I’d like to meet The Doctor, take a ride in the TARDIS, and head on back to whenever and wherever it was from which I got the truly disappointing delusion that the personal growth I would experience during the earlier periods of my sobriety would be, somehow, happy.
There has been plenty of accelerated, almost overwhelming personal growth, of course. There are days when my mind goes racing ahead on the path of understanding where I’ve been and where I’m headed and what’s inside me, and I just keep hoping I can run fast enough and be coordinated to stomp on the leash and catch it before it gets away from me. It seems like one of the side effects of heavy drinking was that my personal, emotional growth was suspended for years while I drank. My relationships were put on ice, if you will – much like the liquor I drank to avoid dealing with them. It was amazing, but at the end of five heavy years of drinking, I still felt like I was in remarkably the same place I had been back when I turned 21, which, when you emotionally wake up at 26, out of college, engaged to be married, and still in the same emotional space you were as an undergrad, is generally a little disconcerting. Like, “How am I still looking for self-identification in Jack Kerouac books, and why do I still have a crush on Orlando Bloom?”
In particular, I have found that one place of painful growth is in my relationships with other people. As sobriety grinds on – as I grind my sobriety on, really – the combination of coherency and rigorous self-examination have tended to suddenly also shed light on the relationships I’ve formed around me in my enthusiastic pursuit of the bottle. In one regard, I’ve been very lucky: I have relationships, some of them very good – like that upcoming marriage – and many recovering alcoholics have to do this process very much alone on the homefront. So, one purple dinosaur sprinkle for me!
But some of the relationships I’ve formed while drinking have been … how shall we say: less than savory. I used to count among my “friends” a fellow bar fly who had totalled another person’s car, injuring several people, while drunk driving and actually resented the court order to stop drinking. He told me this over beers, of course. It sounds insane to me now, but at the time – I’m ashamed to say – I commiserated with that guy. Then there was the fellow alcoholic lady I knew who, after a year and a half of what I thought was a close friendship, revealed to me that she’d been using her friendship with me as an alibi to give her husband while she slept around with guys half her age. At time, through all the vodka, I felt flattered that she trusted me enough to use me that way.
Go ahead and re-read that sentence and let it sink in a bit.
This is the diseased thinking that accompanied my many years of alcoholism. This kind of self-loathing, zero self-esteem crap is the stuff I carried around in my purse every day, and it was a bitter pill to swallow, so I usually chased it with a bottle or two of wine. But since gaining sobriety and learning a thing or two or twenty about myself, it’s been astonishing to me the kinds of friendships I’ve formed – and I’ve formed them around an attitude I held about myself, make no mistake. Those two people I mentioned up there are extreme examples, but even some of the friendships I’ve formed with people who are not alcoholics are still tenuous and questionable when examined through the clear light of a sober day. Though my friendships that pre-date my alcoholism tend to be characterized by shared characteristics like love of literature, fastidious responsibility complexes, and extremely dry senses of humor, the ones that come after carry far less responsibility, and connections formed on – for lack of a better word – deeply shallow terms.
It’s not fair to generalize: like I said earlier, I’ve been a lucky alcoholic. I have some wonderful relationships. And the less compatible ones I’ve formed are more a reflection on my decision making skills during those years than on the inherent value of any one person.
Actually, I started this post slamming the self-knowledge that comes from sobriety, but as I think about it, I’m pretty grateful for this growth. I’m grateful for the opportunity to clear my head, take a step back from harmful connections, and start to form healthy, type-A friendships like I always used to.