Prologue

Winter.

The sharp shriek of rubber off the barely lit linoleum floor takes me back 3 years in time as suddenly as it pierces the almost silence and fades away as just as swiftly. That and the smell.

The mustiness in the air of the center. Or the center of the air. The passages now almost dark as the group drifts out in ones and twos or more. Voices hushed to respectful whispers or guilty mumbles revealing their time and place.

I walk alone, head down, shoulders slightly and inevitably hunched, avoiding eye contact and the conversation that may ensue out of innocent camaraderie for our similarities and not our differences. It is something that is almost bound to happen as, here, the newcomer comes first and it’s been long enough since I have walked these halls sharing my experience strength and hope with the wide-eyed recently found for me not to recognize and to not be recognized, in this area of town, at a gathering such as this.

I wonder briefly what happened to the others met here and almost befriended some years before and I hope in silent secrecy that they are safe. How did I end up here again?

I am thinking this to myself as I tread lightly, to still more sound, down the wide double staircase, also linoleum sealed and shiny even in the dimness of these passages. The entire building. So clean. So attempted sterile. But with a grim, hard polished worn exterior and that sharp, musty smell filling everything up to even the high ceilings.

The community center is cold at night and I hunch my shoulders further as I finally step out into the car park carefully avoiding eye contact with the here socially acceptable huddle of smokers already lit up and eyeing me curiously as I slip past and make for my car. There to light up alone and in relieved silence. I have heard it said that you reach a stage in recovery when a meeting every day won’t cut it anymore and that you’re only okay when you’re on a 12 step call. I guess I have arrived at this juncture on the journey.

My musing on how did I get here again has little to do with drugs and alcohol this time. It’s the wondering of how a life that had taken 3 odd years to rebuild with hard effort; a lot of sacrifice; grit; determination and a barrel of courage could have been burned to the ground again in less than 2 years. And by life I mean myself more than the material stuff.

How could I end up seeking these rooms again after everything I thought I had learned? How, even after knowing everything I think I know about them and the strangers that come to the meetings inside… how could I still feel so fucking alone?

I’m relieved to be inside of the car. I’m relieved to be able to light a cigarette in the dark cosy warmth of the space and fire up the engine feeling like I have some small bit of control over something at least. The sound system lights up as well as I move off, seemingly cool or trying to seem cool, into the busy suburb.

I’m almost at peace now. I will be for a bit. I always feel this way when I leave a meeting. A sense of calm. More grounded. As though I am moving forward in a right direction even though I came to these meetings for multiple years and never really moved that far towards right as it turned out. I cleaned up though. I cleaned out a bit as well and even earned a modicum of respect from the people in my circles and perhaps from myself at times. Hell. I even began to like myself a bit more.

I drive out into the pumping Friday night venue district and find my turn on to the double lane highway that leads South. The lights of the city always turn me on at night. I get a rush from the colours of the dark and the way that they blur as I travel. Looking over the landscape of them all multicoloured golds and whites and seeing them stretch unendingly across and into the horizon. I imagine the many lives and scenarios playing out at this exact moment all together yet completely unaware that they are being watched and thought of. The buzz is palpable in my mind and this shape-shifts me from lost and lonely into lone wolf as I move through the night, happy solo now, with the option of any destination I so choose. It’s a brief 20 minutes of enjoying the sense of freedom and its possibilities until I arrive home.

Home. It doesn’t sound right even as I think it.

I have never had a place feel like what I would call home. Here I turn down the music as I approach the double gunmetal security gate and hit the green button on the remote to command it to open for me. Control again. Keep it down. Don’t bother the neighbours. Don’t make a scene. Don’t stand out. Don’t let people talk. I can feel myself pulling up the well-practiced defenses and shutting myself up, even as the gate shuts itself up, rumbling to a close behind me.

I’m in the thick of the suburbs. Somewhere I never saw myself living. And somewhere I definitely don’t see myself dying. Although this is currently a possible reality if I don’t get my shit together fast. It’s not alcohol and drugs anymore. Now it’s me. It always was. The substances were the easy part.

