If you’ve read my newest memoir, you may recall a few chapters detailing my complicated relationship with alcohol. “Complicated relationship” feels more appropriate than the ultra-clinical diagnosis of “alcoholism,” especially because this struggle has come and gone in waves. Understandably, it was at its worst when my father died, and in the months before. This time two years ago, I wasn’t going to bed sober anymore. First I needed it to sleep, then to calm down, and eventually to “check out.” My childhood home had turned into a home hospice, and misery was everywhere I went.
Interestingly enough, I was sober the morning my father died. I was sober when I called my then-fiancé, who was unable to leave his job several states away, to tell him that he needed to come home. And I was sober when I spoke at the funeral, which I didn’t think I’d be capable of doing, sober or otherwise.
Having gotten through the worst of the worst of times without it, maybe I’ve already proven to myself that I’m strong enough to cope better, to admit when I need help. I’m getting better at saying to my husband “I’m having another episode,” referring to a depressive episode, and he knows to keep watch. To check in with me. To be there. It seems cliché, but it’s true: I don’t think I could have gotten through the most challenging days without him.
Christian circles would refer to my husband’s role in this as being an “accountability partner.” In reality, though, it feels more like “babysitter.” I’m a grown woman, and sometimes I rely on other people to protect me the way a parent protects a toddler who doesn’t know she’s playing too close to the deep end of the pool. They are the ones who swoop in when I’m about to fall. Despite feeling childish about needing intervention, I know now that asking for help is really one of the most adult things I can do.
My journals went neglected for That Summer, the last one of my father’s life. Maybe that’s part of why I started to slip: I needed to write about what was going on as much as I needed my antidepressants. Writing, for me, is an antidepressant. Most importantly, it’s an exercise that helps keep me stay present, an expression that my therapist uses a lot – “What can you do to help Stay Present?” – and I know it’s working when it hurts.
Funny, I drank to escape feeling the depth of the loss, the slice of the painful memories, and here I am summoning them with a pen. But that’s life: feeling, remembering. It’s part of being alive. The human experience hurts beautifully.
I have learned there is a difference between sobriety and simply not drinking. Sobriety, for me, is realizing I don’t need a substance to escape anymore. “Not drinking” is more like white-knuckling my way through, wanting a drink but knowing I shouldn’t, because it’s bad. Obviously, sobriety is the thing that is worth working for, though not drinking is surely an improvement.
Being the last week of August, I’m starting to get a little antsy. The month of September will probably always be overshadowed by my father’s death, hence why it’s now Sober September in my mind (and I find myself humming Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” lately).
I don’t like the expression “lost the battle” in reference to cancer. While that’s technically what happened, my father wasn’t a person who could be easily defeated, and I don’t want to be, either. It has occurred to me that, while it may pale in comparison to the severity of cancer, my battle for sobriety is something that reminds me whose daughter I am (I refuse to say “was”). And that’s how I know I am stronger than this; stronger than I give myself credit for.