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.
Let's also begin this by saying NO, I have not relapsed. I'm still looking forward to celebrating four years clean this November, and two years sober this December. But I would like to talk about my relapses and the affect they had on my life and well-being.
I have no qualms talking about my addiction. By the time I was seventeen years old I was a full-fledged coke addict, using daily. On June 18, 2007, I decided that was going to be the last day that I did cocaine. I had sampled my cart of drugs and coke was the one that got to me - it made me feel high on myself. I did way too much, got way out of control, and ended up in a terrible position mentally. I knew that I had to quit. Even then it wasn't a conscious decision. I remember getting my first paycheck after I started work again and thinking to myself, "Hey, I'll get a half gram and have myself a night to myself." At that point I was living with my parents again and I realized I had been clean for almost two months. I figured, why the hell not keep it up? So I bought a bottle of wine instead. This would go on to cause another addiction, but for then hey! I wasn't doing coke!
I kept this up for almost five years. June 18, 2012 should have been my five year anniversary celebrating my abstinence from cocaine. I was drinking daily and feeling reckless with myself. I ended up at a house party and walked into the kitchen and there it was sitting on the counter, like a lost lover, and I caved. I wish that I could say that I had only that night but oh, I went crazy for that summer and into the fall. It got worse when a person in our group received an incredibly insane large inheritance and suddenly it wasn't half grams, it was ounces - it never ended. At the end of one crazy week of partying I looked at myself in the mirror and went home and got some sleep. This was the last time I used.
After that I stuck to drinking. For November and December of 2012 I power-drank my way out of my cocaine addiction and used alcohol as a crutch, furthering another addiction. It didn't take too long for me to realize that I had just another problem, with a different substance. On December 29, 2012, I quit drinking.
This round of sobriety was short-lived. I never made it to six months sober. Somewhere between four and five months I was at a friends' house and received some unsettling news and flew back into my old habits of "we can drink this away". It was a situation I blew out of proportion and control and used it as an excuse to drink. The same way I had cracked before to my mind and relapsed with coke, I relapsed with alcohol. I told myself that I had it under control this time, and that I could drink responsibly. I had no idea that drinking responsibly meant not every day, or not to get drunk. I still don't know if I ever can drink responsibly - so why gamble?
As an addict, relapse is constantly my worst fear. It lingers in the back of my mind. When I start to feel socially anxious I have that little devil on my shoulder saying "we can drink this away." My brain plays tricks on me. It's been nearly four years since I touched blow and I still get cravings. It's been nearly two years since I quit drinking and I still get cravings. I have resigned myself to this for the rest of my life.
So what's the difference between now and then? How am I so sure that I won't relapse?
To be honest, I'm not so sure that I don't keep my barriers up. I don't want that gamble. I simply believe in myself and celebrate myself. I never want to lapse into a form of confidence where I believe I'm invincible - I'm an addict, and I always have to have my guard up.
It's fairly well-known that I still remain in a party/music scene - festivals, shows, trips, parties. I can't pretend that drinking and drug use don't happen around me, and I remain aware of it. To me, this has become a form of self-support. I had to do it. I had to prove to myself that I could keep my old life, my old self, without any intoxicants. When I started going to shows again after only a few months' sobriety under my belt, my dad said to me, "You're playing with fire." Every time I do it, every damn time I go out and I don't drink, I don't use, it normalizes it and reinforces it in the back of my mind. I've been to Lucky Bar sober now far more many times than I ever had drunk. To me now, being at a bar without booze has become normal to me. I won't pretend it wasn't hard at first, and I won't lie and say sometimes it isn't still hard. When it gets hard, or I feel that craving, that temptation, I distract myself. I go and order a ginger ale. I find a friend and chat myself through a few moments. I duck out and go sit in my car and listen to a song. I get away from it, and I come back, stronger than ever before.
Relapse is always a possibility. By keeping myself aware of this fact, I take the power away from the possibility. Instead of pushing the idea away, I remind myself, "this could happen. Be stronger than it," and so far, I have been.
I'm an addict. I will always be an addict. Maybe my form of recovery isn't a conventional approach - playing with fire, testing my limits, remaining stronger than my temptations - but it is what has worked for me. I have the utmost confidence that with the relationships I've built with my friends and myself, and my strength and inner belief, that this is the life that I have chose. I am sober, I am clean. I do what I do, and I do it my way!
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'm not sure where to start this blog post.
I just learned that another of my friends has passed away from a fentanyl overdose. That's the third one in a year.
