Tracy Chabala / TracyChabala.com
I am so much more.
We are more than alcoholics. We are more than drug addicts. We are more than the dually diagnosed.
But it’s easy to forget this.
This is one gripe I have about AA, despite my love for the program. Everything comes back to being an alcoholic. And though I absolutely must remember that I can’t drink safely, I refuse to define myself by this. There is so much more to me than my “disease”. There is so much more to me than my bipolar diagnosis.
Yes, they are very real. Yes, I must keep on guard. But no more than I might keep on guard of being accosted when I run around the Silver Lake reservoir at night.
I don’t wear headphones, and I carry pepper spray. But do I not run? Do I deny myself the experience of feeling the cool night air on my face, the wonderful catharsis that comes with huffing and puffing while staring up at a super moon or a miniscule Saturn?
I am not just a vulnerable woman. I am not just a girl.
There is a whole world out there. There are a million things to learn. There are classes to take, there are places to go, there are people to meet, and there are ideas to explore.
I refuse to identify myself with my past.
I refuse to identify myself with my disease.
I am not my addiction, and I am not my shitty past.
I am a fully realized human being with the same potential as anyone on this planet. The only difference is, now I have a fresh start.
We recovered addicts and alcoholics have a supreme gift. We get a fresh start. We get to see the world with new eyes when we put the plug in the jug or wash the cocaine down the drain.
Or throw out the needles. Trash the smack. Forfeit the weed.
We get to be present and get to create. Now, we can rewrite our lives. Like the newborn, we’ve got a clean slate. The world is our oyster, and the sky is the limit.
This is why I feel it is essential to have friends in and out of the program. I need balance. I am very grateful to have a well-balanced “normie” roommate. And I am very grateful for my well-balanced Buddhist “normie” boyfriend. Sometimes he irritates me—he does not understand addiction, he does not understand how I can slip on cigarettes over and over, he does not understand how impossible it is for me to give up on coffee or put down the sugar.
And sometimes he questions why I should keep saying “I’m Tracy, and I’m an alcoholic,” although he’s fully supportive of my involvement in AA and my recovery.
But I think it’s possible to overdo it on AA. Or, rather, it’s possible to immerse yourself in meetings and social circles that focus on the illness, that focus on the pathology, that constantly focus on “working on yourself”, that constantly talk about therapy and sickness and deviance.
My experience is, if I throw myself in a new activity, like trying to learn French for my upcoming trip to Paris, I forget all about past traumas, my addiction, my neurosis, my alcoholism. Learning French is an instant release from my “character defects.”
I am out of myself. My mind is preoccupied. It’s thrilling and rewarding, it’s challenging and humbling. It takes everything in me to master one sentence. I have to re-train my tongue, I have to listen, I have to follow, and I have to read.
The same is true for my obsession with dance. Since I’ve been sober, I’ve been avidly belly dancing, and no, that’s not the same as trashy exotic dancing.
When you’re playing 6/8 rhythm on your finger cymbals while doing snake arms, a shoulder shimmy and a hip circle, you’re not thinking about your resentments, you’re not preoccupied with your swinging moods—you’re present, you’re absorbed by the music, you’re entranced by the enchanting rings of the “zills”, you’re in sync with six other women performing the very same moves.
You’re in ecstasy.
Not all of us have the time and means to take classes or to travel. I understand this.
I am taking my first trip to Europe in the fall, and it’s taken me nearly six years to dig myself out of the financial hole that I dug when I bottomed out from alcoholism and lost everything.
It’s taken me nearly six years to get a proper bed, a proper income, and a car.
I’ve struggled and struggled and struggled.
But now I have the means. Of course, it’s a budget trip. I won’t be staying at the Ritz or the W or the Four Seasons—I’ll be in homes through AirBnb in Paris and Barcelona.
But Barcelona! My biggest dream of all was to wander among the Gaudí buildings, step into the Sagrada de Familia cathedral, see the Dali paintings in person, and watch a Flamenco show with real Andalusians.
My recovery has given me the opportunity to do this. But had I just focused on my disease, spent all my time in my room doing inventory, spent all my time calling alcoholics all day and lingered on the phone with my sponsor, unable to make one adult decision for myself, I may never have gotten to this point.
Although my sponsor, an old-schooler with 32 years of sobriety, has always pushed me to be “self-supporting”. And by pushing me to do this, I’ve dug myself out of that financial hole to be able to realize my dreams.
She has been an example of someone who on one hand is healthily aware of her disease and on the other hand has a full life.
She takes knitting classes (she’s 77 years old). She visits apple orchards. She swims with the dolphins in Florida. She attends her grandson’s photography shows. She bakes, she watches Hockey, she reads—she’s alive.
I’m grateful to have her.
I’m a writer before I’m an alcoholic.
I’m a human before I’m an addict.
I’m a woman before I’m bipolar.
Though I must remain aware that I can never drink safely, though I know I need to take my meds, though my moods sometimes get out of whack and sometimes I want to drink, this accounts for 10% of my time.
The other 90% I get to embrace a new life.
Yes, you need to have street smarts. You shouldn’t leave valuables visible in your car, and every now and then someone will bust the window anyway and steal the cell phone you accidentally left on the seat (which happened to me in 2012). Yes, you need to keep your home locked, especially if you’re like me and you live in a major city. No, you shouldn’t walk the streets alone at 2am.
But to live in fear, to live in obsession, to live fixated in the idea that something bad is going to happen to you is to live your life as a victim.
My biggest recommendation for anyone who needs to snap themselves out of a fixation with pathology or with their addiction, is to travel.
If you can, travel to a new country. Open your eyes, experience the big, loving, expansive world out there.
And if you can’t, take a road trip to a city close to you that you’ve never visited. Stop by an antique shop or second-hand store or a flea market. Eat at an ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Try snails. Eat raw octopus. Take a class in life drawing or flamenco or Spanish or ballet at the local junior college.
Now is the time.
About the Author
Tracy is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, and Salon and is a regular contributor to AfterParty Magazine. She holds a Masters in Professional Writing from USC and is working on a novel.
You can read more from Tracy on her blog at TracyChabala.com.