It is terrifying. I’m running as fast as I can, but something is bogging me down. It’s like my joints have been soaking in rubber cement and I’m wearing clown shoes. I’m trying to get away from whatever is chasing me. Is it a man with a knife, or is it a monster? I’m unsure, and really, it’s unimportant. What matters is that no matter how hard I try, I can’t run fast enough, and whatever it is, it is gaining me.
Have you ever had this kind of dream? I have this one semi-regularly. It isn’t just about being chased, it is about my own ability to run being hampered or limited. I don’t know what it means. I’ve never had any of my dreams analyzed. But I can tell you what it reminds me of. It reminds me of trying to get away from the high-functioning alcoholism that was slowly killing me. My progress was slow and clunky, and I felt like I could not put distance between me and my pursuer. My top speed, as mediocre as it might have been, was completely elusive as I trudged weakly forward, trying to gain traction while the earth oozed like quicksand below my feet.
Looking back now, it is hard to imagine the hold alcohol once had over my life. As I’m writing this, I keep thinking about when Hannah Bingham dumped me back in sixth grade. I felt like my world was coming to an end. I “loved” Hannah so much. The pain was intense, the rejection defeating. I could not imagine that I’d ever recover from the blow to my heart and ego. I wasn’t drinking in sixth grade, so I had no external elixir to ease the pain. I just had to take it, and try to pick myself back up and move on.
The intensity of that emotion was what I felt when I tried to rid my life of alcohol for the decade of active addiction before I made it over the hump to my permanent sobriety. I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol. How would I enjoy the weekends? How would I fit in at social occasions? How would I relax or manage stress? What kind of man doesn’t drink? How would I live with my complete incompleteness? I was so full of doubt, shame and confusion. When I think about my passion for the role alcohol had in my life, and the feeling of loss I experienced as I attempted sobriety, it is exactly like the heartbreak Hannah delivered to this eleven-year-old.
This is all about emotional immaturity.
When I was in sixth grade, I was emotionally immature because I was a preteen boy. It was to be expected. But when I had four decades of life experience under my belt, unable to imagine life without my beloved booze, that emotional immaturity was to be expected, too. Just not by me. I didn’t expect it because I didn’t understand alcoholism. I didn’t know that when we use alcohol to medicate away all unpleasant feelings, our capacity to handle emotions is that of an eleven-year-old boy. The thought of leaving alcohol behind was like Hannah dumping me all over again. It was crippling. And just like a middle school crush is unimportant in the context of a full life, so too was alcohol simply a minor nuisance that I was much, much better off without in every imaginable way. But just try convincing the me at the end of my twenty-five years of drinking that my life would be drastically improved in sobriety. That concept was beyond my imagination.
And like the dream version of me running slowly away from the monster, or the sixth-grade version of me feeling the sting of Hannah’s rejection, I couldn’t see past my then current alcoholic predicament to imagine the relief and peacefulness that awaited me in the future.
My alcoholism wasn’t a spiritual deficiency. No amount of introspection or apology was going to fix my addiction predicament. God knew I was in a jam, and He gave me the tools to figure it out, but the challenge was mine to solve.
I had a neurological disease. I needed science-based treatment. I needed a nutritional plan that would help my brain and body heal. I needed connection and empathy from people who understood. But most of all, I needed the emotional maturity that only time could provide. Just as it took time to move past the pain of a rejected sixth-grade crush (that I was convinced was true love at the time), it took time for me to see the immense value of a life without the companionship of alcohol (which I was also convinced was true love for many years).
I’m not sure why Hannah’s rejection still sticks with me today. Maybe it was the last truly hurtful thing that happened to me before I learned the pain-suffocating power of alcohol. Maybe it was the last appropriate example of my emotional immaturity before so many years of alcohol-induced emotional immaturity. Maybe that heartache was the last thing I recovered from naturally, without a growth-stunting poison.
I don’t know why I remember being dumped by Hannah, but the similarity to the pain of admitting I was an alcoholic is not lost on me. If you are in the clutches of alcohol, and trying to pull away, I can see where you’d think my comparison to a sixth-grade relationship is frivolous. You might think I’m comparing apples to oranges, and that addiction is monumentally more daunting and painful than being snubbed by a prepubescent blond girl. Maybe you are right.
But now, with the tremendous benefit of time, I look at my relationship with alcohol with the same regret for the significance I let it have in my life. Like the dream monster gaining on me as I tried to pull away, I gave alcohol the power to crush me. Now, with years of sobriety behind me, and an alcohol-free second half of my life just kicking off, I can’t imagine giving a cranial toxifier even a moment’s consideration. I haven’t seen nor spoken to Hannah Bingham in something like thirty-five years. And while there is a very slim chance she will read this through the power of facebook (even though I changed H.B.’s name to protect her), neither her, nor alcohol, have even the slightest influence on my life.
But I remember. I remember the pain. I remember the feeling that life was no longer worth living. I remember the prospect of healing being completely unimaginable. I remember feeling stuck, with no possible hope for freedom. I remember. If you are in the position now that I remember with photographic clarity, there is hope for you. Even if that is impossible to believe.
If you could use some hope, I encourage you to check out our SHOUT Sobriety program for people trying to move into the peace and relief of recovery. The pain is real. The pain is intense. But it is not forever, and the promise of a sober future can relegate alcohol to the memory of a lost love. Insignificant, and no longer in control.
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