Today I beat my drinking demon to a pulp. I fought my illness good and hard on the wrestling mat. It was a terrifying match. I finished bloody, messy and exhausted…but I won. Against all odds, I won.
What this means is that in the middle of an otherwise ordinary workday, smack in the middle of solid months of sobriety, I suffered from a very acute and sudden craving to drink; to sit in a bar and just…DRINK. I call this a Deep Craving Episode. It is powerful and real and hard as hell to go through. And today, it almost took me down. Almost.
It happened suddenly. I wanted to drink. Hard. I ached for the sharp hit of alcohol sliding down my throat. I yearned for the rays of sunlight traveling down my veins. Slave to this thought, I sat at my office desk and started to crawl out of my skin. I was craving with the deep desire of addicts – violent, unexpected and very, very real.
A frozen shot of vodka. A tall glass of Stella. The thick lovemaking sip of red wine. Relief. Lust. Beauty. Darkness. An explosion of light.
The craving, which started like a little whisper, became a storms so loud that my mouth watered, my brain screamed and my lungs ached. Just a sip. Just two. Just a thousand. Please.
I needed. To drink.
Describing this episode is hard, because it defies reason and logic for someone who has never experienced it. But if you are an alcoholic like me, and especially if you are in early sobriety, you may jive with this so much that you will call me your soul-sister forever.
It all begins with a voice which sounds like mine, whispering that today a drink would feel amazing. That a drink would make me feel whole and perfect. That I would be able to breathe deeply, and fit “right” inside of my skin. That my problems would evaporate, weightless and unimportant. That life would feel wonderful.
So. Fucking. Wonderful…
And yes, it would probably ruin me and break me into little pieces again… Yes, it may throw me into another tragic cycle of relapse. Yes. But…it would be worth it. SO worth it.
“Its only been a few months of sobriety, it’s really no big deal if you drink today… You know the way out. You can do it again…” The voice states calmly, sounding so much like MY own voice that my brain pays attention. The words sound so much like MY own reasoning, that my body starts to tingle.
The voice’s mission is clear: It wants to get me to give myself permission to drink. It’s out to convince me that I need this. That I DESERVE this.
This has happened before. My True Self knows that THIS VOICE IS NOT MY VOICE. I have enough years in this dance to know that this voice is not mine. The illness is a separate being that lives in me – but IT IS NOT ME.
In 2014, when I was 5 years sober, this exact voice convinced me to pick up a drink again, starting me on a 2-year relapse. Two horrible years of emotional, spiritual and physical devastation — from which I barely crawled out alive.
The voice continues to whisper, sensually.
Drink. Just one. Just today.
I close my eyes as I snowball into this insanity. I am prey to the force, I cannot do anything but ride the wave. Like Hulk, I am villain and victim, virtually unfolding from myself as the voice screams.
My illness, now in human form, is a carbon copy of me. She stares at me, a comic-book mistress, dark and beautiful in ways that I am not. She, in a wine-red bodysuit which hugs her every perfect curve. Me, in my little black dress, a terrified child dressed as an adult.
The wrestling match is announced, the players called by name. We step into the mat, staring at each other in defiance. She smiles. I don’t. We start a circular dance, hands going up in battle mode. In one move, she throws me to the ground, crawling tightly on top of me. “Drink” she whispers, her lips close to my mouth.
I try to go about my business, my human form still sitting at my office desk, holding on to reality. I open emails and try to dive into them, desperate to distract myself with my job chores. Drink. My breathing gets thicker. Everything starts to get blurry. My eyes stop seeing words, my nails stop dancing over the keyboard. The world becomes slow-motion and fades away into a dark tunnel.
My illness pins me down harder, hissing in my ear, telling me that the perfect gulp of cold beer is possible, available, and easy to get. It is the only thing to get, in fact. So I should. I could. Why not…it whispers, seductively. I can hear bold desire in her breathing. I can hear lust and craving rising in mine. Drink. It’s almost sensual, sexual. My skin tingles so much it hurts. I need relief, God. I need help, God.
