Today is the last day of my vacation. Five serenely sober days in Calgary, a welcome reprieve before wedding season erupts in full force and starts absorbing my time like a super sponge. I’ve sat myself down and started writing a few different pieces, but I couldn’t seem to wrap any of them up despite one of my goals for this vacation being to write, write, write.
Instead, I’ve relaxed, I’ve thought, I’ve wasted my time on Instagram (still working on that digital detox…) and I’ve drank beyond my healthy share of coffee and virgin caesar’s. I’ve been surrounded by temptation and booze and pubs and bars and not even one desire to drink (can I get a Hallelujah!?). I’ve sat at the kitchen island with friends who were sharing a growler of fancy beer that’s been aged in gin barrels for months, and have been offered mimosa’s with breakfast at restaurants and walked past what feels like four hundred liquor stores in the span of two short city blocks.
For the last two years, I’ve been hesitant to come back here.
Because the last time I was here, I did the worst thing I’ve ever done.
I’ve referred to it as the Horrible Awful and that’s exactly what it was. I was knee deep in addiction and things at home with Hubs were disintegrating in direct proportion to my drinking and fumbling attempts at escaping my reality. I searched for it at the bottom of bottles and the oblivion of blackouts, collecting anything that meant something to me like delicate eggs in the most depraved and drunken Easter Egg Hunt imaginable, placing them all in one basket and just waiting – almost wishing – for the moment when I would finally lose grip and watch it all fall and in turn, fall apart.
If my life were Humpty Dumpty, I was waiting with a bag of popcorn for his Great Fall from the wall.
I was in the final epic throws of self destruction and spent my days eluding reality. Instead of dealing with the hundreds of hot messes I’d made, I just kept making more and trying to hide them as best I could, as if I thought I could hide a pile of shit by shitting on top of it.
I booked a quick trip to Calgary for what my addict’s brain considered a healthy alternative to actually facing my sorrows and concerns and talking things out with Hubs. The escape I thought I was finding in my four bottles of wine a day wasn’t cutting it anymore. The drugs weren’t working, the wine felt diluted, and nothing was numbing me enough anymore, so naturally, leaving for even just a little while seemed like the only door I had left to try.
When the poison stopped working and reality was again beginning to feel too real and my parade of failures were catching up to my stumbling excuse for escape, I had to somehow escape further.
Across the country.
As far from my failures as possible.
Somewhere all the reminders of my inadequacies couldn’t find me.
Somewhere that my reality wasn’t so real.
You can’t face your fears or talk through your troubles if you leave them behind and leave, for awhile. Right?
Problem being, you can’t hide from your problems on an airplane or in a new city, or in the clink of ice cubes in triple gin & tonics in a hotel lobby. I myself was the suitcase and my problems were forever packed inside me, ready to board and follow me anywhere I went.
And of course, they did.
I drank my face off at the airport, I drank my face off on the plane, I ensured a bottle of wine was in my room upon arrival so I could top up whatever I metabolized on the cab ride to the hotel. In all honesty, the week I was away is hazy as best; the altitude only amplifying my avoidance and my addiction, and giving me what felt like a judgement-free pass to stay as deliriously drunk as possible.
And, I did.
In a skewed and spontaneous moment of absolute disregard for quite literally everything and everyone in my life, I hopped on the booze bus to Wherever-The-Fuck-Because-I-Didn’t-Care. The most insidious effects of alcohol is that it fuels self-destruction, the same way ethanol fuels a car. I had poured so much into myself that I was overflowing and well on my way to figuratively plummeting fast and hard off whatever cliff I could find, when what I should have been doing was taking myself in for a long past due tune-up and a chance for my engine to cool down.
Instead, I betrayed Hubs, myself, our marriage, and the final threads of whatever was holding it all together in my mind. I’ll let you read between the lines here, but it wasn’t the act of what happened but what it meant that matters.
Over time, alcohol convinces you that you’re worthless.
