All The Truth You Sleep With

Photo Jul 18, 10 17 22 PM

Kate* sold her body for heroin.

Kate was also one of the unlikely teachers that I’ve found in my sobriety, showing me that truth will take root in the most barren places.

When I first got sober, I enrolled myself in a rehab program, and Kate was one of the many, weathered women in my recovery group. She looked unkempt. Distracted. And, I thought her to be something of a loose cannon. But, she had almost one year of sobriety — to my less than thirty days. I wanted to know how. There was something mysterious and unusual about her, and, I watched her carefully. She was short, overweight, and had tight blonde curls that swung back and forth, wildly, when she turned her head from side to side. She was covered in tattoos, most of which, she had gotten recently. She told me that she was in the process of covering up all of her scars. — Something that everyone in the group was trying to do, in some fashion or another.

Kate lived in a halfway house for women. She was on probation for prostitution, solicitation, and drug possession. She’d already served hard time. And, the court had just awarded her custody of her daughter, under the supervised care of her halfway house, after a long period of separation. — I had never met someone who, outwardly, was so much my opposite. She was twenty-three, but, she looked like she was forty. She had tired eyes and when she pulled her legs up under her, onto the couch in the meeting room, she exuded a knowing protectiveness. She didn’t want others to notice her. She looked both ways before doing anything, and, no matter who was present, her motions were preceded with extreme caution.

One morning, Kate showed up to group early. I was the only one in the meeting room. She met my eyes with suspicion, but, then, a smile swept away the clouds of her constantly gloomy face and she walked toward me. “Look,” she said, pointing to a large bandage taped over the length of her forearm.

“Oh my God!” I looked up at her with concern. “What happened?” She laughed and sat down beside me on the couch. She peeled back the bandage and revealed her newest tattoo: “You Are Only As Sick As Your Secrets” was gracefully penned, in ornate, red, scripted letters across the inside of her arm. — “Don’t you fucking love it ?!” She squealed.

Her new tattoo was a popular saying, one that you hear often in 12-Step or rehab. Kate was not the first junkie to make this her slogan, and, she won’t be the last. But, there was something about her reveling in her truth on that morning, that made me think about my own.

Kate had little formal education. Her parents were drug addicts and dealers. And, her life, from the very start, had been nothing but struggle. When I listened to her speak, I felt like a fool for sitting in the same room. — My battle was nothing compared to hers. — I was an affluent kid. Loved and cared for by my family. I wanted for nothing. Yet, here I was. In rehab. It made no sense. How had this happened? What had gone wrong? What had Kate done wrong? Surely, no one deserved the life she’d had. It pained me to even imagine.

I spent days and hours in my rehab group trying to make sense of her. I looked for clues. Observing how she spoke and how she moved. I listened to her story, which unfolded in every session, breaking my heart. — In comparison, my addiction, my dependency, my helplessness seemed like a pittance. No matter how I searched, I could never find the link that connected us. Until that morning, when Kate  showed me, and the rest of the group, her new tattoo.

“Who feels like sharing first?” Our counselor asked, her eyes scanning the room. Kate looked from side to side, and carefully raised her bandaged arm into the air. “Thank you for volunteering. Go ahead, Kate.”

Kate shifted in her seat on the couch, carefully cradling her arm. “You guys, I got this today.” She said, as she peeled back her bandage, yet again, and waved her new, red-inked arm from side to side, making sure the entire room could see it. “It feels really fucking good. Because, I was so sick, you guys.” She paused, gulping something back, hard. “All those secrets I had. Oh my God, I was so fucking sick. I never told nobody nothing about all the shit I did. Nobody knew all the shit that went down. Nobody. Not even my daughter’s father. But, I knew. And, I ate those secrets you guys. I ate it. So, here’s my truth, straight up: I fucked Johns for dope. But, I was really fucking them to escape dope. To escape all of it. That dope was my ticket out, guys. I thought it melted all my secrets. But, it just melded them. It just melded them into one big secret. You can’t get away from that shit, you guys.”

She paused again, looking down at her new tattoo. And then, two, big tears dropped, one from the corner of each of her eyes. She wiped them away quickly as we all  sat watching her, spellbound. — We had never seen her cry.

“You want to know how I got almost a year clean and sober? Tell all your fucking secrets, you guys. Tell them. Because, they make you sick. And, at night, it’s not just the Johns and it’s not just the secrets you sleep with — it’s all the truth. It’s all the truth you sleep with. —That’s the shit that clogs your fucking soul, guys. That’s the shit that will kill you.”

