I Don’t Have to Hit Rock Bottom

 I don’t have to hit rock bottom this time. Bulimia is a specific addiction. No one in my life supported it, I knew it was ugly, I knew I was being wrecked, there was no room to welcome someone into it, and I certainly didn’t engage in it with anyone but myself. My body as I knew it and as I wanted it to be didn’t stand a chance against it. My daily habit of throwing up until I scraped my throat tender, followed by a full pack of cigarettes to smoke up its bloody patches would have me gone in no time. Listen, those heart palpitations… I knew. I made excuses to not show, skipped big events to not be shown, and always replaced the food I ate in time, should I have purged something that wasn’t mine. But let’s be clear about it: this addiction was not supported. It wasn’t cool. It didn’t bring me close to anyone. It’s not what we engaged in at a birthday party.

I hit many rock bottoms. I was in rehab. I scared my family. I went back to it. I caved. I shared purging secrets. I locked down boarding school bathrooms. I fired therapists who threatened to “tell on me.” And then I stopped. And it took ten years. Ten out of twenty one is almost half and stopping meant learning how to walk, how to grow through puberty all over again, how to be seen, and how to say I can, all over again and without my buddy. What I’m saying now is that with a ten year addiction and a four year recovery under my belt, at twenty-four, I find Alcohol incredibly confusing. I don’t go on benders, I don’t hide, I don’t skip events to not be seen, I don’t replace bottles I’ve drank, and I don’t do it alone. And I haven’t. I don’t even handle it that well. Two glasses of wine and I’m feeling it. I wake up feeling it. Maybe throwing up during your most formative years does that to a body. But alcohol confuses me because I’m starting to recognize its trigger, the small cravings, the relief at its sight, the tiny voice. And yet its applauded. If I don’t do it, the room shifts. The hefty drinkers are uncomfortable. It’s a shame if it isn’t done.  But in my my rock bottom memory I know that this is how it starts. Ten more years and it’s another version of purging a ten pound meal, followed by a pack of cigarettes. And yet, if I know, why has it been so scary to make the decision?

That’s where boundaries come into play. I’m learning that those precious suckers and addiction go hand in hand. I’ve talked about this before, but the further I get away from institutions and more into adulthood, the more there’s an urgency to set them. I thought I gravitated to systems due to a love of structure and regimen. A need to have purpose and feel supported in it: somewhere to be seen and earn gold stars, accolades, love. I thought maybe that I needed structure because my life as a kid really didn’t have any: it had a flow and surprise, but always change and never enough ground. Institutions because I’ve been away and far from my parents’ roof longer than I have been under it. But it’s a little deeper than that, I’m learning. Because I don’t have many, I need them to be set so I know how to thrive, perform, acclimate. That’s the big one. If you tell me your boundaries, then I know how to make us both comfortable, and most importantly, you’ve just given me direction. And thank you.

In Spanish there’s a word for people like me: “Lanzada.” It’s synonymous to “Driven” in English but there’s a difference in where the force comes from. “Lanzada” includes a jump, it means you jump into. You don’t fear throwing yourself in. “Driven” signifies a more internal thing. A steadier thing. I’ve been defined as both, and the older I get the more I’m tickled by their difference and what that says about our people. Someone who goes for things in Spanish is someone who throws herself in; someone who goes for things in English is someone who drives herself there. Fascinating. The line between these two concepts and recklessness is thin. Because the same impulse that makes me pitch myself to a stranger for a job, is the same impulse that makes me want to throw my relationship out the window in a moment of non-clarity.

So drinking? It goes into this, the boundary setting and driven, lanzada, control thing. When I step into a room of drinkers, the rules and boundaries have been set. We’re drinking tonight, that’s the system. Your gold star is at the bottom of your glass. And yet the boundary for the night wakes up the little voice that drove me from my toilet four years ago and I think. I don’t have another ten years. Boundaries. It’s time. This is what that means. I can’t let this one be decided for me. I know where this is going. I’m understanding now that Sobriety isn’t scary for what I’m giving up. I know what I’m giving up. I’m an addict. I’ve let addictions go. I’ve recovered. I know that recovery is really making room for more of myself, not about restraining a monster. Sobriety is scary because it’s about my own constitution. It’s scary because it’s saying that someone else will no longer set this boundary for me, that I’m old enough to make this decision because I know rock bottom, and my accolade is my freedom, not my tolerance.

