Recovery from alcoholism: the tipping point & nostalgia

Esma est la petite dernière qui se joint à l’équipe de Recovery Talks. Elle travaille à l’Institut Douglas et écrit en anglais. Dans son premier billet, elle raconte ses déboires avec l’alcool et décrit les défis de son rétablissement.

“When people say they miss me,
I think how much I miss me too,
Me, the old me, the great me…”

These are the opening lines of “Days of me” by Stuart Dischell. In the stanza that follows, he depicts how he remembers himself before his addiction turned him into a “dishonest…eager accepter of the extra change”.

I first read this poem probably sometime during my undergrad, when I very unapologetically and flamboyantly wore a decadent lifestyle like a designer label.

Addiction was something I thought happened to people who did not know how to keep up appearances. I, on the other hand, lived a double life. Straight-A student by day. Club kid by night. I judged the same friends I hung out with, the ones who couldn’t hold it together. Who looked like were on drugs and didn’t bother to try at school.

But, as these friends outgrew the party scene, I fell deeper into it. It went from novel to necessary, and drinking went from social to solitary. It happened slowly, but in a progressively marked nature: from drinking only at night to sneaking in drinks during the day, from sneaked drinks to daily lunchtime cocktails and carafes, from every lunch hour to every morning…and so it goes…

Years later, when I was finally treated for my addiction, my therapist told me that every addict understands “rock bottom” as the point at which their drug use has had such serious repercussions that they could no longer rationalize it even to themselves. In reality, you have reached countless rock bottoms. The last is the one that somehow sinks in. Up until then, you believe that you are putting on an Oscar-worthy performance that bosses can’t see through and that worried relatives and friends are just being annoyingly overbearing.

So, in a way, there are two tipping points in addiction, and they are both a fiction. At what point did my drinking become a problem? Well, I can identify many occasions from my teenage years to when I achieved (with some slip ups) sobriety at 26. But, in fact, probably every time I drank was a tipping point – I was just lucky that the scales were in my favour. There was something dangerous in me that even my most hardcore party friends did not share. A desire to never extinguish yet to self-combust. A will to live and experience to the point of self-destruction. And an endless supply of adrenaline that surged only to sustain itself…

I now reminisce with old friends and they tell anecdotes of which I am the protagonist. Hilarious anecdotes. The kind of anecdotes that one would be proud to wear as a badge of street credibility. Sadly, I have no recollection of most of these anecdotes. I may remember the day after that particular New Year’s party – the shakiness and nausea and Armageddon anxiety that would cause me to drink again…. but all the details of those years are blurry.

All I can focus on is the person that I was in those early party days. The social, gregarious, extroverted, and witty girl with whom everybody wanted to be friends. I remember the straight-A student who was told by professor after professor that she was going to be a big-shot academic. And I distinctly remember my inner voice telling me night after night that it was a bad idea to go out. That I would be more content staying home and reading or writing. But, I was not after contentment. I was after something far less modest – some unspeakable, larger-than-life feeling that only partying could give me. Till my body started conflating partying with alcohol. Till only the latter became necessary.

So, when these old friends say they miss the old me, they mean well. They think they miss the pre-addiction girl that was tons of fun to be around. But, what they don’t understand is that every one of those fun and memorable-yet-not-remembered nights brought me closer to the last tipping point, that proverbial rock bottom…

And, I have not been the same since. I have never rekindled the same passion for academia. I have never been nearly as funny or witty or extroverted. And I was these things before I started drinking. But, drinking took the person that I was and left something hollow in her place. By the time I quit, I had spent seven years without hobbies or interests and had lost touch with most of my real friends.

The life I have slowly rebuilt is fine. This is not Hollywood. You don’t get sober and then have all your dreams come true. On good days, I understand that real recovery is better than any Hollywood depiction of it – because it is my own.

However, I constantly carry a desire – a nostalgia – for something I should not even think about. I miss my old life. I miss me.

Nostalgia is not just memory. It is remembrances of the past mixed with emotion from the present. And, it conflates the two, making you think “if only I could go back…” as though the past is the paramount solution to all of your negative feelings. That having been said, what I really miss when I remember those days is the person I hope to become – the new me.

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Posted in addiction, change, recovery.

Posted on 12 Aug 2013, by esma

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6 comments to Recovery from alcoholism: the tipping point & nostalgia

  1. Sylvie Bouchard
    On Aug 14th 2013 at 14:55

    This is such a great testimonial. Many people I care about and love have struggled with addiction. Thanks to you, I now have a better understanding of some aspects of recovery from addiction that I had never known. Merci beaucoup Esma.

    • esma
      On Aug 15th 2013 at 21:40

      Thank you so much, Sylvie. Your words are much appreciated. We can learn a lot from each other in that we have been in opposite roles.

      I think it’s very important for both the person recovering and their family member or caregiver to understand the other person’s view. Too often, in families, people blame each other. Like a parent may blame an (adult) child for being addicted to drugs, whereas the child might blame the situation at home for having led them to use drugs as a means of escape in the first place. Communication is necessary but both parties have to be open to it and willing to admit that they aren’t always right….

      I’m speaking generally and not about any specific situation. I look forward to your next post :)

  2. Idoj
    On Aug 14th 2013 at 17:47

    RE: Recovery from alcoholism: the tipping point & nostalgia

    That’s pretty much how I feel. I miss me. I definitely could not have said it better. However, I have not reached – and I fear the day I do – the tipping point, my rock bottom. I still miss the old me, and my wife does, too.

    I know I need help, but I’m not ready to ask for it. I am hoping that those proverbial rocks at the bottom aren’t too jagged.

    • esma
      On Aug 15th 2013 at 21:57

      Hi Idoj,

      Thank you for your comment. Your remarks are very brave. Just saying that you know you need help is very difficult even if you are not ready to ask for it. I wish I could give you advice about what to do but it is far from my place to do so. Please know I completely empathize as I know what it is like to be in the limbo state. Sometimes that can be more jagged than “the proverbial rocks at the bottom”.

      I was not ready for a long, long time (maybe 5 years out of the 7 I spoke of). When you are not ready, help can seem like a threat. But, without any commitment whatsoever, you could talk to an addiction professional or any social worker or psychologist for that matter. Just talking alone might be therapeutic regardless of the outcome.

      From the way you speak of it, I have faith that you are able to overcome this. If the rocks are too jagged, the impact and pain will be temporary. I hope you are able to find yourself again one day, or build a new, better self both you and your wife will be proud of.

  3. Sylvie Lebrun
    On Aug 17th 2013 at 02:30

    My problem wasn’t alcohol but drugs: still, exactly the same emotional problem. I must confess that this article could not have been better writted: EXACTLY!: After 15 years of sobriety from a youth at rock bottom at the age of 14, … first therapy, i can say that waking up in the morning feels like Freedom and so it goes on for every aspects in my life :)
    Thank you very much for sharing;
    You have a wonderful way of speech
    Sylvie Lebrun

    • esma
      On Aug 20th 2013 at 15:51

      Thank you, Sylvie. Your words mean a lot to me.
      I am so happy for your 15 years of recovery. That is really a long time! And you are still so young. I hope for both of us that it gets easier as time passes. Your positivity is inspiring and FREEDOM is indeed a good word.
      All the best and keep in touch,