Oh, denial -- it's a fierce little bastard. It's what kept me from pursuing sobriety for many years, and I know my story isn't unique. Countless people like me question themselves constantly about whether we have problems with alcohol, or drugs, or both. Justification is the name of the game and for many years I surrounded myself with people who drank and used just like I did to put my mind at ease. If someone suggested I was out of control or that blacking out wasn't normal, chances are they wouldn't be my friend the following week. I didn't need that kind of negativity in my life.
I was so far in denial that it took me over a year of sobriety to actually say the words, "I'm Kelly, and I'm an alcoholic." I even wrote a post on my blog about how labels don't matter and how I only exhibited some of the classic symptoms of alcoholism. Meaning, I wasn't physically addicted and I had gone a week without drinking here and there in the past. I was more of a going-out partier. I loved going out to bars, clubs, getting dressed up and drinking dirty martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives. I wasn't one who sat on the couch every night and drank beer. I used all of these details to dispute the underlying fact that I struggled with addiction.
I was good at sugarcoating my life. Many people think the only substance I've had an issue with was alcohol, but it was more than that. It wasn't until well into my sobriety when I began taking a good look at myself that I realized I was not only an alcoholic, but that I also suffered from the disease of addiction. You see, the way it has been explained to me, is that some of us experience what is known as the disease of "more." Now that is something I could identify with. Granted, alcohol was my drug of choice, but I had been exhibiting addictive behaviors for years. In college, there were periods of times I didn't go one day without smoking marijuana, and I followed the same pattern for cocaine in Cancun. During my college years I had two serious knee surgeries, and I abused my pain medication. I used to take it when I didn't need it, I would give it out to my friends and take it out with me when I went out drinking shortly after my surgeries. I thought taking pain meds and drinking was a great way to get drunker faster. And yet I never contributed these details to my addiction, until now.
Part of the disease of addiction is self-centeredness, and with that comes lying. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that I went down that route. Denial can be strong when you're fighting your disease tooth and nail -- even sober. Part of me believes I sugarcoated it to be okay, to survive and keep me from thinking I was a horrible person. I think that's what keeps a lot of addicts sick. Like me, they become comfortably familiar with their unhealthy coping mechanisms. If I refused to see how bad it was, it wasn't that bad. That worked for a while. It even worked a couple years into my sobriety.
It wasn't until I came to terms with how addiction has always manifested itself in my life that I accepted that alcohol was but a symptom of my disease. Looking back, I can't deny that I had issues with countless other substances -- and more. I can even pinpoint always feeling unsatisfied as a child. At Christmas time I would keep looking under the tree for more gifts when I had already opened all of mine. As a tween I had to be organizing social meet-ups with my friends every weekend. If they didn't feel like doing anything, I would literally beg them or suggest different activities until they reluctantly agreed. If they didn't oblige, I would find new friends. In college, I played soccer and would be the one organizing a night of drinking on the bus ride home from our away games, no matter how late we were going to arrive home. The point is: It was never ever enough. It wasn't just the alcohol. Nothing was enough for me. This small fact is the underlying motivation of my entire disease. I never knew when enough was enough.
No wonder I was so miserable. I was trying to satisfy my need for more with everything from alcohol to cocaine, ecstasy, men, friends and pain pills. It's a feeling I had been chasing since childhood and I was never able to get my hands on it. I blacked out trying. I tried so hard for so long, all the while never knowing why the hell I couldn't feel satisfied. I couldn't fill the hole in my soul.
Everything fits together like a puzzle now. Sobriety has shown me that alcohol was just one symptom of my disease of "more." Today I'm grateful for my struggle with drugs and alcohol because it pushed me to my breaking point. This allowed me to find recovery, which taught me that I don't have to be that scared little girl anymore tearing apart Christmas gifts or going to the movies every Saturday night in a desperate attempt to be somebody. I am enough. I've always been enough. If my addiction didn't manifest itself through alcohol I might never have discovered I had a hole in my soul that couldn't be filled up my material goods, men, or drugs.
Today, I understand that too much of anything isn't a good thing, and I don't look outside myself for a solution. Gratitude, sobriety and self-love have given me the ability to wake up every day and just be satisfied with being alive. I'm glad I didn't just quit using, I've also started healing the hole in my soul.
This article was originally published on AfterParty Magazine.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.