SoberSoul….a person who creates, practices and lives the life we want, need and deserve. We seek information, motivation, and inspiration for learning ways to return to a balanced state of health, mind and strength. We seek to rediscover the essence of who we are and support a thoughtful, less hurried and calmer way of life.
Such a “Sensitive” Girl
I’m fairly certain my world has always revolved around my internal anxiety. My family still jokes about my frequent nightmares from the age of three, “you shouldn’t have watched Dark Shadows”, they say. I just remember an intense fear of sleeping, which turned into lifelong insomnia. I began overcompensating for my sensitivity early. The description was (and is) stubborn. Apparently holding my breath until I passed out was my thing. I can still remember what I wanted when doing it, escape.
I remember drinking for the first time on Christmas Day, probably around middle school because after trying a few sips of alcohol it took me nearly 20 minutes to try on my new leotard–gymnastics was my latest obsession. As a family, we always had alcohol at our gatherings, it was part of the ensemble, but not the lead character. I knew my grandfather had stopped drinking but was told it was because he had a heart attack. Only later in my 20’s did more details, of what sounded more like chronic binge drinking, emerge. His heart issues concerned me, but certainly not the alcohol use. During my teenage years, some of my friends drank and a few times I joined them. It wasn’t really my jam, finding it difficult to feel cool or funny anytime, much less when everyone else seemed to be having so much fun. Not me, it made me feel more self-conscious.
Like many families, ours was veiled in layers of secrets. Some well kept, but others got out. My home life was pretty chaotic. In large part due to a father with a serious mental health issue that, while being treated, went undiscussed as a family unit. This was the late 70’s and early 80’s in a pretty small town and no one really had the language or fortitude to talk openly about these things. I know my family did the best they could, but it was scary, stressful and often embarrassing, at least for me. My father’s mother also had a long and tumultuous battle with mental illness ( and likely some substance use issues) which ended in her death at the hands of two strangers in her apartment over a popular bar in town. It was a big news story due to the fire set by the two men and the long trial that followed. That was my sophomore year in high school. My grades dropped, I slept even less and cried more. In those days people tended to ask questions about the trial and my grandmother rather than inquire about how I or my family was doing. To me, it felt like the whole world was looking at us as freaks. I felt such shame, confusion, and disconnection, desperate to belong and fit in.
Around the same time, I saw my mother taking medication (as prescribed) for sleep and sometimes drinking wine. That’s when the thought occurred to me that this might work for me too. I began to sneak wine from the box in the basement refrigerator. It was easy. A few times I snuck into my mom’s purse and stole half a valium tablet. She must have noticed missing doses because she asked me about it and I stopped, I think. You see, besides remembering when I did bad things, and a few good things, there are big gaps of missing time. I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but one time I drank wine before going out to do something with my friends. That was the last time I snuck wine because a good friend of my told me I smelled like alcohol. So ashamed, I had to look for something else to ease my relentless worry.
Oh yeah, another way for me to handle the stress of my home life, and a pattern I had established much earlier, was to attempt to be a good girl and be good at a lot of things. It didn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun and was pretty good at some stuff, but, eventually, I ran out of coping skills for my main coping skill of hyper-vigilant distraction. The activities, boys, school clubs, gossip or whatever, combined with getting 3-4 hours of sleep only increased my anxiety and stress level. The roller coaster makes sense to me now. I just kept searching for something that offered me a feeling of some control, some relief from my inner self. Stubborn became bossy. I remember in high school one friend asking me why I always acting “so old” and another who wondered in a post-graduation conversation why I was always crying. Dang, I truly had no idea, at the time.
I started Leaving
In part, the beginning of this pattern was a good thing. Leaving my family allowed me to experience a new perspective. Discovering college life & music in the big city of Minneapolis, MN (in the 80’s people!), First Avenue, Graffitis, and Prince (more about his influence another time). I began binge drinking beer and long island ice teas because that is what you do in college, right? Still, not making any connection to sustaining my inability to cope with my emotional life and constantly seeking to numb myself. Another pattern emerged at this time, seeking out relationships with exciting, interesting, smart and emotionally unavailable men– who enjoyed drinking or using daily. Drinking daily had not yet become ingrained in me, but looking back, I was so intrigued by the “grownupness” and perceived sexiness of the ritual. Damn hindsight. After graduating from the U of M, I left again.
