My Name is Jessica, and I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.
The morning after I tried cocaine for the first time, I woke up giddy and excited, as though I had just met the man of my dreams. It was love at first snort. I was twenty-one, and had already begun questioning my alcohol use after a court-ordered class for a DUI. Cocaine made me feel clear, beautiful, and powerful, and I believed it sobered me up at the time. This was great, because I really loved to drink, and so this allowed me to drink more. Right away I thought, “I’ll only do it every now and then. I don’t want it to become a problem.” This, however, was beyond my control.
Though I did not know it at the time, I am predisposed to alcoholism. I started off on day one with an obsessive-compulsive behavior towards alcohol; one is too many and one thousand is not enough. As soon as I had a drink, I was wondering where the next one would come from. Once I discovered cocaine, I would get drunk, use cocaine to “tighten up,” then I’d drink to take the edge off, lay out a line, pour a drink, so on and so on. It was like playing Ping-Pong with the neurons and dopamine in my swimming brain. Eventually I didn’t want to do anything that didn’t include booze, although I had a few hobbies and some really sweet people in my life, whose lives didn’t revolve around booze.
By twenty-three, I realized I had a problem, and got sober for five months. Since I could stay sober for a bit, I thought I really didn’t have a problem and went back out. It got worse, and it really wasn’t fun anymore. The blackouts, the headaches, a bloated body, and an incredible urge to drink more were the minor side effects. The major side effects were the depression, the anxiety of impending doom, losing friends, and not being able to look at myself in the mirror, square in the eye. I would often wake up to one of the journals I always kept, promising myself to quit drinking, eat right, start running, and do yoga. I watched runners in envy. They would be jamming out on their headphones, glowing in bliss, as they passed my sorry self with head hung low, early in the morning on my way to bed. I wanted so badly to be enthusiastic in those early hours. I wanted to be the vibrant, dignified, loving person I knew I was, but alcohol suppressed my authentic self.
I hit my rock bottom at twenty-six. After a long, dark, sleepless night, I called my parents at 6:00 A.M. EST (I was living in Colorado at the time), asking for help. They lovingly listened to my cry for help, and I was at rehab in Florida soon after. I completed my 28 day program, moved back to Massachusetts, and begrudgingly went to the daily meetings. I relapsed several times, defying sobriety, because it was so unfair that I couldn’t drink in my twenties. What about my social life? How was I going to have fun? How was I going to be fun? Who was I without drinking? I thought I was boring and dull without drinking. I missed all of those great characters I drank with. I laughed so hard and felt so light when I was buzzed. Yet, I pressed on with meetings, thanks to my family.
Along with meetings, I began to exercise at a local gym on a daily basis. This became a source of joy. I could tune out, dream, and biochemically my brain that was depleted of all the feel-good chemicals was being flooded again with endorphin. Two sober years went by, and I had a newborn daughter and was marrying the love of my life. One Indian summer day when the leaves had begun to turn, I decided to run outside, while my mom watched my daughter. I was so proud of myself; I wanted to tell everyone I had just run four miles without stopping. I experienced a sincere self-love, as if my body were full of gratitude, for it received what it had been begging for. Being outside made me feel alive and connected. This is a buzz I’ve chased ever since. I watched my body become stronger, taking on more miles than I ever thought possible. My strong body that could endure mile after mile gave me the confidence to become the person I truly am.
I soon added yoga to my almost daily running routine, and again my world was rocked. Although I discovered my spirituality around fourteen, it was not necessarily a part of my life when I was drinking. Yoga awakened my soul, and I never want it to sleep again. Yoga complements my meetings, bringing light and joy to the spaces I once left dark. If I connect the dots backwards, I would not have it any other way. Waking up optimistic and remembering where I was the night before is a gift I could only know because of my journey, illuminating what I may have taken for granted. Due to the memory of fear and anxiety the day after a drunken stupor, I am cultivating faith in the universe, and discovering the divine beauty that is this life. The light I experience is the ying to the yang I once knew. Every time I tie my shoes or set up my mat, I think, “I am so LUCKY! I GET TO run and do yoga!” “I get to” is expanding in vast directions that I never expected. I get to be there for my parents and my brothers. I get to be a mom and a wife. I get to teach yoga. I get to be a good friend. I am learning what it is to truly love myself.
As an alcoholic, it is a natural tendency to have illusions of grandeur, coupled with negative self-talk; an evil contradiction that is not eradicated as soon as we “put the plug in the jug.” This journey of sobriety is just that–a journey. Sobriety is just like running and yoga, in that it is vigilant work, and not always easy. I am constantly crossing thresholds in my asanas, in miles, sobriety and in becoming my true self; acknowledging my limitations and finding that I am capable of more than I have ever imagined.
There are still times I wish I could join family and friends in drinks, but then I remember the gratitude I have for this life. Alcoholism is not a burden for me, as much as it is an opportunity. I’m so lucky; I get to be an alcoholic. I mean it.
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Photo: Jessica Riley-Norton