I woke up that morning, exactly one year ago today, under a suffocating cloud of dread.
I didn’t remember getting into bed, and I didn’t remember anything I said, but the cold empty space at my side reminded me that things had gone horribly wrong. Again.
I ran the previous day through my head again; he had crashed my car, totalled the other car, and I had no insurance. We needed to wait for the tow truck to take away the smouldering wreckage, so we had decided to get drunk. Really Drunk. As we walked into the pub, we were still experiencing the glow of post-emergency gratitude (at least no one was hurt) and still had a little irrational hope that maybe my CTP insurance would cover the other car’s damage…
This little optimism was like the first thin layer of ice over a winter lake – sparkly and fresh and almost inviting, but one step on its surface and the whole thing caves in. Instead of freezing water, of course, this sparkly layer of hope covered a tumultuous pool of guilt and resentment churning deep within our chests.
Ah there’s nothing like a few drinks to break the ice.
I don’t know what happened next; as with all moments of pain, it seems my psyche deleted the finer details. I remember laughing with the tow truck driver, then watching palm trees fly past our taxi on the way to town, then stumbling behind an angry boyfriend somewhere in the street. It was some argument without logic, just pure repetition and exasperation. Hands in the air, dead stares through angry eyebrows, and possibly worse yet, the indifferent back of someone you love.
Then emptiness, loneliness, a headache, and an overwhelming cloud of dread. I promised myself that this would be the last time I’d feel like this. I’d made that promise before, of course, and then I rolled over to spew.
But it actually was. And now it’s been a whole year.
My relationship with alcohol started out ominous and I should have known right then that it was doomed… The first time we met, I watched two EMT’s carry my unconscious friend out of a house in a body bag. I don’t know if they did it on purpose for dramatic effect, or if that’s a normal way to move an unconscious teenager, but I’ll never forget it. She was fine in the end – they pumped a bit o’ charcoal through a tube into her guts – but we certainly didn’t know that at the time.
I said then that drinking was fuckt, but I didn’t realise how welcome drunkenness would become in the face of an aching isolation and meaninglessness that enveloped my life as I grew older. Ah, the over-privileged life can be so tough when you’ve got so many opportunities to live out your dreams that you just can’t seem to pick one…
It’s been an insane few years – there was a phase where the time for evening whiskey became morning whiskey as I sunk further into my own despair; I sipped my liquid hugs while staring hopelessly at try-hard paintings with tired rhetoric bouncing around in my skull. 12pm. 10am. 9.30 today.
At one point the doctors said “your brain is literally eating itself alive – whether it’s Epilepsy or GAD or SAD or OCD (or any other acronym for loneliness that’s been invented to sell prescription pills) – the natural hyper-activity in your brain is fuelled by this poison. You have to stop drinking to reset the balance”.
I felt like I’d been handed a death sentence – surely life wasn’t worth living if I had to be conscious inside my own head?
I tried, and I lasted 2 months sober, then moved to Darwin and ended up drunk and basically naked by 10pm on the very first day I arrived. About a year later, on a drunken stumble home one evening after a 2 day Christmas bender on meth and whiskey, with an infected tattoo and a broken heart, I finally checked back in to a self that I had long abandoned and I promised that self that things could change. I had no idea where to start, but I had to start.
I remember sweating out pure whiskey and then spewing up bits of my stomach lining in 40 degree heat because I was desperate to learn a proper kick, no matter how drunk I’d been all night (as if I was going to give that up first). I was physically fuckt, mentally exhausted, embarrassed and hopelessly uncoordinated, but I was, unbelievably, happy.
Since training started at 6 pm, I had to stay sober until it was over, and every time I made it through a whole day I felt a little glimmer of that beautiful self-worth that I had long since drowned in whiskey. It wasn’t that I needed to drink for the sake of the drink, it was that I needed to drink to ease the boredom and loneliness of my isolated existence…
With every new skill learned, every helpful training partner, and every punch to the face I felt stronger and closer to myself. I didn’t feel like drinking, and I liked the way my body worked when it wasn’t extricating poison. My mind was silent for a glorious few hours. I learned to face my doubt with kindness.
I learned how to trust myself to fight for my own meaning, at all costs; I realised that maybe, just maybe, I could be a contributor to my reality instead of a parasite.
It wasn’t without mishap, of course, and that takes us back to the start of this story – I know that I am at my happiest when I am directly connecting to something for the sake of genuinely experiencing that thing itself, whether it is Muay Thai, my artwork, my writing, or a friend – and that morning it became absolutely clear that drinking stood in the way of that connection.
I still get sad and anxious from time to time, but my very worst days now are better than my best days then, and I’m amazed that I put up with that shit for as long as I did. Couldn’t see the hopelessness for the trees I guess – I was miles-deep in my own constructed misery, and I just didn’t know that there was any other way.
I think, at the core of it all, we just want to be understood, to be challenged, and to be loved. By isolating myself from love through fear, I disappeared. By actively seeking love through perseverance, vulnerability and honesty, and with plenty of help, I found my way back.
I don’t have the words to express the gratitude and amazement I feel for the people who make up my reality – for my family and friends who watched me disappear and come back – and for the new family I’ve gained in the process. I love you guys more than you’ll ever know.
In the greater scheme of the world, this story is a meandering warble about ungrateful privilege and microscopic perspectives – but I do wonder if we all had the time, space, and support that I had to discover the core of our individual unhappiness we might be better equipped to wage the same battle against it for the whole collective.
A year ago today I asked myself if that next drink was going to make me happy, and the answer was categorically no – so here’s to another year of genuine connection, because, THAT my friends, is a happy addiction.
*A quick disclaimer – all the overwhelming support I’ve received from this post has made me a bit embarrassed and I feel like I need to clarify that I was not an alcoholic, I don’t think, just very drunk a lot – and in the past year I’ve tried drinking a glass of wine on about 3 occasions out of curiosity, but don’t think I ever made it through the whole glass… I’m sorry for being misleading, I think you have to be 100% clean to technically be “sober” and when I talked about it with a friend this morning I realised I was just feeling a bit too weird not to say something at this point. Thank you all SO SO much for reading the story and commenting and I hope this doesn’t take away from what I was trying to say.*