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Shattering the Toxic Cycle of Alcohol Abuse
When I was drinking, I pretty much did whatever I wanted and usually got away with it, I liked to call it spontaneity. I think it’s because I enjoyed the chaos of it. Chaos was what I understood to be normal. A toxic cycle of alcohol and abuse was all that I knew. Today I am over 8 months sober with a couple of slips that are well behind me. I have found a new normal that I value. A life that I’ve created. A life that works for me. But that life is not the one that I was raised to live.
Normality: The state of being usual, typical or expected.
I have grown up in a family that played at normality. Skeletons were kept in closets, physical welts and bruises were hidden under long sleeved clothing, and the bruises on my heart were a secret between me and my pillow during the night. Secrets were secrets and if they were spoken aloud, they were hushed like a mother who hushes her child during a church service.
My family was the picture of normality. We went to church, we played sports, we never went without and we lived with parents who were still married which I understood to be quite rare amongst my friends. If you asked anyone about our child-hood, they would have thought that we had a brilliant one, because we were good at playing at normality. Whispers about us were ignored as was genuine concern for our welfare. We tried to do what was expected at home and we definitely did as was expected in public. We hid the reality of our lives from our friends because we wanted to be normal, and if anyone questioned us- we would immediately jump to the defense of the perpetrator.
Chaos: Complete disorder and confusion.
When teachers asked about the bruises and bloodied lips, lies slipped easily off my tongue, because I craved normality- I didn’t want to be THAT kid. I was a secret high achiever, I pretended I didn’t care about school-work but I still aimed and scored high. I didn’t want teachers to think any less of me because my home-life was in shambles. When secrets threatened to split me in two from the inside, I pushed them even deeper. Some so deep that I didn’t remember them until adulthood. There were holes in walls, cowering children, yelling, so many bruises- take your pick of a weapon; and there was chaos. Complete and utter chaos. The chaos was covered up by a level of normality outside of the home, so perfectly that hardly anyone knew what was going on. We knew what to say, how to act, what not to say and what not to do. We acted as we were expected to and soon that expectation just became natural. We were normal, so we acted normal.
As an adult with a very dysfunctional and traumatic child-hood, I grew up playing at normality.
My idea of normality was born out of a warped sense of it. So when chaos, born from chaos became the norm in my adult life, I acted as expected. I worked my ass off for financial security, I got married, I had a family, I began a degree, I showed up for friends, I laughed loudly, and I played at having my life together. I cleaned my house, I hosted parties, I went on play dates, and I even made friends with school mums. I was the epitome of normal. Then I would go home, and I would pour a bottle of chaos down my throat.
I began to consume alcohol in large quantities almost every night. I drank for many reasons, but I drank ferociously to escape the ghosts of my childhood. The ghosts that I could never stand up to. I drank because it made me forget, even just for a night- the terror that I felt throughout my childhood- the same terror that left me an insecure adult who still shakes on the inside at any perceived threat, one who lost trust in herself and everyone around her. An adult whose self-esteem had been torn to shreds by the people who were meant to love her the most. I would have taken the physical blows over the verbal ones in a heart beat. I drank because forgetting these things reminded me that I was normal. If I forgot these things, they never happened and if these things never happened, then I was a normal person.
With toxic generational cycles, our choice is either to choose them or change them. I didn’t continue the cycle of abuse towards my child, I continued the cycle of abuse towards myself. I abused alcohol to maintain the chaos in my life, my warped sense of normality.
I decided almost eight months ago that this cycle of abuse towards myself needed to stop. I managed to get six months of sobriety under my belt, and then had a month full of slips. I’ve been back on the wagon for a month now, and am steady in my sobriety again. Over the last month, something seems to have shifted in me. I feel like I’m in the settled mindset that I was in prior to my slip. The one where I don’t drink so… I don’t drink. It’s one of the few times in my life where black and white thinking actually serves me well. I am a very black and white thinker and it often comes with stupid consequences that could have been avoided if I had a little give in me. With drinking, I have to think in black and white.
I’ve been thinking lately about the concept ‘what we focus on, we empower’. I think this is true for me when it comes to drinking and staying sober. When I was actively drinking, all I thought about was drinking; it was the main thought at the forefront of my mind. I constantly gave these thoughts power, until a power exchange occurred, and I was no longer in power.
