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.
When I walked in the room and eyes fluttered my way,
And my ears turned red,
I remember today,
How it felt to feel naked and be scared of the world.
In a place long ago, before I had grown in
I place my finger on the memory that bleeds so badly.
It gushes and gushes with remembrance I no longer wish to hold
Even though I know I have stored it away,
but not for long.
I will use it against you
when you threaten those things,
When you threaten me for death and even for living.
That doesn’t scare me, don’t be so bullheaded.
I may take a lot of things and place them under my hat,
Even though it is falling apart.
So what I ask is this: What is the idea?
When I am all huddled and frightened of things
That happened in dreams, and places that don’t touch me.
What is it then that holds onto my wrist and measures my size?
Only because that’s what I like to do,
You can find it queer but at least I’m not the one who thinks highly of himself.
I take a needle to my eye and draw within it the thread
That I have sewn and cared for and created for so long.
I tie it in a knot around the things I have seen,
Those are held in a place in the dark corners of being.
Through the tunnel out of hazel that you didn’t see coming
is when you’ll be slapped in the face
for questioning the things that you have.
Like the pretty questions of who is sleeping there
and how can I get away with such things.
Well, do not ponder for long on the ideas
I have held in a pocket in my pants that fit all too tightly.
Isn’t that what you wanted?
A simple reprieve…
How about the book written about the secrets of you and me?
Thank me now for not being a blabbermouth
And respect the fact that I hide in your lies;
behind the new girlfriends but before the story of your drinking.
Keep it all in order, and it will all be okay.
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.
It’s a sad truth that through our lives, as we construct the building blocks of memories in an ever-changing landscape, that the scenery starts to change. We don’t expect for these foundations to slowly fade away; until one day they are no more than wisps of nothing.
I miss the beach off the gravel track, with the morbid nickname. The river water would do its delicate dance, lapping at the edges of the world as our footsteps found their way.
I miss the tunnel that never ends. In the darkness, when we all grab hands and run until our lungs could burst with the urgency of it all; and the echoes fly around like birds in the sky.
I miss the hidden field, where cars and bikes and civilization couldn’t reach. The warm sun beating down on the soft grass or lying back on the blanket to count the stars winking back at us like old friends.
I miss the skeleton houses on the lake, decrepit and old and filled with the lives of people before. Where we would climb over nature to snap the best photo shots and zoom in on these forgotten homes.
I miss the spot under the bridge, where the colors splashed across the canvas with purpose and meaning. And our fingertips turned blue from the paint, but it was ok because we were creating our own worlds.
I miss the ledge that overlooked the city most of all. Where I spent so many nights sleeping, and talking, and dreaming, and exploring, and fighting, and loving, and hoping. And while I knew the nooks and crannies of the city below, from up above I still felt the magic of possibility.
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.
The parting water sweeps the skin
Churns angrily in the night
Melt away with me, the stars have shown their spite
The crowds yell out to us now
Calling for consummation on the drive.
Hold onto me then, I will lead you through the light.
The scales draw out the blood now
It’s almost time to drink
Trickle with the sweat snow, tell the brain not to think
Dilate your senses baby
We’re almost on the brink
Allow the darkness to swallow you
I am right here at your side
Hunt the gods in me babe
The only law we must abide
Do not allow your frame to slip away
Be afraid, hold onto me then, swallow your goddamn pride
Paint the sand tonight with your fingertips
Then desecrate the bride
Let’s leave our mark on the world honey
Let us go cause a riot
Run through trees and dive off cliffs
Perhaps we may take flight
Recognize yourself in me
You really ought to try
Hold onto me then, I will lead you through the fire
Salty tears of the lust run down my face
Figure out the plan for us before time slips away
Run into the streets with me, I will win the race
The belt tightens, deathly like
And we’re gone without a trace
Hold onto me then, I will lead you through the lace
Ring the bell of mercy baby
Cry out in the angst
Force your voice to be heard
So everyone may have a taste
The worst is yet to come for us
If we fail to move with haste
Hold onto me then, baby, I will lead you through the waste
Come on honey, let’s face the truth
As it crowds underneath your soul
Realize your lost to young, your dug into a hole
Twice around the wrist now baby
Go on and measure its size
Hope is all that we have left, are you ready for the surprise
Hold onto me then, baby, I will lead you through demise.
I can look back at my life in pieces, and see the rollercoaster that time has taken me on; the ups and downs throughout my adolescence and twenties that brought me to where I am today. It’s a difficult reflection for me, thinking about who I was in the past.
People tell you that after your 18th birthday, after your 21st birthday, after your 25th birthday, years will just start to slip away, and that time will disappear on you in a flash. All of these years are ingrained in my memory, to the best of their ability considering the circumstances – and my love of alcohol.
The thing that no one can prepare you for is how to handle and fix your life if you’re losing your mind. No one has a guide for you for how to ask for help, especially in cases that aren’t cut and dry. If you aren’t an addict, or a constant danger to yourself, then as an adult it is difficult for outside people, even your family, to know that everything, including your mind, could be crumbling around you.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this back then. I thought I was just a girl who liked to have just a little too much fun. When you’re in college, that’s seemingly acceptable, even when your grades suffer a little because of it. I didn’t realize then that alcohol and the constant partying was simply a form of self-medication, and a tool that my mind was using against me. And even though my loved ones were a little worried about the recklessness – what could they do?
I wish I knew then what I know now. It has been a little over a year since my diagnosis with bipolar disorder, and even though I still don’t fully understand it, I have studied it enough to trace its destructive path throughout the chaos of my life. The ups, downs and the plateaus have all started to come together and make sense; it’s as though I could paint my life as a self-portrait of how the disorder has affected my adult life thus far.
And, of course, it doesn’t stop there. There have also been long-time body issues such as body dysmorphia along with binge-eating and food restriction over the years, on top of an abuse of alcohol and other issues of excess. My body has spent years racked with guilt and anxiety over ideas that are either created in my head, or that are insignificant to begin with. My fear has allowed me to distance myself from friendships, ruin relationships and test my commitment to my family.
Today, I am managing my illness, and since I have begun the journey of recovery, my life has improved exponentially. I have been able to allow myself to experience life more socially, I have improved relationships with family members and friends, I am in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, I am finally pursuing the last leg towards my bachelor’s degree, I am working towards body positivity and am making headway in my career.
And it’s been like this for a year now. Most of the time, I am taking small steps forward, but occasionally take giant steps back. I still feel anxious enough to want to stay home from work sometimes, or hide out from people and avoid conversations, but most of the time I’m at least able to push through the rough days – and at least my head is a lot clearer now. That’s all apart of recovery though, and part of the learning curve…give and take.