Then, she stopped talking. She looked at me across the circle in a way she had never looked at me before. As if, despite our obvious differences, we were the same. Just women. Just hurt. Just looking for the truth. The same truth. Dropping our dead weight there in the middle of the meeting room floor. — We were only as sick as our secrets. — And, now, Kate was free.

It got quiet for a long minute before we just continued on with our session. But, I spent the rest of that day, night, and week thinking about Kate. — Thinking about all the truth I slept with.

I could not fathom Kate’s life. But, I began to realize that, while I was drinking and using drugs — I could no longer fathom my own life, either. I had stopped being honest. I had lied at every turn to keep myself running at the same pace. I’d kept my secrets well — and, still, they’d caught up to me.

Honesty isn’t one thing. It can’t be. And, when you start telling your truth, it won’t sound how you expect it to sound. But, without it, you’ll have nothing. — You’ll end up with a bunch of lies you have to keep straight. And, then — you’ll have to go home and sleep with the truth.

The truth, when you’re living a lie, is a persistent and terrifying ghost.

Kate was right. Spill your guts, and know, whatever ends up on the floor, can free you. Show up for your life and peel back your bandages. Your scars — covered by tattoos or not — are there to remind you of what came before. — A monument for something real.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I think about Kate. And I remember, even when I am scared, and my bed feels sad, and empty — I have all this truth, laying here, beside me.

 

*This name has been changed to protect and honor Kate’s anonymity.

 

You Can Lead A Drunk To Water

Photo May 21, 9 50 33 AM

When you’re a drunk, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to realize that you’re a drunk. — Trust me.

But, it won’t be opportunity that makes you willing to change.

The day I realized I was alcoholic, I gave no fucks. I wasn’t in the wake of severe sickness or a heinous hangover. I didn’t have a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I recall it, what was ostensibly the most dramatic day of my life, was not very dramatic — at all.

On the contrary. My haphazard self-discovery occurred in the midst of what was an otherwise arbitrary moment. Completely ordinary. It was as though I had already made room for the information, as if I had been expecting it to arrive. And, in most ways, it felt as if nothing had happened at all. Except — something had happened.

On the day of my revelation, I was still enrolled in a state sanctioned outpatient rehab program as part of my sentence for DUI, which I’d been charged with earlier in the year. As was part of the routine, I’d been drug tested the Friday before — which meant I was in the clear to drink for several weeks before I’d be tested again.

I’d been living my life this way for months. And, even as I neared the end of my first stint in drug and alcohol treatment, I worked around it, diligently, continuing to drink when I knew I had enough time to detox before being tested again. Yes, I fucked the system. And, I fancied myself clever and rebellious for doing so. The majority of my rehab group was behaving in the same way. But, I remember feeling so above them all. I imagined that I was the only one who was truly “managing” my problem. Because, after all, I didn’t really have a problem. I’d just been caught in a low moment. Who hasn’t?

I ignored the warning from Jim, our rehab group leader, — “I know what you’re up to, Sarah. I can’t prove it, because you’re testing clean, but, this will catch up with you. Maybe it’ll be while you’re working with us in here, or, maybe it’ll be when you get back out there into the real world. Tread lightly, sweetheart.”  But, I knew better. Stupid, fucking Jim, I thought, he didn’t even know that I’d never left my “real world.”

Except — he totally knew. And, that’s what he was trying to tell me.

Of course, Jim was right. Everything would catch up with me. But, when it did, I would have no Willingness to change, whatsoever. And, that’s how it goes. We sometimes discover our truth in a moment when we have absolutely nothing to gain from it. — No hope. No momentum.

On the day of my revelation, I walked by my local pub and I stopped to peer in through the big, glass window. My fair-weather-friends sat ponied up to the bar, laughing. Amelia, one of my favorite bartenders, mixed her signature Sunday-Bloody-Mary in a pint glass. My small little world waited for me inside — a tall glass of infused vodka and tomato juice, topped with an excessive vegetable garnish — and all that sloppy, smarmy camaraderie. My only happiness, just feet away.

I was inclined to walk in, then and there. But, as soon as the thought entered my head, I knew I couldn’t. — I had errands to run. Several that involved the use of my car. And, between the breathalyzer I’d have to blow into to start the engine and the other adult-like tasks that needed doing, — I knew I couldn’t have that Sunday-Bloody-Mary. Not yet.

And, that was the moment. — The singularly unspectacular moment when I realized I was a drunk. I knew that if I had just one of Amelia’s Goddamned Sunday-Bloody-Mary’s, that my day was shot. — I’d be at that bar until it closed or until I was cut off and kicked out — whichever came first. And so, I scheduled my errands around the absolute certainty that once I was seated at that bar — I wasn’t getting up again until I was good and shitfaced.

