When it comes to addiction, it’s always the little things that remind us. They remind us to refocus ourselves. They remind us of memories that frankly, we would rather not be reminded of. They remind us to pay attention and put in the work to maintain sobriety. But most of all, they remind us that our addictions will always be with us, that we will never be completely free of them, no matter how much time has passed.
I say this because I’ve been neglecting my sobriety when it comes to blogging. But a couple of things have happened recently that have refocused my attention on being sober, so bear with me, and I’ll let y’all into the mind of a recovering alcoholic.
Event one: While I was in treatment, I started having dreams about using. I’ve never really had nightmares, so to wake up in a cold sweat and unable to catch my breath was new to me. I soon found out these events have a name: relapse dreams. And they are very common. Even two nights ago, 14 months into sobriety, I had one and it was just as terrifying, just as vividly real as the first one I ever had. I always bolt up in bed, heart pounding, hating myself for relapsing, until I realize I didn’t. It was just a dream. In a way I am thankful for these reoccurring dreams because they allow me a glimpse of what it would be like if I really did relapse. And I can tell you confidently, that is not something I ever want to experience.
Event two: I babysat last night while the parents went out for drinks and the kids were both asleep. I sat on the couch reading, with a billion cases of beer staring me down. The sheer amount of alcohol in their house astonished me – not because I was judging them, just because I haven’t been left alone with that amount of alcohol in all of my sobriety. I felt like I was breaking some rule about being sober. I know myself well enough to know I can handle it, and absolutely zero part of me considered even drinking a drop, but I still felt like I was doing something wrong when I opened the mini fridge in attempt to find something, anything, without alcohol. I finally came across a lime sparkling water, the label of which I read and reread about five times to make sure it was alcohol free. And even so, I took a sip and momentarily flipped out because of the lime tint to it. But fear not, even after a sip the label still just said sparkling water.
Event three: After work today I stopped at WaWa to grab a drink before heading to the library to take my midterm. Without really thinking, I grabbed a raspberry lemonade, biked over to the library, set up for the test and cracked open the lemonade. I took a huge swig, ready to tackle 50 bio questions – then my brain started screaming at me. Sidenote: more often than not when drinking, I would drink raspberry Burnett’s or chase shots with Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade – which ironically, was also served at the cafeteria of the center where I went for treatment. I made the mistake of drinking it there once, otherwise I haven’t attempted to drink it for the past 14 months. I guess I wasn’t making that connection when I grabbed the lemonade.
I wouldn’t call these events “triggers” in the sense that they trigger a craving, but more in the sense that they trigger a lot of feelings and memories I’ve tried to leave in the past.
I bring these events up specifically because of how minuscule they are in a normal person’s world – going to bed at night, grabbing a beverage to hydrate. But in an addict’s world, it’s the small actions like this that can set off a string of memories associated with our use.
For example, the reason I hate the smell of raspberry: when I smell it, all I can think of is St. Patties Day of my freshman year of college, because somehow a bottle spilled on my purse (probably more like in my purse) and just permeated it for the rest of, well, forever. This night was also the first time I ever blacked out, during which I hit my ex-boyfriend. Needless to say, the smell does not dredge up pleasant memories. Quite the contrary: it brings back memories and actions that mortify me. But the reality is that I will probably never be able to smell/drink anything raspberry without thinking of March 17, 2012.
Every addict has their raspberry, their March 17. And really, all we can do when we get caught in those vivid memories, these flashbacks to our use, is refocus ourselves on the here and now. The fact is, we are sober for a reason. A smell or a taste does not hold the power to make us feel like that sobriety has been taken from us. We have to view reliving a difficult memory simply as a way of keeping us grounded in the present.