for the past nearly two years, I have been facing everything in life head-on, with a clear perspective. I've changed my entire attitude in twenty months. I've found things to take pride in, my projects, and myself.
So tonight, how am I going to celebrate my sobriety? I'm not going to. I wrote a post a few months ago about celebrating sobriety, and I'm going to re-iterate what I wrote then -
That I will continue to celebrate myself every day. Today marks a milestone of accomplishment, but I'm not going to celebrate simply because of that. I'm going to wake up every morning with a reason to celebrate. I will celebrate, every damn day.
Last year I was regularly seeing an incredible therapist who helped me so much to pull back from my depression, and anxiety. One of our last visits we struck up a conversation about whether or not I would change anything in my life. I looked to him and said, "I bet if I wrote a letter to my five-year-old self, I would tell her not to do all of the things I did."
He smiled and he laughed at me and suggested that I exercise that - to go and write a letter to my little self. So the next week I took off to my favorite beach with a journal and pen and began writing. I wrote and wrote, three full pages of advice to my younger self. I'd like to share exactly what I wrote.
Dude, I miss you. The good news is you're still here. I never lose your sense of adventure.
You're pretty scared, hey? Well the world is scary but Mom does a good job of protecting you, little me. She sure loves you.
You're going to put a lot of effort into things you can't change. You're sure going to feel a lot. People like that about you. You're going to try on a thousand personalities but around 22 you'll give up and start growing into the person that you are - me! I promise you will be cool. Wear whatever you want, please. Don't ever second-guess something as trivial as an outfit for fear of looking stupid - you won't.
You and Dad won't start getting along until you're older, but I promise, someday you'll be friends. Grin and bear it. He's actually kind of cool once you grow up.
You will learn so much about people. Not everybody stays. And the harder you try, the quicker they'll leave. Accept loss with humility. Worst-case, forgive but don't forget. You'll have a heart of steel for quite some time after you first get your heart broken. Buckle up kid, it's an important lesson to go through and I promise you'll come out of it wiser and grateful.
Drugs will not fill that void within you but you'll try for a long time. They will open your mind to a world that is ugly, unkind, and will stunt your emotional growth. You will grow up terrified of them but one day change your mind. I won't tell you not to do them, because everything that you do turns you into me. The good news is that you quit right before your 18th birthday. It won't be until after that that you realize just how strong your willpower is. Celebrate it and share it with others.
Same goes for booze. You love to tell your story to others and inspire people to be better. Something good will come of it. You will always be good with silver linings. You're going to think you're ugly until you're about 14. You will grow up and become beautiful. Be gentle with the emotions of others.
You'll care a lot and wear hurt that does not belong to you. You'll do this to distract yourself from your own pain, though you are extremely sensitive to the emotions of those around you. Give yourself time to feel.
Your life won't be easy but it will be yours. You will always write, or create. You are an artist. Always read. Start now. You already like to. Stick with school and accept all of the free knowledge you can. You will always be smart, but you have to work for it. People will try to dumb you down to your level, don't ever let them.
Cherish the people in your life. Honor the friendships that will last a lifetime, a few months, or just the here and now. Spend time with your Granny. She's a beautiful soul and won't be around for forever. Learn to embrace your family, they do love you too.
Breathe. Love yourself. Celebrate. Stay ambitious. Be aware.
I promise you will always be.
As soon as I put down my pen I stared out at the ocean, my eyes full of tears. I wasn't sad, I was crying out of pure happiness. All of my life I had thought to myself that if I could do it all over again, I would have done things differently - and writing out this letter to myself made me realize that everything that I have ever been through has made me into the person that I am today. I was so touched to come to this realization.
Sometimes we have to go through the storm to come out even stronger on the other side of it. Sometimes life is hard, on its own, or we make it hard ourselves without really realizing it. The most important part of everything I've been through is that I have learned to share my story with others. That's my silver lining. That's my rainbow. I'm done with the storms, and I am blessed to have struggled so severely in my teenage and adolescent years, because I've got the rest of my life ahead of me.
I routinely read this letter and smile to myself and send my younger self the love that she needed then, and needs now. This exercise was also an incredible lesson in remembering to love yourself, forgive yourself for your mistakes, and to show yourself compassion. Self-love makes your world go 'round.
