When I quit drinking and using almost 23 years ago, I learned a simple rule about sobriety that I at once fully accepted as truth.
Circumstances don’t keep us sober.
I have C-PTSD, bipolar type 1 and alcoholism/addiction. I’ve been in three mental hospitals — as a patient, not a visitor. I spent four years of my life with postpartum mental illness so horrific I still have no idea how I survived. I’ve undergone two full series of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation).
My brain is — altered. I don’t have great memory. It takes me far too long to remember how old I am, what month it is or most of my very good friend’s names on surprise visits.
But what I do remember — clear as day — is this passage from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous:”
Some of us have taken very hard knocks to learn this truth: Job or no job — wife or no wife — we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on God. Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone.
Let’s back up a second here. Yes, this is from AA. No, I’m not an AA member anymore. Yes, I was a member for a really long time. No, I would never suggest you join a 12-step program. Yes, I am a member of a different 12-step program. No, I’m not going to disclose why I left AA. Yes, I believe in a higher power. No, I don’t think any of it is necessary to get sober, healthy or sane.
Don’t get all caught up on the God part in there because the nuts and bolts of this passage isn’t about God — it’s about the fact that I can stay sober no matter what my material life looks like on the outside. That’s what I held onto all those years ago when I was just trying to make it through another day without guzzling, snorting or blowing someone to do so.
Job or no job. Wife or no wife. I fully accepted and still do accept that my sobriety isn’t reliant on my life looking a certain way. Sobriety is my ground zero. Pinto or Ferrari, I’m staying sober. It’s between me and the universe.
But the second depression slides on in, I see this as a separate issue. When I hate my life, I want to die. When the wheels come off on my sanity, I’m out.
I’ve been struggling with depression again since becoming antidepressant resistant from a Lyme disease treatment that actually worked. It’s a cute irony — I fought for my life, won and now I want to die.
The deeper I’ve spiraled into this depression, the louder and more frequent the mantra I discovered during all those years of postpartum mental illness becomes — I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my life. It’s pretty simple and you don’t even have to pay a guru $700 for it. You’re welcome.
There are things I understand so completely so immediately about recovery and others are so slow it’s simply embarrassing, and frequently it’s because recovery from addiction isn’t the same as recovery from mental illness in many respects. But there are parallels and it only took me a couple decades to figure this one out — my life is my wife is my job and I don’t hate any of it.
I don’t even hate my circumstances. My depression tries to convince me that I just need that job, that wife, (you get what I’m cracking at), and then I’ll love my life. I’ll want to wake up in the morning again. I won’t cry every fucking day and fantasize about suicide options.
But if I step back almost 23 years ago and reframe just a bit, here’s what I get.
- Circumstances don’t keep me happy.
- Circumstances don’t keep me sane.
- Circumstances don’t fucking matter.
When I feel great, I can live in a studio apartment above a Chinese restaurant with 12 people and I don’t care. When I am sane and balanced, I don’t break at the branch because I live deep within my roots.
I don’t hate my life. I hate the way I feel. And the more I try to fix the outsides, the more confusing it becomes as to why I want to die. I can get the outsides shiny and clean, but shiny and clean do not sanity make.
I got married in 2005 to the man who was going to fix me. I just knew it. He was perfect. So shiny. We had a dream wedding in Napa Valley and honeymooned in Fiji.
I grew up poor. Fiji was the first time I ever used a passport. This was some Cinderella shit. And guess who has two thumbs and had a panic attack every single day in Fiji?
I know, I’m mortified for me as well.
I want to blame the dog who just shit on the rug, or my cell phone that’s possessed by demons or the eternal pile of dirty dishes. I want it to be a different house, a car without constant “maintenance needed” lights or this goddamned pandemic to be over.
But it’s so much simpler that all that. Job or no job. Wife or no wife. Fiji or no Fiji. Sanity is an inside job and I really, really wish it wasn’t.