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The day my alcoholic best friend sobered up.

This post

Has consistently ranked as one of my top-read posts in my entire blog history. The day I broke up with my alcoholic best friend. 

She hit bottom recently. Real bottom. The reasons why don’t matter and I will avoid specifics to protect anonymity.

The miracle happened.

We hadn’t spoken in almost a year. Last November, we had a brief dinner and caught up on our lives. It was civil, but strained. A few months ago, we saw each other again. Even more strained. She was deep in her addiction.

Last week, she reached out. I received lengthy, lengthy apologies for her behavior, for her addiction, for how she treated me, for how she treated herself, for how grateful she was for our friendship, for how grateful she was that I was willing to call her out on her bullshit and willing to put our relationship aside for her well-being.  

I didn’t expect these apologies for years…if ever. This is a stubborn girl, defiant to all modes of conventional treatment.

And now…she’s sobering up. Attending therapy. Taking medication for depression. Ended a stagnant romantic relationship. Revamping her lifestyle.

My alcoholic best friend, my alcoholic best friend who has been drinking since she was 12, who fell in love with drugs and sex and rock and roll, to escape the pain that was her childhood trauma, ill-equipped parents, and near-poverty adolescence. My alcoholic best friend, who, from high school, has been on her own financially and mentally. My alcoholic best friend who literally has the IQ of a genius (she’s had the test). My alcoholic best friend can be my best friend again.

What a blessing. 

Miracles happen. 

When the only way out is by escaping.

The curious paradox about abusing vices to escape is that you don’t actually go anywhere. In fact, you stay stuck. You remain stagnant. I tried emphasizing that to one of my clients earlier today, a lovely girl, not much older than myself, struggling with the progressive throes of alcoholism. I know why she wants to escape. Her life hurts. She has had a traumatic upbringing. I cannot blame her for wanting to numb herself- hell, we all want to numb ourselves.

The other day I wrote that I recently came to revelation that happiness and meaning came from embracing life rather than escaping it. Escaping is done through the bottle, through the food, the sex, the drugs, the intoxication, the altered state of consciousness. Escape is the shortcut, the predictable, foolproof method of avoiding pain. Nobody is a bad person for wanting to escape. It has been said that humans have four basic drives: eating, sleeping, mating, and the desire to alter consciousness.

The fourth one is not essential for the survival of humanity. But many of us have made it essential to make the journey of humanity bearable. Anyone with an eating disorder or mental illness or addictive issue will probably resonate with this. We all alter consciousness. The degree to which we do it, however, lies on a spectrum. Some are satisfied with receiving a boost of energy from their daily cup of coffee. Others need a pack of cigarettes. Even on a healthier end of things, we use meditation to alter consciousness, to increase clarity, to feel more level. 

We may live to eat and sleep and mate, but we also live to chase happiness. We maximize pleasure and minimize pain. These are the common denominators behind every single basic drive. And when this becomes distorted in some way, we continue spiraling down the negative pathways of escape. We turn to our vices, we turn to the very substances that can harm and kill us, we turn our backs on ourselves. Because the pain of “sobriety” in whatever way, shape, or form that looks like hurts more than the pain of “sickness.”

Imagine. The sickness of being oneself is so potent that the individual MUST escape his or her own being to bear existence. That is the essence of addiction. That is why it is so hard to quit. That is why these battles are so complex. It is not about giving up the vice. It is about healing the sickness, the deep wounds inside of us, the ones that make life so unbearable and miserable. 

The school of thought in comparing eating disorders to addictions is controversial, but I do believe they share many degrees. Obviously, one cannot quit the substance he or she may be abusing (food), but behavioral compulsions (food, sex, gambling, shopping) can be just as detrimental and devastating as substance compulsions (drugs, alcohol). They may not kill you right away, but what’s worse? A slow suicide, such as an eating disorder, that is often laden with denial and minimization? Or a fast-acting one, like hard drugs, with the risk of overdose looming above everyday? 

Neither is better and neither is worse. All compulsions and addictions carry their own badges of terrible honor, of petrifying shame. All of them share the common denominator: An inability to be oneself. An inability to manage life. An inability to tolerate the weather of emotions, the ups-and-downs of life, the stressors of existence.

Addictions are not the problem; they are the pathological cries indicating a much deeper, scarier problem beneath. 