I can't believe I did it. I spent three nights and four days out on a mountain, camping amidst strangers, friends, family. I stayed 100% sober and clean. I conquered my fears and anxieties. I left my city. I made amazing friendships. I saw wonderful musicians and acts. I sampled delightful foods and rekindled my long love-affair with churros (mmm!) I was organized. I even remembered to practice self-care after a day of a killer migraine, whoops!
I left on Thursday afternoon. I thought to myself that if I didn't go then, I never would. I had no idea what to expect, or where I was sleeping. I packed my car with food, clothing, toiletries, blankets and pillows, intending to just wing it and most likely sleep in my car. There was no real set plan. I was freaking out. My friend Emily called me and asked if I would drive her up with me. I initially wanted to go on my own. The drive is two hours and I wanted to be alone with my music and my thoughts in case I needed to pull over to freak out. Luckily, Emily gets my anxieties, and I get hers. I decided, fuck it, I'll drive one of my best friends and we can be each other's support. I'm so glad I did!
The fun part about Port Renfrew is there's no reception. I had opened Google Maps when we were out in Victoria and followed the signs to Port Renfrew, and once we got there we were totally lost and had no way to find directions. We ended up out in Botanical Beach, we turned around, we were just laughing. We had music, we were having a grand old time. Finally, FINALLY, we found the sign. We began the descent up the mountain and joined the line of cars waiting to enter. It was both of our first years so we had absolutely no idea what to expect as far as the layout, where I was going to be parked. I dropped off Emily at the festival roundabout with all of her camping gear and I was directed to my parking spot and began to hike back up the mountain. Only about a ten minute walk from the entrance, but up a mountain. My legs and body are still aching.
The view didn't disappoint.
We walked in and got Emily's temporary camp set up and ran into the main stage where The Dudes were playing. I was transfixed. I quickly found an old friend of mine who I hadn't seen in YEARS and we decided we were going to be Tall Tree Buddies! Like myself, he's sober, so it worked perfectly. Quickly, Emily found her crew and Trevor and I watched The Dudes and then hiked down to my car and grabbed my blankets and clothing. This was it. I was really committing to this idea of camping. I hadn't been camping in over a year and I struggle with anxiety around the idea of camping - especially amidst hundreds of people and multiple stages of music. I wouldn't say that I freaked out, but I definitely had moments of anxiety. I did what I always do in moments of anxiety - I disappeared into the tent and retreated from the crowd. It helped. I slept and I eagerly awaited the next day.
The Thursday night Trevor and I had discovered this little nook with a sign that said Be Kinky and we laughed. We wandered down and found a single hammock surrounded by trees. It wasn't visible from the main stage and it was secluded and amazing.
The next morning I woke up around 10. Trevor had started on his volunteer shift from 9-3, so I woke up, did my makeup (this was the first and only day I bothered) and got dressed and headed to the main stage for a coffee. I wandered up the hill and saw Trevor and another volunteer Diego right by the fence. I asked what they were doing and they said setting up hammocks. No way. I grabbed my coffee and headed down to where the single hammock was and saw them setting up more - awesome! All told by the time the project was done there was about eight or nine hammocks set up in this little grove. One of the volunteer supervisors came by and said he really wanted to paint the walls going down to it. We'd started calling it Hammock City, so I followed him and grabbed a tray of paints, rollers, and brushes. While the boys set up the hammocks I painted the walls.
Behold, Hammock City!
Music was playing on the main stage, on the Valley Stage. There was music everywhere. Right near our newly-created Hammock City stood a large teepee, the Wishing Tent.
I was intrigued. I had to go take a wander inside. The sign outside the door said no shoes, so I took off my shoes and I walked inside. I felt like I was inside a different world completely. The music was still playing but I couldn't register it. There was an atmosphere inside the tent that existed solely within its walls. I was transfixed and I was solitary, standing between the wishes of strangers and probable friends. I started reading and was overcome with a plethora of emotion. I picked up the pen and a piece of paper and wondered to myself what I had to wish for. I stood for a few moments and my mind drew a blank. I filled an entire piece of paper explaining that I wished I hadn't spent so much time regretting in my life, regrets about my anxieties. I wished for things to always stay the same, whether they be good or bad. I placed my wish on the wall and I walked away from the Wishing Tent, full of mixed emotion and a sense of change. It was a beautiful experience.