“Its lunchtime. Leave your desk and go drink”…she orders. I turn my head away from her mouth as she describes that first sip of beer hitting my lips. My eyes glaze over the email in front of me, I cannot see the screen anymore. My body shudders, her words bigger, better, bolder. My throat starts to pulse with desire, my heart skips a beat. Fuck. It’s on. The wrestling continues. I try to escape but she’s got me down hard. I fight hard to get unpinned. Nothing. God, please get this asshole off my chest. God, please.
A wave of strength takes over me and I push her off unexpectedly, freeing myself.
I jump out of my chair, grab my keys and flee. My eyes are tearing up as I run down the parking lot. I need to drive somewhere. Anywhere. “To your favorite steakhouse” she says, calmly, walking beside me. “Wouldn’t a steak salad hit the spot? Maybe paired to a nice thick French Cabernet in a beautiful, fat wineglass…?” She won’t back off, jumping with excitement as we get in my car. I can smell the wine in her breath and my body awakens. I want to kiss her mouth deeply, to taste the wine and make her shut up.
Tears start trickling from my eyes as I turn on the ignition. She is close to me, her hot breath on my face. Drink. I grip the steering wheel with white knuckles, wrestling hard. “Think through the drink” says a crazy old slogan in my head. That does not work, bitch. Playing the tape does not work. Every consequence that I can pull up in my head as a result of drinking sounds minuscule, and manageable – and worth it. My frontal brain has been hijacked, reasoning is not available to me. I am driven by pure instinct, craving, desire, lust. My actions are controlled by the back part of my brain, the animal part that wants chemical relief no matter what. She looks hot as hell sitting beside me, and I want to kill her and hold her all at once.
God, please don’t let me drink – I beg as I look up, hot tears streaming down.
She continues her sensual whisper, telling me that if I drink, I will become a better recovery advocate. That I will help others better if I go back to the drinking battleground. That I can do this just one more time. For others. They deserve it. I deserve it. Fuck you. I say to myself. To the illness. To her, to me. To us.
I am shaking violently as I pull up into the parking lot of the steakhouse.
Oh no, how did I end up here? I look up at the entrance, inviting and dark and sexy. Tears and shudders are now shaking my body completely. I cannot feel my fingertips, or my toes. It’s exactly like I am having a panic attack of the worse kind. I cannot suck in air. There is no air around me. None.
What do I do, what do I do? Breathe, breathe.
I want to drink. Please let me drink. Oh God, please do NOT let me drink.
I look at the door of the restaurant, inviting, promising. Drink. I turn off the ignition. I am terrified of what will happen next.
God, I don’t want to do this.
My phone. Yes. Where is my phone?
I dial. My sponsor’s voicemail answers. Shit. I dial another sober sister, needing a human just like me on the other side of the line. Another miss. Fuck. My hands are shaking, I am in full-blown sobs now, and I know I am not getting enough oxygen to survive. I am going to die. I am going to die.
I dial again, third try. Four rings. “Hello?” says the familiar voice at the other end of the line. Oh, thank you, Jesus. “I want to drink and I need you to talk me off the ledge” I blurt out with desperation. My friend pauses for a beat and then his warm, comforting voice tells me to breathe.
“Breathe. Everything will be ok”, he says. I will be ok. I will be ok. I will be ok.
Kindly, he starts talking. He knows me so well. He takes me back through other relapse episodes, and reminds me of how hard it is for me when I succumb to my illness. He reminds me how much I hate myself when I drink; and how difficult it is to get back on track once I pick up again. He reminds me that my biggest consequence is that I get completely disconnected from the light when I drink. Sure, I will get temporary joy and love from red wine. But while that wonderful feeling is happening to my human self, my spiritual self is walking to the plug on the wall and unplugging herself from everything that is good, and whole and real. Everything that I have worked so hard to get. The lights go out immediately with the first glass. I disconnect the minute that wine hits my throat. From myself. From God. From everything.
My breathing slows down as his every word starts to bring back relief and speckles of sanity. I close my eyes and my breathing starts to slow down.
We share some silence. I stop crying. He reminds me that its Friday, and that I am wrapping up a few weeks of physical and emotional exhaustion. He reminds me that I had gotten divorced the day before (like I didn’t fucking know), and that my body and my spirit were beyond exhausted. He asks me if I had been running on self-will and had taken on the stress of managing everything on my own… or if I had worked on Letting Go…
He cannot see me, but I am holding my eyes and shaking my head, his words hitting me.
