I’m not addicted to alcohol, I’m addicted to self-abuse.
With sober January being that time that all brand new alcohols start to realize “hey, this may be more of a problem than I think it is,” I thought it was a good time to get a little raw on the internet. This process of detailing and unpacking my own self-masochistic behaviors is just as much therapeutic for me as it should be a wake up call to anyone who recognizes themselves.
I will find any method of self abuse that I can. What I thought was an alcohol problem, turned into an abusive men problem, turned into a wreckless driving problem, turned into an adrenaline-seeking problem. You get the point. It was never about the alcohol.
And while I’d like to think and have spent many an AA meeting thinking that alcohol was the problem — the numbness, the freedom—let’s get real for a second. I didn’t need alcohol to self abuse.
When I was 11 my mom and I got in a fight, I honestly don’t remember what about, but I do remember this part: “I’m going to teach her a lesson and give myself alcohol poisoning.” Me thinking I was this big bad kid ready to spite my mother down for all the degrading and demeaning comments she had made, I snagged a Smirnoff Ice and began what I interpreted to be chugging. The first few sips immediately turned me off to any more, and I promptly hid that bottle in my dresser drawer and went to sleep.
My mother and I fought. I’m talking “I wish cancer had killed you!” and pulling clumps of my hair out fought. (My mother had cancer most of my childhood). I remember telling therapists that it felt like God kept letting my mother have more lives just to spite me. She spent a ton of my childhood making me feel less than, in big and little ways.
From the “would you just shut up” while she watched Jeopardy, to the “your stress is making my cancer worse and is killing me,” there was a lot my mother said that made me feel like shit for a solid 18 (and much more after that) years. When I moved out, it was like a weight was lifted, and I didn’t hear her voice telling me how much of a piece of shit I was.
…that was until all the things she said and did that I had internalized came to me, charged and ready to tear me down just like she had. I got myself into unhealthy relationships, was raped, abused, and more — it felt familiar, safe, normal. I had normalized being ignored, being invalidated, and most importantly being bought, just like my mother had done while I was growing up.
In college, this all escalated and built until I spent about 2 months refusing to get out of bed, missing lots of school, ignoring friends, never showering, and just generally being miserable. I wanted to die. The few times I did go out, I was a regularly black out college girl — drunk, stoned, almost naked, and ready to vomit on whatever unsuspecting dude tried to flirt with me.
I finally reached out for help, from my mom ironically, and from my school. While my school basically said “we can’t help you,” as I pleaded with them that I had plans to throw myself off the school buildings, my mom thought putting me in an apartment, and giving me some distance from it all would make it better.
That’s when I met a guy from MIT. I said one weekend I’d pull myself out of this and go out, meet new guys, and not do anything wild. I could stay up till the sun came up, but it had to be for innocent reasons — ie. no sex and no throwing up. I met him one of those nights and we hit it off over him telling me he was drinking water. What a novel idea.
He spent the following three years trying to get me to see my worth — to see what he saw and the parts of me that he was attracted to. We’ll call him R. Unfortunately my penchanse for self-abuse showed R sides of me he wasn’t ready for and couldn’t handle. In one of those moments, I met my son’s father, we’ll call him B. Ironically that’s actually his nickname.
B saw me as a possession, something to be owned, and something to obey him. I was a rebellious, drunk college girl. I wasn’t ready for any of what he brought to the table—including a very recent PTSD/TBI diagnosis from his recent time overseas as a Marine. As things escalated, I threw gasoline and dynamite on the flames.
At a party at his apartment, I ended up getting jealous of B and the way he was flirting with someone else—something he was doing to get a rise out of me. Like any immature teenage girl my irresponsible reaction was to grab a bottle of vodka from the freezer and chug it like a champ. Unlike my 11 year old self, my college self had perfected chugging alcohol. I was blackout drunk pretty readily.
