If you think reading about the impact of alcohol and recovery is therapeutic, you should try writing about it.
If you are battling a compulsion to drink, or if you are the loved one of a heavy drinker, you are probably protecting a closely guarded secret. It is the kind of secret that will eat you up from the inside while the poison does mental and biological damage to you, the drinker or second-hand drinker. The erosion of self-esteem, relationships and capacity to manage are all universalisms, yet we protect our secrets like we are somehow unique in a nation with over 15 million alcoholics.
And we protect our secrets because we can’t find a safe place to let them out.
What makes the healing work of discovery that we do different from other programs in the recovery community is our commitment to the written word. When we write about our stuff, we just go deeper. I don’t understand the psychological explanation, but I know it is true. When we write, we find ways to express emotions that our thoughts and conversations avoid and push further down out of reach. When we write, we heal.
With her permission, I am publishing here the written expression of painful emotion from Suzy, a participant in our Echoes of Recovery program. I don’t remember the prompt that stirred this touching and relatable story from her, but I’ll never forget the loneliness she felt safe to share.
Sitting in a room full of people, words and laughter buzz around me like a hive of busy bees. Glancing to my right and left, the chairs beside me empty, recently vacated by my small children running off to play with their friends. Paper plates with half eaten meals discarded, for who has time to eat when there is fun to be had. My husband, as usual, nowhere to be found. He uses any excuse he can to not participate in this part of our Sunday. So it’s just me, all alone, sitting at a table while my fellow parishioners enjoy the post service meal fellowshipping with each other. An emptiness fills my soul as I take in the scene around me. Holding back the tears that threaten to fall, I allow the waves of loneliness to crash over me, barely keeping it together.
It reminds me of a scene I saw in a movie once where the protagonist stands in the middle of a crowded subway station, seemingly frozen while around her a constant barrage of faces move past at lightning speed. She, overwhelmed by her pain in that moment, cannot move, and yet the landscape of people churning, turning over and over, not one stopping their frenzied pace to ask, “are you okay?”
I’ve walked through this life always feeling like an outsider. Starting in elementary school, trading stickers and never having the ones with which the other girls wanted to trade. High school moving from clique to clique never really fitting in. Being devastatingly rejected by my college boyfriend, which in turn broke up the friend group where I finally felt like I belonged. When I met my husband, I remember thinking that this was it, I had finally found the best friend that would never leave me, never reject me. I would never be alone again.
But as the years wore on, the chasm between us grew, a gulf of empty. And then began the years of trial. Depression for me, an eating disorder for our eldest, cutting for our second, and bottles upon bottles of vodka for him. The shame of one of those enough to consume anyone, and yet I faced all four in succession. Just as we worked through one another popped up. And shame the ultimate driver of loneliness. How could I possibly share these burdens with anyone? So, I didn’t. I clutched them to my chest, straining under the weight of them. But finally, knowing I would be crushed if I didn’t seek some help, I shared with my family bits and pieces of what was taking place. The relief of passing those secrets into the arms of someone else gave me just enough breathing room not to buckle.
But now, as I continue to navigate this path of uncertainty that comes with being married to an alcoholic, I am still alone. I know that the antidote for my disease of loneliness and shame is connection. But there is a steady tug of war between my fears of rejection, and the insecurities that have plagued me my entire life, and the knowledge that connection – letting people in – is the only way to alleviate this pain. And so, I force myself to share.
I join Echoes despite the twinges of fear that stand at attention warning me that no one can be trusted. Calling, texting or emailing friends and family about my husband’s lapses, about the fact that my marriage feels like it is falling apart. Grasping for connection and then shoving it away again, over and over and over. How can you long for something, and then when it stands before you like a beacon of hope, turn your back to it, and then bemoan the fact that you didn’t get that for which you longed?
My life, such twisted irony.
“…the landscape of people…not one stopping their frenzied pace to ask, ‘are you okay?’”
We ask. And even if the answer is, “No, I’m not OK,” the answer resonates. We ask because we’ve been there, and the strength in shared experience is overwhelming. We are in the empathy business. We are not therapists or psychologists. We are addiction recovery warriors, and we understand your pain.
Writing about our alcohol-induced experiences and traumas brings unimaginable relief. It is often described as the thing that allows people to breathe again. Writers share that they can feel the tension leaving their bodies, and the visceral release of constricting weight.
And the process is not gender-specific in its effectiveness. I have seen burly, hairy, muscular, stoic construction workers brought to their knees with relief from the power of their own words. While our society has damaging standards about who can and who cannot express emotions in public, pain does not discriminate. No matter how hard we try to push it deep into our souls, what goes down, must eventually come up. There is a healthy way, and there is a deadly way, to deal with our demons and our suffering.
I’ve heard Suzy share countless stories of the damage alcohol has done in her life and her family. Still, I was unprepared for the raw vulnerability she shared the day she first read the story above. Unprepared, but yet incredibly thankful to be among her most trusted who gets to know her truth. We all were – the people of Echoes of Recovery.
And the writing is just as powerful from our SHOUT Sobriety program. Drinkers and loved ones of drinkers alike have stories dripping with shame and denial, and when we share the burden, the load gets lighter.
What are you carrying around? What are you hiding and deflecting and denying and shoving down – hoping it will magically go away? What if you found a safe place to let it out? What if you found the relief from shame and trauma that we all deserve?
What’s your story?
If you are a drinker who thinks it might be time to leave alcohol behind, come write with us at SHOUT Sobriety.
If you love or loved a heavy drinker, we are waiting for your shared words and experiences in Echoes of Recovery.