I am not sure when the last time I opened those boxes was; over a decade, for sure. They have traveled from a broken marriage in Seattle to Portland for a job then to Palm Springs for another job and to Florida for another… they traveled through many more states and apartments, homes, rooms and finally to this garage… for the last 6 years.
There had to be some part of me that was afraid to open those boxes; especially the part of me that has been sober and living a VERY different life than the decades before; the life that was in between my carefree childhood and 7 years ago. The life that I can now look at with sober, seasoned, adult eyes… albeit teary ones.
In order to move on, you must understand why you felt what you did and why you no longer need to feel it. ~ Mitch Albom
I opened them. They were full of dust and dirt despite the duct tape and clicking lids. I opened the box with my childhood notebooks and citizenship award and even the speech I gave as the Mayor of Walnut Grove City, at 7… who knew?!?!. I opened the boxes the contained all the pictures of the soccer teams, the swim teams and the articles my parents collected over my golf career. All of these made me smile. I laughed out loud many times at pictures my longest friend took of me in a shower cap and full braces… and in my nightgown. I took pictures of the pictures and sent them to my friends so that we could all laugh together.
Then, I got to my high school report cards and pictures of my junior prom. I felt as if someone kicked me in the chest. This is when the unraveling started; the loathing, the shape shifting. It’s when I stopped asking for help and built barrier after barrier and façade after façade trying to convince you (and me) that all was ok and that I had it ALL figured out. Sadly, so far from the truth.
I found the acceptance letter to the UW, articles on my accepting a scholarship for athletics, notes from my Mom and Dad; ones that they had sent to me and notes that I had sent them. So incredibly sweet; all of the things they kept. I found notes warning me of academic probation; from the coach, from the sorority. I remember distinctly being so pissed… my bad grades were THEIR fault. I mean, REALLLLLLY! I remember going to the bar rather than the library. I remember being in a panic every quarter. I remember not going to class because I was doing so bad anyway. I remember denying that I needed help, denying that I was drowning and that I had NO idea what I was doing. I remember thinking that not only were my grades bad but my performance on the course was awful, as well. It was a sinking ship and I chose to drown rather than reach for a life raft.
I found pictures of sorority & fraternity events and having crystal clear memories of VERY BAD things happening. I sat and opened more and more folders of pictures of me drinking and acting out. I found pictures from a marriage destroyed and other relationships torched.
Then, the guilt and the shame set in. I haven’t felt that feeling in a very long time. Guilt and shame of time and opportunity wasted. Guilt and shame of relationships dismissed and bridges burned.
My poor husband walked in on me sobbing and there were truly no words, for either of us. He never knew that girl; no experience with the drama, the outbursts, the hangovers, the deception.
I am 7 years sober. After much time and reflection, I look at the period of my life between 17 and 38 as an experience not an identity (Thank you, Holly). This was not always the case, however. The first 6 years of my sobriety, I spent a lot of time in a 12- step program. I fully immersed myself in to recovery and identifying as an alcoholic. I found a design for living, myself and loving relationships. I found out how to communicate and ask for help. I found out how to forgive and to make an amends.
The last 18 months, however, I have found that my experience is not my identity. I view it like any other experience or event; my pregnancy, my experience as a marathoner or professional golfer. I was and I am no longer; I am not pregnant, I don’t run, I don’t play professionally and I don’t drink or use drugs.
As I finished going through the boxes and put what was left back in to the garage, I became less sad and more grateful. Grateful for my family; for ALL that they gave me and sacrificed and how much love I felt going through the boxes and the care that was taken to preserve those moments. I also was so taken aback by the flood of happy and hysterical moments of my youth. I had some really great times.
There is forgiveness and Grace. It, more often than not, does not happen on our time table. Time not only serves as a buffer to our past but also as a natural scab builder so that we can go back and look at things when it is not as raw, not as fresh and with eyes that are less wounded or filled with judgement.
It took me two weekends and about 7 hours to go through those boxes. I did a lot of starts and stops and reflecting. I recognized when I was overwhelmed or sad and took a step back. I shared with my son and husband all that has happened and most of what was recorded digitally or otherwise.
It is sometimes said that you “shouldn’t look back as you are not going that way”. For me, it was important to look back; to give that girl some Grace, to marvel at a life lived and accomplishments earned.
A college team mate and I were talking and I mentioned to her that some of the images made me sad and that I was sure that I owed her an apology. She assured me that an apology wasn’t necessary and additionally said something so lovely and wise:
Well Jen, life is definitely a learning curve and we all have to figure out our relationship with alcohol sooner or later.
My wish for you, in this New Year, is that you figure out your relationship with drugs and/or alcohol. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you move through the process. Progress and presence over perfection.