What do I do? I want to cry, I want to scream, I want to roll up in a little ball and not feel anything at all. I want to reach out, I want to be alone. I'm sad, I'm angry, I'm everything.
When this happens I run a gamut of emotions and thoughts. Could this have been me? Could I have helped them more? Could I have reached out? Could they have gotten the help that they needed? I could swim amongst these what-ifs, and will, until it fully hits me. Right now I have to try to rationalize it.
The bottom line is that addiction meets only one of two ends - recovery, or you succumb to it.
It doesn't matter the drug. When I quit cocaine I retained my addiction and switched it over to alcohol and justified it by that. I could have continued abusing cocaine and succumbed to my addiction and I could have continued abusing alcohol and succumbed to my addiction. It could have been anything, it could have gotten worse. It could have been fentanyl. It could have been me. It could have been you.
But it wasn't. Instead it was her, and my other two friends I've lost this year as well.
Last summer when I found out about my friend Ashley's passing I made her a promise with regards to my recovery - I promised her that I would not drink or use ever again.
Bria, I'm making you that promise now too. Rest in heaven. You will be missed.
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.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week I felt it was appropriate to write this post about my bipolar diagnosis.
I first learned about bipolar disorder when I was thirteen - when it was called manic depressive disorder. I had a friend who used to sigh and complain, "Ugh, I'm so bipolar." I remember looking up the disorder on Wikipedia and thinking, "Oh my god, this is me."
I don't think back then I even said anything to anybody, but I related to the symptoms entirely. The manic highs coupled with crippling lows, and the sweet bliss of the time in between the crashes. It reminds me sometimes of being tossed on an ocean. I started managing the symptoms on my own. I abused drugs until I almost couldn't anymore, relying on uppers to pull me through depression, and downers to bring me back down to earth. The funniest part is that I couldn't even see that until I cleaned up. I charted my life out with a psychiatrist and we both realized it. I also realized that my swings usually work on roughly a two year basis.
When I was sixteen I hit the wall. I describe it as the 'first time I went crazy'. I fell into a deep despairing depression that even drugs couldn't get me out of. I started cutting myself in places I thought nobody could see. I went for a Pap smear and my doctor noticed a strategically placed cut. I blamed it on a cat scratch. I couldn't sleep, and I slept too much. At night my mind was wandering with thoughts and I would fall asleep around six in the morning and sleep until about six at night. I couldn't go to school, I stopped eating and showering. When I was awake all I did was write and read. I obsessively searched for some sort of Meaning To Life, exploring into religion, something to believe in. I devoured psychology and philosophy books, looking for some sort of sign of my existence. Eventually I was diagnosed as depressed and spent a year on Amitriptyline, Trazodone, and any other pills, which had no positive effect on me. Until that feeling finally went away and - I felt like ME again! Oh, how the sun shined!
Fast forward to twenty years old and four tumultuous years filled with drug abuse and when I quit, alcohol abuse. I was living in a house with no phone, no power, no food, and drinking as much as I could to combat myself and my emotions. One day I snapped. I phoned my mom.
"I'm going up to the hospital to check myself into the psych ward," I explained to her, "I just wanted to call and tell you."
Mom drove out the hour trip into town to come pick me up and take me out to her house on the lake. I went to go see my doctor, again, who diagnosed me with depression, again. I started on Cipralex which seemed to elevate my mood but came with horrible anxiety. I continued to drink. The anxiety got so bad I found it difficult to leave the house. I needed to be drunk to deal with it, so I stayed inside and drank. After a few weeks I got into a cognitive behavioral therapy group and went to go see my first psychiatrist. I filled out so many papers that felt like little games, mapping out my moods and emotions and reactions. He asked me the question I dreaded.
"How often do you drink?"
I lied. I said maybe two-three times a week (which is still a lot, considering I meant getting drunk), and he peered at me over his papers.
"I'd like to give you a proper diagnosis, but I can't do that unless you quit drinking." I nodded. He handed me off a prescription for Ativan, for the anxiety. It was a bottomless prescription. I was on 9 milligrams of Ativan a day. Suddenly I had another addiction. Oh, and you know what? I kept drinking on the Ativan. Drinking on Ativan can stop your heart. Drinking on Ativan, especially that much, can kill you. This was a manic phase. Even during this manic phase, I didn't care if I died. One night I took so much Ativan that I thought to myself, "I don't want to wake up tomorrow."
I was obviously depressed, but obviously much more. I let it go. I didn't get the help I was looking for, because I wasn't willing to help myself.