I stayed in Hammock City until one of my best friends Ghosty was going to play on the Stump and Stone stage at 3:30. I ran to the Stump and Stone stage and danced my ASS off with my best friends in the front row.
After Ghosty I stuck around the Stump and Stone stage to catch Band of Rascals. It was my third time seeing them perform, and I've gotta say they've officially become one of my favorite bands. I fucking LOVE Band of Rascals, these guys have amazing stage presence and wonderful energy and their sound is so solid and unique. Even though it was pouring rain, the stage filled up and the energy of the band amplified the crowd - people were going crazy despite the rain. Of course I bought their CD, and you can find them on Spotify and purchase their album on iTunes. Here's Held in Thought, my absolute favorite song by these guys.
I have to admit that by this time the festival atmosphere was starting to get to me. It was raining, I was tired. It's hard to get a good nights sleep when the party is going on all around you. Again I retreated to the tent for some well-deserved rest and crawled out once again when Current Swell hit the main stage at 10:30. Current Swell is such an amazing band to see live. The stage was packed, everybody from the festival dropped what they were doing to go see these kickass headliners and they provided an atmosphere that made me feel right at home. I watched the crowd and felt like I was truly a part of something bigger than myself. It was so beautiful.
Eventually my exhaustion caught the best of me and I headed back to the tent for a night of what I thought would be good rest. Wrong! I forgot, I'm at a music festival. Stages go until 3, 4, 5AM, and start at 10AM. Oh well, that's what coffee's for ... right?
Around noon on Saturday I decided to crawl out of bed. Screw makeup, coffee. I found my roommate finally! She'd made it up the night before but of course among hundreds of people I wasn't able to find her. But I finally found her! We grabbed coffee and decided to wander about the campsites in the light of day, exploring and finding friends. I walked around with this sad but relieved feeling - it was the last day of the festival. In some ways I wasn't ready for it to end, and in others I was completely exhausted. In the end the exhaustion won around 2PM and I headed back to the tent but the noise followed me and I couldn't sleep, I couldn't relax. My head started pounding. I made the trek down the mountain to my car and pulled a blanket over me and charged my phone. My head was truly killing me and I had a bit of a "duh, whoops" moment when I realized that even despite the rain I wasn't properly hydrated. All I had drank for two days was coffee. So I pulled out a water bottle and started chugging. Eventually I felt well enough to go back up. I couldn't miss Kytami performing at 5PM at the Stump and Stone stage. Headache or no headache, I could not miss this show.
The first time I saw Kytami perform was at Rifflandia of last year. One of my friends Deriek from Spaceboots was performing with her then and it was his first performance with her. In the months since Rifflandia, Deriek, Kytami, and Phonik Ops have gone on to do countless performances around Canada and the US and have just killed it. The Tall Tree performance was no exception. I don't know where she gets her energy from, but this girl kills it, every time. At the end of their set Kytami and another violinist had an unrehearsed 'violin-off' that amazed and stunned the crowd.
I was exhausted and I felt ... musically complete. Is that a thing? It's now a thing. I still had Hollerado to watch at 8:15 and Mother Mother to close the festival at 10:15. I went to rest in the tent and went back down to the main stage to go see Hollerado. About halfway through their set it finally kicked in that I was literally festivaled out. THAT is a real thing.
I relied on coffee and my sense of adventure to get me through the weekend but I had actually had enough. I was still having fun and loving the atmosphere but it finally had gotten to me. I went to the tent and I stayed in there even through Mother Mother's set. I could still hear the music perfectly and I knew the crowd was going nuts. I was content to listen to it through tent walls.
Near the end of their set, the band started speaking and I can't remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of being proud of yourself, your bravery, and your courage. "You climbed a mountain," was the line that stuck in my head and brought me near to tears.
Maybe I didn't spend as much time out and about as I had anticipated. Maybe I hadn't taken enough photos, or had taken too many. Maybe I had felt anxiety and exhaustion. But I did it. I fucking did it. I realized I had climbed not one mountain, but two. I had climbed the physical mountain that the music festival was on, and the mountain that exists inside my head every day - anxiety. I had done this sober, surrounded by the people I love and the people who love me. I had seen some of my best friends perform and felt pride and awe. I had experienced beautiful and spiritual revelations. I had spent the weekend in nature and just going with the flow. I learned that you don't always need a plan, and sometimes things happen out of your control. I had remembered to take care of myself first and foremost and show myself the love that I had needed. I had genuine and authentic fun.