No. This isn’t home. This is a pit stop. I’m not going to fucking die here. Unless it’s by my own hand. And still. Not here. But it is a roof. For now.

Hitting a Friday night meeting in a dodgy area over 20 mins drive from “home” may well be seen as the much talked about “gift of desperation” so often heard in over earnest shares in recovery. I get it though. It rings true. It sure as hell did for me when I finally made it through the doors the first time. I was on-my-knees desperate and I would have done anything that was suggested to me to find relief.

But it was relief from the isolation and despair that I was seeking the most – which is the final residing place of addiction in its various guises – or the damage that feeds the monster in truth. And it was in those rooms that I first, honestly, felt like I was “home” in a very long time – if ever.

The drugs and the alcohol were easy to quit as it turned out with the support and guidance from people who had walked a similar path. Bar the inevitable initial social awkwardness at parties, and the also inevitable early silent retreat to avoid dealing with the enthusiastic drunken revelers as they descended into what they thought were younger, sexier or funnier versions of themselves – or all three. So yes – there was loneliness in sobriety as well. But I chose that. I chose to walk in two worlds of people, places and things and I have never committed myself to any group in particular.

I have moved between environments and changed myself to suit different situations finding it easy to become whatever me I needed to to be accepted in any given circumstance. Never getting close enough or staying long enough to ever really be known. I had become somewhat of a master of disguise in my later years. So it went to follow that I refused to commit to a 12 step group as well. I’m not big on groups and group dynamics. The dynamics in my own family were enough to put me off this permanently. I prefer my space. I prefer the silence that solitude brings. I prefer variety and inspiration and the new. Routine frightens me somewhat and responsibility, perhaps, even more. In all likelihood because I take it far too seriously.

No. I prefer to move at my own pace in my own time and when I want to. I prefer to keep my options open about where and when I want to be. I’m comfortable with and used to walking through the world this way now even if that is not my heart’s desire. It’s simpler most of the time. And it is often easier – for me.

But even with this mindset and my appreciation of solitude, I found early recovery lonely. Over the years, however, I did build up a network of cool mostly sober friends and cool sober friends in recovery. I was actively involved in the program and doing service in H&I at a local treatment facility once a week. I had 3/4 sponsees and my own sponsor to see to keep me sane in an insane world. But on top of all of this I was, first and foremost, the proud mother of two incredible humans and a single mom (then twice divorced) to boot, who worked full-time self-employed – so a solid amount of overtime was worked as well. That was often my addiction more than my recovery though. The work. A good place to hide if you’re half decent at what you do during office hours.

So how the hell did I end up here again? Seemingly back to square one and as confused, isolated and as full of despair as the first time I walked into these rooms and finally and first time asked for help? Feeling completely alone. Again. Worse this time, as I regretted a life that I had abandoned, when the first time I had abandoned the life I was living I had only felt incredible relief.

It all began with a question. An idea. A wondering. Curiosity. Stubbornness. And possibly the desire to return to an earlier version of life and myself when I was happy and could use alcohol and drugs successfully.

I have many ideas and many questions. I’m a creative. I like to imagine the possibilities. I like to learn. I like to understand the whys? But somewhere along my journey on the planet I had stopped asking – anything – and for anything. Perhaps knowing that there were simply never going to be answers to the questions that intrigued me the most made me give up asking entirely. Along with the fear of more disappointment. And underneath it all, the inherent belief that I was not worthy to even ask of and for these things. Still unacknowledged. Still unaware of the fullness of this.

I had submitted to a kind of consensual limbo normal simply because it was safe and I was terrified of making another enormous mistake at the age that I had managed to reach despite my best efforts. But then this question. Or idea, really. It was a possibility that intrigued me. And this possibility and the asking was the thing that, ultimately, changed my world in a way that I would have probably taken back if I had had the opportunity to do so at many moments along the unfolding of the answers to it. Or at least at once for sure.

But that would have kept me asleep and I was in a dream that was not worth living. Which is probably why I was looking around for answers in the first place without even knowing what I was asking in full.

The question: Can complex trauma and the often resulting symptom of addiction be healed?

Well. I have found freedom. Be careful what you wish for – because you always get it.

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