The View From The Sidelines

What makes someone want to get sober? What is it that makes somebody finally say “enough is enough?” Is it getting caught enough times? Is it the consequence of being found out? Does it really have to take coming to a point where there are no more second chances? Does one really have to find their rock bottom before deciding to truly give sobriety a chance?

When I got clean it was because I had no where else to go. I’m grateful that my bottom wasn’t as low as some, and that I still had family to care enough to help. I don’t think I would have seen myself into a facility, I needed someone to take those steps with me. Still, I had reached my bottom by the time I was ready. While most moments in my life eventually blur to black, I can remember with unusual clarity the hours before I called my mother.

While I was once known for my strong skills in the service industry, I had burned enough bridges to become unemployable in the restaurants and bars close enough to walk to and I had never replaced my car after the DUI incident a couple of years earlier. Rent was due and I had no job, no chance for a job, and no one left to borrow money from. I had $40 to my name and was on my last pack of cigarettes. Soon I would have to choose between replenishing my dwindling cocaine supply or another couple of packs of parliament lights. I had no food but I was an anorexic with a cocaine habit, food was hardly a consideration.

I sat in my beautiful, well furnished apartment (remnants from loftier days) and considered my options. I read the personal ads of obvious call girls in the Dallas Observer and imagined myself as one of those girls. I tried to figure out the specifics of how that would work – would they come to me? They’d have to, I didn’t have a car. Could I be sure of my own safety if I allowed strange men looking for sex in my door? How could I be sure I wouldn’t get arrested? It felt too risky. I paced around my apartment, chain smoking cigarettes that I couldn’t afford to waste. I thought about Harry Hines, the street that I heard people went to for prostitutes. Sex meant nothing to me, it hadn’t for years, I didn’t consider the moral implications of working the street, cocaine was my new God. Still, despite a polished urban veneer and a hard edge, I was just a country girl in the big city. I believed all those stories about pimps and violence. I could take money for sex, but I was afraid of getting hurt in the process. And jail, I was terrified of jail. I felt sick but by then I always felt sick.

It never once occurred to me that there were government programs for the destitute. I never once thought about food stamps or agencies that offered housing assistance , job placement, and the like. I have to believe that it was God that kept those thoughts from me because if I had been able to think of any possible way to stay alive, out of jail, and on cocaine I would have taken it.

I waged this internal battle for hours. I tried to think of every possible way in which I could safely sell sex – which had become, in my mind, the only way to earn the kind of money I needed. No matter how many scenarios I came up with, I couldn’t find a way to become a prostitute without the risk of serious injury (because while I welcomed the idea of death, even the thought of pain was unbearable to me) or time in jail.

Hours. This went on for hours. Of course, long story short, I ended up in rehab. The point , though, is that even when my entire life had come down to the choice of prostitution or rehab, I still tried my best to find a way to choose prostitution. I’m grateful it never came to that for me, but I’ll never forget how close it did come.

What about lying? What does it take for an addict to stop lying to the people trying to help them? More importantly, how does an addict stop lying to themselves? When does the truth get easier to bear? When does an addict truly begin to understand how to protect themselves from their worst enemy – themselves?

It took me a long time to stop lying, to other people or myself. Sometimes I’m still not good at telling myself the truth, which is when knowing how to protect me from me and having a solid support network is vital. I think that the hardest thing about getting and staying sober is learning to accept blame and responsibility; owning your mistakes and your weaknesses is hard for everyone, but harder for addicts who have made a social art out of victimization.

I lied myself into my first and, God willing, only relapse. I told myself that I could drink casually and responsibly. I led myself to believe that God intended for me to be able to have a healthy relationship with alcohol as a sign of my complete healing – my drinking could only serve to bring glory to him. It is truly masterful the way addiction can trick a brain, in the most rational manner possible.

For a long time it seemed I was right. I was able to keep my drinking seemingly healthy and controlled. I was more than capable of having just one drink, of keeping my boundaries intact, and I was proving it more and more often. So confident was I in my self-control that I stopped paying attention to it. I was normal and healthy and no one would dare to think otherwise. I was fine – until I wasn’t.

A drink every couple of weeks turned into every weekend turned into a few times a week turned into binge drinking turned into every night drinking. I had listened to the cunning voice of my addiction over the voices of wisdom that surrounded me and I was in active addiction once again, blacking out more often than not only to awaken the next day hungover and trying to manage the damage.

I quit drinking almost nine months ago. I learned almost as much from relapsing and returning to sobriety as I did from rehab itself. In rehab I learned how to conquer addiction, in relapse I learned how to conquer myself.

I have learned so much over the last four years. I have acquired so many of my own answers. Yet, in my next chapter of life, I realize I still know so little. I haven’t yet learned how to make an addict want to be well. I haven’t begun to understand how to let the experience of my addiction sufficiently convince another to choose a better way. I have only found the answers to my disease, not the cure for disease itself, and suddenly, as my youngest sister sits on the fence between addiction and sobriety, it’s the cure that seems most important. I have not felt helpless in a long time, but I feel helpless now.

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8 thoughts on “The View From The Sidelines

  1. Can the world around *you* in particular take such rampant honesty…I am in tears…
    Bravissima! You are brave! Just a reminder that the first step is admitting powerlessness, not helplessness—this might help shift the focus a bit. We are not helpless—remember you had a family that commited you to the Helper. It’s the waiting that can be so very hard. I still remember the powerlessness that one of your sisters expressed many years ago over where *you* were at, and how they are rejoicing now! We are all prisoners of hope. I love you!

  2. It’s an arduous thing, peering into the dark corners of your soul painfully aware that you’re only one choice away from a life altering decision- and teetering on the edge.
    It wasn’t all for nothing! Your journey is just beginning and I am confindent you will have a rich and abundant life!

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