Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Coming Out of The Dark

Addiction lives in the dark.

It thrives in the isolation of feeling broken, damaged, less-than.   It takes root in the fear of hoarding a deep, dark secret, and blooms in the terror of that secret being discovered.   Not simply because people would know you struggle with alcohol, but because people would know you struggle with life.

Alcohol created a barrier between me and my emotions, an impenetrable force field.    It made it so I didn't have to feel the bad stuff; I could drink and manufacture the feelings I wanted.    Until, of course, I passed that maudlin point of no return, where emotions went on a steroidal rampage.   I could think about a long dead pet or an ex-boyfriend and sob on someone's shoulder for hours, thinking I was making a real connection.    I didn't know the difference between real pain and alcohol induced pain any more than I understood real joy, or real peace.

I didn't know the first thing about how to make a genuine connection.  Unless, of course, I had been drinking.    Then everyone was my best friend.    When I wasn't drinking I didn't know how to be vulnerable, scared, joyous or silly - I just didn't know how to lose control like that.   Cocooned by a self-centered fear of rejection, I stayed with safer emotions, like friendly, happy, funny or pleased.

Even in sobriety, my greatest gift and biggest challenge has been learning how to be real.   To allow vulnerability, silliness, fear, joy or anger to bubble to the surface unedited.

~~~~~~~

I first noticed Heather when I read her blog post admitting she was an alcoholic, and that she was getting sober.   Her honesty and bravery struck me immediately, as did her gorgeous writing.   I commented on her blog, she commented on mine, and a tiny pilot light of kinship flared to life.   We began emailing, sharing our struggles and fears.      Her courage inspired me, her friendship gave me warmth.   We spoke on the phone, whispering into the late hours of the night.    By the time we agreed to room together at BlogHer in New York, I felt like I had known her for years.  

Getting to know Heather led me to Maggie and Corinne, two more brave women coming forward, stepping into the light and away from the darkness and isolation of addiction.   

I couldn't wait to meet them in person at BlogHer, to finally wrap my arms around these women who shared this sobriety journey with me.

~~~~

As I waited in the hotel room for Heather to arrive, I didn't feel nervous.   I didn't wonder whether or not she'd like me, or if we'd get along.     When she stepped out of the cab, smiling gratefully to finally be at her destination, we hugged.   It felt like seeing an old friend after years apart.   We immediatly fell into an easy rapport, chatting, joking, laughing.    Oh, the laughing.

We had late-night talks that swerved effortlessly from the profound to the ridiculous.   Deep belly laughs, snorting and gasping like a couple of tween girls.   I haven't laughed like that for years.    A no-holds-barred giggling, tears streaming down my face.   What we were laughing about doesn't matter, wouldn't make sense if I tried to explain it.     It was silliness of the highest order.   I felt something I thought I may have lost forever: the ability to lose myself in laughter.       

I remember a lot of laughing when I was drinking, a lurching, self-amused type of humor that required everyone around me to be equally lubricated.    A desperate attention-seeking kind of laughter, usually at my own expense and never as funny as I thought.  

And there we were, sober, buckled over, giggling.  Happy.  Free.

~~~~

It was inevitable, I suppose.   The crazy pace of New York, the newness of it all, the networking and small talking finally caught up to me on Friday night.    Rushing from event to event with barely time to eat had left me shaky, hungry and exhausted.   It was close to 9pm and I was spent.   Heather, Corinne and I found ourselves standing in the main Ballroom, throbbing music and flashing lights pulsing around us, the line at the bar twelve deep as party-goers lined up to lubricate themselves.

It was all too much, and we fled.

We ended up in the Serenity Suite, a room set up for people who needed to get away from the crazy pace.   Maggie was already there, and we all sat together in the darkened room.    

It came upon me like a tidal wave - all the emotions I usually keep carefully tucked away came flooding out.   I started to cry, and I couldn't stop.    Sitting there with these women who were strangers 12 months ago, virtual friends for the past 6 months, I felt kinship and understanding because we know.  We know what the darkness and isolation of addiction feels like.  We know how hard it is to navigate the perilous waters of life sober, unanesthetized.    We know what it's like to feel, unedited, all the roiling emotions brought to the surface by the small talk, the parties, the constantly being on, the drinking.

What a gift it was, to let go.   To fall into the comforting arms of my sober sisters and sob.   I'm coming up on three years sober, and I hadn't cried in front of anyone except my husband.   Not even at a meeting.   That urge to control myself, to hold back, always stopped me.    Until then.   

I could look into their eyes and see love and understanding.  I was safe.  It felt like coming home.

