The beginning of the bottom

Fifteen days before I quit drinking, I saw a dinner invite on my then-boyfriend’s calendar. At the time, we worked at one of those creepy places where all meetings are visible unless otherwise specified. Forget Facebook stalking; try it on Outlook.

I saw that his Friday night plans included a trip to a local Mexican restaurant. When I asked him about it, he casually mentioned he’d be attending the dinner with, um, all of our mutual friends.

He had the invite, and I didn’t. It hurt.

Yes, I was still an introvert. No, I still didn’t like spending money on food. But my exclusion represented something bigger, something I wasn’t quite ready to face.

Those people don’t consider me a friend.

And, to be even more honest: I don’t consider them to be my friends.

Could I blame them for not liking me?

As much as I’d like to say “no,” of course I could blame them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The only other option was to blame myself, and it would be another fifteen days before I was ready to do that.

(Months later, I would learn instead to blame the disease.)

As is often the case when we’re upset, I made myself supremely unlikable to the person who cared about me most. My boyfriend received a string of texts, equal parts blamey, impulsive, and self-pitying. As much as he criticized the girls who had excluded me, he wasn’t about to turn down his comfy social cushion. And I couldn’t blame him (although again, I did manage). I wasn’t prepared to give up my cushion either - not until it was ripped out from under me.

That was my way. Small event, big reaction, bigger extrapolation, punish with inscrutable texts and silence, hide. Eventually, I’d come circling back, having rethought my actions. Prepared to be as self-deprecating as necessary to show that, as a girlfriend, my self-awareness outweighed my penchant for drama. The whole event was buried in the shame closet, where my partner promptly forgot about it - and I never did.

(I mean, seriously: it’s been 3 ½ years, and I can still remember that it was a Mexican restaurant.)

And no, my strategies for emotional diffusion did not just magically improve when I got sober. In the first year of sobriety, I was often confused, disturbed, and regretful of my own reactions. Three and a half years in, I still have big reactions when my emotional security is threatened.

(Case in point: Yesterday, my internet bill was twice as high as usual. Irritated, I called the company. Dissatisfied with their explanation, I canceled the service. Alternatives unexplored. Now I just don't have internet.)

Dramatic much?

In time, I've become a little less dramatic. And more importantly, I've become a little more accepting of my own drama. I uncritically assess my time alone, even when I know some of that time would be better spent with people. I see the upside to my every over-reaction: Yes, I am impulsive. No, B doesn't always follow from A. But I can typically make right (and even better, make meaning from) any harm done.

When I think about nearly-sober Anna, my heart breaks a little. Not because she didn't have many real friends. Not because she was bored at her job. Not even because she was still drinking. I'm sad because she hadn't quite learned who she was, let alone learned to enjoy that person. She readily accepted feedback from others that she was "not enough" or "too much." And she accepted it because she was telling herself the same thing.

In a life propped up by drinking, there is very little autonomy. I must trust you because I can't trust me. In a very literal way, you remember who I am, who I was, what I said last night - and I don't.

I'm reminded of a favorite passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

"The more we become willing to depend upon a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. Therefore dependence, as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit."

This, I have found to be true. This is what keeps me plugged-in to my recovery program. The teachings aren't perfect, and neither of course are the people. Independence is what I wanted in sobriety, and slowly, independence - the ability to say I am enough, regardless of who agrees - is what I've gained.

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