Recently, I was made aware that one version of my Cinderella story may require me to save a life. I say that in all seriousness. And to be honest, it has put me in a rather uncomfortable position. I am not a saviour.
When someone does not care for themselves properly, to the point where their health is at risk, and cannot seem to stop the behaviour that puts them at even further risk, an intervention is required. Addiction groups and counselling exist for that very reason. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food : addiction is addiction no matter the substance.
In this case, food is the drug of choice. Junk food. Chips and pop and candies and sweets. Fast food. And overeating.
It’s been going on a long time, but I always believed it was being managed somewhat successfully. But now, thanks to the enabling affects of COVID, unemployment, boredom, and a weakened will, 50 pounds or so have been added to the mix of high cholesterol, arthritis, constant pain due to inflammation, and sleep apnea. The addiction is fast reaching the point of becoming dangerous.
I am worried.
I cannot watch another person I love, slowly and willingly, kill themselves.
I just can’t do it again.
The things she puts in her body contribute to all of these ailments and she is not immune to their poison, no matter what she may think. And I honestly feel the help she needs is much bigger than I could ever give. I am not an addiction counsellor, or a therapist, or a behavioural interventionist. I am not equipped to swoop in and save the day. I have no cape or super power. I am just a girl with a Cinderella wish and a fairytale dream.
I am not a superhero.
And I’m not sure I want to be.
Yet, it seems that if I want the version of my happy ever after that includes her, then her addiction is somehow my responsibility. Why? Shouldn’t she love herself enough to recognize that she is doing irreparable damage to her body? Is saying that she can’t do anything about it a weakness? Is she not wanting to try cuz she’s lazy? Unmotivated? Thinks it’s too hard? Just doesn’t want to? Or is she truly not capable?
I do not know this person who seems to have given up on herself. I knew her as a fighter. In all things. She certainly fought me pretty much every step of our journey together, and over things far less important than her health. So, why isn’t she fighting for herself now? For her life? For her happy ever after? Was I so enamoured; so blinded by her furious denials, that I didn’t see this defeatist resignation all along? I was aware of the junk food addiction, but she always made me believe, that for the most part, she had it under control. Is that what addicts do? Is that what I did?
A few years ago, I felt like I was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic. I drank to cope. Not every day. Not even every other day. Only when I went into overwhelm or got depressed. And unfortunately, since my coming out, I’ve gone into overwhelm and depression a lot. But, in truth, alcohol has always been my coping mechanism. Started in my teens, raged thru my 20’s and 30’s, fuelled the muse in my 40’s, and is now levelling out in my 50’s. It felt good to disappear into a cloud of drunken oblivion and feel all the feels I felt when inebriated. It didn’t matter that I felt like shit the next day, or that I was destroying my liver and hurting my body. I just wanted release, and to fool myself into thinking that I had control over situations I truly had no control over.
But I never fooled myself into thinking that I wasn’t harming myself.
I felt the slow changes happen. They’re easy to ignore on a moment by moment, drink by drink basis. But over time, if you’re aware enough, you start to feel yourself become that change. You slip into an easy, acceptable complacency and rationalize your bad behaviour. Excuses and lying to yourself become your new normal, and soon you start believing that they are the truth. Anything to let the addiction live. It’s a vicious cycle of dependence, denial and destruction. And often leads to death.
I didn’t necessarily like how alcohol changed me emotionally, mentally, or physically. I cried every time I drank too much. Heart-wrenching sobs that wracked my body to its very core. I couldn’t think clearly the next day, and the hangovers were brutal. I gained weight, felt bloated and uncomfortable in my body, and started hiding from the world. But I loved the high of being numb. I loved that it dulled the hurting. I still do, if I’m honest. And for a long time, that was all I cared about. Dulling the hurt. I carry a lot of that inside of me, and it’s been there a very long time. Abandonment. Trauma. Abuse. I’ve got stuff. But when my best friend of over 40 years, succumbed to alcoholism, liver failure, bled out in her bed, and died alone… that image woke me up enough to recognize how easily I could follow that same path. So, I found other ways to manage my demons.
I haven’t stopped drinking entirely, but I no longer frequent the dark, mind numbing oblivion like I used to. When I feel triggered, I look to the reasons I am triggered, so that I don’t go there. Or, if I do succumb, I try to understand why I did, so that the next time I can be more aware and make better choices. Being that self aware is not always an easy thing to be. Believe me, I know. It takes practice and commitment. But, if you want to change and believe you can change, then you have to start somewhere. Anywhere. You can’t just give up on yourself and look for someone else to save you. Everyone is busy saving themselves. And besides. It’s not their job to save you. It’s yours.
Over 20 years ago I quit smoking after nearly 24 years. I wasn’t a heavy smoker but I enjoyed my extra long cigarettes with great pleasure. When I started to notice how short of breath I’d become, I began to have that internal dialogue about quitting. You know the one. It took a minute before the day came, but when it did, I just stopped. Cold turkey. Done. For me it was like that, but I also realize it’s not like that for everyone. And perhaps, if I had tried six months earlier, I might have failed. But, in that moment, I listened to my body, heard what it was telling me, and knew that I did not want to die a smoking related death. Not while I had the power of control over that. So, when I really started paying attention to those warnings in my head, and really thought about how I wanted to live my life, I started to listen to them, made better choices, and just quit. I’d finally had enough!
It’s not impossible to beat an addiction. It’s by no means easy, that’s for sure, but it’s not as hard as you think either. No one is asking you to conquer the mountain in a single bound. Baby steps are what’s required. Believing you can, and then proving that to yourself, one step at a time, feels amazing! And so fucking empowering. And once you’ve done it, no one can take that accomplishment away from you, or the pride you feel in conquering what might be your biggest hurdle ever.
I understand the need to submerge deeply into the harmful feel good. I really do. I too have an addictive personality. Emotionally and physically. Ironically, she is, and always has been, one of my toughest emotional and physical addictions. From day one. Complete with all the highs and lows, and all the crippling side effects. In many ways, she still is. I’ve just learned to manage those triggers in a much healthier way.
So, when I say I understand addiction, believe that I know what I’m talking about. It’s taken a lot to get me where I am today, but I had these mini, and sometimes huge, epiphanies along the way and I paid attention. And I’m still paying attention. It’s a process. Addiction doesn’t just appear, or disappear overnight.
Ask for help, yes! But seek it in the places qualified to give it. Don’t expect your partner or your parents or your siblings or your friends to save you. They can’t. Only you can. They can guide you. Honour you. Support you. But you have to be the one to take that first step.
Recognizing you have an addiction is a powerful, life changing moment. Honour that. It’s a good thing! It’s often full of fear and doubt and self recriminations, but don’t let that stop you.
Asking for help is also a powerful, life changing experience. Honour that too! It can be scary as fuck cuz it makes you feel weak and vulnerable, and ripe for judgement, but don’t let that stop you either.
It really does take courage to admit you have a problem, and then show up willing to do whatever is necessary to fix it.
Every single thing you experience in this life is a learning opportunity. And whether you go down the dark and scary path full of demons and guilt, or the one with light and sunshine full of bluebirds and love, is all up to you.
You have free will.
You have choices.
But before any real healing can begin, inside or out, you have to want to change the behaviour and you have to want to release the hold your addiction has on you. And, most importantly, you have to truly understand that you are the one in control. Not the drugs, not the alcohol, not the gambling, not the sex, not the food. You.
So, make the choice.
Wear the damn cape.
Be your own Saviour!
Stay safe. Be kind. Love yourself.
There’s no judgment here. Just love and honesty.