To understand my commitment to awareness I have to start with all the time spent avoiding feeling. Like someone who’d grown up in a dark room not knowing what colors are, that’s how I was about my own feelings. Cut off from the neck down. Understanding feelings in theory, but never fully allowing myself to feel them.
This blindness began long before my addiction took hold, it goes back to my early childhood. I was a sensitive child not allowed to feel. Sensitive people, (which I’m starting to believe is all of us) have it hard in this broken world. Crying, in my house, was seen as a nuisance. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” I would hear, when I was looking for comfort. I internalized that advice, and turned against my pain.
It wasn’t until I started this journey towards awareness that I realized how cut-off I had become from my grief.
I learned early that my emotional needs might not be met — either by an emotionally absent father, or a resentful and exhausted mother. Nor by a brother who in learning to navigate his own sensitivity would eventually shut me out of his young life. Or another brother who would leave when I was still a child. As the youngest, my voice wasn’t heard.
And it wasn’t heard by my community. A small southern town, disowning of anything different or strange. It was no place for a queer young woman, struggling to figure out where her creative and sensitive soul could softly land. I remember a lot of rejection, of people just wishing I would conform, and when I didn’t — shutting me out. After graduating high school early, I vowed to leave and never come back.
So what did I learn? I learned to armor up. I learned that feelings were dangerous. I learned that vulnerability led to pain. And I learned to drink.
Instead of opening up to what was in me, and longing to come out, I stuffed it. I denied it for long enough, that I forgot. My identity changed. I became the girl who didn’t need anyone. The cold one. The one who could drop people and never look back. I was indestructible. I rejected people before they had a chance to reject me.
When you’re armored, no one can get in. Even the ones that are good. Even the people you want to let in. When you’re in hiding, you’re safe, but you’re all alone.
Johann Hari says that “the opposite of addiction is connection.” When I first heard that a few years ago, it made perfect sense to me. I remember the first time I got drunk and the falling away of that armor. I felt lighter. I wasn’t worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. It was such a relief. I distinctly remember a voice deep within me saying “I need this.”
I did need that freedom, the voice was right. But I didn’t need a drug to get me there. It would take me almost 20 years to realize that truth. But I get it now. Now I have a commitment to my feelings, to my sensitivity, to my body.
This space is where I’m going to start sharing that work. The path I took on that journey. The tools I found along the way. It’s my hope that you might find something here that helps you too. We can walk together.