I have been surrounded by alcohol & drug addiction my entire life. My memories start somewhere during the age of 4, and as far back as I can remember, I was always aware that my household was anything but ordinary. I witnessed excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, drunk driving, and physical violence at a very young age…and I’m pretty sure the cops knew our names by heart after being called to our home several times. I would go to friends houses after school or have sleepovers with them on the weekends, and I remember thinking that their quiet, stable home was everything I had ever wanted. As an outsider looking in, you might think “this is not normal.” You’re right, it’s not…but it’s my normal. My reality. My story.
In high school, I was a typical teenager who “experimented” here and there. I followed the crowd and had fun, but was always cautious about not making it a habit. When I turned 21 and could finally go out and legally drink with friends, I took full advantage and had the time of my life. I enjoyed my freedom of being a young adult living on my own, with no worries or cares in the world. I had left behind that ugly, dark period of my life and never planned on looking back. About a year later, I started to notice a change. I stopped drinking entirely, and became very impatient with people doing it around me. I would start talking to someone, having a great time, only to become agitated the second they ordered a drink. I would order myself one of my latest favorites, see it and instantly become nauseated. I had no desire to go out on Saturday nights, and opted to stay at home and be alone instead. Social gatherings suddenly became a chore, and the thought of walking into a bar made my entire body freeze up. I was paranoid and bitter. I hated that everyone would need to go grab a drink after having a bad day. Why was everyone all of a sudden so dependent on alcohol to fix their problems? Why couldn’t they be stronger and stop using it as a crutch? Why couldn’t they have fun without it? “They’ll ruin their lives and hurt everyone around them”, I would think to myself. “What is wrong with them?!” It wasn’t until later on that I realized it wasn’t everybody else with the problem…it was me.
Like a lot of people, my husband has a hobby that he really enjoys. He collects craft beers from all different breweries – not for the purpose of drinking them (although I hear they taste like sips of heaven), but for the story behind them. He’s fascinated by the varieties, quality, ingredients, and flavor…and I’ll admit that although I didn’t really understand it much at first, I love sitting down to hear all about the latest can he’s acquired. Some days, I can sit and listen intently as he talks my ear off about his newest discovery. Other days, I find myself drifting off the second he starts speaking about it. He’ll ask me why I suddenly seem so disinterested, and I’ll quickly try to shake off the feeling and refocus…but it’s usually too late. I don’t know how to explain it, because I haven’t even figured it out myself yet. My body and mind take over, and like a light switch, I can’t handle it. It’s almost as if my brain can’t fathom what it’s registering, so it completely shuts down. I don’t want to hear about it, talk about it, or see it. To be honest, there are times where I picture throwing all of it away so I never have to look at another can or bottle again. In these moments, I am someone else.
For those of you who don’t know, or have never experienced them – mental triggers are incidents that “re-trigger” trauma in the form of flashbacks or overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, or panic. The brain forms a connection between a trigger and the feelings with which it is associated, and the person is transported back to the event of original trauma. When you grow up around such serious cases of addiction, these incidents can easily happen to you – anywhere, anytime, without warning. You tend to be affected by simple things that other people might normally overlook – things that can usually be transferred through your five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. For me, it’s smell. There is a certain scent of stale alcohol that your nose never forgets, and it’s something that can’t be described in words. I’ve tried. I can talk to someone face-to-face as they down shot after shot, and not be affected by their tainted breath in the slightest. The second I turn around to talk to someone else – someone who has no drink in their hand, but carries the scent of a current addict – I know instantly. I can smell it under their skin, on their clothes, in their hair. When this occurs, it’s like I’m suddenly pushed down a rabbit hole and no one can help me. I’m mentally brought back to times in my life that I never want to visit again. I see things I thought I had long forgotten, hear noises I’ve tried to block out; if I reach out my hand, I swear, I can almost touch what’s in front of me. I can taste my own tears as they run down my face (whether that’s from memory or it’s happening in present-time, I’m never quite sure.) And the smells – they engulf me and can bring me to my knees, gasping for air. By the time I return to reality and realize where I am, I have lost every ounce of energy I had just moments before. I’m left feeling drained and defeated, and more importantly, scarred. In these moments, I am someone else.
“I am someone else.” For a long time, I wanted to believe that was true. Whenever I was a bit off, or would have “episodes” of anxiety, I would shrug it off and tell myself I was fine. I didn’t allow myself to make it a big deal, because I refused to believe that something was wrong. But honestly, I’m not always fine…and that’s okay. Documenting it on paper and through blogs will not re-write my past. Ignoring it will not remove the memories in my mind. I can’t erase the things that happened to me. I will not act as though I’ve found a way to leave it all behind, because the truth is that I haven’t. It’s a constant struggle every single day. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out; I don’t claim to have all the answers. I wake up every morning and do the best I can. Some days are easy, and all I have to do is remember how blessed I am in life. Other days are harder, and pushing myself to get out of bed and put a smile on is a tough task.
In these difficult moments…on these hard days…I am someone else. But it’s someone I recognize – someone I remember from a long time ago. Someone who was young and scared, and hurting far worse than anyone ever realized. As much as I wish I could walk away and never look back, I can’t. I want to forget every bad thing, every bad feeling…but I can’t let the memory of her slip away. I remember it all. I remember her crying herself to sleep at night, feeling so alone in this world. I remember her wanting to wrap her arms around her mom and brother, and take them to a place where they couldn’t be hurt anymore. I remember her wishing that every good day could last forever. I remember her sobbing on the floor of her room, down on her knees, begging for her life to be different…begging for someone to save her. I remember everything about her – because I am her…and I can’t start to move on until I accept that she’s a part of me. I need to accept that this is my story, and learn how to cope with that. I will not deny who I am anymore, because that means forgetting…and I won’t dare forget her. She deserves better than that.
I hate that I am the way I am. I hate that even on my happiest days, I don’t feel normal. I feel like I’m haunted by my past, and because of that, I can’t fully enjoy my present. I hate that I’m incapable of opening up about my emotions, and that on some days, my heart feels like it’s going to explode right out of my chest. I hate that I look in the mirror and see someone who’s broken. How do I get past this? How do I find my way back to normalcy? My husband deserves the right to collect as many beer cans as his heart desires. My friends should be able to enjoy themselves without worrying about my reaction. I should not have to have a 10 minute discussion with myself before I order a drink (on the rare occasions that I actually do.) So…where do I start? Acceptance. I need to welcome my troubles and find a way to learn from them. I need to find the strength to face my fears, and hopefully start to heal. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take before I arrive to a more comfortable place. Maybe it won’t ever happen. But I’m trying, and I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’m simply a work in progress.