"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I am an alcoholic. Alcoholism and mental illness are prominent in my gene pool. My early life was more about shame than love, fear than adventure, rage than peace. I spent a fair number of years in self-destructive prophecy fulfillment (if you think I'm bad, then watch this). I also spent an equal amount of time in all-out war against the demons I was born with and the ones who joined the party in childhood.

A decade in a cult was meant to cleanse and purify and set me on a path away from myself. When that didn't work I chose a life of extreme respectability: teaching, country living, a good marriage, and golden retrievers. That did work after a fashion. It worked better after I stopped drinking, although the raw ugliness exposed without alcohol to blunt the edges nearly upended even that.

I've been sober and in recovery (two very different things) for over two decades now. Long enough that when someone opens a bottle of wine and offers me a glass, I consider saying yes, because after all I'm doing so well. Surely one glass wouldn't make a difference. And I do get tired of being the different one at celebrations.

See how easy it is for the lie to worm its way back in?

Whenever a celebrity succumbs to addiction as happened in the last week, it feels like the enemy has scored another victory. I ponder that enemy a lot, although certainly more so during times like this. Whether you call it Shame or Addiction or Satan (or something else), this energy/being hates us with unfettered passion. Fame, wealth, freedom, power, intelligence, adoration—none of the things we measure success by are enough to shield us from that being for long.

I don't believe, however, that the enemy's victory is inevitable. Despite powerful lies that contain just enough truth to be difficult to refute, despite promises of erased pain, despite whispers of discontent, it is possible to stand up to the voice that is always slightly louder than the one that can truly save us.

I don't actually know what distinguishes my life as an addict from that of Philip Seymour Hoffman or Marilyn Monroe or my daughter. The one thing I do know they all had is that they were truly loved as real people by real people. And that somehow for them it wasn't enough. It seems trite to say they didn't love themselves enough, but even as I write these words, I recognize the truth in them.

For me, this war is fought day by day, hour by hour. It is fought not in direct combat, but rather by allowing the enemy full voice. I don't hide. I don't run. I don't deny. I listen. And in that Buddhist way of creating space around pain, eventually all that light and air diminish the enemy's voice.

In that sky-wide space I can hear the other. The quiet voice that speaks through the throaty hoots of owls courting in a February twilight. The steadfast hand that pushes crocuses up through frozen ground. The loving eyes that look at me from every person I'm lucky enough to call friend.

The paradox both settles me and makes me sad. It is not money or attention or being important that keep me sober or happy, although even now the temptation to believe otherwise is there. How could I not be more of everything if I had more money and freedom? Right?

The truth is, nothing in my life does more to keep me present with myself, and thus not needing the escape so tantalizingly offered by Addiction, than the grace of simple miracles. A bald eagle floating against a winter sky in the refuge. A cat purring in my lap. A dog dancing delight every single time he sees me. A gentle breeze, surprisingly warm and most certainly carrying promises that can be trusted. A husband handing over a bouquet of flowers for no reason.

All of that would be lost if I were to allow myself the indulgence of just one glass of wine (which will never be just one). Not the events. I could still have those. What I wouldn't have is the connection to them, the ability to feel them, the light they create in me and around me. I wouldn't have myself, and I would soon forget how dear that loss was.

I don't know why I'm okay and Mr. Hoffman (or any of the myriad others) is not. I wonder if he might have looked at my life and wished for something he saw there. I wonder where the turning point was, where he lost sight and hearing and hope. I wonder still those same things about Kathleen. The best I can answer for myself on this day is that it, the losing, happens one choice at a time, in the dark, in isolation. Just as victory happens one choice at a time, in the light, in full connection with our own flawed and wounded selves.


BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Just yesterday I heard myself say, "I don't know why anyone would even try heroin." I was equating that choice with a search for cheap thrills, and I was forgetting about self-loathing and addiction and darkness. You have written yet another piece of astonishing truth and beauty. Thanks for sharing this with the world.

kario said...