~~~~

Saturday night I found myself in the same ballroom, with the same pulsing music and flashing lights.   I froze in place, felt the panic monkey stirring in my brain.   Maggie quietly tapped my shoulder and said, "let's take a walk around for a bit."

Twenty minutes later she's pulling me out onto the dance floor.   I wanted to politely decline.   I wanted to explain that I hadn't danced sober, that I wasn't sure I could.   But I didn't.    Kayne West's Gold Digger came on, and I began shuffling my feet, looking around nervously.    I saw Maggie's big grin, clutching her club soda and cranberry in one hand and her purse in the other, bopping her head to the music.  I noticed that we were actually part of a little circle of dancers, and that one of them was Kalisa, a sober blogger I had met only a couple of days ago, and she was dancing her heart out.    A little further away I caught the eye of another sober blogger, who remains anonymous, and she winked at me.  

I felt the fear and doubt drop away like a stone. 

Before I knew it I was dancing - not just your average shuffle your feet back and forth and move your head a little dancing - but an all-out, arm flinging, hair tossing, pelvic sort of dancing.   I was shouting out the lyrics, grinding down to the floor, laughing.     

I danced

~~~~

Addiction lives in the dark.  

Together we bring the light.   The light of the truth, the gift of being real, the blessing of being free.   We bring laughter, companionship and understanding.    We break down the wall of lies, of denial and fear.   Together, my sober sisters, we can do anything.

I drank for years trying to find a fraction of the joy, peace and kinship I have found in sobriety.   It was right here all the time, I just had to let go, surrender, to find it.


30 comments:

  1. I love it. Love it. So glad you experienced this!

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  2. I have to tell you, when we met it was a definite feeling of deja vu for me, as if we had met many times before. I suppose in some ways we have.

    You are a shiny-lit-from-within-miracle and I am only sorry we didn't have more time to talk.

    xo

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  3. You've got me in tears and it's not even 7am!!! :)
    I'm so sorry I missed the dancing. Honestly. But I think there will be more occasions to dance in the future with you all!
    This was so lovely to read. You nailed so many things in this post.

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  4. Lisa - I felt it, too. It was so amazing to meet you. I wish we had had more time to talk.

    Corinne - maybe my next gift of sobriety will be the ability to spell? I spelled your name wrong - three times (now corrected). I know how to spell your name - it was late and I was punchy when I wrote it. Am I allowed to say I'm sorry?? I think it's so funny that you didn't point it out to me. I would totally do the same thing. Love you.

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  5. Yes. What Corinne said. I'm sitting here at 7:30 in the morning, weeping on my keyboard.

    What can I say besides I LOVE YOU to your core.

    so missing you...and our laughs...and hijacking each other's crying.

    P.S. I spell Corinne Corrine Corin Corrrrinnne wrong all the freaking time, and she's nothing but gracious about it. Of course.

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  6. I came here via Corinne's tweet, and I feel a range of emotions as you walk us through your experience--ending with the joy of dancing! It's so great to see how you found friends who *know*, and that blogging helped you find each other. This is beautiful, so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this story and letting us celebrate with you and better understand the struggle.

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  7. This was absolutely beautiful. So much honesty and vulnerability and truth and hope. I was honored to meet you this weekend.

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  8. This is gorgeous, Ellie. I loved meeting you this weekend. xo

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  9. Wow... so beautifully written. So heartfelt. Amazing how BlogHer brought out the best in so many people...

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  10. So beautiful and SO TRUE. Wow. Aren'tcha grateful?

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  11. This is beautiful. We haven't met, but the three lovelies you mention are friends of mine, so I consider you a friend by proxy. Ok by you? :)

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  12. That was just beautiful and something I needed to read. Thank you.

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  13. Oh, thank you everyone. Your kind comments mean so much to me.

    And Elizabeth - it's nice to meet you! Friends by proxy are wonderful! :)

    -Ellie

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  14. this may be my favorite entry of yours, just beautiful :)
