Sobriety is something that has always been a struggle for me. For a long time, those around me were convinced, and were convincing me, that I was simply addicted to alcohol. And there was a problem, but it was much bigger than just addiction.
The diagnosis of being bipolar started to make everything clearer. Patterns started falling into place. The chaos that I kept spinning around me made sense all of a sudden.
I can honestly say that one of the worst things to go through is to feel yourself slipping out of control, and there’s nothing you can do to stop yourself. I am sure to those who are unfamiliar with bipolar will not understand but there are even times where I don’t realize that it’s happening.
Unfortunately, alcohol was a method that fueled this, and I gave into it for years. I drowned my sorrows and disappointments by having fun, claiming it was just a side effect of my youth and boredom from living in the Midwest.
Being trapped on this path shaped a lot of my life. I can think of lucid moments, or even larger periods of time, where I would look at myself from the outside and wonder what the hell I was doing.
Eventually, this slowed down as I become absorbed in my work, however I never fully left it behind.
In late December of 2017, I decided to stop drinking all together. There were one too many times of waking up with no memory of the night before or waking up and feeling shame because of the things I did. And most of all, now that I was on the proper medication for bipolar, all I was doing was causing it to short-circuit by drinking.
Obviously, shortly after that I found out I was pregnant. That takes drinking out of the equation completely, but I am happy that I made the decision prior to that.
I read about and follow a lot of sober success stories; people who are living with purpose and excited about the possibilities since they invested in themselves and have stayed sober. It’s always been an inspiring thing to watch. Now I have decided that I will follow the same path, because what’s more important than the health and happiness in our own lives?
Alcohol was easily defined for me as a lubricant for my social awkwardness. It started right after I graduated from high school and was forced out of my comfort zone. As I already reminisced, my freshman year found me at Eureka College. It was only a 45-minute drive from home, and with my car on campus with me I had the luxury of escaping back home. This allowed me to only approach the first year to my college experience with a ten-foot-pole.
I had a hard time connecting to people. For the first time, I was in different settings, trying different things and meeting new people. After growing up in the same town that I felt safe and comfortable, I was suddenly hit with crippling anxiety. I couldn’t just talk to new people. I couldn’t be the outgoing, fun-loving person I thought I was. Any party at school I attended, or any time I ate lunch in the cafeteria, it was like my entire body was an exposed nerve.
The comfort of alcohol was like an answer to my prayers. It literally gave proof to the term “liquid courage.” Suddenly, I was able to talk openly with people. Small talk was no longer something that left me frozen with fear.
It brought on something new that I wasn’t used to either. Most of my life, I was never the girl that stood out. I was never exactly the center of attention at parties – or most venues, for that matter. And then, thanks to alcohol, all of that changed. Laugh out loud memories, connecting with new friends and getting hit on by guys that I would have never thought.
At the time, it was fulfilling because I thought these were the types of memories I should be making. I thought that if I spent too much time alone, or being anti-social, that I was doing something wrong. And my anxiety did nothing to help with my feelings of isolation from others my age. I would spend time reading, writing or watching T.V. and wondering if I was doing enough to cultivate my social life. It was this internal struggle and my desire to fit in and – yes, I will admit it – desire for attention that pushed me even farther into the party scene.
One thing to note is that partying is not an uncommon theme from my hometown, so between my time at school and driving home to visit new groups of friends, I was pushing my own limits of what I was comfortable with on all fronts. My alcohol intake began to grow every night I drank, and then the number of nights I drank became more often each week. And so far into my experiences drinking, other than a few…. adventures I decided to go on, I was just having some harmless, young fun.
It began as harmless fun, but I clung to alcohol has the fun in my life and the only method of entertainment. By the time I got to NIU for my second year, it was a crutch that I leaned on heavily. I was able to make friends, but my focus was obviously not on my studies as I fell deeper into the bottle.
A part of me still feels like the 18-year-old girl who had the world laid at her feet, so many opportunities to choose from. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have ended up in a good spot and have finally found myself in a place where I am extremely happy. I also don’t believe in regrets — I have lived my life. I am chock full of experiences – some good, a lot of bad.
