Emotional Vacancy

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A review of relationships post-addiction.

I’ve heard for most of my life that when you finally quit an addiction, you pick up another. People can drop cigarettes but pick up subconscious eating. It can even be positive. You may stop eating like shit and start working out more. And for a long time, I thought I wasn’t addicted to alcohol anymore. But I need to go back a bit.

I’ll give the cliff notes version of my early twenties. When I was 19, I met a girl while I was away at college. Hindsight would tell me later that it was my first love, and that when she broke up with me, it was my fault. And as that wave of realization crept from my heart to my head, I started to spiral. I started taking antidepressants and, as I turned 21, started to combine the medicine with alcohol. I stopped taking the antidepressants when my prescription ran dry, but the damage had been done. From then to about 24, my life was a sad mixture of drunken nights, confused understanding about what was wrong with me and relationships that I wasn’t ready to be in.

My addiction is insidious, designed particularly for me.

My addiction to alcohol isn’t the one portrayed in television and movies. Some might call me a high-functioning alcoholic. I wasn’t sitting at the bar every night, alone, drinking until I couldn’t see and then waking up to do it all again the next night (although that happened on occasion). My addiction is insidious, designed particularly for me. It is a sickness that crawled into a crevasse in my brain and molded itself to become undetectable, a part of me. I spent so many years wondering what was wrong with me because I couldn’t see it, no matter how long I stared at my reflection.

My addiction is drinking alone in my room when I was at home or in college. It’s drinking to blackout at parties because I’m not comfortable in those situations. And the most dangerous aspect, it’s drinking to blackout in public at crowded bars and clubs. Add in the challenge of getting home after you’re already gone, and it led to a situation where I should have been arrested.

Long story short, I got drunk at a bar. My friends decided to go to another bar that I didn’t want to go to, so I stayed, got more drunk, then tried to leave. I drove around the parking garage, lost on how to leave, until a cop stopped me and realized I was drunk. Somehow, he only took my keys and told me to call my friends to come pick me up.

My friends didn’t answer so I leaned myself against the wall and drifted between consciousness for what felt like hours, at some point throwing up on myself. It was closer to an hour and a half. When my friend finally called me back, he came and picked my keys and I up and I crashed at his place. I only called him because he had been out with me that night. I couldn’t call anyone else because of shame. I couldn’t imagine having that conversation with my parents, or someone who knew better. In that moment, I felt like a peer would be the only person not to judge me. And I’m still ashamed of it today.

I was allowing the darkness to consume me and the demons to run rampant in my mind.

My drinking problem bled into every relationship I tried to pursue. The women never knew, no one did. Or they did and never said anything. Even when I explained to my mom recently about how I struggled with alcohol in the past, she was surprised (I couldn’t go into details). I was leading two lives, one where I was pretending to have my shit together and the drunken mess I had become. And most of the time, I was pretending. At work, when I was with my significant other, any time I wasn’t drinking, I looked the part. I had a decent job despite not having a degree and all seemed to be going according to plan.

But when I drank (which wasn’t every day), I was myself. I’m not addicted to the alcohol, I’m addicted to the escape. The relief it brings to the misery I was experiencing when left to my own devices. I was allowing the darkness to consume me and the demons to run rampant in my mind. I wouldn’t realize it until later, but I was a shell of a person during this time. Or, I was an unaware shell. I would argue there’s still a part of me missing, but I’m more conscious of it.

I was (and may still be to a degree) emotionally vacant. That’s what alcohol took from me. It deadened my senses until I felt nothing. It fed that addiction that had burrowed its way into my brain, allowing it to sustain there, doing nothing but destroy hope. It ensured that no matter what front I put on, my relationships were dead on arrival. I wouldn’t understand why I was hurting people, I would just do things. And this isn’t to give myself an excuse, in fact its the opposite. I own that these were my issues alone. The women I dated in this stretch were phenomenal, and I do believe that, at a different stage, we would have made things work. But I also believe that everyone is in your life at the exact moment they are supposed to be.

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the theory that we all have three loves in our lives, each one for different reasons. For those unfamiliar, the first is said to be young love, the one that is idealistic and comes from fairytales. It looks right. The second love is our tough love. It’s narcissistic, unhealthy and unfair to one or both parties. It’s the love you look back on wishing it had gone right. And the third love is the one we get blindsided by. We never see it coming, and yet it feels right. My 19 year old self experienced the first, and my broken, disheveled 23 year old self experienced the second.

I fought through the surface level issues a few years ago when I started using running as a therapy, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve started digging deeper. The election in 2016 and the aftermath has kind of forced my hand in dealing with my issues. If 2018 was happening while I was in the middle of my struggles, I don’t know that I would have made it to the other side.

Alcohol has exacerbated a lot of my issues in my life. And only recently have I completely stopped drinking. I’ve found that things like meditation, consistently running, and reading and writing have proven to be just as effective an escape. It’s a process, and we’re all on our own journeys. But becoming conscious of what’s going on within you and how you handle the things that happen to you is so crucial. Unawareness may have led to years of me not being present in the life I was leading. That change in awareness likely saved my life.

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