These are the things I’ve heard people say about addiction and alcoholism. My addiction is the monster hiding under my bed, the shark swimming under my surfboard, and the murderer sneaking up on me with an ice pick. I was told to fear my addiction. Yet, after almost 10 years of sobriety, I’m still waiting for the axe to fall. After over 3,500 days without a drink or a drug, how do I win the daily battle with my addiction? For me, it’s simple: I stopped fighting a war I knew I couldn’t win.
Every 24 Hours, Another Drink or Drug
When I was drinking and using, almost all of my energy went into getting high. I planned my day around drugs and alcohol. Towards the end, I couldn’t hide what my addiction was doing to my body. I woke up at 4 a.m. every day, still drunk from the night before. I staggered into the office where I worked, got a cup of strong coffee, and sullenly answered the phone until my head started to clear, usually a little before noon. I hated that job, but I was terrified of getting fired. I needed the regular paychecks to cover the cost of my habit. Every day, once my hangover slipped into place, I started planning my first drink.
“I should go home and sleep it off,” I sometimes thought to myself. But it was much easier to stop by one of the convenience stores or markets I passed on the way, pick up a couple bottles of cheap champagne, roll a joint, and drink until I blacked out. I usually slept for a few hours, then woke up, washed my face, and went out to the bar.
As my addiction progressed, I was never more than an hour without a drink in my hand. I fantasized about drinking at work, or about calling in sick so that I could drink the way I wanted to. I was never not drunk. I hid my rent money from myself so I wouldn’t spend it on alcohol and drugs. At the end, I started hallucinating and was not able to tell day from night. Yet, my physical and psychological dependence made it impossible to stop. I knew I was doomed, and didn’t even try to fight my addiction.
One Day Equals 86,400 Seconds
When the moment came, I wasn’t planning on getting sober. I didn’t even want to stop using. I just wanted my boyfriend to believe that I’d quit so that I could get back to doing what I wanted. Seriously. However, instead of being “just a break,” my first few days of miserable, dope-sick, hungover sobriety were my window of opportunity. I was too weak to get out of bed. I couldn’t eat. I wet the bed because I couldn’t even get up and walk by myself. After three days, I was able to stand by myself. I didn’t want to get drunk. I wanted a burrito. I stood in my closet for 45 minutes, trying to pick out clothes that didn’t smell like a barroom floor. By the time I got dressed, and slowly made my way out of my apartment building, the food cart on the corner was gone. I sat on the curb, smelling like a corpse, and cried.
And still, I wasn’t fighting it. I think part of me was just waiting for the urge to use to come back. I knew how powerful my cravings were, and I knew I wasn’t able to resist once they surfaced. My desire to get off the planet drove me to do insane things—and when I was in that mood, nothing on God’s green earth could stop me or reason with me. I accepted, once again, that there was nothing I could do about it. I started taking better care of my body. I got a job that I didn’t hate, and spent less time at the bar. I talked to a therapist. “None of this is going to make any difference,” I told myself. But the days went by, and the craving didn’t come back. Almost three years went by. Was I crazy? Maybe all that insanity—the things I did in order to get high, the risks I took—was just a phase. Maybe I’d outgrown my addiction.
The Power of Surrender
Then, like a tsunami that rose inside me, I felt the desire again. It took me by surprise. I was watching my one-year-old son pick up a piece of Cheerios off the carpet, and all of a sudden, the wave hit me. It was just as bad, if not worse, than I remembered. If I’d had alcohol or drugs in the house, I would have inhaled them immediately. Instead, I paced back and forth, trying to think of a way I could smuggle a bottle of vodka into the house without my husband noticing. Did I still have my dealer’s phone number? Could I get someone to watch my baby while I went to the bar? It was madness.
What stopped me, that day? Nothing. I believe that the reason I didn’t race out of the house to get loaded was the same reason I’d given up trying to manage my addiction in the first place. I knew I was an addict: I knew I was an alcoholic. I knew that there was nothing I could consciously do to stop the racing thoughts and overwhelming cravings that were the trademark of my active addiction. I knew that, for me, addiction wasn’t a choice—but getting high was. I looked down at my son. His eyes were wide and blue. He smiled at me. He didn’t know what it was like to have a mother in active addiction.
“I can wait until tomorrow,” I told myself.
Tomorrow didn’t come. Instead, I went to my first AA meeting. “I don’t need help quitting drinking,” I said to the group. “I need help not starting again.” I got a sponsor and worked the steps. I learned that, when I was afraid, I could lean on my support group and my Higher Power. I learned that being in remission from active addiction didn’t mean that I could stop working on myself. In the meetings, I heard about powerlessness—the same feeling I had when I accepted that I was truly beyond human help. It didn’t frighten me. It made me feel safe.
Accepting Who I Am, A Sober Addict and Alcoholic
Years later, I still feel the same. My daily reprieve keeps showing up, and I keep taking care of myself. I don’t see myself as half-light and half-shadow. I don’t believe that there’s a three thousand pound gorilla out there, waiting to grab me as soon as I slip up or walk into a bar. What I do believe is that I am one very lucky addict who has stopped fighting her addiction. I appreciate every day that goes by, because it’s a day that I have been free from active addiction. For me, it’s not a battle at all: it’s the sky the morning after, when the chemtrails have settled and the bombs are no longer falling. For me, it’s the quiet that comes when both sides run out of bullets and walk towards one another unarmed, waving white flags, arms open, finally ready to surrender.