Finding the Light

“Girl, where are you? Let’s grab some breakfast tacos before we sign the papers”.

Jason’s voice rattled my skull. “I have to call you back; my eyes are kind of glued shut or something”.

It was 9am and my face was all wet. What on earth, was I crying? Why did my chest feel so tight? A wave of anxious discomfort washed over my body as I began to process my surroundings. Seven hours ago, I arrived in Austin, TX on a bus after a nightmarish twelve-hour travel day.

I couldn’t afford the four-hundred-dollar plane ticket back home, so I booked my first and likely my last bus ride. The only way this trip would have been more disastrous was if I drank until I blacked out and threw up in my Betsey Johnson handbag. The stench of Texas summer feet burned my nostrils, the cops boarded at the last stop to break up a fist fight, and I think I was the only one who wasn’t intoxicated. The whole ordeal would’ve been a gripping tale to retell if it hadn’t been for the strange man on my last bus sexually assaulting me so much.

Enough about that. I was scheduled to meet Jason, my friend but also my apartment locator to sign the lease on a new place soon. This would be the first place of my own in over two years. A year ago, I walked away from an abusive relationship and quickly fell back into heavy alcoholism as I struggled to find a place to live. I spent the last year couch surfing the homes of some equally toxic “friends”. Now with just four months of sobriety and a steady income under my belt, I was finally getting out of this mess. This was my chance to create a new life for myself.

Today was supposed to be a celebratory day. I did it. I didn’t have to worry about where I’d sleep anymore, who would be there or if I’d be safe in my home. However, my anxiety was making me feel truly unhinged. The last few months the cravings for alcohol dissipated which I attributed to the emotional healing work I was doing. Until now that is. Today, I woke with a familiar adrenaline rush and I was uncomfortable in my skin. I desperately needed an escape from my body. How naïve was I to think I might actually be free from the chains of my addiction?

I had to occupy myself, so I dragged my feet downstairs to put on some tea. I was spending the weekend at my friend Darren’s house while he was away on a work trip. I brought the tea back to bed and tried to distract myself from how badly I wanted to drink. Distract myself from how that man on the dark bus groped me as though he thought he had the right to. I had to forget how he ignored my pleas to stop.

It’s not like getting groped by a stranger on a bus was the worst thing a man has ever put me through. I was an alcoholic that spent the last decade modeling and cocktail waitressing in nightclubs. Men in those environments tend to think that it’s an open invitation to harass and stalk women. At some point it began to feel like a part of the job description, so I had been numb to this sort of thing for a long time. Being desensitized to harassment isn’t a quality I wear with pride but at times it was necessary for survival.

So, what made this situation so different? Why was I having a panic attack in my favorite city on my special day?

Then it hit me. I was sober. Bingo, that was the difference. I spent the last fourteen years dulling my pain with alcohol. This time I was assaulted, I was fully aware of the all the details. My emotions were present, I didn’t black it out and I couldn’t blame myself. This feeling wasn’t just going to go away.

Oh no. I was going to feel this way all day. Suddenly my chest got tighter.

I took a hot shower to ease the tension in my neck. My knees were wobbly, and I was unsteady on my feet. Jason was blowing up my phone to hurry up. I couldn’t imagine leaving this room right now. I didn’t want to see anyone.

I put The Office on in the background as I dressed in the outfit I prepared for this special occasion. Suddenly the blouse was too bright and way too revealing. I aimed to be invisible.

I sat down to do some breathwork. Just focus on the episode ‘Dwight’s Fire Drill’. This episode was always in my “anxiety toolbox”. It was just too ridiculous not to bring out a giggle or two during times of need. I checked the time on my phone and noticed the Uber app taunting me. I opened it and paused. There’s no harm in just seeing where the closest liquor store is, right? There’s probably not even one close by.

Liquor…3.5 miles. There was dancing in my chest. Perhaps I could stop by and commit myself to only purchasing the smallest bottle. Just enough to fight off the anxiety but not enough to get hammered by 3pm. It would give me the power to leave the house and get one step closer to my new future. This was the only day he was available to meet with me and get this finalized. Was I really going to spend a year in hell and travel twelve hours just to hide inside and give up? This was my future. This was FREEDOM.

Twenty minutes later I was back at Darren’s, whiskey bottle in hand sitting on the bathroom counter. I took back the first 3 shots within 15 minutes.

“I’m ready. Let’s go get this apartment”. Text delivered.

An hour later the papers were signed, and the process was simpler than I expected. I made the deposit, and the place was MINE. It certainly was not worth breaking sobriety over. Too late. In one month, I could move in and everything would be behind me. Now I just had to survive today.

Sensing food might be a wise choice I met a friend at our favorite taco joint. He congratulated me on my new path and sobriety. Then I proceeded to chug more whiskey in the bathroom and totally blacked out.

At 11pm that night, I woke up back at Darren’s sick and desperate for more alcohol. I didn’t plan on actually drinking more until I noticed four whiskey bottles lining the inside of his closet. They were just staring at me. They were beautiful.

I couldn’t stop myself. Now, imagine I’d just ran sixty miles through the desert and found water, but the water was toxic. It truly felt like my life depended on it. That’s the only way I can describe to a “normie” how hard it is to walk away from addiction. Your entire body convinces you that the one thing that’s killing you is your way of survival. At times I’m sure it was.

I grabbed the most appealing bottle and vowed to replace it before heading out of town.

I didn’t eat the rest of the trip, I didn’t go out, I didn’t visit friends. I drank all four bottles from bed until I had to leave town again. By the end, I was severely ill. I didn’t have the strength to pick up replacement bottles, so I left $80 in his nightstand and stumbled out.

That day I decided this pattern had to stop. I was dangerously close to making this an everyday event again. If I did, I would lose everything and maybe even my life.

The detox was painful, and the trip was a catastrophe, but I don’t regret my choices. I discovered what could break me and what I still needed to heal from. This time I was strong enough to get back up and make the decision to finally address the trauma in my life. I’m not sure I ever would have pulled back the rug to discover what was underneath if I didn’t fear it could cause another relapse. The idea of going back to “the dark place” was scary enough for me to face my issues and handle what I never thought I could.

So that’s exactly what I did. I started weekly therapy, I joined a recovery group, made friends with others practicing sobriety, faced as many demons as I could, and I pushed through all the difficult detours along the way.

Today, I know recovery is possible for me. That affirmation changed everything going forward. I held onto a thread of hope even when times were grim. I knew I could get through whatever comes my way. I learned to believe in myself.

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