Wednesday, October 16, 2013

One Head of the Hydra

          

          When I was little, I held 12 step recovery meetings with my stuffed animals. Buffalo Bear and Papa Smurf were trying hard to be good while the long skinny strung out looking ventriloquist, Charlie McCarthy, tried again and again to quit smoking. By the time I was 8, I’d called my best friend and told her I was going to be her sponsor. I’d grown up in recovery rooms and conventions halls with coloring books, crayons and a determination never, ever to be like my parents or their weird group of friends who talked about resentments and wrote out gratitude lists. At 13 I wrote an article for a local teen rag about how I was going to break the cycle of addiction, at least in my own family. The buck stopped here! I was “creative” and I didn’t want my creativity to be confused with getting drunk or high. Less than a year later, I found myself on the floor of a band apartment downtown swigging Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill from the bottle, wondering when and how I could do it again.
            
               From that night, my drinking progressed. I learned how to sneak out, which convenience stores sold to minors—or which adults hanging out in front of convenience stores would sell to minors. Drinking felt as natural as diving off a cliff into deep, cold water when you’ve been just a little too hot, too exposed and too uneasy with your land legs for too long. I stopped feeling like a nerdy, awkward freak and began to feel like my best self—daring, flashy—and whatever else might pass for cool.

              In college, drinking became my major, my thesis, my religion, my revelation, my final project. I was stopped drunk driving but managed to recite the alphabet backwards (something I can’t do sober!) and was let go. One Easter I caught my head on fire trying to get into a bath with candles and a bottle of Jim Beam, but was sort of able to hide the burns with a what-was-left-of-my-hair combover. I did all of the things a girl trying to live life with instruction from a few cases of Manischewitz, Mad Dog 20-20, Wild Irish Rose, Carlo Rossi, bottom shelf vodka, any kind of whiskey and boxes of cheap red wine would do. The list is long: use your imagination! Between the ages of 20 and 23, I tore my way through a couple of countries, states and boyfriends before landing back home, broken and broke, wondering how I’d gotten myself into yet another Jerry Springer/ Greek Tragedy hijinks. I decided to try therapy.

“You could try a meeting,” my mother suggested. “They’re cheaper than therapy.”
“But do you have to think you’re an alcoholic?” I asked.
“You can wonder,” she said.

With just the right amount of ambiguity, I went to my first meeting—without  stuffed animals or crayons. I picked up a white chip with every intention of giving it back. This could not be me—or my life. I was different. I was special! I was wrong.

That was 15 years ago today. I haven’t had a drink or done ANY recreational drugs since that Friday morning in October when I walked into a church basement and not only felt surrounded by familiar faces because I knew them, but because I’d earned my own seat among them. The ride since has been wild and bumpy with switchbacks, trap doors, surprises, a million characters, stories, side-stories, diversions, discoveries and journeys I couldn’t have begun to imagine—even as far out there as I went trying to find the world and God and love and myself at the bottom of a bottle.  

Since getting sober, I have done my best to direct my risk-taking behavior towards positive-artistic-creative kinds of risks rather than getting-drunk-and-hitchhiking-in-the-middle-of-the-night kinds of risks. As sure as I was that not drinking would lead me straight to the convent (even though I’m Jewish), sainthood has yet to happen—thank God. The good news and the bad news now, is that for better or worse I have the chance to feel all of my feelings. And that has its pitfalls! Who wants to feel everything? Addiction is like a hydra—chop off one head and two (or 768) more sprout in its place. I have an addictive personality that will latch on to anything. And has. And will. Don't try to take away my other vices! I quit coffee last spring and it was the worst 36 hours of my life. A lot of the time, my smaller self is the bigger part of my self. My first thoughts are rarely divine. But I have a better chance of showing up and participating in my life—without puking!—than I did before. I have a better chance of cultivating my intuition and my relationships and my writing than I did before. I get to remember what happened last night—even if I still can't remember where I put my keys. 

I keep my own gratitude lists now—at the top of which is the chance to show who and what I am, even if exposing that soft, tender underbelly is more terrifying than jumping off any of the cliffs I threw myself off before. Over the years I've found that turning lights on in a room to illuminate everything is scarier than turning them all off, but it's far more productive. In fact, it's the only way I've been able to see the hydra-- much less attempt to slay it, one head at a time.

25 comments:

  1. Beautiful text Valley! I grew up with a drinking father, so I can relate a lot to a lot in it!

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    1. Thank you so much, Susanne! Sounds like you have your own story to tell.

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    2. Yes, I write a lot too - thats why Stacie Birchett suggested the 2 of us become friends on FB - I really like the style of your writing and I wished I would live in Richmond again, so I could write with you - maybe one day, when I'll visit again I'll ring you up!
      http://lobedentag.blogspot.de/

      This is my blog btw - I write in german and english. Maybe you will have time to check it out! Best wishes to you! Susanne

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  2. Beautiful, Valley. Just like you.

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  3. Congratulations.

    I myself have been though it. It's tremendously commendable the amount of time you've managed to stay clean.

    I only have 4+ months under my belt, and have been through hell and back, but not a day passes that I am not grateful for my sobriety. When I hit bottom, it was truly one of the greatest things to happen to me, for I had no real intention of cleaning up nor recognizing I even had a problem.

    Very inspirational.

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  4. Wow! I love the honesty and rawness! Congratulations to embracing sobriety and life. It's truly the hardest thing to do. I am a mother who almost lost her son to addiction. It was the darkest, most heart wrenching time of his, and our, life. I never want anyone to have to go down that road, ever! He finally did choose to own his addiction and he changed his life around. And I learned how to love not enable him. I wish more people could read what you wrote and learn from your experiences before they go down that harrowing path. Good luck with moving forward and please continue to write. You have a strong voice and so much to draw from. God Bless!

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    1. Thank you so much and God bless YOU, your son and your family!

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  5. I love you Valleydale! - betsy

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  6. Way to articulate the trudging of that road to happy destiny sister!

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  7. Happy anniversary, Valley! Your heart, your writing, your story all beautiful.

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  8. Happy Joyous Freedom, Valley! You are so dear. So Brave, So Gorgeous. So spiritual and inspired. I am grateful to have you in my life! Many, many more days trudging along!

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    1. So grateful for you in my life, Gail! Love you!

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  9. We met through Art 180 girl's words in Church Hill, and I was overjoyed to share my story with you and continue to love writing with you and reading with you. Serenity and sobriety and life stories are so good.

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    1. I love your writing Ms. Woody...excited to hear more!

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  10. Thanks, Valley, for writing this. I checked anonymous because I don't fit in any other category. I have a low profile online.
    Love,
    Lenore

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  11. Valley, your life and your writing always has a way of illuminating the small things in life, which are, of course, really the big things in life. Congratulations to you for your hard-won 15 years. And thank you for sharing with us. Love, Paige

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    1. Paige, thank you for providing such a wonderful venue for stories...and for telling your own! Much love to you-- V

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  12. Valley, thanks for so bravely sharing your story. I love you Exactly the way you are! And as you always say...it makes for good material!!!

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    1. Ha...yes, it does, Susan! Hope to hear more of your good/bad material sometime soon!

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