I think that the key here is the willingness to sit with the dark and the longing instead of covering it up with something (food, alcohol, drugs, exercise, social media). It takes a lot of will and understanding and self-love (or at least self-appreciation) to feel those ugly feelings as deeply as they come. Would that more of us were resilient enough to withstand the pain of our own shortcomings and have faith that we could come out the other side stronger and wiser. You are a testament to that, my friend.


Richard Hughes said...

The battle you face, you face alone, I think. Others can hold your hand and offer encouragement, but they cannot fight your battle. You seem to be winning, though, one day at a time. If you can hold on, you will win the war.

Retired English Teacher said...

I don't even know how to respond to one of the most beautifully written pieces on addiction and recovery I have ever read. This needs to be published. Perhaps in a journal on mental and one on addictions.

Love you, Deb. XO

lily cedar said...

"For me, this war is fought day by day, hour by hour. It is fought not in direct combat, but rather by allowing the enemy full voice. I don't hide. I don't run. I don't deny. I listen. And in that Buddhist way of creating space around pain, eventually all that light and air diminish the enemy's voice."

I could have written this myself but I'm not an alcoholic, I'm depressed. And thank you for reminding me to listen and to stop running.

I've been confused lately, for the past two years really, being told one thing but living something else. It's made me crazy and I swore this wouldn't happen again. And it did.


Linda Reeder said...

Although you are a blogging friend of mine, I don't really know you. and so i knew none of this about you, the addiction, the struggle,the reason for the death of a daughter.
I am so impressed that you can open up yourself so eloquently to the world, to share your struggle and the the way you keep going, as if on eagle's wings.

yaya said...

This is one of the most touching and truthful posts I've ever read. Jack's brother was a drug addict...many times he was in rehab...many times we cheered him on in his sobriety. However, it wasn't enough to save him. He died in 1995. I see the damage of drugs and alcohol on the human body in my work. Almost all the conditions we treat in surgery are because of addictive choices. Obesity caused by food addiction can be as bad as drug or alcohol abuse. You are such an inspiration to me. Your honesty, and strength and the beautiful gift you have to put it in writing is truly amazing. Thank you Deb. This post needs to be shared and I will pass it along.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, thank you. Everyone who's responded has said the same--that this post, so deep in its wisdom and so broad in its experience, needs to be published and passed along. I urge you to send it to one of the magazines you most respect--perhaps "The New Yorker." It would be your gift to all who are not lovely to themselves. Peace.

Anonymous said...

My only worked for Philip Syemour Hoffman, she quit for a reason..She would not be bullied by him, she knew him as an addict, somedays he was nice & pleasant, most days he bullied those he paid to work for him..My only thought I don't need this type of treatment at all, he adored her but she not of him..When I heard the news of his demise I knew he lost his fight with Heroin, it is horrible! He has a partner of 15 years, 3 children who will never know their own father much, my only said his partner was lovely and his Mother too whom it gave his Oscar speech about when he won for Capote..His oldest child my only said was spectacular and the baby too, the middle girl too shy to say much..Now left fatherless..It is an insidious disease that and alcoholism which runs in our family, we NEVER DRINK AT ALL, our only NEVER DRINKS AT ALL, you cannot start something you know destroyed your grandfather and many uncles and cousins, no you simply cannot do that..Our only is happier than most people she knows that life is totally fragile many lose their lives to addictions, our society doesn't teat those diseases like say cancer or heart disease..I applaud your courage and your blog for telling of your pain and your RECOVERY AND YOUR BEING SOBER...others can learn from your message, have a most wonderful year..ciao!

Mark Lyons said...

This was so powerfully and honestly written. I think this blog should be published in a journal for addiction. Thank you for sharing another part of "you" in such a beautiful way.

I love you

Mark Lyons said...

This was so powerfully and honestly written. I think this blog should be published in a journal for addiction. Thank you for sharing another part of "you" in such a beautiful way.

I love you

Midlife Roadtripper said...

Oh, my. Shame on me for not reading this until now. I don't even know how to express the power in this piece. How it so needs to be shared. How intimate, yet universal.

I've had more than a few friends who battle with addiction express their concerns, brought to light with this actor's death. But none have expressed it so deeply. You have grown so, Catbird Scout. Bravery becomes you.