I suppose when I was 18, and I was granted the full liberty to go and do whatever I wanted, the overwhelming urge to go-go-go became a visceral need. Luckily, I was young, and surrounded by other young people growing up in a town with little entertainment to offer.
Pressure was mounting because of senior year, and the pinnacle of my life’s work – getting into a good college and making my family proud – was finally on the horizon. Never in my life did I think that I would start shrinking away from the challenge.
We were climbing in my two-door cavalier ten people at a time to go on all-night adventures, fueled by crappy Denny’s coffee and cigarettes. Hiking trips in the bright rays of the sunrise, down by the river front or up under the bridge to overlook the highway. Only wearing light hoodies, worn down moccasin shoes and our hair too disheveled for our own good – because at the time, that was what looked good, you know.
We were having too much fun running amuck to do any real damage, but there wasn’t much focus on my future or concern about anything past the night ahead. And while that worked for the time being, when it finally came time to pick a college, I used my lame relationship that would only last about a month longer as an excuse to pick a college close to the area. I even tried insisting on living at home during this time.
Lucky for me, my mom pushed me out of my comfort zone and even though I ended up at a nearby college, I did end up living in the dormitory there. It was my first college experience, but it was mine.
I know that the people in my life who maybe didn’t understand those late-night adventures with my friends during those adolescent years saw this time as “the turning point” for me. This is when I turned from the girl who barreled straight-ahead towards her future with no fear to someone who proceeded with caution, and clung to the familiar.
My dream was to always be a writer, and while I was out there living my life, and I was still writing, some might say that I wasn’t as focused as I needed to be. Some could argue that these experiences helped form me into a more well-rounded person. Experiences can help fill in some gaps, and move a person forward.
This was a time where everything was exciting to me. I started off every day feeling fabulous. I had a couple good friends who would ride-along with me, encouraging my whirlwind ideas and enjoying the late nights, heavy eyes and couch surfing.
When my high school graduation came and went, so did any sense of responsibility. Starting the night of my graduation, drinking copious amounts of liquor became my famous past time. I had made some new friends who would have everyone over to drink at their apartment regularly. This began a whole new phase for me, and if the people in my life thought I had hit a turning point before….they hadn’t seen anything yet.
A difficult part of recovery that has been a pain point for me has been how to handle drinking – particularly in social situations. I – much like others who suffer with bipolar or other mental illness – spent many years turning to self-medication via alcohol.
Nights drinking with Manic-Rikki, however, were a very different experience from anything that someone who knows me now could imagine. On a good night, I would simply collect as many people together as I could, figure out a venue for us to hang out, and let the good times ensue. Sure…it led to some wicked hangovers, but that was no harm.
There were times more often than not that have become fuzzy around the edges – of the parts I can remember at all. Dangerous choices were made, I was carefree and way too wild. I trusted the wrong people, focused on unimportant things and checked out of my out life.
It’s hard for me to think about this, admit this, or sometimes even see this in my past as it was sometimes just a collection of three days…and then I would be okay for two months. But then two weeks I would go insane. A week of depression. Then claw my way out.
And over…and over…and over…
Once I moved back home from college, there was a good four or five months of struggle before I ended up pregnant. I was shocked awake, and was lucky enough to be drawn away from everything that was feeding the chaos in my head.
After the pregnancy, I was terrified of going back to the life I once lived. I was terrified of hitting rock bottom. I no longer knew the person that was back before, but I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be. And while it was a slow slide…. I did eventually find myself back in turmoil, pouring myself into a bottle a night to tuck myself away from my problems and deal with the disappointment in myself and the loss I was feeling.
Interestingly enough, me getting a car and being hired for my first “grown up” job – in logistics – in Peoria gave me a reason to clean up my act. I was now a Monday-Friday worker, and I had a job that was somewhat challenging.
Life was exciting again!
Over the next few years, I went through phases of weekend partying, followed by months of sobriety. I couldn’t find the right mix, and would get myself so worked up that I felt the only way to have a social life was to jump back into the old one. Hell, sometimes I still feel like that.
It wasn’t until I moved out of my mother’s house, and was in a new city, with my new job that I started having to face this demon along with many others. My relationship to alcohol wasn’t one of those things that was clearly defined, or that was even harmful all the time, so it wasn’t even the star of the show for a long while. But eventually, like everything, it had to be addressed.