    you perfectly describe one of the greatest gifts of a sober life, being ourselves and truly experiencing love in its infinite forms. thank you ellie for your honesty and your grace, it helps me more than you know each day

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  15. This is so beautifully written. You've captured the entire alcoholism online connection thing so efficiently and well. This essay is perfect.

    Mind if I put my name on it? Heh. Just kidding. Sort of. HAHAHAHAHA. Ahem.

    I love you. Thank you for being there this weekend, and all the time before that, and all the time to come.

    xo

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  16. Thanks...for making me cry...and I am totally okay with crying...it doesn't happen nearly often enough...
    Annette

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  17. beautiful. this gave me goosebumps.

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  18. I am in awe of you and your lovely sense of being in touch with all that is genuine and honest. I wish we lived closer because I would love you to join us at our annual Heart 2 Heart conference in October here in Texas.

    Thank you for blessing us all with your wisdom, love, support, and letting us be part of your amazing journey.

    Love, Lisa H.

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  19. Perfection. Wish I'd been with y'all that night in the suite. :)

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  20. So fun dancing with you. SO FUN.

    xo

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  21. Oh I love this post. It was beautiful and eloquent and just...wow, fantastic! I so wish I could have been there to meet you too! :)

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  22. Such a precious moment. I grew up in abuse and lived in the dark, hiding, unsure how to make connections with people, afraid to show my real self and be open for years. Just in the last three years I have begun to move past that and really embrace life.

    I love the way you described this weekend and the friendships you have formed.

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  23. this is badass.

    what a journey that weekend was for you.

    bravo!

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  24. Addiction does live in the dark. I don't want to cheapen the word addiction. For you it is something that has had you imprisoned. I don't have trouble with alcohol. But there are those in my life who do.

    I feel the imprisonment. The dark place. I handle it differently. And I relate to this way of talking about it. Darkness and Light. For me, the only way to find my way toward the Light was to make friends with the dark/the shadow. I had to know that I was protecting myself from something I couldn't fully take in just yet.

    I love the way you talk about life now in full bloom. How you DANCED. I could feel that pelvis rockin'. Feel the passion that before was fake. I understand the difference between drama-tears and tender-tears and how a bottle was the only way you thought you could connect.

    I'm so happy for you that you are learning to FEEL out there all on your own.

    That empowers me.

    Thank you for writing this and showing me a glimpse of the Light.

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  25. This post made me so, so happy, for me, for you, for all of us. Thanks Ellie.

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  26. It is so good to have people you can be your true self with. I'm so happy for you!

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  27. This gives me so much hope. I know that panic monkey so well. I also recognize what it feels to find "home" in these same people. When I communicate with all of you, I feel I'm "home" for the first time. You all get me like no one else ever has. I'm so glad you danced! It reminds me of that song, "I Hope You Dance."

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  28. I found this post through Heather's blog. I heard her speak today at a blogging conference. You share something really special. You write beautifully about it. I felt as though I was right there with you. And that is what good writing is all about. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your powerful friendships.

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  29. I found this post through Heather's blog. I heard her speak today at a blogging conference. You share something really special. You write beautifully about it. I felt as though I was right there with you. And that is what good writing is all about. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your powerful friendships.

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  30. Oh I love this post. It was beautiful and eloquent and just...wow, fantastic! I so wish I could have been there to meet you too! :)

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