Spring cleaning is such a dreadful thing to think about. You have to look through old stuff, dust, sweep, everything you’ve put off for a year. There are moments when you find old things that send you down memory lane: the old toys you played with, the pictures of smiles long forgotten, trinkets from an adventure and other treasures you buried. You can get lost for hours playing, reliving and loving. Those are the items we don’t mind finding. There are also the things that bring back memories you don’t want to remember: the broken toy from when you were angry, crutches from an accident, pictures of people you try to forget and other traps that send you spiraling into fear and anxiety. Those are things that remind you why you only do this once a year.
My spring cleaning really started the day I went sober. I have 68 days clean now which is incredible, it’s worth celebrating and it’s also so terrifying. My buffer is gone. I got myself a sponsor and began working through the steps of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. I never thought I would be in AA ever or at least before the age of forty let alone twenty-one. It was like my right to buy myself the poison I wanted was revoked the minute I was given the OK.
That first meeting was such a strange experience; I felt like I was watching a movie and there was no way I could be the star. In walks the prideful twenty-one year old from stage left. She sits down, crosses her arms and legs, and stares out around the room with a half pout. The wrinkles on her forehead become defined when she furrowed her brow and her foot tapped nervously. She looked as out of place as she probably felt. The meeting begins and her eyes glass over, she’s too young for this, it’s irrelevant, she doesn’t actually have a problem. She listens to everybody around the room share their story and nods when she can relate to something but is careful not to do it too often in fear that she might actually be one of them. You can see the judgment dripping. Since there are so few people, the speaker goes around the room when there’s a moment of silence and looks over at the young girl. The hairs on the back of her neck rise, she blinks and swallows uncontrollably, the legs and arms come undone, and she clears her throat. It’s almost comical the way she tries to choke out the, “Hello, I’m so and so, and I’m an alcoholic”. It came out like a stumble and the word alcoholic doesn’t even leave her lips. It’s been disguised by “a problem” and “whatever this is”. Her story comes out evenly, almost rehearsed, but when she starts to talk about drinking, heads are bobbing up and down across the room as if someone had sat a row of bobble heads in a row and ran their hand across all of them. She silently cusses when she realizes people can relate to her. If they can relate, then surely she must belong. When the meeting was over, she tries to exit quickly to disappear but is stopped by a group of women who want to be friendly. Numbers are exchanged, there’s laughter and she actually begins to relax. Maybe they weren’t so bad.
Fast forward about four days. She gets the urge to drink and feels awful. There’s no recollection of the trigger but it was there and the craving was strong. Suddenly, she remembers that room where she sat and listened to people share stories of pain, urges, and recovery. She finds herself back in that room later that night and when the meeting was over, she wasn’t afraid to admit she had a problem.
Hi, I’m an alcoholic.
Those words took so long for me to utter but when I did, relief swept over me like a warm hug and freedom became visible in the distance. I could get better. I finally believed that and I still do, even now.
In the past, I thought I could stop drinking whenever I wanted to but when I look back on it, that wasn’t true at all. I’ve learned you’re as sick as your secrets and wow I was the sickest person I knew. I had God, I had the will power, I was in counseling and I thought I was in control yet I found myself in the psychiatric ward on suicide watch. I still hit rock bottom. When I got out of the psych ward, I went straight back to the bottle that landed me there in the first place. It was insanity. It’s like I was saved from accidentally drinking poison but the minute I was okay, I grabbed the same bottle hoping for a different result. As I look at who I am today, I am dumbfounded. I don’t recognize the person I see in the mirror. This woman has turned into somebody that’s not afraid to be truly vulnerable, honest, and open. She won’t try to impress you because she is okay with herself. You won’t catch her in a web of lies because she lives honestly. She’ll apologize to you when she does something wrong and she’ll actually pursue you as a friend. She cares more than ever about people, but most importantly, about herself. I look in the mirror and I see someone I am proud of. I have never been able to say that before but I can say it now. I look in the mirror and I see a life worth living, I see someone worth loving and I see someone I can call my best friend. I can honestly say I no longer feel suicidal and I am excited for my future because I can see one now.
AA gave me so many important things. I have my sanity, a new way of living and a joy that is developing with each step I take. Something AA gave me that I never expected was my relationship with God back. I pray more, I talk to God, I believe, and I have faith. I used to be religious because I was afraid I was going to go to hell; now, I am spiritual because I’ve already been there and I was lucky enough to get out. When I went back to a church one Sunday morning, I felt His presence briefly but when I looked around, I saw a lot of people talking the talk, trying to cling to heaven’s gates. Where was God in this place so full of fear? I sit in AA meetings whenever I can and I see God working in those around me stronger than I’ve ever seen in a church setting. I hear stories from people that are alive because of God. I feel changes happening in me that are only possible through the grace of God. I’m not perfect and for once, that’s okay. I’m a recovering alcoholic and AA allows me to be imperfect. I’m still resentful sometimes, I still get angry, I feel pain. I also feel sorry for things I’ve done, forgiving towards those who have wronged me, and joy for what’s to come. I spent seven years trying to drown my feelings with a drink. Now the dam has broken but for once, I’m ready. I have the tools I need to get through it and heal. My spring cleaning is beginning.
I’ve found some horrible things in my closet. I’ve found memories I’ve buried for years. I see lies and manipulation to get things that I wanted. I see webs upon webs of lies I weaved for myself. I see pain that I caused in people. I see pain that was caused by people towards me. I see tears that were buried, every negative emotion that I suppressed and I also see the joy, laughter and relationships that I missed out on because I didn’t know they got buried with the bad things. Behind all of these things, I see a young girl in the closet, hiding in the back. She’s about fourteen, small, beat up, and terrified. When I go to help clean her up, she doesn’t move but carries an air of defeat. She had been dying for all these years and I had pretended not to see. When the dust gets wiped off, the clothes changed, the hair washed and brushed, the scars bandaged, only then can I see that this young girl is me. She is the girl I shoved away and ignored for seven years while I drank and lived a life that wasn’t really a life. She watched me destroy myself over and over and felt every wound with me. She’s the part of me I am getting to know again, learning to love wholeheartedly, and cherishing above everything else. She’s my partner in this time of spring cleaning and for once, I’m excited to get it done. Who knows what other treasures I’ll find buried away in this closet full of demons, struggling to hang on and shine bright enough for me to see. I just know that for once, I’m brave enough to face the demons and cherish every treasure I come across.
Spring cleaning is such a dreadful thing to think about. You have to look through old stuff, dust, sweep, everything you’ve put off for a year, or in my case seven years. There are moments when you find old things that send you down memory lane: the old toys you played with, the pictures of smiles long forgotten, trinkets from an adventure and other treasures you buried. You can get lost for hours playing, reliving and loving. Those are the items we don’t mind finding. There are also the things that bring back memories you don’t want to remember: the broken toy from when you were angry, crutches from an accident, pictures of people you try to forget and other traps that send you spiraling into fear and anxiety. Those are things that remind you why you only do this once a year. But maybe it can be different this time around. Maybe you’ll find something you didn’t know you needed to find. Maybe you’ll find joy. Maybe you’ll find yourself. Those are things that remind you why you keep coming back year after year. It’s a treasure hunt more than anything and you get to be reminded that you are your greatest treasure.