I conquered Tall Tree.
I conquered my fears.
When the festival lineup was announced in April I had thought to myself, "I need to be a part of this, I need to go," but the voice called anxiety in the back of my head asked me, "Wait, can you really go? Can you really camp? Can you really spend all that time surrounded by strangers? And finally, can you actually do this sober?"
Screw you, anxiety! I did! And I can do it again!
Tall Tree 2016, thank you for the memories. Coming down off of that mountain meant coming back into reality, into real life. It wasn't until I hit Sooke that I realized I was back in the land of the living, reception, my phone started going off with messages, traffic lights, WiFi, pavement, electricity. The music still flowed through my veins, and even today, it still does. Coming down from Tall Tree feels like coming down from a drug trip, but I will remember everything.
Tall Tree 2017, I'm coming for you, again.
I wrestled with this question myself for about four years before I finally got sober.
When I was twenty I wasn't happy unless I had a bottle of wine every night. My ex challenged me to go one week without liquor and I managed it, but every night I had that itch, that craving. I wanted a drink, damnit! This was one of my first signs. I hid it from everyone for so long that I even managed to hide it from myself.
I turned to alcohol during times of despair, which was the first indication of a problem. If I had a 'bad day' I would buy a bottle. If I had a good day I would look for something bad to justify it. I would create unhappy situations.
I frequented house parties, switching between social groups so the same people wouldn't see me wasted, over and over again.
I hid liquor around my bedroom. I kept bottles of wine underneath my bed. Before I had anybody over I had to do a sweep of the apartment to make sure there was no liquor showing.
I thought I was so clever and fooling everybody. I never let anybody get close enough to me to realize that I had a problem. I couldn't have a partner because they would have to see how often I drank. I couldn't have best friends, for the same reason. I kept everybody at enough of a distance to make sure nobody really saw how bad it was.
I've been sober nearly a year and a half. The last time I was sober was in 2013, I quit December 29th and I relapsed in May 2013. When I made the decision to sober up I still couldn't tell myself that I had a problem, I just said that I'd had enough for now - enough of the hangovers, spending money. I never once said that I had a problem. I was easily coerced into drinking again. When one of my friends brought a truck over to help with the empties she saw how many bags I had, stepped back and said, "Woah..." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had just been to return empties a month before that. I had gotten a $3000 return from my student loans and drank it away in three weeks.
And I still couldn't admit that I had a problem.
I lied about my drinking and ultimately the only person who suffered the consequences was myself.
When I quit drinking in 2014 I still had a hard time telling myself that I was an addict. Sometimes it's hard to talk about. When I tell people I don't drink they ask if I have a problem. I catch myself, my familiar reply has become something along the lines of, "Well one night I drank so much wine I should have been hospitalized, mixed it with medications, because I was sad." No. I have grown comfortable telling complete strangers that I have an addiction.
I never went to AA so I never got to say the words, "My name is Jessy and I'm an alcoholic," but it is something that I say to the mirror every day, to remind myself. It all boils down to honesty to myself.
I have a drinking problem.
Currently my addiction is under control and on June 24th I will celebrate 18 months sober.
I still get cravings. I still get bad days. For me, today is a bad day. The thought of "Oh I can drink this away" surprisingly hasn't arisen (until writing this of course, but it's more of the realization that it hasn't affected me) - but it does. I have terrible days and I think to myself, "I can drink this away." This speaks volumes to me, it says that I do still have a problem. That I am still an addict. I very rarely used alcohol as anything but a crutch - something to numb the pain, to make me less anxious, more friendly and outgoing. Through the years of abuse it had the exact opposite effect - I became morose, depressed, and anxious without it.
There is a difference between alcohol use and alcohol abuse. When you start drinking to forget, to numb the pain, to quell the anxiety, when you start lying about your consumption, hiding bottles, denying you've been drinking, telling yourself and others that you don't have a problem, you have a problem. If you need to defend and justify your drinking, you are not using alcohol, you are abusing it.
