I’ve always wanted to be liked.
No, that’s not exactly true.
I’ve always wanted to be your favorite. Everyone’s favorite. All the time.
I could quickly read people and become the friend they were looking for, editing my likes and dislikes in accordance with their opinions. I could be funny, serious, the star, second fiddle, whatever the situation called for. I preferred being the person you wanted me to be rather than risk being myself. Why? Because I knew if you discovered the depth of my addictions, you’d be revolted. You’d recoil. You’d leave.
I had a wonderful husband, beautiful home, successful career, and new car. My carefully crafted image had to be upheld, precarious though it was. I hid my shameful secrets for years, until the pain of living with addiction became worse than the fear of others finding out about my addiction. There, in that tiny crack of grace, I somehow found enough courage to ask for help.
These People Are Losers
When I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I drove around the block three times and then parked out of sight. Still, 11 years later, I can’t believe I actually walked through the door. I had a crippling addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, shopping, and prescriptions, and I could not believe that anyone—anyone—had ever done the despicable things I had done.
To cope, I looked for all of the ways I was different from the people sitting in the group, counting them off in my head: She’s way worse than I am. I never did that. I cannot believe she is wearing overalls. Who wears overalls? Get it together, lady.
The Enemy wanted me to leave and distracted me from getting healthy with such self-righteous thinking: These people are losers. If I stay here, I’ll become a loser too.
After weeks of treating meetings like a social event where my primary purpose was to be the prettiest girl in the recovery room, I realized I had stopped drinking, but not much else had
changed. I was still an emotional train wreck. Another woman with plenty of sober time took mercy on me, pulled me aside, and offered me life-changing insight. “Stop comparing your story to theirs and start identifying their feelings with yours,” she told me. “There is a difference between ‘not drinking’ and ‘living sober.’ Now come sit next to me.”
For the first time, I really started listening. I quickly recognized that I wasn’t that different from the other men and women in the group. No, I had never driven drunk with my kids in the car like one of the other women, but it was because I hadn’t had children yet, not because I was such an upstanding drunk! If I fell back into alcohol and drugs I know I probably would—even today—drive drunk with my kids. It breaks my heart to even write that sentence, but it’s the truth.
It is only because other people in recovery revealed their deepest darkest secrets that I know where the depths of my drinking could take me if I chose to use again, even after all of these years. I learned not to look down my nose at the mom who could have killed her kids, but instead to thank her for her honesty. Her transparency means I, too, don’t have to hide my secrets. Together, we can support, encourage, and keep each other on a sober path. “Yes! Yes! Yes! Me too!” is how I feel at meetings today.
No matter who you are or what you’ve done, it is possible to break free.
But you can’t do it alone.
He Met Me
We are designed to live in community—we’re even designed to suffer in community. Jesus wasn’t crucified in a private valley away from prying eyes, but instead on a hill in plain sight. He wanted to make sure we knew he understood the depths of human suffering and despair—that pain is not the end of the story.
Jesus met me exactly where I was: standing on the corner of desperation and despair, a drink in my hand, when he whispered, This isn’t working.
I didn’t “get myself together” before he granted me mercy. How could I? I had a God-shaped hole I kept trying to fill with alcohol, drugs, porn, shopping, food, and fantasy when the only
thing that would ever fit there was God. He set the wheels of recovery into motion, even though it took me years to give him the credit. I wish I had known sooner that I could cry out, “Jesus, I am so ashamed! I am in so much pain! I am so afraid!” instead of trying to fix myself with another self-help book, exercise, philosophy, or good intention. I learned the hard way I was too broken to fix myself. I needed help, both human and divine.
Facing Myself . . . with Others
Over the years I have benefitted from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, women’s retreats, sponsorship, physicians’ care, and professional therapy. I have learned that if alcoholism is the root of my problem, then food, sex, money, shopping, flirting, lying, and pornography are its branches.
Addiction is about trying to manage self-hatred. Yes, very biological elements play an important part in how and why we end up at the end of our rope, but what every unhealthy
behavior has in common is self-loathing. How we choose to comfort ourselves varies, but the pain and shame are parallel. I weighed my addictions against every other facet of my life and
could only come to one undeniable conclusion: I was a lost cause. I was in a constant battle between my heart’s cry for help and my mind’s demand for silence. I needed people who understood how to live sober, present, and functioning one day at a time, and who could teach me to do the same.
Hope for the Once Hopeless
I’d resisted help for so long because the idea of facing my demons was terrifying. But addiction is treatable. There are tools to help you live a happy, healthy life once you name your problems, admit your fear, and ask for help. It’s our secrets that keep us ashamed, scared, and sick! I learned that the first step in shattering our secrets is walking through the doors of a recovery group.
Going to recovery meetings gave me the relief of knowing other “normal” women and men who shared the same struggles. These strangers could articulate all the things I had been feeling for years but had no words to express. Sitting in group therapy, I found the kinship I had always longed for. My incomprehensible feelings finally had a language, as well as a system of strategies I could use to deal with my addictions, obsessions, fear, and shame. Strangers had offered me the homecoming that had eluded me my whole life.
There will never be enough alcohol, food, sex, or shopping to cure what ails me. I cannot fix my childhood, bring my parents back from the dead, or repair the irreparable with a gin and tonic (or 20). But there is hope for the once-hopeless me. It has been possible to change. It is possible for me, and you, to live a life that is happy, joyous, and free.
I’m not downplaying anyone’s personal pain or struggle. Facing addiction and seeking help is not easy. But I don’t want anyone to die, as I was so close to doing, from a self-diagnosed case of terminal “uniqueness.” All you need is to want to get better just a little more than you want to die. There, grace will appear.
Helen Coronato is a TCW regular contributor as well as a non-fiction author and a homeschooling mom of two boys. Check out her projects and connect at HelenCoronato.com.