When the only way out of life is by means of escaping, you aren’t reaching hell. You’re already probably there. 

We’re all anonymous somewhere

Dear Bee,

This past weekend, my boyfriend needed to attend a variety of Twelve Steps meeting for an assignment, so naturally, I went with him. We went to AA and NA. We tried to go to an OA meeting, but when we arrived at the location, nobody was there.

I forget how wonderful it can be to sit in those rooms, to hear the stories, the pain, the struggle of people all experiencing the same highs and lows. Drug of choice doesn’t matter. Crack, tequila, sugar…they’re all potent and they can easily spiral any of us out of control. The strength and love in those rooms is incredible. Now, I remember why I liked Twelve Steps. The camaraderie and fellowship saved me in many ways. Your voice lives in every addict. Your voice lives in every single person who knows what it is like to be compulsive and addictive and secretive and ashamed. 

I’ve contemplated going back. Contemplated. Just to see. It’s been almost a year. How has the time flown so quickly? Recovery is back in full force, at the forefront of my work again. It needs to be that way for awhile. No more half-assing it. No more finding the loopholes and thinking I can somehow outsmart the disorder. I can’t. I’ve tried. Thousands of times. It’s failed. Just as many times. 

Day in and day out. That’s the process. Tedious, but worth it. Painstaking at times, but still worth it. Always, always worth it. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had in recovery for the “control” I felt in sickness, for the “escape” I found in sickness. I wouldn’t be able to love deeply and experience the riches of the world. The Twelve Steps reminded me that this weekend.

I was reminded how much SWEETER life is without you. 

Nothing tastes better than my recovery. 

It’s so easy to lose sight of that, especially when I’m in the thick of it, especially when your voice becomes so strong that it drowns out all the logic and reason. It’s easy for me to feel powerless next to you. And because maybe, in some ways, I am powerless to the throes of mental illness. But, I am not powerless to the fight of recovery.

Your voice is different from my own. It’s more shrill, more desperate, more deceptive. Your voice is not mine. You follow me, whisper in my ear, scream in my face…you always know just where to find me, just when to coax and comfort me into listening to you.

But your voice is not my voice. And my recovery will never be yours. 

to acknowledge relapse

I work with a young woman who identifies herself as a “problem drinker.” Very long story short and for the sake of confidentiality purposes, she experienced a highly-traumatic childhood and lives with a mentally-unstable mother. Alcoholism runs through her family, as it frequently does with addictive disorders. She drinks to self-medicate; she drinks to avoid feeling; to avoid the constant reminders of her broken past.

She’s been sober since I began working with her several months ago. We’ve worked on depression, anxiety, exploration of childhood pain, recent relationships. She’s a motivated client, and we have built very strong rapport (which I consider the single most important therapeutic skill).

Recently, she relapsed. I astutely observed as she told me this in session. The cowardly look. Eyes gazed down at the ground. Embarrassment. Shame. Lowered voice. I’ve started drinking again.

If shame had an emoji, it would have been the expression on her face. At one point, it would have been mine too.

It’s a painful truth to admit, and I know how much shame arises in just telling your therapist you’ve, in your opinion, fucked up. I hated doing it with my own therapist. So much transference occurs: so much fear of letting your therapist down, so much resentment and pain at letting yourself down. All people with addiction struggle in recovery, but it is far more important to examine how they acknowledge relapse.

I know this is true for me. Every time my therapist told me relapse is part of recovery with that smiling, you-can’t-possibly-disappoint-me expression, I wanted to knock that grin right off her face and yell at her for instilling doubt rather than hope. I obviously understand her intentions now, but back then…hell no. I thought I was the only one screwing up; I thought I was the terrible client; I thought I was somehow responsible for wasting her time and ruining all her hard work. I wanted to always be the exception; I wanted recovery. Perfect, black-and-white recovery…clean, concise, and predictable.

A good therapist, however, never works harder than his or her clients. Thus, when the therapist keeps that mentality in check, it is impossible to be disappointed by any content the individual can bring into the room. Am I concerned about my client’s relapse? Yes, absolutely. But…I recognize this is part of her process. She’s not a bad person for using a “bad” behavior. She made a mistake, as all of us humans do. Alcoholism is a mufti-facted, complex disease that isn’t as easy as stone-cold sobriety. I understand that.

