“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentime filled with your tears… “
– Kahlil Gilbran, The Prophet
Recently, through a number of means, various people have commented to me that they see me as a very strong person. It always fascinates me when people say this because it’s not how I see myself. I know that I am on a journey of healing and that I am stronger than I have been in recent years. But actually I’m just as fragile as the next person.
A bubble is very strong, but it doesn’t take much to burst… and then it is gone. I feel very much like the bubble. It looks beautiful and great, but in one breath or movement, the bubble can burst and the strength is gone.
This past couple of weeks have been difficult for me. I’m not able to share the details of why that is, out of respect for someone who is very dear to me. That bubble has been floating around, being buffeted and blown. Sometimes it has felt sure of its ability to remain that bubble, and other times it has felt on the brink of bursting and simply being left as a mere droplet of water and soap.
Actually it is hard to talk about because I know there are people who take hope in their own ability to heal, because of watching the journey I am on. I hate to disappoint, and I would hate for anyone to lose their own hope because of me.
The bubble burst yesterday. It wasn’t because of anything concrete that happened, it’s just that the bubble got weakened by the constant buffeting it had taken recently. There were a lot of tears. That’s not something unusual right now, but I guess they took on a new intensity. In my desperation to numb the pain, I lashed out at myself.
No, there was no self harming as there has been in the past, and actually there was not even the urge to self harm (the urges can be the worst of the self harm journey). But in another way, I was harming myself. I chose to do something, I try to avoid now days. I have learnt my lesson in the past, but yesterday I didn’t care anymore. I just needed something to ease the pain I was feeling. So I poured myself a drink.
“I was becoming too dependent on drinking. Dave (now ex-husband) was concerned about what he saw me drink. It wasn’t that much. Maybe a couple of glasses of wine a night. What he didn’t know was just how little I was eating through out the day, or about the vodka bottle hidden upstairs amongst my clothes. I knew he’d have a fit, if he knew I was having more than he saw…
…I also hid my drinking. Mark and Sharon (nurse and psychiatrist at the time) both wanted me to consider detox. Alcohol became a way to get through the day, or the night. A close friend of mine made a comment to me about alcoholics who lie in parks with their bottles in paper bags. He said they were the scum of the earth. I didn’t lie in parks, but I did lie at home with my bottle in a paper bag. It was easier to drink straight out of the bottle. I hid my bottles under my clothes in drawers. I guess I was scum…
…I had a problem. I had become dependent on being able to drink until I passed out. That way I didn’t have to think. I could still exist, even if I didn’t have access to alcohol but I was fast becoming alcoholic, and I hid it well. Even Dave didn’t know. He might guess that I had a glass of wine before he came home from work, but he had no idea how much I had actually had. He didn’t know that I would continue drinking after he went to bed. He didn’t know that I would pass out regularly.”
Excerpt from my book, Infinite Sadness, 2009
That was 15 years ago now, and when I chose to stop drinking like that, I made a decision to never again, drink alone. Perhaps I should have stopped drinking altogether, and for a while I did, but I didn’t appear to have any problem when drinking with others and so my decision to only drink moderately in the company of others, seemed like a wise decision. Actually, on the whole, it has worked okay for me.
I was terribly ashamed of my drinking, in my sober moments, partly because my father was an active temperance man. He promoted the alcohol-free way of life at every chance he got. He knew I drank, but until he read my book four years ago, he never knew what a problem it had become for me. No one did. Not even my ex-husband knew the extent of the problem. In some ways I guess drinking was a kind of rebellion, but more so it was simply a desperate effort to blot out the despair that I was feeling.
The despair I felt yesterday was different from the despair of 15 years ago, but I found myself trying to soothe it the same way. The old behaviour returned. This time I was more aware of what I was doing, and aware of the need in me to anaesthetise my pain and wish it all away. Before doing too much damage I was able to see the old patterns return. Suddenly it felt like I was back 15 years, but at least this time I eventually had enough awareness to stop.
I don’t usually have alcohol in my house, purposely to avoid such things happening. But recently I had felt so much stronger and thought I could handle it. I could… for a while. But once I got weak, I couldn’t again. I know that had someone else been here, I would not have gone near the bottle, but then I have to take responsibility. I did what I did, and it is no one else’s fault.
So I might seem strong, but I’m not. I am as fragile as anyone else. When I least expect it, I can burst my bubble and be hurt, despairing and alone too. The only difference for me is that now, the morning after, I can see what I was doing. Actually I could see what I was doing at the time, and I had a terrible battle in my mind last night as I struggled to decide whether I cared or not. I did care. And so I stopped. And then cried some more.
Maybe now I have better awareness but don’t be fooled into thinking the battles aren’t the same. I am still a bubble, just like you, and I fight to make that bubble survive sometimes.
Today though, I am blowing a new bubble.
NB. Names have been changed to protect privacy.
“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”
― Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance
- Am I A Strong Person? (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)