I got sober the first time on July 8, 1998. Obviously, I had the worst 4th of July weekend EVER. I spent it in Lake Havasu, where among other things, after staying loaded on X for several consecutive days and drinking a ridiculous amount of Crown Royal, I passed out in a pool of gravel and sliced my face up on some very sharp rocks. My ‘friends’ that I was with at the time (and I can only clearly remember 2 of them) left me laying in my own vomit in the gravel and went on about the business of having a really good time.
This wasn’t my first experience with the humiliation of being a drunk. I can promise you that I had experiences that were much much worse. But the fact that my own choices (up to and including the people I called friends) left me in one bad situation after another, had very little impact on me. My world was full of people who drank like I drank, who stole like I stole. We lied, cheated and manipulated anyone who came across our path. If one of my ‘friends’ at the time had been laying face down in a pile of puke in the gravel…I would have left them too.
About 9 months later, I would be reading an inventory to a woman named Gloria. At this time in my sobriety, I’m somewhere between the pink cloud and purgatory. I’m obsessed with war in Somalia and Kosovo. I’ve managed to move out of the house where everyone was drinking and using and I’ve gotten my first sober apartment–alone. The inventory was written on a legal pad. It took up the entire pad (I think I mentioned before that I had no fear of the 4th step when I got here. I was thrilled that someone was finally willing to listen to my long list of resentments against the world.) Gloria came over at 9 a.m. At 4:30 in the afternoon, the poor woman ordered a pizza. We were several hours away from being done.
I said a lot that day. I told Gloria about how it felt to be a 6-year-old sitting on an old bar stool next to the telephone, legs swinging back and forth as I waited for my dad to call me on my birthday, a call that never came. An experience I would have again and again and again. I told her how it felt to have my mother slap handcuffs on me at 14 years old. What it was like to be put in the back of a squad car and driven around the most desolate and poverty-stricken areas of our city (she called it the ghetto) and told that she was going to leave me there. I talked about what it was like to wake up on my 17th birthday to my mother trying to commit suicide in the bathroom of our tiny apartment. I talked about the shame that had come from being kicked out of college after college. From being homeless. From wandering from couch to couch, stealing from people who did nothing but take me in when I needed a place to stay. I talked about having a gun held to my head, being assaulted, taking food out of a trash can, smoking cigarette butts I found in random ashtrays (Yikes! That still makes my skin crawl!) You get the point…there was a lot of stuff. Gloria sat on my living room floor (because I had no furniture) and she listened while I opened the door of my storage unit and she taught me that day how to start letting in the light.
It’s like that when we get here. We have this giant storage unit and it’s full of garbage. I mean it’s full of really nasty stuff. We try to open up the door and move through it but there’s shit everywhere. Every direction we turn, we’re tripping over stuff. Hey Gloria, look over here…here’s the time I threw up all over the bar in front of a cop and my date went home with another girl. Oh look at this…this is the day in 6th grade when the preppy cheerleader made fun of me because my pants were too short and my coat was from Goodwill. Check this out…here’s the night I sat alone at the kitchen table with a bottle of Jack Daniels and thought about killing myself.
It sounds like a stupid question. To love, or not to love? But if you feel me here, you understand that for people who come from the darkness we come from, to love is not an option. Fear was an option. Aggression was an option. Escape was definitely the best option. But love? Come on…please.
Addiction is self-loathing in action. But self-hate can (and usually does) follow us well into our sobriety. All those things I told Gloria in that inventory…none of them was what got me through the doors the first time. None of them was my crack in the window. I didn’t love myself enough to care.
When I got home from Havasu, I was sitting on the floor in my room (because again, I had no furniture). My room was on the 2nd floor of the house and I opened my closet door and went to pull–you guessed it, overalls–out of the dirty laundry pile. What I found there was a neighborhood ally cat giving birth right in the middle of the dirty laundry. And as instinctively as I might have responded if someone had a knife to my throat or if I thought the cops were about to bust me for possession, I picked up that cat and I opened the sliding door to my balcony and I threw it, as if it were a bag of trash, into the street.
That was the last thing I told Gloria from my inventory. And then Gloria left my apartment. And then I NEVER EVER called Gloria again (well, actually, I did make an amends years later.) I never returned her calls. I changed meetings so I wouldn’t see her.
Shame is a very powerful thing.
And I had a lot of shame. I was unwanted. I was the biological product of people who hated each other. I had been both a victim and a perpetrator of extreme physical abuse. And I did not believe on that day, when I read that stupid fucking inventory, that anything would ever really change for me. But I was broken enough when I got here to stay. And that has made all the difference.
So when my sponsor (not Gloria…obviously I had to get a new sponsor!) said, make your bed in the morning..I made it. I bitched while I made it. I made fun of her for thinking that making a bed had anything to do with staying sober. When she said I was no longer allowed to wear overalls, that I could wear anything but the overalls, I thought she had lost her mind. But I gave her the overalls (she came to my apartment for them!) Yeah. I gave her the overalls and I started wearing other clothes. She took me to the grocery store. Because I had no idea what someone might buy at the grocery store besides cigarettes and Dr. Pepper. And because I did these little things, with my big bad attitude, day by day–while I wasn’t looking–I went from being a 25-year-old woman who was living in filth, humiliation and shame to being something else.
I lost the apartment for a variety of reasons beyond my control. I moved in with a sober friend on the West Side. I was not happy to be moving, to be living with someone else, to be uprooted. I did not warmly embrace the idea of change. After a long day of driving back and forth between the Valley and the West Side, I went to my new ‘room’ and I closed the door behind me. I was pissed. And I was broken-hearted. I pulled down the covers and crawled into a well-made bed.
And I thought God had failed me. See, because I come from a place of great abandonment, it is always my first instinct when things don’t go my way to think that God has abandoned me. But in my sobriety, I have learned to recognize that is my pattern. That’s my way. Because I’ve written probably 75 or more bits of inventory on abandonment in all its lovely forms, I’ve learned that I have to dig deeper. I’ve learned that because I was abandoned, I learned to use abandonment as a tool and a weapon. Like how I didn’t call Gloria back. My weapon. I needed to protect myself from this person who now knew everything about me. So I hurt myself and others with this behavior a lot, well into my sobriety. When I met my husband, I moved out of that apartment on the West Side and never said goodbye to my roommate–who was like my really good friend! So weird! But I was a leaver. It was my way. I no longer judge myself for that. Now I love myself through that. When I get in a mood these days and I start to fuck things off…I understand that it’s my way, and I know from years and years of looking at the truth about Nina, that it’s a very dangerous place for me. So I need to make the bed. I mean that as a metaphor. I have to go back to my habits…my good habits.
Self-esteem comes from doing esteemable things. Little things. Start with making your bed, if that’s where you are. At one point in my sobriety, the esteemable action I was practicing was calling you back. At another point, it was confessing to you when I had just lied. I have never stopped practicing esteemable actions. Because I never want to go back to the loathing that almost killed me.
My storage locker will always be with me. Sadly, I discovered that no matter how many inventories I write, the fact that my father abandoned me will always be sitting there in my storage unit. All my stuff will. But somehow, over many years, the unit has gotten bigger. And these days, when I have to walk through it, there’s just more room, and a lot more light can get in. There’s a lot of clean space on the ground now. And things are well-packed. I can even take you in there with me. I can show you, look over here, here’s the time I threw that pregnant cat off the balcony.
Doing esteemable things will keep you very busy for the rest of your sober life. It will gradually turn your loathing to love..probably while you aren’t looking (because you’re busy…doing the esteemable things.)