I’m so fucking proud of her for being able to tell me. For being able to own up to that shitty part of herself that she hates, that she believes nobody can accept. Because…I can accept it. I can hold it. I can give her the love and validation she deserves to give herself, but, for obvious reasons, cannot do right now.

My therapist used to do that for me. And it felt good. It is something I always promised I would give to my clients, and it’s something I try and transcend in every single session with every single session. Validation. Support. Constant hope and reassurance that things can and will get better, that they are good enough regardless of what they do or do not do.

Some people never get told that by anyone. My aim is to tell that to anyone who needs to hear it.

the fantasies of eating

Dear Bee,

I’m home alone at my boyfriend’s apartment, and I’m finishing some writing for that novel I’ve been working on. I’m supposed to complete 50,000 words by December 1st. I just hit my 22,000 mark. The characters are taking own their own paths; the plot is shaping into its own story. I feel like I am just the puppet master overseeing the show. I do not feel as if I have control over what happens. That’s the beauty of writing. When you are immersed in it, the creativity just flows. The words cannot come out fast enough.

It’s a peaceful late afternoon. We’ve been working on homework, enjoying a leisurely Sunday. He’ll be back in about an hour. I’ve just been doing my best to relax.

Over the past few days, I’ve had  fantasies of bingeing, and I’m not sure what void they are filling. Sometimes, before I go to sleep, I’ll start thinking about cramming myself with food. The thoughts are seductive and fierce. It’s intensely realistic, almost in a fervent sexual manner. They terrify me. I haven’t been acting on these urges, and they feel nearly subconscious rather than immediately triggering, but it weirds me out. I feel silly for having such thoughts, because I know NOTHING makes me unhappier in life than acting on my eating disorder. There are a lot of terrible things in this world that I cannot control, but how I treat my body and soul IS in my control. I know this is a part of recovery. I remember when I used to binge in my dreams and wake up discombobulated and confused between reality and fantasy. It always felt so relieving to know it was just a dream.

I’ve been missing my “safe food” repertoire and feeling guilty for eating with less inhibitions and more intuition. I’ve been eating out a lot, which can be a struggle in recovery. Still, I’m pushing. I’m acknowledging my thoughts and feelings, but I’m choosing to act against them.Everyday, it gets easier to veer away from those low-calorie, bland foods and allow in what I really want without bingeing on it. I do not have to succumb to restriction or deprivation to avoid bingeing. Like I said yesterday, living in the gray is healthy. When living in the gray, anything is possible. It’s when we only want to look at the black-and-white, everything is impossible. 

Yesterday, I found out one of my close colleagues is in recovery from alcoholism. She regularly works the Twelve Steps and maintains her sobriety in the best ways she knows how. Like me, she is also studying to be a therapist. Initially, something about her bothered me. She complained frequently, projected her anxiety onto others, and seemed to stem her insecurities in all the inappropriate ways, but for some reason, I feel so much more connected to her now that I know the battles she’s undergone. On some level, no matter how different we are and how different are vices might have been, we have fought the same demons. We deal with the same emotional roller coasters and triggering situations. We know our poisons, we know our disordered voices, and we know how delicious the sober life tastes compared to the sick life. And yet, we both probably flirt with our sick selves more than we’d like to. That’s part of recovery. That’s part of healing.

I’m glad that I have therapy tomorrow. It’s been three weeks. And after running dozens of sessions in that timeframe, it will be refreshing to have my own selfish hour. 

Now, I’m going back to my novel writing. Going back to my creative flow. I love this blog, but I want to get lost in my own fantasies right now. Fantasies that don’t involve my sickness, but rather, ones that involve the uniqueness of my soul. 

old friendships, rebellion, caffeine, bulimia, & positive affirmations.

Dear Bee,

It’s strange. For the first time in about a year, I’m struggling to actually sit down and write these posts out. This was such a natural catharsis for me, a creative high of sorts, but now, it just feels dull. I’m just going to keep writing and see what happens. Spin gold out of a chaotic mess of the clouds in my mind. Or something artsy like that. I don’t want to edit this either. In fact, once I feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say, I will click Publish Post and be done with it. I just want to ramble. I’m not going to go back and read anything I wrote. So, here goes. 