This is the definition of alcoholism.

You would think discovering that my life revolved around something so meaningless, so empty, would lead me to some sort of existential reckoning. A reckoning that would get me some Willingness. A reckoning that would usher me out of my small, shitty life and into the bigger, better pastures for which I was destined. But, it didn’t.

The day I realized I was an alcoholic, I did what any good alcoholic would — I got the bullshit tasks I needed to get done, done. And then, I marched right back to that pub and I got down to business. — And, I drank to blackout.

Willingness is not born to those who acknowledge its necessity. Willingness is born to those who are ready to ask for help. And, help is the one thing that every drunk will need.

Sometimes, help will stand right in front of you. Like Jim did, for me. But, if you’re a real drunk — you’ll likely ignore the many life rafts that float up along side you while you’re sipping your beverage du jour, floating downstream.

Jim was just my warning sign. A marker scratched into the door frame that documents my alcoholism’s many growing pains.

Willingness is that invisible hand for which, eventually, we reach out when there is nothing left for us to hold on to. It is the last notch we’ll gauge in the doorway. But how and when we decide to do these things, is still a mystery. But, be assured that someone, like Jim, will lead you to the water. And, maybe, on that day, you’ll gulp it down. But, if you’re like me, the chances are better that you’ll run from the oasis the first time you come upon it.

But, on some other day, you will find yourself with Willingness. Jim will be long gone. You’ll be staring through the glass window of the pub and you’ll decide — you don’t have to drink that day. And, you’ll think of Jim as you pass by door, whispering to yourself:

“Tread lightly, sweetheart.”

Meaning & Memory

Friday the 13th: I lost my sobriety ring.

FLASHBACK: The night I left my restaurant management job, before going to rehab, my co-workers threw me a party. And, it was one of the best parties ever. I got sloppy drunk, of course, but everyone knew — it was my last-hurrah. I felt so loved that night and I was genuinely hopeful. Amidst all my drinks and all my fun, I was secretly relieved to be so close to freedom.

onering<<<—— Sauced at my goodbye party!

The sous chef pulled me aside and handed me a gift. She was relatively new in the kitchen and I didn’t know her very well, so I was surprised by the gesture. I opened my little package at the bar, whilst sipping my cocktails. It was a thin, wiry, sterling silver ring. Simple. Small. Understated. There was a little note inside too — to the effect of: When you wear this ring, remember why you quit. It seemed so appropriate as I sat there, throwing back drinks, hugging my staff goodbye, letting go of my life as I knew it. Remember why you quit.

I wore the shit out of that ring. My first day sober, I put that thing on my thumb and there it stayed. I turned it around-and-around on my finger nervously in my first days of rehab and at 12-Step meetings. I popped it on and off during awkward moments that you only experience as a newly sober person. And, every time I looked at it, I remembered. I remembered sitting at my restaurant bar, wasted, wanting to be DONE.

When I realized my ring was missing Friday, I figured I’d forgotten to put it back on after my shower. But, it wasn’t in my little, glass, ring dish. Or on the floor. Or on my nightstand. Or by the kitchen sink. Gone.

I had this moment of panic. If my “sobriety” ring is gone…. Am I going to drink now?

A ring — something so inconsequential, however symbolic, had made me question my own ability to stay sober. That’s alcoholism. And, I have enough sobriety, at the moment anyway, to know that the thoughts, where I make it OK, reasonable even, to drink — are just a symptom. A symptom that dresses up the elephant in the room.

My Elephant: I lost something else this week too, not just the ring. It was big. Something I won’t find in-between the couch cushions next time I vacuum. And, sometimes, when I lose big things, I start assigning meaning to smaller things in an attempt to lighten my load. I let my little stuff take over my big stuff. I compartmentalize. I attempt to organize all the meaning. Then, overwhelmed by meaning — I give meaning to meaningless things.

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Losing my ring was just a reminder: Honor your losses. Know, that some things have so much meaning, we’ll never actually make sense of them being gone. There is nothing that can replace this, so, don’t try. Let go, step into the void, stop looking. Just remember. Remember.

Today, I thumb the spot where my ring used to be. I remember what I had, and what it felt like when I had it. I acknowledge that, today, it’s gone.

Life can change as easily as a ring slips off a finger. It doesn’t mean anything. But, looking back, retracing my steps, remembering where I once stood —it means everything.

Stay saucy,

Sarah