Reflections on Recovery

Scrolling through Instagram over the past few days, I’ve noticed a lot of “Best Nine” posts. You’ve seen them — collages of the nine most popular photos a person posted throughout the year. Setting aside the troubling assumption that best and most-liked are synonymous, they’re a way to showcase and reflect on the year. I’ve been reading the captions and noticing the words people use to describe their experiences of 2017. Weird. Beautiful. Harrowing. Wild. And I started thinking about what word I might use to sum up everything that this year was for me.

What comes to mind is: Recovery. 2017 is the year I entered recovery. From perfectionism. From self-hate. From the soul-draining business of denying my true self in order to fit in or feel normal or for any damn reason at all.

To elaborate: 2017 is the year I learned that the first step to recovering from twenty-eight years of destructive habits is to shatter your own soul.

Perfectionism was the answer I found to the anxiety I felt as a child. I spent the first eighteen years of my life denying my true self through disordered eating and expensive shoes and straight A’s and smiling politely instead of speaking up.

And then, in my freshman year of college, I discovered alcohol. Suddenly, magically, I could be someone other than that anxious, shy, awkward girl. I could have fun! I could make friends! I could laugh and dance and forget all of my worries — for a little while, at least. That year, I think I had a panic attack every single Tuesday. But come Friday, I had my new fairy godmother, Vodka, to turn me back into a fun-loving, free-spirited (totally fake) party girl.

Fast forward ten years: It isn’t fun anymore. I woke up on a Monday after what felt like — and may actually have been — two hundred straight weekends of brewery-hopping feeling nauseated, drained, and exhausted.

Later that morning, I texted my husband from work: I don’t want to feel like this anymore. He sent me a link to a blog called Hip Sobriety. I rolled my eyes. Sobriety!? That’s not for me, I thought. Sobriety is for alcoholics and holy rollers. I just need to cut back a little.

When I got home from work that day, I clicked on the sobriety blog. I don’t remember what was going through my head at the time; maybe I figured it would be rude to totally ignore it. Maybe I wanted to arm myself with information I could cite to more convincingly dismiss this whole crazy sobriety idea.

Somewhere between “11 Fears You Have About Sobriety, Dispelled” and “Twelve Fabulous Things About Sobriety” (thank you forever, Holly Whitaker), I realized that maybe sobriety was for me. My exit from alcohol was much like my entry into it — abrupt, eager, and life-altering.

I imagine that some people quit drinking and that’s all that happens. They quit drinking. But when you’re someone who has spent a decade drinking in order to suppress your anxiety and your personality and your emotions and every other part of your life you view as problematic, that’s not what happens. You quit drinking and your soul cracks wide open.

Right down the middle. And everything you’ve been burying with drinks — work stress, childhood trauma, relationship issues, that butterfly you accidentally ran over with your bicycle when you were seven — comes bubbling up to the surface. And not bubbling in a subtle, quiet kind of way, either. More like one of those volcanoes that sits dormant for a hundred years and then violently erupts. You become a walking open wound.

What do you do with a cracked-open, broken-apart soul?

For me, the answer is: A lot of things. Meditation has calmed my anxious mind in a way that wine never could. I’m finally getting my money’s worth for that gym membership. I drink so much kombucha and herbal tea I think I’m losing tooth enamel (I’ll deal with that later). I now own — and am working my way through — a sizable chunk of Amazon’s personal growth section. After years of turning my back on spirituality, I listen to podcasts about God (thank you forever, Rob Bell and Oprah). I keep a journal that is a lot heavier on the gratitude than the woe-is-me.

Perhaps most importantly, I have adopted a practice of radical self-love. And what I’ve learned is that when you start to love yourself — and I mean really, truly love your actual, deep-down, capital-s Self — everything starts to change. The perfectionism, the desperation to please, the hunger for success by someone else’s standards… they start to retreat. And piece by piece, you patch your soul back together, but differently this time. Heartier. With more real ingredients.

To sum it all up, my end-of-year Instagram caption: 2017 was the exact right time for me to begin a lifelong journey of recovering and rejoicing in my authentic self. It’s weird and beautiful and harrowing and wild and so, so worth it.