Five years ago I quit drinking, and my sobriety was hard-won. Three years ago, I had a painful relapse that I hid quietly. I’d like to discuss both.
My addiction stems from a traumatic childhood. The earliest parts of my life were filled with neglect, violence, poverty, and physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse.
I was born into the world when my parents were teenagers. By the time I was a 16, I was out in the world on my own.
The world is not a kind place. It’s a challenge to navigate with the proper tools and resources. As a child raised by children, it’s nearly impossible.
In my own home I was made to feel inadequate; being thrust into the world as a youth only reinforced these feelings and made me easy prey.
These situations complicated my relationships, attitudes about life and the ability to trust people in general.
Pain is strange. When you’re living in it long enough, the sensation becomes normal. You associate learning with pain, you associate life with pain out of necessary experience.
Alcohol created a welcome absence to the dull constant ache of life. When you know that you can make that despair irrelevant, it becomes an easy reward mechanism.What is once used as salve on a wound over time becomes caustic.
The last year of my alcoholism was filled with at least a fifth of vodka every day; which in turn led to complete blackouts and excruciating tremors.
My last night of drinking, I guzzled two-fifths of vodka on an empty stomach and woke up the next day on the bathroom floor covered in piss and naked.
I made myself a promise that if I lived through my situation to try and actually deal with my issues. My hangover lasted an entire week. By the next Friday, the first time I wasn’t hungover, I already wanted to drink again.
But I didn’t and I haven’t since.
After white-knuckling and bullying myself into sobriety for a while, I actually began trying to practice kindness with myself.
The shit works.
We are loved beyond our capacity to understand. I truly believe this. But when we hurt it’s hard to remember and even harder to love oneself.
Some people want to play the hard role and tell you that loving yourself is a sign of weakness or a silly notion. To practice kindness within yourself allows you to create a place of understanding and compassion.
For me, that has meant recognizing my feelings as fair and valid. Doing so has given me the ability manifest them in purposeful ways.
When I started my recovery, I began to notice and appreciate and ultimately better understand the world around me.
I also initiated the slow healing process of confronting long dormant issues in my life.
Over time, I actively sought one thing to be thankful for each day and photograph it. I began sharing my work online and enjoyed the process.
My relationships also began to evolve. Behaviors or interactions with people I knew suddenly became jarring. In it came the realization that a lack of established personal boundaries growing up was the root cause of much of my pain.
Your ability to love anyone or anything is only as great as the care that you will take for yourself.
I’ve since learned the value and importance of not only personal boundaries but inter-personal as well.
If someone will not respect your personal bounds they will not show you respect in any other facet of life.
In addition, when you have very little respect for yourself most don’t feel the need to show you the same level of respect you show them.
Which brings me to my relapse
About three years ago I had a relapse, during which I developed a massive cough syrup addiction.
I’ve felt a lot of pain and shame for this particular situation and feel that acknowledging it publicly is the best way for me to carry on without this burden.
When I was a child; I told an adult about my sexual abuse and was not believed. The guardian also shamed me and told me that I wasn’t being truthful.
This instance was a massive personal hurdle to overcome and a major part of my recovery process.
To endure abuse is humiliating, to be questioned/ridiculed is just as painful in my experience.
I had a job not that long ago that I didn’t care for, but I still did my best. I always do.In the upper management was an individual that didn’t care for me for me because of personality differences.
They were a bully in general but sort of harmless. Over time their dislike of me grew from passive aggressive to outright aggressive and incessant.
More often than not it involved asking about my “boyfriend” or a lame crack about my sexuality.
After each instance, I reminded them I was heterosexual, and that I didn’t appreciate the comments. Repeatedly I asked them to stop, they would not.This pattern escalated and accelerated over a year and a half during which it began to slowly chip away at my newly sober self-esteem.
I pointed out the behavior to several co-workers. After witnessing an incident, one co-worker, in particular, acknowledged and agreed I was being harassed.
At their suggestion, I began documenting the issue.I was able to quickly document six instances; three with me verbally asking not to be harassed and a second three making it a point to say I would be escalating the issue if it didn’t stop.
On the 6th instance, the manager told me to go “tattle” and that they would be pulling my internet history as a means of terminating me and calling outside recruiters telling them not to hire me.
Reluctantly, I contacted the HR department. Explained my situation. Told them about the threats. Gave them names and dates and notes for the incidences.
They called in a few employees that were witnesses to events in an attempt to substantiate my claim.
The person that initially suggested I document my case after witnessing harassment said they weren’t aware of any issues between me and my harasser.
I understand why some don’t want to rock the boat or speak up against a bully in a position of authority. This really hurt.
For two long weeks, I waited for a response. When I finally received one, I was told the manager could ask about my partner and that that they didn’t have a problem with my lifestyle. I advised the HR representative that I am heterosexual, and they said the manager didn’t know that. They also stated no threats were made.
This motherfucker. These motherfuckers.
