Written by Nicole Caltabiano
The cool breeze is caressing my long, brown, wavy hair. Killer tunes are blasting through my brand new all murdered-out black Cadillac. People stop in their tracks as they see me and my girlfriends looking unrivaled: makeup impeccable, dressed to the nines, just screaming to the world, “Don’t mess with us.” Guys stop and blow kisses, girls give nasty looks out of jealousy as we zoom past leaving a cloud of dust in their faces. Damn, life is amazing.
Then, I would shake off that quick daydream and realize it had been days since I’d taken a shower. My hair was greasy, stringy, and smelled. My eyes would be crusted half shut with yesterday’s eyeliner and mascara. My car was a busted-up Jetta that I drove like a maniac and had seen more flat tires then you would believe and needed a new transmission like months ago. My friends were two girls who looked as though they would totally fit in skid row. We absolutely did stop people in their tracks, but it was only for their amusement as they pointed and shook their heads in disgust at the raunchy, corpse-like figures before them. Yes they stared, but it was a blank gaze that shot right through our very beings because we didn’t even seem human anymore.
We were on a mission. Morning runs were never easy. Waking up sick had become the only constant in our lives and was the purpose for our despicable outing on that glorious spring day. Heroin, Slow, diesel, dope, H, brown sugar, horse: whatever you want to call it, that’s what we wanted. And more importantly, that’s what our bodies needed. At that point, my nose would be running and my eyes watering so bad that I could hardly see the street in front of me. I’d have goosebumps all over, but beads of sweat would collect around my forehead and drip all the way down to my top lip.
I could not breathe without dope; it was my one true love. It was the reason I picked up those two girls that morning and was driving into a neighborhood where just a week before girls that looked just like us were found raped and murdered. Yet, we were fearless. At that time, I can say I would have preferred to be beaten, raped, and killed high as a kite than to live one day sick and sober.
Truthfully, we weren’t friends. I needed those girls because our money collectively got us each an extra two bags. We were women who tolerated each other for a couple of hours every day until we could get to that state of mind we always craved. It’s the feeling we kept chasing. The feeling we spent all our money on, the feeling we killed all our hopes and dreams for. It’s the feeling we risked our lives for. It may sound idiotic, but to us, it was worth dying for. That was our bond.
A lot has changed since those early-morning run days. I am now a mother to a stunningly beautiful baby girl, and almost a wife to a hardworking, handsome Greek boy. Things are pretty good. TODAY. Amidst all my blessings, there’s still one thing I consider to be the most dangerous opponent in my sobriety. It isn’t people, places, or things. It isn’t being around heroin. It isn’t even a relapse. It’s my ego. My ego tells me I am invincible. It tells me I’m amazing, and quite frankly, better than you. It tells me I can use again and get away with it. It tells me I can use every day because when I use I’m not Nicole, but a supermodel from Brazil. When in reality when I’m using, I am absolutely disgusting and everyone hates me.
For a long time I hid behind my ego. It was my safety blanket. In my sobriety it is now hard for me to come to terms with the fact I lived 95% of my life in a daydream. It’s difficult to comprehend that at the age of 26, I am mentally and emotionally that of a 17-year old. Even that’s a stretch sometimes. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that no one was jealous of me, no one thought I was cool, and people probably called me names like loser, scumbag, and slut behind my back for years. I had lived so much of my life in a fantasy, that when the fog finally lifted and I could see my life for what it really was, I was totally unprepared for the harsh reality. I was unemployed, had no special talents, had horrible communication skills, and I had no real friends. I will honestly say that at one point when I was six months sober, I was more depressed and deeper in a hole than I had ever felt in my life.
