I don’t know about you but when I hurt or feel pain of any kind I like to hide it. I bury it really deep underneath whatever dirt I can find; it could be alcohol, a boy, school, anything really as long is it made me not feel. I was never a good long distance runner but man I sure can sprint and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for seven years, since I first took a drink: sprinting away until I see the problems looming behind me and sprinting again. Seven years, eighty-four months, two thousand five hundred and fifty-five days later, and the dirt is starting to crumble.
When I was discharged from the medical center a few weeks ago, my asylum and haven, I was told I had a drinking problem. I laughed it off and told the doctor exactly where he could shove his PhD. Two days later, I picked another bottle back up and drank again. The doctor had warned that with this medication, drinking would be more dangerous than before. They said something about increased seizures and fatality but I didn’t care. Soon after the poison entered my body, my left arm began shaking and I couldn’t control it. This limb of mine had a mind of its own and it wasn’t going to stop moving any time soon. That was when I started to take the doctor seriously and realized they weren’t kidding with these side effects. I had felt like my body was about to explode into a flurry of shakes the whole time the poison was in my system. Four days later, I’m sitting in the chair I always sit on at my counselor’s office. I shared my story with drinking and ended up being asked to go to an AA meeting. My mind stopped.
What?! An AA meeting? I’m only twenty-one!
My brain tried to rationalize its way out of going to an AA meeting at only twenty-one but there was a part of me that wanted to get better. There was a spark of desire that wanted life that I didn’t quite recognize yet. That spark was strong enough to get me a spot at the 2 pm afternoon meeting at a club close to my counselor’s office. I walked in slowly and sat with my arms crossed, judging those around me and convincing myself that I didn’t belong there. At one point, the chair person looked at me and asked me to share. To my surprise, I opened my mouth and began sharing my story and realized these people thought the way I did, feel the way I do, are just as confused and lost as I am and maybe, just maybe, I did have a problem. I had a problem that I had been hiding for seven years. I had convinced myself it wasn’t a big deal that I drank because I didn’t do it every night, everyone else drank, I was legal now and should take advantage, and a thousand other reasons why I could drink. What I didn’t realize was that once I pick up a bottle, it doesn’t go back down until it’s empty. One drink turns to two, which turns to three, four, five, six or until I can’t remember the night anymore. I would reward myself with drinks after not drinking for a day or two, convinced I could stop any time I want. Now here I was, sitting at an AA meeting, realizing maybe I do have a problem. Maybe I can’t stop the way I thought I could. Either way, I walked out of that meeting realizing that I had to stop. I also didn’t realize that that was the beginning of my digging process.
Today is April 11th of 2016. I have been sober for about thirty-seven days now. The beginning was pretty easy, I coasted with friends and thought I was fine. The dam broke quickly and the waves swept me up again and drowned me again and again. Each emotion took a turn stabbing me in the heart, chest, gut, any part of me that was exposed as if it was angry that I had suppressed it for so long. Anger hits me in the face, stabs me in the gut and shoves me to the ground. Regret comes and slaps me again and again. Loneliness comes to stab me in the heart and twisted the blade for each time that I had shoved it away. Sadness came to drown me in tears and finally, pain came to end it all. All of these emotions had been buried deep under alcohol, boys, pretend joy, anything I could grab that was close to me. Here they are, freed from the cage that I had so poorly built. The longer I was sober, the easier it became for each emotion to free itself from the cage, team up and come make me feel the things I didn’t want to feel. Seven years is a long time to get stronger, more fierce and terrifying. The things I had tried so hard to cover up and ignore were now staring me in the face, screaming at me so I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
The highway noise blended in the background as I drove to my counseling appointment. The emotions had been harsh that morning so I decided to turn on my radio to drown them out once again. I wasn’t ready to feel everything it wanted me to feel. Little did I know, the album that was in my car had songs stacked to give each emotion a hand on my heart. They took turns squeezing with every song. It almost felt good to let the emotions drain out this way, through songs I liked, until track seven rolled around. The song began by describing someone from the past, a lover, after separating and speculating what they were thinking about. The singer hoped that the person was thinking of them and I found myself wishing the same thing. The chorus begins and the artist describes her wish to explain what had really happened between them in the hopes that he’ll come back but every time she doesn’t, she almost does. The second verse begins and switches to her perspective. She describes how she is terrified to say hello because she doesn’t want to risk another goodbye. That was why she ignored him but wanted to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t do anything wrong and she doesn’t hate him; she is simply afraid to be hurt again. The chorus comes in once more before the bridge swells and confessions begin. She confessed that she dreams of him asking her to start over and every time she sees his face, she almost says yes. The tears were rolling down my cheeks as my mind took me back two years ago to when this song was my life. I felt as if she had looked into my life and written everything I couldn’t say. By the time I walked into my counselor’s office I had already begun digging.
