Last Saturday I celebrated 13 years of sobriety. Whodathot? Thirteen years. It sounds strange coming out of my mouth. Thirteen years.
I don’t miss alcohol or drugs. I don’t even think about alcohol or drugs anymore. I don’t miss the taste. I don’t miss cooking without it. And I definitely don’t miss the hangovers. Just conjuring up the memory of a hangover is enough to keep me sober.
I drank a lot. I drank wine, beer, vodka gimlets, Long Island iced teas and anything with a little paper umbrella in it. I loved to drink. I even trained my dog to jump up and grab a lime from my lime tree when I popped open a Corona. She was a great dog – the best drinking buddy ever. If only she had been able to drive…
My mother was not a particularly happy person. She worked very, very hard. She was a devoted mother, dutiful wife and she fulfilled her responsibilities in a state of resignation.
I am not a doctor but I believe she suffered from dysthymia – chronic, low-grade depression. Just before she died, during one of our many conversations in her room at hospice she said something that guides my life: “I just wanted for you kids to be happy.”
I thought about this yesterday after my conversation with a woman who has been verbally abused by her husband for years. She is not happy. She has been so unhappy for so long that she has come to believe that happiness is not important. Happiness is not a goal for her. She values discipline, commitment, hard work, responsibility and respect above happiness.
“I don’t believe in my heart that happiness is necessary,” she said.
For many alcoholics, opposites do not attract.
This is especially true for dually-blessed alcoholics (those of use with another mental illness besides our alcoholism). Take me, for instance. I have alcoholism and hypomania (Bipolar Disorder II). Sometimes I have a lot of energy. A whole lot of energy. Throw a case of Corona and a few limes on that energy and you’ve got one really wound up gal.
The last thing I want to do is hang around someone who does not like Corona, limes and dancing on – not at – a bar. What good are you to me if you don’t skinny dip? Why would you not want to pretend you don’t understand English when you try to sneak into a chi-chi private spa and the attendant asks for your room number? What do you mean you don’t want to:
A. go scuba diving.
B. jump out of an airplane.
C. ride a Harley.
D. join the Mile-High Club
I don’t want to be around people – especially men – who have OFF switches. They are no fun. Even after years of sobriety, therapy, medications and a membership in AARP, I still prefer people – especially men – with that live-on-the-razor’s-edge, laugh-in-the-face-of-death attitude.
I got mad the other day. Zero-to-sixty-in-a-second mad. I wasn’t in a rage, like the day I went to the junkyard with a metal baseball bat. But I was pissed and the guy sitting next to me, who just happened to be the guy who forgot to tell me something that he should have told me, took the brunt of it.
Luckily, we were in the midst of an important public meeting so I had to keep my voice down. But I have a whisper that will curl the hair on the back of your neck and that’s exactly what it did to this poor guy.
We had our little verbal tussle and then shut up but I could feel that manic anger still oozing out of me. And I could see him leaning away from me. I realized that even in silence my mania can shred your serenity. I forgot about the officials up on the dials and paid close attention to my feelings and energy and how it affected this guy.
On the one hand, manic energy is kind of cool. People pay attention to manic energy. It’s probably some primal part of our brain that can sense danger: “Even though that saber tooth tiger is not moving – just staring a hole in me, I can feel his energy and it is not warm and fuzzy. Back away from the tiger.”
Recovered alcoholics have two birthdays. Our belly-button birthday – the day we took our first breath – and our sober birthday – the day we took our last drink. We get presents for both.
I’m telling you this not because my sober birthday is coming up – August 27 is 13 years without a drink – but because we live a life divided. Our sobriety has given us a new life but it comes with price. Secrecy. Anonymity. I am speaking about the life we lead among our clan of fellow recovered alcoholics.
We have sayings – “Keep coming back it works if you work it” – and we have tokens of devotion – colored poker chips to denote lengths of sobriety. We have clubhouses and private meetings. But there are no dues for membership.
I am not knocking any of this. I love my sober life. I am telling you this because this is not always an easy way to live. Especially if you are a dual-diagnosed recovered alcoholic. For many of us, we have spent much of our lives either denying we had a problem, convincing ourselves that we could handle it, ignoring all of it and covering our tracks.
I had a hard time taking off my cape, cuffs and boots. I believed I was Wonder Woman and I was going to pull myself up by my bootstraps and out of this depression, dammit. I didn’t need no stinkin’ help. But things got worse. I stopped eating. I couldn’t work. I slept and slept and slept or struggled with insomnia. My thoughts raced. I looked like hell. But dammit, I was going to lick this.
Then one day I was sitting with some girlfriends who insisted that I do something. This was getting serious, they said. You need to see a doctor and get on some antidepressants. No freakin’ way. I’m not going to take drugs, I told them. Not me. Nuh-uh.
Then one of the girls – a woman who is fabulously successful, brilliant, funny and whom I admire immensely – said something that I will never forget: “Hey, I’m always on either hormones or antidepressants.” I had no idea. She said it like it was no big deal – like taking antidepressants was no bigger deal than taking Lipitor for high cholesterol.
I have often thought about running for office. Don’t laugh. I mean it.
As a journalist I have spent over three decades seeking and listening to all sides of a story. I am trained to be objective and fair. I know how to investigate, challenge and ask questions and I am not afraid to do it. I don’t suck up to anyone and I am not affiliated with any political party. I clean my own house and pull my weeds and do not have any undocumented workers on the payroll. I can handle deadlines and a chain-saw. I know how to live paycheck to paycheck.
It is not money or a skeleton in the closet that keeps me from running. It is my mental illnesses: alcoholism and hypomania. I am not ashamed of being an alcoholic or having a bipolar disorder. Actually, I think my illnesses would make me a better politician. Hitting bottom leaves you with genuine humility and no one works harder or thinks outside the box – waaaay outside the box – more than us folks with bipolar disorder. They are illnesses – just like any other illnesses, right?