I don’t really write about sobriety anymore. I’m not really sure where I stand with it. Last year I noticed I was becoming more anxious. My ‘negative emotions’ were flourishing under the attention they could get from going to regular NA meetings. I was nearly two years sober from alcohol and within that time I had managed a consistent three months off weed. I was fully 30 days clean when I started to hit three meetings a week for about a month. My internal monologue was constantly rehearsing what I would share, the counting became obsessive and the flashbacks were real. I didn’t want any of it, it felt like madness. I was trapped; reliving what I had done ‘wrong’, judging myself for it and the only resolution on offer was sitting in this room talking about it forever. I was much more interested in turning to my new sober life than I was about dragging up the past and being labelled as an addict. I’m also a very busy person so the stress of trying to fit meetings into my ever-changing schedule was draining. My intentions felt like ego-fuelled attention seeking that wanted to be ‘different’, ‘special or ‘other’ and although I like attention I wasn’t convinced.
It dawned on me that most of my negative emotions came from either living in the past or obsessing over the future. I had got ‘clean’ without NA a fact that when mentioned in meetings is usually greeted with a cynical stare. I started to feel inferior, my problems weren’t big enough. Who was I to take up a seat when I always had a job and a house and a back up? Plus everybody smokes, another thing I had given up, and as an ex-smoker at a meeting you may as well be at the bloody pub. I then started to question the whole idea of sobriety and addiction; not that I question their existence more their permanence. I pondered on how, particularly my generation, were quite badly frightened by the anti-drug campaigning of the nineties forcing judgement upon ourselves if we ever used drugs, a similarly damaging habit. Was that the reason I thought there was something wrong with me? Did I ever really have a problem? Was I in recovery by mistake?
I don’t enjoy being told that I am something or that I must sit in that box and play there. My inner rebel opposes certainty so if you say left I’ll go right. I do believe that we are all capable of being anything we want. One day you’re a doctor the next you’re a bin man. I feel that to permanently label someone as anything is unnatural. So to say that a person will always be an addict or always was an addict makes me uncomfortable. There is a level of hypocrisy involved when a doctrine is telling you that you are always an addict, with a capacity to stay clean while still being an addict. We all have the capacity to become addicted to anything and I believe we also all have the ability to change those habits. The stamp of ADDICT feels like a sort of mental prison used to help one stay clean and it definitely works for a lot of people. But when that label starts to build a barricade between you and having a good experience of anything then maybe it’s time for it to evolve? For me any psychology built on permanence is flawed because it goes against our human nature. But I’m not a psychologist and I’m no great expert on The Fellowship. Yes I’ve been fairly regularly to meetings here and there but I never had a sponsor despite looking for one and I haven’t completed any of the 12 steps. Maybe I should be addressing my obvious problem with commitment instead?
So I decided to set myself free as an experiment. I was already intermittently smoking the odd spliff so now I would say thank you when someone produced a glass of fizz instead of the almost uncontrollable response of ‘no thank you I don’t drink because…three hours later…’. Nobody wants a tormented artists inner dialogue when serving drinks. I would drink on special occasions. Only have one. Did I manage it?Sometimes. Not at a wedding though-at the only wedding I attended during this experimental phase true drunk Janna came out. There were shots of Gin, tears before 12 and I ended the night on the bands balcony with cannabis paralysis.
So the one drink maximum didn’t work for me but I had missed the participation. On one hand I began to feel like I was pimping myself out for popularity, compromising a part of my brain and ultimately a part of the next day, in order to make other people feel more comfortable. On the other I liked sharing things with people and connecting. The one spliff maximum I have even more trouble with. By allowing myself to drink again I convinced myself I would be able to smoke weed again. So I tried to control my infatuation which turned into months of fuzz. I really want to be that person that can keep a bag of weed in the house for the occasional spliff. I am not that person. I did realise that I don’t actually like being high, I like getting high and it’s the same with alcohol the getting drunk is much more fun than being drunk. I’m attached to being the person that does it despite my body rejecting it. I get major paranoia, serious head rushes that lead to fainting and I can’t form thoughts or sentences properly. With alcohol I’m an impulsive emotional wrecking ball. Then there’s this brain rewiring that happens in the weeks after use which in my case comes out as depression, irritation and anger. It’s been this way for twenty plus years I suppose I should be proud of my sheer determination.
So how did I get here again if I knew this all already? I isolated and then tricked myself back into the mentality that alcohol was required for connection and weed was a part of my self. When actually I was still connecting when sober just in a different way and I was much more myself without the highs and lows of smoking weed every day. I’ve noticed now that drinking has always made me uncomfortable that’s why it’s easier to just do it and forget about it. Ironically this is what meetings are good for. They remind us of where we don’t want to go without wasting money and precious brain cells. I missed out that step with what’s commonly described as ‘another relapse’. However I have definitely learned more about my habits and fortunately for me it’s very difficult to die from an overdose of Marijuana.
I learned that I actually really like being sober despite finding staying sober difficult. I realised that my experiment was resistance to feeling uncomfortable and instead of persevering I gave up quickly re-visiting the destructive nature of my habits. Most importantly I realised I was still missing ‘that’ feeling of belonging. For years I had got that from getting drunk and high then I temporarily found it through attending meetings. I was still looking outward to feel complete. I wanted to be in the gang. I needed someone to tell me that I was special instead of simply believing in myself.
I’m very lucky. On the few occasions that I’ve glimpsed rock bottom I have a very strong support system to help pick me up. Some people need a physical detox and strict programme to help them re-imagine their lives and the fact that NA and AA exist is life-saving for them. For me the constant reminder of where I had been prevented me from mentally separating or moving on from that mind identification with my former habits. But once I stopped going to meetings I inevitably fell back into them. I’m still undecided if NA or MA is the way for me even though it is clear there is a level of addiction in my story. Ultimately I am still not completely comfortable branding myself as any one thing be that sober, addict or almost sober.
But I’m OK with that.