I’m pretty sure I was born with an addictive personality. The fundamental root of this is an addiction to one thing, more. Bigger, faster, further, higher. More playtime, more pancakes, climb the tree to the highest branch, take the skateboard down the biggest hill, I dare you to put your foot in the water…why do that when I can jump in? I have always been this way, even before my life got messy and dysfunctional and fucked up.
I also believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is at least partially genetic. I have two sons, Logan is 8 ½ and Wyatt is almost 6. Logan is mellow and focused; he is sweet and kind and without being reminded, always says please and thank you. If I give him something or do something nice for him, he is genuinely appreciative and will thank me and tells me I’m the best mommy in the whole world. Seriously, he’s awesome like that. He has always been this way.
Then, there’s Wyatt. Poor kid, he’s got mommy’s genes stamped all over him. I gave him a bowl of ice cream the other night, and two bites in he started crying. I asked him what was wrong? He was spooning it in, crying, saying that he wanted more when he already had a full bowl. He was already freaking out about it being gone, two bites in to a huge bowl. More. Man, do I get it. He’ll ask if he can have a cookie, I say one, he says four. Not two, four. This is the way it is with everything, whatever it is being offered, he wants more.
My mother always used to call it greedy. I don’t think its greed at all. I think it is an addictive personality rearing its ugly head. It drives us to test every limit, to push every boundary, to manipulate and control. It can be a curse and a blessing. It can propel us to succeed beyond our wildest expectations, yet it can plummet us into the darkest of depression. It is a curse of extremes. There is no gray, only black and white.
At 40, I got sober for the first time in 27 years. I am still learning about gray. It is like writing with my left hand, and it takes incredible resolve and determination for a new way of life.
I believe as we get older, and life gets messy, that addictive behaviors are defined by the excessive, repetitive use of pleasurable activities to cope with unmanageable internal conflict, pressure, and stress. More drinking, more smoking, more drugs. Now the addiction is rooted in fear and escape.
The first time I drank and got high, I was twelve years old, and I instantly loved it. I had a difficult adolescence to say the least, and that was the beginning of shoving down my pain by drowning it in drugs and alcohol.
The stage was set, and for the next 27 years, drugs and alcohol replaced first my willingness, and over time, my ability, to handle, cope, or manage undesirable situations.
Again, the flip side of addiction is a motivation and determination that can be fierce and unwavering. I went to college, studied abroad, made dean’s list, had a life, worked, started a business, got married, and had kids. I had plenty of “good times” and no shortage of laughter, but I was very rarely genuinely happy. These were all just things; my life looked a certain way, two healthy kids, a great husband, and a big house with a Land Rover in the garage. So what if I drank too much “on the weekends?”
After the birth of my second son, the darkest depression hijacked my life. I was plagued with anxiety and full-blown panic attacks. Over the next 3 years, the drinking increased dramatically, I was emotionally shut down, paralyzed. I drank every day, and it went from bad to worse. Vodka with a splash of club soda, first I started at 5, then 4, then 3, then some days I’d start at lunch, and on really bad days I’d have a few in the morning to quell my anxiety. Then came the pills, Percocet, the beginning of the end.
Everybody knew I was a drinker. I was good time Tracy. I brought the laughs, took everything over the top, I hid in plain sight. You would have had no clue what was going on inside of me, until blackouts started plaguing my life.
I drove intoxicated on a regular basis. I flipped my Land Rover on its side. I was there physically, but I had emotionally checked out from my family. I would not attend a function or event if it did not serve alcohol or I could not bring it or hide it. Vodka became the tragic center of my universe and my world around it slowly atrophied.
My drinking had escalated to a level which I went to great lengths not only to hide, but also protect. Now, red flags were popping up everywhere, and friends started forming informal interventions.
I had the immense pleasure of being notified, in therapy, by my then husband of 8 years, that I needed to quit drinking and to start by going to AA. What? Did I miss the memo? This was ridiculous; I could cut down if I wanted to! I was filled with anger and rage, so, like any good alcoholic, I stormed out of our therapy session, flew home, poured myself a ginormous drink, at 10:30 am, and grabbed a bottle of vodka. I packed a bag, texted my husband that he was responsible for picking up the kids, and headed over to my father’s house, which was empty because he was in Florida. I proceeded to cry hysterically and get myself blackout shit faced drunk with self-pity.
The next morning when I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror, I knew what I had to do, and I was terrified. That was the last drink, pill, or drug I’ve had, and that was November 9, 2011.
As I approach the beginning of my third year of sobriety, I am reminded that although the past two years have been riddled with tremendous loss and pain, the flip side is where I stand right now. Happy, sober, fulfilled and content in a way I never thought possible. My own skin finally fits; it is not itchy or uncomfortable, not too tight or too hot. It is perfect, it is right where I am meant to be, and it feels good for the first time. I have no desire to escape it.
The lessons have been vast and arching. I have walked through them, suffered and learned, and felt all of the emotion attached to them. I have arrived, relatively unscathed, on the other side. Not filled with bitterness or anger, resentment or pain. That would have been my old MO, laced with a heavy dose of self-pity and saturated with vodka. I have listened, I have heard, I have felt the weight of my emotion purely, and have developed the tools to handle them like an adult, rather than an impetuous child.
My two sons, and more recently, Aaron, have all been my lifeline. They are my greatest teachers. From them I learn about patience, understanding, gratitude, humility, and forgiveness every day. We laugh and love, learn and grow together. We are all examples for each other. We hold tight and run free together. They teach me about who I really am; I am reflected in their faces. It is the greatest miracle of all. My children look up to me, depend on me, and have such immense love for me, and I for them. What in the world is greater or more meaningful than the love and respect of your family? Knowing you are setting an example that you can be proud of, leading by positive example in helping to shape their little worlds.
Addiction is a beast. It is the absence of one thing, moderation. Today I’m cool with gray, I have speckles of black and white, but overall I understand what it means to be content, and happy. I realize that this disease, and these behaviors are part of who I am, and every day I must remember where I came from, and keep on writing with my left hand.