While sobriety isn’t always the main thought at the forefront of my mind because-life, I definitely have to bring it back there when drinking tries to enter front stage. I don’t invite it to sit down and have dinner with me anymore though. I treat it like an unwanted door to door salesman, I say hello, shut down the conversation kindly but firmly, and I very quickly say my good-byes. Alcohol is no longer a friend that I will share a meal with, share my family with, or share my life with. It is unwanted and it knows its place, because I took the power back from it the day that I decided that it wasn’t serving me any longer.
Looking back at my little relapse, it is alarming to see how quickly that power exchange can happen again. As soon as I stopped focusing on my sobriety, I handed (quite willingly) the power right back over to alcohol and was pretty ready to sink back down into the bottle again. Why? Honestly, I think it’s because I enjoyed the chaos of it. When I was drinking, I pretty much did whatever I wanted and usually got away with it, I liked to call it spontaneity.
I found it difficult to make room for my spontaneity (read: chaos) while I was sober, because I was always being held accountable for it by my husband. Usually my spontaneity involved spending lots of money, impulsive decisions, and sometimes dangerous behaviour so- I can definitely see where he’s coming from there. I think I just have to settle with myself that there will be a part of me that will always miss the chaos, because looking at those behaviours- I was just looking for chaos. Why do I crave chaos? That’s for another post once I figure out the reason. I’m hoping that the less that I feed the need for chaos, the more it will wither up and die. For now, I have to acknowledge its existence though, so it doesn’t make mine and my husband’s miserable.
I always used to get annoyed when I read people saying that ‘slips/relapses are part of the journey.’ I used to disagree entirely and think that this was an excuse and a cop out. While I still don’t necessarily agree that slips and relapses HAVE to be part of the journey, I’ve accepted that my relapse was a part of mine. I definitely don’t recommend it, but it has taught me a lot about myself.
One take away that I got from it is that I can’t squash the parts of me that wants things that aren’t good for it. The more I tried to squash them, the more those parts fought back, the more they fought back, the more I thought about them, the more I thought about them, the more I empowered them, the more I empowered them, the more traction they got, the more traction they got- boom, relapse. I need to accept that they are a part of me; acknowledging them is not giving them power, it actually takes it away. It’s saying, hey- I see you there, but you’re not in control, I am.
Although I do still have those parts of me that wants the things that aren’t good for it, I can find little parts of me that have changed. Things that I value in myself. So what does valuing myself look like?
I value my health now – I still indulge in unhealthy food from time to time, but I’ve lost weight and I like the way that I look now, and so I value my health and my body by predominately feeding it healthy things. I value how I look, and I don’t think this is a vain thing. I take pride in my appearance, I usually wear makeup and I’m pretty well kept these days which is a complete back-flip on what I used to look like when I was actively drinking and well- it makes me feel good.
I value my relationship with my husband now – our communication is mostly amazing, and he and I support each other and our busy lifestyle with none of the resentment that used to hang around. I also value my relationship with my daughter now, I spend time with her. We read together, we laugh together, we go on little dates together and it is time that is well spent.
I value my time– I no longer give people time who aren’t interested in reciprocating it. I also ensure that I have alone time because I this is how I recharge. I get my alone time even if that means leaving my daughter at after school care for a couple hours when she doesn’t need to be there. I do it for my mental health and I do it guilt free.
I value my brain– my brain is an amazing thing and it saddens me that I’ve probably dumbed it down a little bit with alcohol, when I know it has so much potential. My brain is inquisitive and loves to learn new things and so I teach it new things. It’s also very sensory, so I let it feel things. I feed my brain the thing that it needs, whether it’s research, a book, some sunshine or some good old sex.
I value who I am as a person now– I know that I have a better character on my worst day sober, than I ever had on my best day in active alcoholism. I’m finding out new things about myself almost daily, some of them little and some of them really big and exciting. I’m realising that I am capable of so much and it makes me excited for my future endeavours. I’m realising that I can achieve the things that I want to achieve, that I am worthy of making something of myself, and that I am worthy of being loved both by myself and others.
I am worthy of being loved both by myself and others.
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