Alcohol abuse is a short-term solution to long-term problems, which will ultimately amplify themselves until you hit a breaking point. I still self-reference my breaking point, my three day hangover, the way I felt. I reference this to remind myself that no matter how bad of a day I am having, or have created, nothing will ever be as bad as the day that I realized that for the rest of my life, I can never enjoy a social drink. If I were to drink, it would all come spiralling back out of control and I would end up at that breaking point again. That's somewhere I never want to be, ever again.
What I try to cover with these entries is my personal experience with the problems I face. I understand that every person handles and experiences everything individually. I hope that if you are reading this and struggling, you've found something you can relate to. I hope that if you are reading this and are in a place of recovery, you can look in the mirror and find pride in yourself.
Here is a short quiz to determine whether or not you may have a drinking problem.
We can beat this. It's not easy, but I promise, it's worth it.
I'm really, really good at loving myself.
I'm absolutely terrible at letting myself be loved.
When I was 24 I left a seemingly perfect relationship. He treated me well. He took care of me while I was sick. He celebrated my successes and was empathetic towards my depression. He watched me spiral out of control with alcohol and stayed by my side. We dated for nearly two years and were on track to getting married and having children.
When I left him my father said to me, "Nobody will ever love you the way that he did."
Even though the relationship seemed perfect, that's exactly why I ended it.
I didn't feel that I deserved that love. I didn't love myself. I needed to learn to love myself the way that he did, so I knew that I was capable and deserving.
Learning to love myself took strength, courage, and yes, sobriety. I learned to value myself and put myself first. To take myself on dates, buy myself flowers, and call myself beautiful.
I've been a serial dater since I was 14. The longest I spent single was perhaps a month. Why? Simple. I had horribly low self-esteem. I had always needed a partner to hold my hand, to call me pretty, to be proud of me. I relied on it so much growing up because I was never taught to be proud of myself. To this day I still struggle with accomplishments. Some may call it being humble but I internalize my pride instead of properly celebrating it. That's part of why I've started actively using this blog. I need to share my pride, and to show others that it is important and okay to be proud of yourself.
The time for myself to grow was what I needed. I had never had that. When we split I realized that I had no identity of my own - I'd become half of a relationship. I had been recently diagnosed with having a bipolar disorder and I had no idea how to tackle that diagnosis and re-define myself. It was after the breakup that I started learning the difference between being lonely, and being alone. I loved the feeling of being alone, of being accountable for my actions, emotions and living space. I had never truly lived on my own and it was just me and my cat. I started feeling that creeping loneliness. I had to learn to separate the loneliness, and simply being alone.
The loneliness took over and I found myself repeating old habits - hello, Tinder! I met a handful of people from Tinder - some to this day have become incredible platonic friends who have supported and encouraged me every step of the way. I used Tinder to break free, to push myself and my anxiety, and force myself into new social scenarios and opened up to a plethora of new experiences. I also ended up in another relationship - whoops.
Within two months I was dating again, and I was in a casual relationship for a few months, after demanding this time to myself to grow. He was an addict and tried over and over again to get clean and sober - compromising my values, integrity, and recovery. I started to feel entirely differently than I ever had in a relationship - I didn't feel like a girlfriend. I felt like a sponsor. During this quasi-relationship I maintained my independence and let it grow. I ended that relationship relieved and ready to be on my own.
So I decided to date myself.
I woke up every morning and found something to take pride in, to myself. I looked in the mirror and started every day by saying to myself, "Good morning, beautiful." I truly relished the time and space that I had to myself. I pursued my art. I wrote a book, I pushed and grew my business, I played guitar constantly. I lived by my own accord and went out with my (new) friends when I chose to. I pushed myself to do things I thought 'scary', activities that would make me anxious. I went to bed every night in my bed and curled up with my cat, content with my life.
Did I feel bad about ending that relationship? Absolutely. I still do. There's a conflict of emotion regarding the break-up. I hurt another person, and I hurt myself. That's something I will always have to live with. We don't speak anymore. As time went on I began to realize things about myself that would have been completely incompatible - I've known forever that I don't want children, and he did, badly. One of us would have ended up compromising to keep the other happy. We had different values, different expectations and goals from life. Mind you, these are things I didn't even discover about myself until I was on my own and allowed myself the chance to breathe, and to get to know myself.