A few weeks ago, I looked at Eric and mustered, “I think I could be an alcoholic and I really don’t want to be.” But I’ve made that statement before and I needed to make sure that my decision to quit drinking wasn’t analogous with rationing food, or cutting out gluten. Because I’m great at that. Self control, obsession, and discipline are easy highs for me. I needed to make sure that not drinking wasn’t coming from the same place that led me to 900 calories a day, because that’s a whole other monster asking to be fed. So I wrote it down. I got on my knees. I meditated. I asked for a sign that this would be the right decision. An obvious, slap on the face kind of sign. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m back to work, in rooms I don’t know without alcohol and without someone else’s boundaries. Damn it. Here we go. I will drink today. Prisoner today. This is insane. Really?  I took my seat at the bar, ready to entertain tonight’s guest, and boom! I’m met with a soul’s gorgeous recovery story and their journey into spirituality. We exchange books and talks, even mediums. Rad Angel, I thought. The wine glass our friendly bar tender automatically poured for me, left untouched on the marble. When we close out, my boundary setter is surprised to find that there’s no tab to pay. I walk away, grateful. Feeling taken care of. I’m on the right path. This isn’t about rationing almonds. The next day. Out to a show, first a dinner, and then maybe drinks. And in my head I think. Here we go again. The boundary has been set, Pris. The rule for tonight is Margaritas. And listen, I’m a director. I like to challenge those around me but also make sure they feel comfortable and taken care of. I do that by asking questions you don’t want to answer but also making sure I don’t go to the bathroom in the middle of your story, I’m not leaving you alone in your vulnerability. So Margaritas are gonna make us comfortable tonight, I thought. I looked up. I thought, slap sign, please? And again, at the table, I’m met with a six year recovery story and I laugh. Thank you. Thank you. There’s an army of Rad Angels. The world is taking care of this decision until I can realize it’s mine. “The Universe will do for you what you cannot do for yourself.” Thank you.

I don’t have benders. I don’t drink more than anyone else. In fact, I’m a terrible light-weight. But the voice, it doesn’t escape me. And I understand. I know. Addict shame is heavy, and its overpowering and there’s a whole lot of unlearning that has to go along with it. And to be honest, drinking does not wreck my life the way throwing up did. And yet. Drinking means my day is done, it means I won’t be clear headed the next, it means I don’t write for weeks. And it all seems okay because, why not, we’re drunk and this is fun. Being at my toilet never felt like that. But I look at the life I want to live and the stories I want to tell and there simply isn’t enough space for drinking and for them. Drinking takes me out. It dims me. It dims my mind and the way I arrange words on paper and I start to live a life that is subpar to the one that I want. And believe me, this lanzada doesn’t need liquid anything to throw herself in. Remember, drive and recklessness are cousins. You know that feeling you get when you’re on a roll, you’re writing, and it’s going? That flow? What Shonda calls “the hum”? I feel that in life when I’m sober and throw up free. I feel that walking down the street. Connection to the same source that drives my scenes can also walk me down the hallway, if I let it. But I feel like a prisoner again. I feel the glass and I’m wasting away again. So no. Actually, so yes. I know. I’ve been here before. I don’t have to hit rock bottom. I get to decide within my institution that it’s time. There isn’t room both for substance and for my dreams. Not in this system, this mind, this tender body, this constitution. I’m twenty four and I get to chisel this one away the way I once did Bulimia. I’m fully aware that Sobriety is not about arriving. There’s no finish line you cross. It’s about freedom beginning on a continuum. And it’s a lot when you’re 24. Most of us don’t want to question anything at this age. Maybe we’re not supposed to yet. But ten years. Ten! I don’t have them to give again. So, let the ground shake and the freedom begin. 

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