Several months ago, I wrote this: http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/03/21/the-day-i-broke-up-with-my-alcoholic-best-friend/ in regards to my painstaking decision to end a friendship with one of my closest friends. Last night, we met up for dinner. I initiated the contact. I missed her. I wanted to see how she had been. This girl had been by my side through multiple heartbreaks, graduations, vacations, and spontaneous adventures. A few years ago, we had a threesome with my ex-boyfriend, but that’s an entirely different story. We’ve been close. Closer than close. “Breaking up” with her was harder than breaking up with anyone else. So, we were at dinner, and it was emotional. Tears, hugs, laughs. Flowing conversation for five hours without a hint of awkwardness. We both said our pieces. She still drinks. To what extent, I do not know. I struggle to believe that alcoholics can drink in moderation once they’ve reached the threshold of substance dependence. I’ve heard that some percentage (like five percent) can do harm reduction, but the rest must commit to sobriety in order to kick their addiction. Again, she still drinks. I don’t know what boundaries to set up with her just yet. I don’t know if I want to be friends. It just felt good seeing her last night. Telling her about what I’ve been up to. She’s missed so much of me: my new boyfriend, my new internship, Europe, things with my family. At this point, I just wish I could avoid the alcohol problem, but I know if I choose to do that, it will just become the white elephant in the room. And I don’t want that either.

Anyway, enough about that.

I’ve binged once this week. Last night. Any coincidence that this was right after meeting with my friend? I think not. My eating disorder is boring me. Bingeing once used to be exciting, seductive, and glamorous. I actually felt like such a rebel in the middle of the act, like look at me, I’m breaking ALL THE RULES. Now, it’s just a step-by-step process with predictable emotions, inevitable self-loathing, and a total sense of, I don’t give a fuck. I guess in a sense it’s still a form of rebellion. Except, instead of rebelling against whatever so-called diet I was on, I’m rebelling against recovery. Sometimes, to be honest, recovery just feels like another euphemism for diet, but I know it’s not. 

I’ve also been drinking copious amounts of coffee over the past few weeks. This is 1/3 due to the taste, 1/3 due to the jolt of energy, and 1/3 due to the low caloric content. I keep hearing all these positive studies about the effects of caffeine, so that rationalizes my consistent brew. Still, I know it’s not good to suppress my appetite with a cup of java. I know it’s not good to use it as a natural diuretic, and yet, I can’t lie and say I don’t enjoy those benefits. Whatever. One vice at a time. Nobody would look at a serious drug addict and condemn him or her for chain-smoking cigarettes. The same could apply to eating disorder recovery. The importance thing is awareness. Awareness that I am still using/abusing certain substances to mask the remnants of my disease (I write this as I chew a piece of gum. I chewed at least 4 pieces in a row yetjerday, something I haven’t done in a long while. Five second pause. Just spat the gum out). 

Talked about eating disorders in supervision yesterday, because one of my colleagues is working with an individual struggling with bulimic symptoms. It’s so interesting how easy these cases can sound when presented. Just, you know, teach her some coping skills, show her to value her body, pinpoint how there will never, ever be a good enough body when living with an eating disorder, no matter what number, size, or look she is trying to achieve. Obviously, I know nothing about an eating disorder is simple. But then again, nothing about any mental illness is simple. If it was, I would be out of a job. Plain and simple. Surprisingly, I don’t have any clients who have presented eating disorder pathologies just yet (about the only disorder I haven’t seen), but I often wonder how I will be in the room with them. Will I self-disclose the same way my own therapist did? Or will I remain professional, safe in my powerful chair, and keep distance between us? What if someone who reads this blog was one of my clients? They would never know it was me, I can guarantee that. I present myself so much differently in the world than I do on here. It’s subconscious. Part of it is my ability to deceive as a means of survival. I know what it takes to be successful in this world, and, unfortunately, vulnerability isn’t the road to it. It’s an interesting thought to think that a reader could be a client, since many of them must be struggling/have struggled with an eating disorder or relative mental illness. 

