Written by Ellen Sanders
Over the past week, I’ve thought quite a lot about how the holidays used to be for me when I was still “out there”. It was a series of parties; each precipitated by a great deal of anxiety and followed by remorse sometimes and self-consciousness always. I always appeared to be having fun because that’s what one does when trying so hard to be normal and happy, but I was always left feeling empty and unsure. I would put an inordinate amount of time into picking out the perfect gift for each person thinking that if I got just the right thing it would make up for my transgressions all year long: the lying, emotional outbursts, unreliability, self-centeredness. And I hoped it would show them – See I really do love you and I really am not bad.
And of course, I did really love the people in my life and I wasn’t bad; I was just very sick. I was trapped in addiction and depression and could find no way out. The life I had was the only life I thought I’d ever have. Or I thought perhaps I’d give up my substances and then just be miserable. No alternative really looked all that promising.
Recently, I looked through my journals from 1997 through 2003. In paging through, I found some old poems I wrote in the months and years before I got sober. Those were my darkest days. My thoughts are sad and desperate and lost – which is what I was. From time to time I have gone back and looked at my old writings. At the time, I thought being tortured made me an artist; I thought it gave me depth. Maybe it did, but in the end being a tortured addict stole my soul and my creativity. It’s a tough gig to maintain.
Many people who don’t understand addiction want a clear answer on why addicts behave the way they do. Why we keep going back to what hurts us despite it hurting us. They get frustrated at the irrationality of it. Well, here’s the thing – addiction is irrational so rational thinking can’t be applied. A person can be very learned in psychology and still not understand why we addicts do what we do. And a person can love an addict more than anyone else in the world and not be able to help him/her.
Reading through the journals was emotional. However, it’s important for me to do it periodically for many reasons. It’s my history. All those feelings and experiences shape who I am today and allow me to connect with other human beings, especially addicts. It keeps fresh the reality of how dark it can get when a substance controls me. And I am able to see how much I have changed and how change can happen for anyone.
So, because this is a new year and that has the connotation of a new beginning, I have decided to share some of these poems with you in upcoming posts. In order to truly begin anew, one needs to make peace with the past. Perhaps a poem will resonate with you or someone you know. Perhaps it will put to words what you feel or have felt. Or maybe it will give insight into what living is like for someone you love. What I have learned in recovery is that I can use my past pain to help someone now. I have done that one on one for years. Perhaps my written words can do so now instead of staying in a box in my closet.
Here’s the first I’d like to share. It is untitled and I wrote it in November 2003, about 4 months before I got sober. Thank you for reading.
through my past
for something other
than what was
Running from ghosts
I had provided
As hard as
I never was