No two rock bottoms are the same. The point where we decide that we simply cannot keep hurting ourselves looks different for everyone. This is important because some of us struggle with our perception of what alcoholism looks like.
My first year of sobriety, I considered myself an “average” drunk because even though there was no question in my mind that I needed to stop drinking, my rock bottom wasn’t as dramatic as other alcoholics I’ve known or heard about. I never got a DUI, always held a good job and paid my bills, and rarely got so drunk that I was out of control. I created a stereotype in my mind of what an alcoholic looked like and I was very good at making sure I didn’t fit the stereotype.
In year two of sobriety, I’ve come to think of myself as a recovering master manipulator and phony. That sounds like such a harsh thing to say about myself but the realization is a wonderful thing. You see, I wasn’t just an average drunk, I was an average human being. I’m a classic over-achieving under-achiever. I’ve never been excellent at anything and I’ve never seriously failed at anything. I spent most of my life working hard to stay perfectly in the middle, just under the radar and average. Drinking offered me a brief release from my chosen mediocrity.
Even as a child, I was skeptical of compliments. If I was praised too highly, I knew the person was lying because I was sure I wasn’t great at anything. Good at some things, yes. Great, talented, gifted, no. The truth is, I really did have a gift for art and music and when I think about the joy I missed out on because I was fearful of being recognized, it breaks my heart. I’ve never been one to wish that I could relive my life because I absolutely would want to end up exactly where I am, but a little part of me wishes that the little girl Karen could get a do-over to love herself, to see herself as worthy of her dad telling her, “Karen, you’re such a wonderful artist!” Because I was a wonderful artist and so much more.
I chose to stay average because that’s where I felt most comfortable and that’s where it was safe to hide. When I became an adult, I worked only as hard as I had to, shined only as long as necessary and kept myself just out of the ordinary enough to stay interesting.
I wonder if I had I let myself be an outstanding drunk, if maybe I would’ve seen my problem sooner. Maybe, but maybe not. I can honestly say that I didn’t know I needed to stop drinking until the day I stopped drinking. I was just too good at manipulating my reality and being a phony that I didn’t see the truth until there was no choice but to see it. I wonder if it’s like finding out when you’re an adult that you were adopted. Once you know it’s true, it seems so obvious. All the little hints and deceptions make sense. Except instead of someone telling me that something big was being kept from me, I was keeping it from myself.
On August 1, 2011, I was ready to see the truth. I was also ready to stop being so average. I was ready to risk feeling, to live, to cry out loud, to love so much it hurts and to sit with it and through it.
As year two of my sobriety comes to a close, I have big plans for year three. I’m going to celebrate my voice, let creativity set my soul free and praise God with my gifts. I’m done being average. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.