The HR rep said if it happened again to let them know. Shortly after a couple of co-workers, I worked with began to treat me differently. Instead of the manager harassing me, I was now being picked at by people that believed them.
A lawyer I talked to said my case was compelling but that “it would be hard to find a jury to care about harassment between two straight white men.” Didn’t matter, I couldn’t afford the lawyers fees.
My calls to labor disputes boards went unheard. By the time I received a form letter months later, I was already in over my head.
Between the start of the harassment and before my addiction became unmanageable; I had applied to literally over 100 jobs in multiple states.
During which, I only received 3 callbacks. I remembered the threat the manager made in their office about the recruiters and wondered if it was true.
My options were few and my outlook was not well.
I was tired of fighting. I was tired of being harassed by an outright liar. I had been punished for asking to be treated with common courtesy.
After taking the appropriate steps, I made my situation worse. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I was reliving a deep dark painful childhood memory.
I couldn’t hold it together.
My sleep became non-existent until I began taking a dose of cough syrup before bed to help sleep on nights I was too upset.
Over time this evolved into a nightly ritual and an escalating tolerance.Before I was aware, I was drinking up to two and a half bottles of cough syrup a night.
Waking up in cold sweats and feeling miserable at work during the day due to my situation.
I worked so hard for my first year of sobriety only to leave one addiction and walk right into another.
With that tiny numbing relief came old feelings, unhealthy habits and dark thoughts. Old patterns felt normal and I was in a vicious cycle.
With one small difference; The thing I know now, that I didn’t know as a child is; the truth is the truth. I had a moment of clarity. This piece of shit was always going to have something stupid to say. I knew if I was patient I could end up being right and force their hand.
This realization snapped me out of my dark spiral.
Eventually, they made more comments, and this time I was incensed.
This time, they were told to quit or they would be fired. But they just couldn’t stop talking and were put on probation.
They quit, like the coward they are. On the way out they verbally blamed me for having to leave. WEAK.
I later found out that this individual has left TWO previous employers under similar circumstances. Yet, for some reason, my words weren’t believed.They left for a bigger job at a bigger company with a higher salary.
This part bothered me for a minute. Until I remembered, where they are now, they’ll end up having the same issue.
Mark my words.
***Side note/Fun fact: Seattle has a “Mutual Combat Law” which means police will referee street fights, rendering them legal. I look forward crossing paths with this individual and seeing what they have to say to my face on a level playing field.***
Even with my harassment issue resolved, I still worked in an office that tolerated that type of behavior. There was no apology or admission of wrongdoing from anyone. My problem that “didn’t exist” had made someone quit and it was my fault.
Throughout my relapse, art was the constant in my life.
With the start of my second recovery came imagining what life would be like if I could create for a living and the belief it was possible. I gave myself permission to dream and to pursue them.
Which is when things got really interesting. The first real challenging part of any journey is always the hardest.
As I began in earnest to pursue my dreams I noticed that it took an increasing amount of effort to accomplish simple tasks.When normal activities became exhausting, I knew something was physically not right. Over the course of a couple months, I saw several doctors and they were unable to find an issue.
As my symptoms progressed my ability to work on anything outside of my job became impossible.
Along the way, I also made lots of excuses for myself why I couldn’t do what I wanted in life. :/
My body’s ailment eventually revealed itself as tonsillitis with a bacterial infection severe enough to reach my heart.
Surgery was required, but I would make a full and quick recovery.
I was relieved to have an answer and anxious to be on the road to wellness. As I was being put under for the procedure I thought to myself “I hate my job.”
In another lucid moment, I realized if something bad happened during my surgery that would be my last thought in life.
The idea instantly made me sad and terrified me.
When I awoke, I was re-determined pour all of my passion into my art and pursue photography as a way to make a living.
While I was recovering I had applied for a photography program and was accepted, only to learn that couldn’t obtain financing.
I then learned 85% of graduates with degrees in photography don’t end up working in their respective field due to competition.Not only could I not obtain the funding for the degree, if I received it, there was no promise that would get me the job I wanted.
It’s the kind of thing that could have become my reason to quit, and it almost was.
While I was laying in bed healing l heard the song “10,000 Hours” by Macklemore.The song discusses Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule. In which he posits that to become a master of any skill/craft requires 10,000 hours of commitment.
I did the math, that’s 2.5 years of 11 hour days.
After talking to a photographer (now mentor/friend) who I admire and respect greatly she convinced me I could do it without the degree.If I couldn’t get the financing, I’d do it myself. And if I couldn’t do it myself, I’d make so little money that I’d eventually be approved for financing.
Either way, I wasn’t taking no for an answer, and I wasn’t going to wait.
I put in my notice at my job and started driving for UBER on the side. Preparing for my new life shit got real, real quick.
*** Pro tip: I only told a couple people about my new side job intentionally just to see how gossip works. People will reveal themselves to you in fascinating ways all the time. ***