I tried to drink like ‘other people’ because they looked ‘normal’ to me. Other people drank and they were fine; I could tell. I would judge them by how they looked on the outside and I wanted to be like that.
Something inside me was different and it wasn’t fine. Which is why I had to lie to myself – a big fat lie that ate me up and that I had to keep telling myself, because it kept a lid on the horror. I had to lie about what I was doing to myself. I had to lie about how I really felt. I had to lie about who I was. I had to lie because I was terrified of the horror inside me being exposed.
This may only make sense to someone who has had a problem with drink or any other mood or mind-altering substance. Or it may make sense to you if you have lived a life of desperate compromise and unfulfilled promise.
Do you understand?
Have you got secrets inside you?
Do you have to lie too?
Do you know what it’s like to live with such a denial of your truth that you wake up every morning in despair and feel like your soul is lying on the floor next to you and you have no idea how you are supposed to make it through the day, let alone through life?
I just couldn’t figure out how everyone else lived. How were they doing life? How come it was so easy for them?
I know I was born this way. I never felt right. I always felt that I was looking at you through a glass screen. I was on one side, alone, and everyone else was on the other side.
I’ve always felt wrong. I would measure myself up against people. I would always come up lacking, so I’d just try harder to be like them. I wanted my insides to feel like their outsides looked. So I drank and drank. I didn’t know there was another way to live this life.
And for a while, the burning pain inside me stopped because alcohol numbed everything. However, it took me further and further away from my truth; from who I was and could be.
Alcohol wasn’t killing me. Alcohol was holding me together.
I spent twelve years drinking and self-destructing. I still had a job and a place to live, but I felt like my insides were going black and I had no way of changing that. I kept drinking because it took away the pain. I couldn’t even begin to describe my internal experience to anyone else; it hardly made sense to me. In reality, the drink worked for me for two years, then it stopped working and I began to feel even worse than I had before I started drinking.
I slowly began to die on the inside.
Anyone who has ever had a drink or drug problem or has suffered from depression will understand what that feels like. And it wasn’t just the drink, drugs and nameless men I slept with that were killing me, it was the lies I had to tell myself.
I seemed to have this default programme that was set on misery and denial.
One of the earliest memories I have is of being maybe five or six and lying perfectly still on the bathroom floor, hoping the ‘wrongness’ in my head would go away. I thought that if lay perfectly still then everything would just stop. If I didn’t move, I couldn’t feel, and if I didn’t feel it couldn’t hurt. I wanted to stop ‘being’; I didn’t want to exist in the way that I was.
It was a very existential moment for a six year-old. I was totally, totally aware of my aloneness and my difference and it was more than I could bear in my tiny heart; I wasn’t strong enough to carry that load and I had no one to turn to for help with it. Most adults don’t admit to the emptiness that prevails in their own hearts, how could anyone cope with a child who was lost in hers? I saw it in my mother’s eyes once, when she caught me lying on the bathroom floor, just staring. I saw that flicker of recognition deep in her eyes that immediately got buried under the sheer fear of acknowledging it.
The absolute unbearableness of being.
I know she saw it but was powerless to articulate it. What words can illustrate that dark ache that vibrates deep inside someone? I saw also the fright that a mother would feel when she saw her child behaving in that odd way, a terror of seeing a child’s insides so nakedly exposed, and the darkness within them.
There isn’t really a particular moment when you realise you’re different from other people around you, it’s more of a series of realisations that happen slowly over a period of time, accompanied by a slow creeping feeling of fear that the last thing you can ever do is reveal what is inside you to any one else.
I was so uncomfortable in my own skin that it frightened me to think that someone else might see this. I have no idea why I felt like this; it was as though I was born with this irrational fear of anyone else seeing who I really was. I was petrified of it.
There was a point, when I was a child, when I believed anything was possible. I may have only just been at the beginning of living a life in fear; paradoxically, I still had fearlessness. I believed I could be anything. The world was there for me to fulfil my dreams in. When I said I wanted to become a doctor, a vet, an astronaut, a movie star, be somebody, do something when I grew up, I really believed that I could.
And then as time went on, fear overtook me and I forgot what I was capable of. I withdrew inside myself, ignored my dreams, my hopes, my passions, and compromised myself. I settled for less than second best and rationalised that this was reality. I became someone I didn’t recognise.
Deep in my heart, in my truest self, in my soul, I knew I wasn’t living the life I was meant to be living; I knew I wasn’t the person I was meant to be; I knew I was lying to myself, but I had to keep lying in order to keep doing what I was doing to myself.
The first lie was like a thin layer of tissue paper laid over my spirit (my inner voice) – no big deal, it just makes the voice a little less insistent. But then I told myself another lie. Another layer of tissue was laid over that voice to muffle it a little more, and so it goes on.
The first feeling I ever had was of being wrong, different, uncomfortable; my whole life experience prior to getting sober was how painful life could be. I knew something was very wrong with me; the way I felt was too terrible to try to articulate to another person, it was so arbitrary and intangible. I couldn’t begin to put it into words.
My fear crippled me. I lived in blind terror every day. Everything was frightening for me. Other people terrified me. I felt so worthless in their eyes and was sure they would see any minute what a despicable human being I was and discard me. At any given time I couldn’t really explain what I was frightened of. I just knew that I was scared. It ate me up inside. I would try and act as if it wasn’t there, try to ignore it, but it would come back stronger.
Some days it felt like I could barely breathe because the fear was crushing me. It made me feel sick. I struggled to find different ways to cope with it. Drink, of course, numbed it briefly. I tried to ask for help, but I couldn’t find the words that would make someone take me seriously. I wanted to be saved. I wanted someone to pick me up and put me in a nice padded room and tell me I would never have to worry about anything ever again. I wanted to go mad, but I was too frightened to, so I just stayed in this perpetual state of unqualified fear.
I had always felt so wrong inside, so empty and broken, that these feelings were normal for me; I had nothing to compare them with. I had never experienced real contentment or peace. I didn’t know what it was like to like myself, let alone to love myself.
And yet, when I began this journey of spiritual awakening and I took responsibility to peel off the layers that kept me trapped, something incredible happened. It was very subtle. I almost didn’t notice that anything had changed, but one day I realised I no longer felt ‘wrong’. The feelings of ‘wrongness’ had just gone, evaporated. After that I understood that it was ridiculous to believe that I was revolting or disgusting; I realised I was just an ordinary human being. I was OK. I no longer hated myself.
Something felt very different inside. I felt lighter, freer, unburdened. I just did the work and the results followed. I liked the results, so I kept doing the work and I’ve never stopped, because every day I seem to grow a little more, and finally I realised I loved myself.
How was this possible, I thought? For thirty years I had felt so totally wrong, and then in the space of a few months my thinking and belief systems had undergone profound and radical change.
This is an exclusive extract from my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom.’
Available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.