addiction never goes away, it just lies dormant {real talk}

black hair on the green grass

Regardless of how much time clean you have, relapsing is always as easy as moving your hand to your mouth.Seth Mnookin

Oh, do I know this all too well. There was a time when it was rare to find me photographed without a drink in my hand. An evening would start one way and end differently. I’d walk into therapy a bottle of wine in, and my therapist would tap her pen and ask that we reschedule our session because I wasn’t fit to carry a conversation. I was always in control until I wasn’t, and then I’d cower and hide and wake to an ocean of shame and regret. For over a decade I cleaved to the drink, sought it out as a confidant, best friend, sister, mother and refuge. It was the one constant, the one who would never leave, and I was faithful to my lover, kept it warm, tended to it as one would tend to a child or a beloved. I was disciplined; I had a set of rules to which I followed like scripture: light drinking during the week (with minor exceptions), all work must been done well and perfectly, and as a result the weekend would be my reward. Friday would start with one drink and I’d wake Sunday morning wondering how it is that I got this lost. Would I ever find my way back home?

Home is a tricky word for me, because as a child my family was nomadic. We moved frequently, and it was such that home became a place where mail was forwarded. Home was not a refuge, but a prison, with the shades pulled down and the windows whitewashed shut. For most of my life, I was surrounded by addicts — an aunt, a local congenial junkie we called Uncle Sam, my mother, her husband (my step-father, the man she married before she met the man whom I would for the rest of my life call my father) and scores of people that wove in and out of our lives like spools of thread, taking tokes, bumps, hits, sips, until they themselves were lost.

I took my first drink when I was a small child — all in an effort to get my mother’s attention at a party. Everything I’ve ever done in my life has been an effort to get my mother’s attention. She’s that great specter who will always linger, whether or not I want her to. And although I’ve closure with the fact that it’s impossible for me to love her, it’s impossible for us to have any sort of relationship (she in Long Island with her daughter and partner, me here), this first and forever hurt lies dormant. I’m writing a novel now and I can’t seem to write a relationship between a mother and daughter that is healthy. Fathers are forever absent or weak, feeble. Mothers are the queen of the kingdom, the source of pain and heartbreak.

Even now. Even still.

It would be foolish to blame a decade-long binge on my mother. She was certainly a trigger, my inability to mourn losing her didn’t help, but I take responsibility for what I’ve done as an adult, and how I’ve allowed her to impact my life. I remember being a child and putting my face in her hair, wanting to forever get lost in the thicket of it, and I sometimes dream of it, of her, and wanting so much for our world to be different.

But it isn’t, and that’s just reality. And so I deal with that. I cope with not having any form of relationship with her because I can’t, because she’s a real trigger. Because her mere presence, her voice, threatens my health and wellbeing as I know it. A few years ago, when we had attempted a reconciliation, which invariably failed for many reasons that I won’t recount here, she laughed and asked that I write a book about her, a book about her life. In response, I deadpanned that every single word I’ve ever written has been about her. She spoke of our mutual addictions as a badge of honor, went as so far to romanticize it, and I paused and said that there’s nothing beautiful about the dark. It’s cold, lonely, and a disease that has a way of killing everything in its wake. While I’m absolutely not ashamed of my addiction — hence the reason why I write about it so publicly, talk about it so openly, because there should be no shame or stigma, for it’s a disease — I sure as hell am not going to make it a fucking sonnet.

When I heard the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I cried. Clearly I don’t know the actor (save for a few emails traded years ago with his assistant, as I learned he admired a literary journal I published), but I not only mourned the loss of a great light, I was momentarily terrified over his span of sobriety and his swift relapse. Up until this year, I had been nearly seven years sober. This photo you see here was taken a year into my sobriety and I felt triumphant. As the years passed, it became easier to not drink. It was simply a choice I made. You either live your life or you let the drink live your life. I endured a lot of stress and change, but did not drink. I endured the emergence of my mother after a fourteen-year absence, but did not drink. I thought I was home free, as it were.

Then I lost Sophie. And I told myself {god, in hindsight I have to laugh at the logic!} that I was diagnosed as a binge drinker, not an alcoholic, and that I can drink! It was possible! I just have to be aware of the circumstances!

Perhaps starting up again after a loss may not have been my finest moment. It should be said that I don’t cope with loss well. I don’t like a leaving.

And then I started to notice changes, a behavior that wasn’t there seven years ago. Very clear signs of alcoholism. My very close circle grew quiet, yet supportive when I announced I was drinking again. I know part of them must have been terrified but they didn’t show it. They were cautious, perhaps hopeful, because they believed like I did, that I knew the life I’d left behind, and why would I ever voluntarily return to that dark country?

Umm, because I have a disease, and it took a two-month relapse this summer to realize that. It took a relapse for me to realize that I can never be the person who has a glass of wine after work. I can never drink casually. I can never drink. Six months later, I’m finally okay with this fact, and I’m finally finding tools to deal with loss.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing reminds me that addiction is a real disease; it’s a lover who refuses to leave. It lies dormant, sessile, innocuous, and resurfaces when it gets the scent of weakness, of doubt, of I can have one drink, hit, toke, sniff, hit. His passing makes me realize that it’s important for us to live our best life. It’s important that we chose life every single damn day.

If I can offer you any truth it’s this: don’t be afraid to talk about your addiction. Don’t hide it. Don’t be ashamed of it. The more you say its name, the more power you have over it, and the more you can lean on others to support you through it.

9 thoughts on “addiction never goes away, it just lies dormant {real talk}

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Felicia. Addiction is such a tough thing, I am planning to very soon write a post on it myself from the point of the view of when I used to work as a pharmacist and treated addicts. I too was very saddened by the death of Hoffman but will choose to remember him for his talent and all the greatness he brought to the world. I wish you courage and strength.

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  2. Addiction is a disease and it amazes me how judgmental some adults can be. Hoffman’s death hit me hard. I had to stay off social media because I had no patience for the cruel comments and jokes about his death.

    It’s not easy to be so open about one’s demons. Thank you for writing about your own struggles.

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  3. Thank you for sharing. My husband has been clean for 17 years and Hoffman’s death shook him deeply, and opened up some real and hard conversations this weekend. Ones we’ve had in theory before, but that took shape this time. It just takes one slip. And I pray that he never takes it.

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  4. You’re gorgeous and this is gorgeous. Your writing strikes me every time! The talk about the relationship with your mother makes me realize how much I take for granted my relationship with my mother. Thanks for the wake-up call (because I need those badly every once in awhile).

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