While I vomited my heart out, B tried to beat the bathroom door down, succeeded, picked me up and dropped me. I was terrified of B, and he had shown me good reason to be terrified of him. He left bruises on my body, and before his “heroic” (as he calls it) breaking the bathroom door down, I panicked called my roommate and R to help me. I was terrified, and rightfully so, but drunk enough to barely make sense. Fortunately, R called my dorm phone, hoping my roommate would hear and she of course did.
Between the two of them, they figured out where I was and fortunately Amanda is the kind of bitch that would move mountains to save her friends. And that woman did. She showed up ready to pound whomever stood between her and me, our neighbor Kaitlin in tow. The two got me in a cab, quickly realizing I wasn’t making it past dorm security.
Off to R’s the three of us went, me barely keeping what was left of my bile in me, both Amanda and Kait concerned that I may not make it through the night and for whatever was to come with my relationship with B. Despite being unable to walk or really cooperate with Amanda and Kait’s suggestions and concern, I skipped on up to R’s fraternity and made my way to his room like nothing had happened. My drunk, black out self knew I was safe in his care and that no one was coming to get me.
R washed me off, took care of me, and held me as I slept—caring for me in a way B never could, and I honestly, had never felt. He was mature, capable, empathetic, compassionate. R was just …kind. And somehow that man bought me breakfast the next day, me sitting across the booth still picking vomit leftovers out of my hair.
I spent a lot of time trying to fit round pegs in square holes. My mother had taught me that gay relationships weren’t the norm, weren’t idealized. She had conditioned me to believe that to make her happy I needed ot bring home a white, all American Harvard doctor. The MIT straight A student, life saving R was never enough and I couldn’t let go of the dark that R didn’t want from me. I couldn’t be the person that R saw in me—the kind, compassionate person I was towards others but with myself. And I think in ways, he knew that he couldn’t save me from myself.
So I kept shoving those round oversized pegs into a square hole—finding the relationships that embraced the dark in me. I went through a slew of alcoholics—I think the worst was J, he fell asleep on our front lawn in February, drunk, in RI. And he also handled some pretty heavy stuff by forgetting that I was feeling a lot too.
J and I had, on a hairbrain, and probably enough disassociation to think this was a good idea, been trying for a child. Fortunately I miscarried, because woof, that was not the person I needed to be bringing a child into the world with. Before I did, he came to his senses and asked for an abortion—without much thought or care for how I’d recieve that.
After the miscarriage, with little ability to talk about what had gone on, alcohol became my new best friend. To be specific, caramel apple martinis, dark and stormies, pear and apple ciders, well, we were unbreakable, and unstoppable. So much so that I couldn’t get sober and I couldn’t stop driving drunk.
At the time, I lived on an island and while it’s basically like an adult version of bumper cars if you prefer to drive drunk carefully, my little self-abuse demon LOVED a wreckless 90 down the north end of the island. I’d wake up and at times not know where my car was, only to find it via a phone call that my car was not where it belonged, or by driving by it with a friend on a joy ride.
I was an EMT at the time, and I had been to a car accident where someone had been drinking and driving—and I knew them. I had known them for years and didn’t recognize them when I arrived. I still remember their mother’s cry, and the faces of the other more experienced EMTs.
And that didn’t motivate me at all to stop. It didn’t click, didn’t register. I still let that deep dark side of me run loose and wild day in and day out.
It got expensive quickly, and I was running out of money. I was also loosing friends, failed my NREMT, and again, was just not behaving like an ok member of society. I was straight up undesirable, and a big issue was the drinking.
I got into a fist fight, something I never thought would happen. And still feels a little unbelievable. That pushed for a little wakeup call. But many is it hard to really feel like it’s time to wakeup.
Driving down the neck one night, I was drunk and with my dog. I lost control of the car and spun out—scaring the shit out of my dog, scaring the shit out of me, and I felt this sense of relief that instantly was terrifying. I recognized why drinking was so compulsive just about immediately. It was a means to an end, and an attempt at not feeling all the pain and self-loath that I had stored up as a child. It was a slow suicide.
