I beamed with excitement as my debit card chopped up the orange pill. My pupils enlarged and the world around me slowed down as the fragments went up my nose and made their way into my system. The effect of ecstasy was sudden. My body tingled and my cheeks widened with joy. I peered around the room and felt plugged into the party when minutes before I had felt wildly alone.
I snorted everything because it hit me harder and faster. I wanted everything harder and faster. Drugs and alcohol were good for that. They temporarily erased the fundamental notion I had that I was an unlovable person. The feeling that something was deeply wrong with me ate away at my ability to function in the world, but substances gave me an ephemeral escape.
A few months later, I tried acid for the first time. My unstable mental state mixed with an unnecessarily large quantity of drugs lead to demented hallucinations for eight hours.
A grim man who claimed to be God loomed over me in my hallucination. He told me I’d have to kill myself if I wanted to be free from the torment I was experiencing. He was a manifestation of my fear of a punishing God who was judging my every move, taking stock of how bad of a person I was. The trip solidified my notion of being an unloveable and despicable human being.
I writhed in horror until 4:00am when I became suicidal. I hallucinated that my wrists were being slit and that I was being buried alive.
I was taken to the emergency room where I was pumped with fluid and strapped down. In addition to the hallucinogens I had just consumed, there was booze, cocaine, and pot in my system when the nurse took my blood. I was 16 years old.
For the next six months, I continued to have flashbacks and I fluctuated in and out of dissociative states. The experience scared me enough that I stopped using hard drugs. They stopped working for me.
I convinced myself that alcohol wasn’t the problem, so I kept drinking. That ache was only worsened. Alcohol was everything I sought in a lover: coaxing, thrilling, and packed a punch. The blotting out of my consciousness was a marvelous relief from the constant aching in my chest. Even with the headaches and hangovers; I loved it. I soon forgot and excused any momentary suffering because the oblivion was worth it.
One night, in January of 2014, I was overwhelmed with a restlessness. Before I could decide whether or not it was a good idea, my fingers were rapidly tapping a reply to my ex. “Yes. Meet you there in a half hour.”
A few hours later the divey ale house came in and out of my vision as I was teetering between consciousness and oblivion. The bite of the four types of liquor in my long island swirled in my mouth. It was my fifth glass.
I looked down, swallowing hard, and realized our hands were intertwined. The man shot me a familiar lopsided grin. I melted.
The feeling lasted a few seconds before reality sunk in. I’m sitting here with an abusive ex-boyfriend while I’m in a relationship with someone else.
Swig, swig. More booze. My muscles eased and so did my concern. I tasted him again. He smelled of stale cigarettes and had unwashed hair. It’d have to do.
The cheap booze had taken the edge off. I knew what was going to happen the moment I said yes to going out with him. As the encroaching unconsciousness fell over me, my boyfriends' face faded in my mind making it possible to cheat... again.
I had become habituated to this pattern: boredom, anxiety, restlessness, any feelings, really… then, seeking relief through oblivion and destruction. Drinking and sex came wrapped up in a perfect little package for me. An easy way to quiet the unease inside.
But, something happened that Tuesday morning after the bar. I woke up still drunk, sick as all hell, wrapped in my comforter in the community shower of my college. I proceeded to empty my stomach for hours. Slept through class and work. Though the physical hangover was unbearable, the emotional hangover was much more sickening.
Taking drugs no longer eased the feeling that there was something wrong with me. drinking no longer made me feel connected. At this point, it had been months of feeling worse, not better, after using substances. On top of my physical symptoms, the sense of isolation and shame worsened.
Fueled by desperation and self-loathing, I dragged myself into my therapist’s office and confessed how ugly my drinking had gotten. Together, we came to the conclusion that I needed help with my alcohol consumption. Stripped of all my pride, I surrendered.
I dragged myself to a 12 step meeting and got completely sober.
As the fog in my brain began to settle after a few weeks, I took an honest look at my relationship. I was confused about why we were still in it. The romance had fizzled. I was cheating on him every few weeks. I was miserable whenever we were together.
Just like the bottle and drugs, my boyfriend stopped working as a solution to help me escape the insatiable gnawing in my stomach that told me I didn’t deserve anything. I used him to help me feel okay. I found myself cheating when his words and actions weren’t enough. They were never enough. No human could fill the void I had.
As I put down the drink, drugs, and toxic relationship, I thought I should start to feel better. I thought that the substances and people were the source of the ache. In reality, they were just the band-aid covering a God-sized hole. Pull off the band-aid and the hole is still there.
As addicts, we walk the line of life and death trying to fill the hole in our souls. In a way, we’re lucky. The human ache becomes so unbearable that we have to do something about it or we die. Living with low-grade pain forever isn’t an option. Ours is ear-splitting, gut-wrenching, body-aching pain. We take our own lives, drink ourselves to death, or take a hot shot of heroin. There’s a saying that an active addict’s story ends in one of three ways: jail, institution, or death.
Not everyone’s story ends that way, though. For myself and so many others, I had to take a flashlight into the crevices of my psyche to see what the source of the ache was.
When I stopped continuously trying to numb the pain with booze, drugs, and people, I realized that I was aching for a connection with God. I was longing for a greater purpose, to feel plugged into the world, and to sense divine love. Now I know I was given this hole as a source of inspiration to grow closer to my fellow humans and God.
Most of the time, I now get to have that genuine connection I was seeking all along. When that feeling of being alone in a crowded room begins to strike, I turn to my breathing to ground me. I pray to connect me to my surroundings and to ease that lonely ache. I no longer think that something’s wrong with me; I feel like I belong here.
Just giving that hole some room to heal on its own has helped me find a spark of connection within me and in the people around me. I see it in the vulnerability from the tears I let escape my eyes in front of a coworker when I’m having a hard day. The empathy that fills my chest when a friend shares her grief over a recent miscarriage. The compassion when I turn down an incompatible date because although I’d like to just sleep with him, I now see him as a human who deserves someone who wants all of him.
Something has happened to me. The hole has been mended over time. It’ll never fully be fixed, and in a way I’m glad for that because the ache reminds me to reach out to my fellow humans and God. It reminds me that I’m never isolated or unloveable and I never have to feel like I am again.
Some days when I get too caught up in life and forget to treat my alcoholism and addiction through 12 step programs and my own process, the hole in the soul grows again. My mind wanders off to having that attractive person over there tell me how wonderful I am. Still, I’m reminded of my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, quote:
Not everyone has to get sober to be able to connect with others, but I did. I was blotting out any chance of healing from the trauma of my past. Sobriety has given me a chance to clear my head and my life so that I could dismantle the idea I held that there was something inherently wrong with me. There will be days where I want to use another person or a substance to quench those unfilled yearnings. I’m learning to live with the hole. It keeps me ever reaching for connection with others and with the divine. Only now I don’t need cheap booze and unruly men to leave me feeling fulfilled.