My then boyfriend moved to LA and didn’t ask me to join him, so I moved to Northern California Wine Country, where I had friends. Here I found my holy grail, the sophisticated way to get my drink on…wine. I also lost my relationship, my first job out of college and self-respect. The inability to cope with pressures and stress of daily adult life caused me to truly crash and burn for the first time. After I quit my job impulsively, I started drinking alone. Surely depression played a role, but the result was me needing to escape from whatever feelings were erupting inside. So, off I went.
The Hole in my Soul
A strong desire for belonging and impulsive and fearless attitude kept me frenetically moving for the next 20 years. Following two years in Wine Country, I went back to the midwest, on to Washington DC and Virginia for a long while and then back to the midwest. My chaotic life was fueled by lack of sleep, adrenaline, constant travel, self-inflicted change, and an increasing daily amount of alcohol. Consistently confused by my spiking/spiraling mix of anxiety and depression. Prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication by unaware doctors, became useless mixed with the alcohol. Rarely seeking help. Although I felt like I was in trouble, the people around me were all doing the same thing. Well, to be fair, I’m not certain they drank alone on my “relaxation” days, or all night long while I worked on my business website, garden plans, and other very productive things.
Right after 9/11, my anxiety and fear increased dramatically. Did I have a problem? Why did I have a problem if they didn’t? Why was I drinking so much? Didn’t I have everything I wanted? Married to a “great man”, security, my own business, multiple homes, lots of friends, etc…?
I managed to not drink for almost an entire year before deciding to leave the life I worked so desperately to build. Driving away from an outwardly idyllic life in central Virginia horse country, it took only two hours before I pulled off the road, bought a bottle of wine, checked into a hotel and restarted my cycle of numbing. As I drove across the country, toward my new safe place, I felt free again. Singing and drinking all the way home. Yeah, I know, crazy.
By July 2010, I was lying in my bed, in my beautiful, quaint and finely decorated (read new obsession) cape cod back in my hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin. I had been drunk, high or in withdrawal for 10 days. This is not what I had dreamt of for myself. In the last two years, there had been some progress, an outpatient rehab program, 7 months abstinence from alcohol (but not benzodiazepines) and I bought and remodeled a house! However, there were many more consequences, ER visits, fractured relationships, a “rehab relationship” and so much self-hatred.
I Needed Help.
Only in reflection, now 7+ years later, can I see the hope that lived deep within me that day. Begging for help, but still trying to control the arrangements, I somehow conveyed to my family how serious I was, that it was my time. My aunt and uncle drove me to Hazelden residential treatment facility, while I drank just enough vodka to hold off the difficult and potentially life-threatening withdrawal from two drugs. I was so scared and full of shame. Yet, this was all part my Sobersoul journey, witnessed by my frightened and frustrated family and friends, surely leaving them feeling helpless and yet, relieved. The next few hours, days, weeks and months were gut-wrenching and really difficult. It was no picnic taking an honest assessment of the value and priority I placed on my drugs (alcohol is a very strong drug my peeps) As my mind cleared, each memory and realization was devastating, heartbreaking and shame-inducing. But, I began to get educated on how my brain worked, why my expectations and thoughts drove my relationships and learning and practicing healthy ways of coping with my feelings and traumatic life events. Slowly, my life improved, my world stopped spinning and I changed.
Freeing My Sobersoul
Today, contentment, connection, stillness, and peacefulness are my top priorities. This is what I define as my Sobersoul. Thanks to the wisdom and guidance of a few very special mentors and the stories from so many others in pain, I live the life I need. Unchaining my Sobersoul meant focusing on awareness of the many emotions I had previously buried, left unvalidated and numbed myself from. Then, gaining insight into the many “whys” and practicing coping skills which formed healthier ways for my brain and mind to function, together. This path of personal development and commitment to lifelong learning allows me to live a fully engaged, connected and well-balanced life. One that helps me get all those needs I was chasing but had not named or acknowledged, met. Giving me the gifts of desire, passion, enthusiasm, and ability to be present and focused when just hanging with and helping other humans.
Getting the life I need & deserve took a long time.
I’m going to work hard to keep it.