I’d like to say I got sober right away, but that’s so far from the truth. It took about 3 months of determination and creative boundary making. I had to outwit the weasel inside of me insistent on getting drunk. It wasn’t pretty, it was certainly humbling, and finally on March 14th, I had 24 hours sober, and now 8 years later, I have 8 years of sobriety.
I’d like to say my life has been rainbows and butterflies since, but like any good well experienced self aware alcoholic knows, that was only the beginning. Removing alcohol just removed one method of self-abuse.
On to men I went. Just a year later, I reached out to B, and we immediately hit it back off, because ya know, nothing in him had changed, and I was still looking for a method to abuse myself with. He quickly became abusive, and while I “tried” to leave, I didn’t. He was dangerous, I was pregnant, and when I finally started to take him seriously, just as had with alcohol, it was clear I couldn’t leave him unscathed.
I’d like to say since then that I was able to distance myself just as I have with alcohol, but to this day he’s still finding ways to continue his abuse. I have done everything in my power to put that method down, it took round 2 to really unpack this all. Well, and recognizing that round pegs don’t fit in square holes as nicely as I thought.
After two more pretty unsuccessful and unfortunate relationships with men, on a series of trips centered around self discovery and rooted in working with queer folks, it was clear that why my relationships with men don’t work wasn’t just about my penchanse for self-abuse. It was also about the fact that round pegs don’t fit in square holes as nicely as we’d all think.
Coming out was like a shedding of all the things that I thought I needed to be viewed as valid in the world. It was shedding my obsession with my appearance, with my discomfort around dressing supe femme, about trying to live out the whole white picket fantasy the way my mother had prescribed it for me.
When you shed so much it’s hard to miss you. Ya know? Like all that’s left is really you, and it’s not all that hard to start unpacking what’s left and make the growth you need to. So off on another journey of self exploration and growth.
Which ironically led me to an afternoon of cutting cucumbers while listening to a group of folks discuss food addictions on Clubhouse. Woof. How my binge eating and my obsession with dairy and gluten just made sense. I’ve had IBS for as long as I can remember and the best way to make it better is easy: stop eating gluten and dairy.
When men and alcohol didn’t work for self abuse guess what I picked up? Gluten and dairy. And I had so many excuses—until I was pooping blood and spending more time sick than well. My therapist, bless her for being traumatized by my literal existance sometimes, planted a seed around what is it about gluten and dairy that makes it impossible to stop?
I couldn’t nail it. I didn’t like bread, I didn’t really like pasta — although with the right sauce, *chef’s kiss.* The more I thought about it and cut the cucumbers the more I felt like I needed to get out of my head. Well, how are ya Clubhouse? Where all my needs for distraction ends in unpacking my issues for all to see…
As I listened, I had this urge to speak to unravel how I chased method after method, figuring out the bandaid fix to each method. And then someone spoke. My patience about burst as he explained that his addiction has many methods. Damn man, you’re stealing my line! I thought. What a way to steal the thunder of my epiphany.
And that was the moment I realized all addicts are the a little the same. It’s never about the method, it’s always about the ways we’ve conditioned how we’ve been treated for our lifetime and how that has internalized into this weird form of unconscious self hatred.
For the first time in months, maybe even a year, I did the dishes, and cleaned up my kitchen. I started to peal apart the ways I showed myself what I was thinking on the inside. From letting garbage sit on the floor for forever, to letting my license be suspended for well too long for me to admit on the internet.
Getting sober I had done a lot of those things, but I still kept finding new methods. And somehow this feels a little different. Gluten and dairy have been removed from my house, and all the self-care promises I’ve made to myself so many times I genuinely want to do. Not because I’m about to fake it till I make it but because I now know I have to teach myself the things I was never taught—that I am whole.