Skip forward much later to the age of twenty-four. My true descent. I had quit the Ativan and quit the Cipralex and I spiralled down into a madness of anxiety and depression. I lost my job. I was clinically diagnosed as agoraphobic. I ordered groceries to my house. Leaving the backyard made me so anxious I would throw up. I was on a wait list for six weeks to get in to see a therapist and psychiatrist. When I finally got in (after missing the first two appointments from anxiety), I decided to lay it out on the line and be honest for the first time.
When she asked me how much I drank I was honest and I told her nearly daily, to the point of getting drunk. She noted it down but diagnosed me with having a type two bipolar disorder regardless. I cried. Even though I'd recognized the symptoms for over ten years, I still cried. All of a sudden I didn't want to be different, I didn't want this diagnosis. Part of me did, so that I could get the help I needed. The other part of me just wanted to have normal emotions, normal moods.
I started on Seroquel first, which was described to me as a 'blanket drug' that could control my emotions. Seroquel made me drowsy and I felt like a zombie the first few weeks. I couldn't wake up in the mornings and I was dizzy and out of it. I was also still drinking (again, extremely dangerous behavior). When I went to increase my dosage I had night terrors for the first time in my life, vivid hallucinations of being strangled, and three people staring over me. I slipped back down to my nightly dosage and sought out a different drug. This time I started on Lamotrigine, a mood stabilizer.
After the first few weeks of slowly increasing my dosage I allowed my body to get used to the new drug and the nausea and exhaustion faded. I started feeling a bit more normal - sort of. I was still getting drunk nightly, trashed, wasted. When I finally cracked in December 2014 I realized that I wasn't letting the medication take its full effect, because the alcohol was still causing depression. So I quit drinking.
I've been told that medication is simply a stepping stone to recovery, that it can't do all of the work, but it can get you to the point where you can start to work on yourself. This is what Lamotrigine has done for me, and I've been able to work on myself, especially after being sober this whole time.
That was a year and a half ago. In the past year and a half I've felt both a depression and a manic upswing. But they are nothing compared to how they were before. It feels as though my emotions have been muted. I still feel. I had a panicky moment last spring when an event in my life happened where I should have freaked out and lost it. I was still able to feel the sadness, anger and hurt, but I didn't fly off the rails like I would have normally. I went to go see my Dad, in a state of worry.
"Dad, I feel like I almost can't feel. Well I can. I just don't feel as much, you know?"
My dad laughed at me. "Welcome to normal human emotion, kiddo." Once I realized that I was finally reacting to a life challenge with a normal emotion, I calmed down and assessed the situation and assessed myself. I embraced that rational mind. I didn't go out and binge-drunk or use drugs or put myself in a dangerous situation. I was able to rationally handle my emotions and the negative situation.
I've lived with a bipolar diagnosis for a year and a half now and I have accomplished so much in my life since then, including sobriety. I don't think I could have handled the diagnosis with booze. I had to get sober in order to accept and embrace my diagnosis, to allow my medication to work, and to come to terms with it within myself. I have now.
I tell myself, I am not bipolar, I have a bipolar disorder.
Having a bipolar disorder is only one aspect of the human being that I am. I don't identify as bipolar. I identify as an artist, a writer, a clothing designer, a human being, but not bipolar. It is a part of me, but I choose not to let it be the biggest part of me. I take my medication every night and I am aware when my mind and body spike in emotion, and I have enough practice within myself to let myself feel appropriately about every and any situation. I stay sober, for myself, and for my mental health.
This fall will be the two year anniversary of my breakdown, the agoraphobia, anxiety, the crux of my drinking. I mentioned before that my bipolar symptoms tend to work in two year cycles. Around this time two years ago I was already experiencing anxiety nearly crippling me, it's coming up on the two year anniversary of my job loss, when I was fired for having a panic attack at work. If my bipolar disorder wants to work in two year cycles, I should be anxious as all hell right now and letting the depression creep in.
Today I woke up and it's a grey day. I'm drinking my coffee, writing this blog post, and reading inspirational quotes. I woke up happy. I woke up not anxious. I'm not going to let history repeat itself.
Because I now have this diagnosis, I also have the tools at my disposal to combat the symptoms. Without this diagnosis, the medication, the therapy, the sobriety, and all of the work that I put into myself, I very well could be spiralling down into another two year cycle at this moment. But I'm not.
I am thankful for my diagnosis, and my experience. I am blessed to have my diagnosis, because I have gotten to know myself much more than I ever believed possible. I won't let my diagnosis define my life, but I have made room for it, accepted it, and embraced it.