On New Year’s Eve 2016, I put on a white sequined dress and a white rabbit fur coat to go out to a bar for an hour and a half. I had two small glasses of wine, and then went out to some shitty dive for a few glasses of cheap champagne with a couple of friends.
2016 was a hellion of a year: I moved to Portland on a whim, to run away–once again. Unceremoniously exiting left was a skill I had honed into an art form. Now you see me; now you don’t. My CPTSD was reaching its peak of unsustainability; by the end of the year, when I wasn’t self-medicating, I was chopping off my hair in a (clichéd) rage and putting matches out on my wrists. The few friends I had in town were either active alcoholics or rubberneckers–people who either capitalized or reveled in my own self-destruction.
I knew things would have to change, otherwise I was going to die. Maybe not immediately, but within the next few years, I would try to kill myself, again. I wanted to die every single day, and toward the end of the year, suicidal thoughts were constant. I started painting again, just to keep my hands busy.
Every day, I woke up and burst into sobs. I wrote on my bathroom mirror in lipstick: DAYS WITHOUT CRYING, with the prayer that I could start counting them soon. I ran through the list of ways that I could kill myself–what would be the least painful? I started researching bridges suited for jumping. I took inventory of the pills in my medicine cabinet, more than once–laying out the bottles on the bed, trying to calculate how much would be required to send me off. I considered how much will and risk it would require to throw myself in front of a truck–and whether or not I could do it knowing it would traumatize or hurt someone else in the process.
And I knew that I was self-medicating. Although I was a reformed party girl who had always been a Drinker, as my mental health deteriorated, alcohol became a bigger and bigger part of my daily life. Although I felt out of control, and felt like my self-harm was on auto-pilot as I increasingly dissociated, I still recognized that I was using this crutch to somehow see myself through. To survive. To maintain.
Despite years of therapy at this point, I was crumbling, and I didn’t know how to manage it. The emotional and mental stress took a physical toll: I stopped eating. Even the most delicious meals tasted like ash in my mouth. I stopped sleeping. My hair was falling out. My body started to fall apart. Every day, my entire body was twisted with tension, my chest constricted in pain.
I was twenty-eight years old, and all I wanted to do was die. I thought, “If this is what living is, I can’t do this anymore.” I am doing my best to describe it now, although this is hard for me to talk about–it is hard for me to put this to paper, to put this into words. It is humiliating, for one, and two, if I think about it just a little too hard, I can remember the pain–in my body, in my heart–and it still makes me cry. The pain was unbearable.
Drinking wasn’t helping. I spent the end half of November and December of that year trying to pull back, with marginal success. I strung together a week, then went to a Reddit Thanksgiving with strangers. Two beers turned into who knows how many drinks, and being a ridiculous person, I took home the host. We made out and then I cried (luv 2 be That Girl), and then we fell asleep. The next morning, we had breakfast; even in the harsh morning light, he was a pleasant, funny human. We exchanged numbers and then never spoke again.
I strung together another week or so, and then caved. Then another week, and caved. Then the couple of weeks before NYE, knowing that I would go out on NYE and have my last drinks for awhile, even though I didn’t know how long “awhile” would be.
I haven’t had another drink since. As of yesterday, that was two years ago.
I wish I could tell you it has been easy. The not drinking part was very hard at first, even though I didn’t have a physical dependency. As my social circle expanded to include sober folks, and as not turning to booze became a habit, it got a lot easier. I had another CPTSD flare up about five months in, and finally, after years of therapy and trying every other solution (working out, journalling, going to meetings, therapy, eating healthy, ~mindfulness~, blah blah the fucking blah–you know the list of shit we all try), my doctor prescribed an SSRI.
I remember sitting in my therapist’s office, in tears, telling her, “This is the only thing I haven’t tried, and honestly, if this doesn’t work, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I won’t be able to get through this if things don’t change. I can’t keep living like this. I’m trying to do everything right and I still feel like dying all of the time.”
Once the SSRI kicked in, it made such a huge impact. Days weren’t as hard to get through. I didn’t think about death constantly. My emotional regulation improved enormously.
As much as it has improved my life, it doesn’t resolve CPTSD, or PTSD completely. In this last year, it has become clear to me just how disabling this psychological injury is. As humiliating as it is to articulate this publicly–or even really at all–I still struggle to just be a person who is okay much of the time. In fact, not drinking has, in some ways, made it so much harder–because I can no longer disconnect from the pain, the hypervigilance, the sometimes utterly irrational anxiety, the negative self-affect, the nightmares.