I learned something interesting about myself. I learned that I love myself too much to allow myself to be loved. That doesn't seem to make much sense. When I start to feel loved, I start to feel trapped and scared, as though that person's emotions will overtake the love that I have for myself. I feel compromised and needed. I feel like they will expect more out of me than I have to give to myself. I've created a barrier, for the first time in my life, I have standards. I thought I did when I was younger, but I've come to realize I value myself and rely on myself for my own happiness.
"No one will ever love you the way that he did."
That's okay. It's okay to me if nobody ever does. I've learned to love myself, and better.
I still haven't wrapped my head around accepting love that is given to me - not romantic, anyways. What I have learned is that love exists in all too many forms. Perhaps someday I will learn to accept romantic love again. Until then, I'm going to continue to buy myself flowers, take myself on dates, tell myself I'm beautiful, and love myself bigger and better with each passing day.
Believe it or not, this is still something I struggle with. Just last night I went out to a show and I caught myself looking around, wondering about this question. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like everybody had a drink, starting to loosen up, get giggly, friendly, dancing, and I felt like the same old me.
Don't get me wrong - I love me! I especially love sober me.
When I used to go out I would get drunk to loosen up and have some fun. Which could have been okay if I'd known when to stop. But also I was abusing alcohol and relying on it to come out of my shell. And sometimes, I came out of my shell a wee bit much. Back in the day I remember being at a show and getting wasted, double vodka slimes times 8 wasted. Whoops. After the band finished, a few people jumped up on stage and started jamming, and out-of-my-shell confident me decided to jump up on the microphone and improvise lyrics. Even though I was drunk I soon realized I was making an ass of myself. I jumped off the stage, grabbed my jacket, and caught a cab to McDonalds (ew). I'm happy to say that stuff like this doesn't happen anymore, but I still cringe at this memory.
The first thing I do when I get into a bar is go put $4 into the Keno machine. I have a pretty good Keno rule (I know myself and my tendency to over-indulge) - if I win, I don't put any money back in. If I lose, I don't put any money back in. Simple. It gives me something to do, something to have fun with. Plus, it's a way cheaper habit (especially the way I play) than my old bar tabs (also, yowza).
Next up I grab a ginger ale. I can't remember the last time I got charged for a ginger ale at a bar. Which is rad! My bar budget for the night includes a show ticket (usually around $10), my Keno plays, and always spare change for a ginger ale or the Holy Grail -
$1.25 for a game of pool. Bar tables are usually terrible, and there's rarely chalk, bent cues, a lopsided table with scratch marks in the felt, but pool is a blast. Even if, like me, you're not very good at it. I go throw my $1.25 on the table and claim the next game. Usually it ends up that someone challenges me, or invites me for a game of doubles, and you end up meeting all of the crew who's come out to drink and play pool. And maybe sometimes you'll win a game or two.
Oh, right! You're there for the show! There's always that. Get into the crowd, go listen to the music, watch the band, learn the words, dance, and stop caring what you think people might think. Most of the times in bars people assume I'm sipping on a rye and ginger. Nobody has to know there's no booze in it. In fact, people are usually shocked when they offer me a glass of beer and I turn it down. People think it's cool that I don't drink.
Mingle. Socialize. If you're like me with social anxiety, you don't need to drink to loosen up - everybody else around you is already doing that. The more uninhibited and drunk others get, the easier you'll find it to socialize with strangers.
I always have my fail-safe back-up to ensure that I won't drink in bars - my car. I drive myself everywhere for a few reasons. One, so that I can leave when I'm ready to, and not rely on a taxi, or a ride from anybody else. And so that I don't drink. I will not drink and drive, and I sure as hell won't leave my car parked outside a bar, so if I have my car, I won't drink. Simple! Same rule goes for myself for house parties, or any event.
The first time I went to a bar after I quit drinking was a mere three months into my sobriety and I was terrified, and I learned from it. I didn't have my car, and it freaked me out. I learned to have my car as a back-up. I learned that ginger ales are free! I learned that I could really get into the music and forget that I wasn't drinking. I learned I didn't have to get drunk and make an ass of myself. Most of all, I learned that I could still go to a bar, not drink, and have fun.
It is possible. These days, I do it on a regular basis.