This rambling feels amazing. The morning is turning out well. I randomly picked a positive affirmation out of my “recipes for my soul” love box that I made as a demonstration for a group therapy class I lead, and today’s read, I am exactly who and where I need I am supposed to be in this exact moment. Damn straight. Who am I? A young, talented, creative, loving individual with an unquenchable thirst for life and hunger for adventure. Where am I? In my bed, laptop perched on my stomach, listening to music, ceiling fan blowing over me. I don’t have the answers. I am still exhibiting disordered behavior. I STRUGGLE. I fight. I complain. I question whether it’s worth it. But choices, people, and experiences have brought me to this point, and, when I really think about it, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. 

I am so grateful for this life, for recovery, for all of you lovely readers (I read every single one of your emails and do my best to respond to all of you), for the cloudless blue sky, for the warmth of my bed, for the breakfast I am about to eat (I no longer have to suffer and “starve” today to make up for yesterday), for the clients I’m going to see later, and for the boyfriend I’m going to fall asleep with tonight.

The woes of treating addiction in eating disorder recovery.

Dear Bee,

I am just so glad that it’s the weekend. My Monday-Thursday are such a blur between classes, paperwork, supervision, and clients.

I basically spend the weekend at the boyfriend’s house, which is such an amazing way to transition out of the therapist life. I like being able to unwind with him. It feels like a mini-vacation at the end of the week! He’s my greatest supporter. Okay, this is not a time to gush on and on about him, even though we all know I very well could.

So, I have my first addiction on my hands. Alcoholism. This client and I are close in age, but that’s where the similarities concerning our backgrounds end. She’s in that contemplation stage of addiction, that awful in-between in knowing that she has a clear problem, but not sure what to do about it just yet. Her support system is shit. Her living arrangement is shit. She has experienced significant trauma and represents a classic textbook case of life is against her. I understand why she drinks to numb out her feelings. She needs that blanket of intoxication to cope with the chaos that is her life. Like so many of us, escape is all she wants. We don’t fall into addictions to escape the pain and demons outside of us. We fall into them to escape whatever lies within us. When we cannot tolerate our own selves, our own genetic makeup and uniqueness, our own peaks and valleys of emotions and experiences, we must alter consciousness in order to keep going.

Obviously, I have an urge to help her. She reminds me of a friend, one I wrote about in a previous post (http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/03/21/the-day-i-broke-up-with-my-alcoholic-best-friend). Originally, I went into this field with the intention to specialize in substance abuse. Naturally, I wanted to save the world, which is such a novice, idealistic goal for young, fresh-faced therapists. In reality, working with addicts embodies hard, exhaustive work, and the recovery rates hover around 5%. Out of 100 people with chemical addiction, approximately 95 will relapse. Of course, I see it as, Let me be the one who guides those remaining 5.

I am not an alcoholic, but I know what it is like to feel dependent and compulsive. I know what cravings feel like. I know when the thing you want the most is the very thing that is destroying you the most. I know secrecy and deceit, hiding around from others, shame and lying, minimizing and saving face. I know what it’s like to feel like you have absolutely no control. Addiction is just a name and the drug of choice is just the band-aid poorly covering our deep wounds. Food, drugs, gambling, sex, alcohol, it’s all the same. We are in pain, and we cannot tolerate it. The addiction voice has tremendous hold and impeccable logic. There is nothing easy about recovery or sobriety. There is nothing easy about going against every single thing you believe you want or have or must do. Addiction may not be a choice, but letting go of it is. And for many of us, it will be the hardest choice and journey we ever take. Although it may sound contradictory, for those in recovery or sobriety, nothing is harder than letting go of torture and surrendering to freedom.

Alcoholism, just like any other addiction, including eating disorders, is progressive. It just gets worse. You start out with a drink or two a night just to relax and take the edge off, and soon enough, you’re blacking out daily. This is a stereotypical example, but not an uncommon one. The worse the addiction gets, the more the addiction voice justifies it. Our addiction voice protects us because it wants us to remain close and friendly. The addiction is the parasite, and you are its host. It will latch on you, rent-free, and never leave on its own. Only you can remove it.

I don’t know what will happen with this client. My agency does not allow us to work with active drug or alcohol addicts, simply because it hinders therapeutic treatment. She needs to commit to attempting sobriety, and I don’t know if she can do that at this point. I want her to, just as I want any addict to, but that change lies in her, not in me. Therapy is for her, not for me, and I have to continually remind myself that. I cannot change anyone; I can just metaphorically hold their hands as they decide to venture on a new path.