He reminds me that this is the kind of unbearable weight that’s impossible for us addicts to take on. That carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders always ends me up at a bar. How could it not?
I am silent. He is hitting every nail on the head.
He pauses and his questions get a lot more basic, clearly realizing by now that he was on the right path.
He asks if I had eaten. If I had slept enough lately. If I had exercised. If I had gone to a meeting, talked to my sponsor, helped other alcoholics. Taken time to pause through my busy days. Meditated and prayed. Made amends. Talked to God. Set boundaries when I needed them. Practiced forgiveness. He asks if I had taken care of myself and not just others. No. No. Nope. Not much, no. No. I had not.
I take a deep, shaky breath. Oxygen has returned to the car, and I can feel serenity start to spread from my center on out. His voice fades to the background, as I visualize a plug on the wall. The wall is made of light, and that plug, firmly attached, represents my hard-earned recovery. It represents many days of connection, and all the beautiful work needed to get there – one day at a time.
I will not unplug from that light. I will just just fucking NOT.
I open one eye and look at my illness, who has slithered off my neck and into the back seat. She looks angry and frustrated, arms folded across her chest. She looks like a petulant, evil child – one who wants to kill me.
But she also looks defeated, and sad. I almost feel compassion for her. I almost feel pity and love for her. Almost.
She opens the door in silence and steps out of the car, slamming the door behind her.
Thank you God.
My breathing is almost back to normal. I move my fingers, which feel numb and frozen. I am exhausted, but feel so incredibly relieved that I start to cry again.
“Go eat now”, says my friend, getting me back to reality. “Cry a little. Pray, breathe, and go eat”. Wise advice.
I thank him, hang up, and drive to my favorite Mexican restaurant. My body is exhausted, even if the uber-spicy food is making me feel human again. I have been in a 2-hour headlock, fighting for my life. I just walked the journey of the warrior.
This is what happens sometimes, if you are an alcoholic. This is the dance. Sometimes its easy-sailing, sometimes its not. My heartbeat slows down, and I finally smile when I realize that I beat my illness today, for a change. I won the match.
Actually…God won the match for me.
Looking back, this very same Deep Craving Episode happened during my 2-year relapse constantly. However, during all of that time, I thought the insidious little voice was mine. I thought the cunning little thoughts were mine. I never separated that voice as the voice of my illness. I thought we were one and the same.
Likewise, I never reached out to others when the episode was hitting – I was too ashamed to admit to others that I wanted to drink. So I never picked up my phone. Shame and fear drove me, isolating and disconnecting me.
Even worse, I never asked God for help. I never prayed for Him to step in and help me while the episode was unfolding. I thought I was on my own. It felt like I was on my own. And for 2 years, the result was the same. I drank. I drank. I drank. I could not stop.
So today I am grateful for such a different experience. So gloriously grateful for the battle, the knowledge, the terror. Grateful for the Grace of another sober day.
And after work, I will go “carry the message” to other drunks at a treatment center where I have been asked to speak. I will share the program of recovery, sure. But I have also decided to share my crazy day – so that they see that sobriety is not perfect in any way. Sobriety can get be a little fucked up and sometimes hurt like hell. But we never quit, we don’t give up. We ask for help. We pray. We connect. We fight. We never give up, one day at a time.
And I will be ready for the next time my illness shows up, looking hot and tempting.
Because she will show up.
But this time, I will look at her with compassion, and tell her that I don’t believe a word she says.
She will never be me. I will never be her. I don’t have to listen. She will kick and scream, and I will ask God to step in and quiet her down. I know she will sneak up, try to cut off my air. She will try over and over again – she won’t ever stop trying. I won’t ever stop fighting.
We just need to co-exist, respectfully. Lovingly. Honestly. Openly. Peacefully. She and I – with the bodysuit, and the little black dress and the heels and all…For a lifetime, every day, one day at a time.
:: Sober Mami ::
Pamela is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach & Educator. She has been in a recovery journey since 2009, and is a passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding addiction. Follow her unfiltered adventures on IG @sober_mami and Twitter @LaSoberMami. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are struggling.
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