The first layer of dirt involved grieving. I had to relive my summer two years ago. I was nineteen, dating a man who had turned manipulative, emotionally abusive, verbally abusive and eventually physically abusive. Every time I tried to leave to be with the guy I actually liked, I would have to face the fake tears, the yelling and sometimes the bruises on my wrists when I got the courage to keep walking. My wrists stayed purple for a while. The guy I actually wanted didn’t know what was happening. He probably thinks he wasn’t enough, didn’t do enough or I simply didn’t want him anymore. I didn’t know how to explain the abusive man. I didn’t fully understand what was happening to me so I didn’t offer any explanation and let him walk away thinking whatever he wanted to think. I numbed myself for months. Now, two years later, track seven is playing and I’m back in that moment when I let him go. I was free from the abusive man but also lost the man I had wanted. Instead of suppressing, I feel as if I am stepping into this scene but ending it differently. I no longer stand up from my bed, pull myself up by my boot straps and just forget it. No, this time, I stay sitting, leaning against my bed, head back, eyes closed and let the pain in. I can feel the tears starting to build as the song continues to play and eventually, pain pushes a drop out of my eye. I am learning that when I let pain in by choice, it is a lot more gentle. Pain becomes my ally and simply wants to help me move forward. I stay in that moment, head back, eyes closed, and let pain take away everything. I let it push the tears out to clean the closet before any skeletons try to make their way in, I let it sit next to me and break my heart so that the dirt can be swept away before it starts to build, I let pain be my ally and friend until healing comes in and begins to stitch me back up.
The first layer of dirt is starting to be removed. I’m still sitting in that scene, head back, eyes closed, listening to track seven. It will take time. Seven years is a long time to be burying something and that is a lot of dirt to uncover. My hands have already gotten dirty and I know they will continue to get dirty. The pain is so overwhelming without the buffer of alcohol. I have to feel it in its fullness, no defense, no wall, just me and pain. The truth is, I don’t know what to do with myself as I feel these feelings. All I can do is write and try not to let it destroy me. The shovel is heavy, the dirt is packed, but I have to keep digging until I can find the girl I buried seven years ago when I decided I hated myself. I wonder what she’ll look like, having been buried seven years, but I have to rescue her because that spark has grown and life is beautiful again. Life has become a beautiful disaster but I can finally see it fully. I need to start living but I don’t know quite how to yet. I buried my guide seven years ago and now I’m going to rescue her because I don’t hate her anymore. In fact, I’m learning to love her despite all of the things I thought had been ugly. The depression, anxiety, suicidality, drinking problem, dating the wrong men, pretending to be okay… they are all parts of her, parts of me. And maybe that’s okay.
For now, all I can do is listen to track seven, let the words flow over the scene and allow pain and healing to come in. Healing couldn’t come in when pain was buried but now that they’re free, they can finally begin to do their job. I feel as if I am laying on a surgeon’s table, ready to be operated on. I’ve been fighting for months. This operation is unnecessary, I’ll be fine, the excuses had been dancing around but now they are drowned out by track seven. I have the doctors, pain and healing, looming over me and I finally allow them to give me the anesthetics. I’m not afraid to close my eyes and let the work be done, as long as I can listen to the soundtrack that has begun to dig me up from the grave I had dug seven years ago. I’m ready to see the light and be rescued. The girl that I thought was gone is going to come back to life and she will be stronger than ever.
I’m ready to dig.