As simple as that. No sugar coating, nothing fluffy, just plain old stripped down worthlessness with an ample side of disregard for everyone around you. As much as alcohol turns you into a selfish, twisted and self-absorbed Gollum-esque version of yourself, it also delivers an undefinable feeling of disgust and self-loathing. On one hand, you are obsessed with yourself and your situation, and on the other you are collecting and creating as much pain as possible so you can keep trying to endure it.
It becomes a sloppy game of trying to balance your obsession with yourself, and at the same time your self-hatred.
It becomes a sloppy and hurtful self-deprecating game of trying to build things up just so you can tear them down.
Alcohol turned me into both the sadist and the masochist, doling out hurt as much as I loved wallowing in it. Addiction split me down the middle and left me and everything around me in pieces.
It’s easy to blame the alcohol – and I did and still do.
Because I know I have a good, troubled heart.
I know the peaks and valleys of all my intentions, and now through the less-smudged window of sobriety I can see in hindsight the sabotage I was doing to myself and everything and everyone, around me.
Alcohol just deadened my feelings so everything hurt a little less; until I realized that I was the only one who was numb, and everyone else was feeling the impact of my actions with fierce and crystal clear honesty. Drinking just fast-tracked my downward spiral to that dark and lonely palce where I kept all my hurts hidden, waiting for me to realize that I never actually had a drinking problem – I had a reality problem.
I eventually returned home; where I subsequently lied (because that’s what alcoholics do) until the truth surfaced (because that’s what truth does). Hubs and I balanced on the precipice of absolute implosion; it took reaching this extremely new lower low for me to admit that if my drinking weren’t as award-winningly-impressive what had happened never would have happened. That The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done award would still be pinned to something vanilla and laughable instead of the top rung of the 10 Commandments ladder.
I’ve spent the last two years defining myself, and being defined, by what went down in Calgary when my soul was as frigid and reckless as the winds whipping down the Rocky Mountains. I’ve spent the last two years associating Calgary with the Horrible Awful, and my addiction with the cause behind all of it.
I’ve been defined – and have been defining myself – by the worst thing I’ve ever done.
I’ve spent the last two years as torn as the pieces alcohol ripped me into; desperate with regret for what I put Hubs through and everything that happened, yet still grateful that it happened because it was the impact of hitting that cold rock bottom that finally woke me up. The last two years I’ve avoided even talking about Calgary or thinking of visiting, certain that the ghosts of my 2016 breakdown would be waiting for me.
But I’m here. And this time I didn’t pack the self-hatred, the self-loathing, the self-destruction or the damaged, heartbroken shame that followed me last time. There wasn’t room for it this time around, since I’ve filled myself with forgiveness and sobriety and a painfully beautiful and raw understanding that what is, is. And what was, was. And that what is, is enough. That I’m enough, and the imperfections of my life and love and career and ideas are curiously perfect in themselves. That by tearing everything down I would never uncover a hidden treasure, but instead be left with nothing – and everyone around me would only be left dodging the rubble and shrapnel as I flew through like a wrecking ball.
Returning to Calgary has felt a little like a trip to the cemetery, giving my regards to one of the most life changing and tumultuous times of my life. Putting to rest a Polaroid of my past that was just that – a snapshot, a moment in time – and not a high-definition live stream of who I am.
The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done is possibly one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I know Hubs and his huge heart struggle to see it like that, because what I did – I did to us. But The Horrible Awful was the solid (though painful) foundation that I’ve been able to build my sobriety on, always there at the bottom of where I’ve climbed out of, a shadowy and dangerous reminder of how far I have to fall if I ever start drinking again.
Of how much I have to lose, and how irreplaceable and priceless it all is.
I found my rock bottom at the bottom of the Rocky Mountains.
So, thank you, Calgary.
You’re so much more beautiful, finally untethered from my memories as the place where I did The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done and instead, reframed as the Ground Zero of the Beginning of My Recovery.