There were plenty of relapses and plenty more careless mistakes after those six months. But that was the first time I really ever took a look at my ego. So I got on the wagon again! This time I felt more prepared to deal with my six-month hump. It’s the time when the pink cloud fades away and I’m left only with the wreckage of the past. I thought I was enlightened from my last run and knew I could do it. I didn’t last two months. Relapse after relapse, rehab after rehab: what was I doing wrong? Looking back, I could now write an entire medieval scroll of things I was doing wrong. For me, there was one thing that stuck out more than any other. It’s the thing that went beyond the missed meetings, not calling my sponsor, and taking that drink or hit of weed. It’s always the same. It normally happens when I least expect it, some idle Tuesday or middle-of-the-week not-doing-anything type of day. I’ll be putting my makeup on, or fixing my hair, or checking out my butt in the mirror when I do it. I lock eyes with myself. AAAH! I’ve done it again! I tell myself “Nicole, walk away! It’s ok – you aren’t the same person, people just now trust you again. Don’t do this.” Too late. Because in that second, my eyes searched for my soul and saw a moment in my life when I embarrassed myself or said something horrible to someone. Or all of a sudden, I’m ten years old again and getting picked on by my classmates for being chubby.
I get that hole in the pit of my gut. Any addict knows the pit I’m talking about. It’s the one we try to kill ourselves over. It’s the deep dark pit of despair. In it is every awful moment or memory from the past. These are the things we think about and try to kill ourselves over.
When this happens, it’s only a matter of seconds before my ego comes to try to save the day. I picture my ego wearing Channel sunglasses with a cape flying in to help save me. This is where the relapse before the relapse takes place. It says, “Nicole, forget all that. They’re just jealous of you. I mean, look at your face! You’re gorgeous and awesome and they are just nobodies who will die doing nothing. You have been so many places and seen so many cool things. Don’t you remember that? How much fun it is to be out all night ‘til the sun comes up just living life to the fullest?”
Yes, I do remember. There were a lot of good times weren’t there? Ego then puts out her cigarette under her jet black pumps and says, “Don’t you want to feel better? This sober stuff is really lame. You are the cool girl who throws parties, laughs the loudest, and is the most fun! People miss you. These 12-step freaks aren’t your friends. They weren’t there for you at your worst; why should they have you at your best? Let’s go hang out with our real friends and make that pesky hole go away.” And in an instant, I’m sold. I’ve forgotten all the pain, hurt, and loneliness of being in active addiction.
Before I know it I’m back in rehab a couple months later wondering how it happened again so fast. My ego will always trick me into thinking I’m no fun or I don’t deserve to be sober and have a good life. There are always moments in the day it comes out in the wrong ways. When I first started going to the rooms I didn’t understand the difference between self-esteem and ego. I could not comprehend how something that had helped me ward off bullies as a child, could and did turn on me as an adult to make me think the sober and calm version of myself wasn’t good enough.
Even to this day I still have a really hard time finding the difference between self-love and ego. Now I just see it as this. When I’m loving myself while still loving others, that’s my self esteem. I can look at someone and even if I don’t like them, find something nice to say about them and where they are in their life. My ego is the opposite. It tells me I’m the only one who deserves to be happy. My ego
is shallow and inconsiderate. It makes me think appearance and objects are the most important things.
Anyone trying to get sober will tell you each day is a struggle. I just refuse to let my thoughts run wild now the way they used to. When I feel my ego burning up inside me, itching and scratching at the surface, longing to come out and mess up my life, I take a couple of deep breaths and call one of my friends or family.
I have come to grasp the concept of humbling myself. Now, do not misunderstand me for one second! I am still not all the way there. I am currently working on it…working being the key word. I’m no Mother Teresa. So, humbling myself looks like me biting my tongue, even if I have something I deem clever or entertaining to say about another person. I can do that most of the time now.
There was a time in my life I would have died because my ego made me push away help. Of course, I thought I could do it all by myself. I still struggle with that now, but in a different way. I can look in the mirror without my ego saying a word most days. I have tamed the beast, so to speak. It took patience, love, and encouragement, but I now see there is more to me than my looks and shallow things. I see the world is a magical place without all the chemicals and the bull I fed myself as truth for a long time. God has blessed me with incredible gifts. Even though I still have difficulties, I wake up happy every single day. I now see it isn’t about the image I wanted people to see in their minds when they heard my name; it’s about what I wanted them to feel. I want people to feel warm, silly, and joyful when they think of me. I want my daughter to understand her worth isn’t in what she has, but in her character. It’s in the depth of relationships with friends and family, and in the value she places on the feelings of every living creature. I am just so thankful I came to that realization before it was too late.
So, if you’re struggling with ego, just ask yourself this question: What do I want people to feel when they think of me?
Only you have the answer.