Instead, I live with it, and–I did the math at the end of this year–CPTSD flare ups impact my functionality a good four to six months out of each year. It’s not always a complete failure of functionality, but enough to say that my quality of life, when evaluated as a whole, isn’t really that great.
Even with that assessment, though, my life now versus two years ago, when I was self-medicating all the time, and actively struggling to not hurt myself–in both big and small ways– every single day, is remarkably different. I am remarkably different.
Although I’ve always been competent at making friends everywhere I go, my community has exploded into a starburst of beautiful, brilliant, wise motherfuckers who I am so honored to know, to love, and to be loved by. My relationships that survived all of this have deepened and changed–they are so fierce and so fucking wonderful. I don’t know why anyone who knew me before this even wanted to be my friend, and I marvel all the time at the fact that they’ve stuck it out. I’ve laughed so much harder in the last two years than I can ever remember doing so in the past, and had so much more fun than I ever thought possible, even while in the midst of so much bullshit.
My own personal growth, in the process of Learning To Be A Human, has been profound–in large part thanks to that aforementioned community. My coping skills are A-fucking-PLUS, and I’ve worked for every single one of them. At least when my functionality fails, now I know what to do. I’m not hurting myself anymore, either in big or small ways. My creative work has become such an irrepressible, important thing in my life. Even when things are hard, or horrible, I’m so grateful to be alive.
That may seem dramatic, maybe, from the outside. I wasn’t drinking myself to death. I don’t have a terminal illness in the way that we think of terminal illnesses–this isn’t cancer, or some rare disease. But especially now, with the gift of perspective, I see that, at least back then, I got one thing right: I scared myself, and I was right to be scared.
If you know me at all, especially if you are a friend of mine on any kind of social media and are privy to my loud and foul mouthed rants, you already know: I am still a big mouthed motherfucking wild tongued opinionated bitch, and I imagine I will continue to be one until the day I die. Turns out, that wasn’t a drinking problem–just a personality problem. Tart isn’t everyone’s favorite flavor, but at least now I’m much more at peace with that than I ever thought I could be. I don’t feel sorry about it anymore.
2018 was a very, very hard year. There was a lot of failure, and a lot of fucking it up. The year ended on such a sad note, because in the last few months, the full understanding of what I am truly capable of–or rather, what I know I am not capable of–and how this bullshit still impacts me every day, all the time, despite the massive amount of work I’ve done, has really set in.
I think this is grief. I am grieving, with a new depth of understanding, that I may have to accept that being a person, on a day to day basis, will always be a little bit difficult. Sometimes, very difficult. Often, very difficult. I can’t always be the person that I want to be, not because I’m not trying hard enough–because hi hello i am, i promise–but because I have a long-term injury that chronically hijacks my brain and my body, and requires a lot of maintenance.
It has been two years since I stopped drinking. Although I enter 2019 still reeling from the year that has passed, grieving and as confused as ever (possibly more than ever), I am so fucking glad to be celebrating that milestone today. It feels sad to say that just being okay is a victory, but as far as I’m concerned, it is for me. I’m crying as I write this now, but it is bittersweet, you know? I’m happy and grateful to be alive. I’m happy and grateful to have built an actual self-esteem (rocky as it may still be at times), to have so much fucking love and art in my life.
This is all a lot of terribly written, rambling navel-gazing, and of course, it’s all centered on my own experience, as that is all that I can speak to with any kind of authority.
If you can take anything away from this, which I do hope you can, I hope that you are encouraged to do what you need to do to be okay, too. I know that it’s scary–I still feel frightened all the time, often paralyzingly so–but it’s true what they say: at the end of the day, most of the time, things are going to be okay. Whatever choices you make will turn out to be right, or wrong, but you will come to accept them, and live with them, and realize that maybe you couldn’t have done anything different than what you did at the time.
And I hope that, although it is embarrassing to fail so many times and often what feels like so publicly, we can find value in it together–that maybe, you can join me in failing, over and over again, in the hope that the lessons learned from doing so create a vast richness of experience, with maybe a touch of wisdom, in this very short and very long life.
Toasting y’all with seltzer from PDX.