The shadow side to all this light

Starting out with an aside: In the most chill and non-obsessed way I would like to commit to writing every day and posting a thing I’ve written once a week. So there you have that. Let’s carry on.

I’ve always been a fan of telling stories. Today I’m wondering about the timing. As in, when do we feel like we “can” tell our story? The only story I’ve got is my own, so I’ll use that as an example here.

A story about quitting drinking. When did I feel like it was safe to talk about it? After I had quit, for sure. I’m just starting to feel OK about telling this story because it’s been a year since I made the move. My reasons to not tell the story are the same reasons I hate telling people that I don’t drink and are the same reasons I didn’t quit until I did:

  • I didn’t drink as much as other people drank
  • I never drank in the shower like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas
  • Nobody ever sat me down and told me, in a gravely serious tone, that I had a drinking problem
  • My therapist didn’t tell me to quit drinking
  • When I first quit drinking I would take sips of other people’s beer so it doesn’t count as sobriety
  • People will think I’m a gross weirdo
  • I never got a DUI or got arrested or had someone break up with me because of my drinking
  • This will make dating impossible
  • Nobody wants to hear this story
  • I don’t want this to be my story

Those reasons are basically all “this is not how it’s supposed to be” and that is a phrase I don’t use anymore. What is supposed to be what? I got engaged and felt lonely. I was the skinniest I’ve ever been and I felt empty. I fell in love and we didn’t go out to bars or spend days on end laying in bed because he has four kids and I don’t drink and guess what? It was still falling in love, but it didn’t look like it was supposed to, based on the stories I had going in my head.

I think that if we wait until it’s time to write a memoir, we’ve missed some of the good stuff, unless you’re sure to tell everything, even the not so glamorous stuff.

I needed people’s raw, in the thick of it stories. In the months leading up to finally quitting, I would sit at work, hungover and numb, and devour essays people had written about quitting drinking. I would read about their binges, I would read about their anxiety, and their tight chest alarm clocks at 4am. I would read it and rewrite a story in my head that was telling me that until I was a certain kind of alcoholic, I didn’t need to quit. I find this mindset that I had, this narrative that I should be able to drink, and that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t, to be so destructive. Slowly, I read one story after another, of women who were simply sick of feeling shitty. They were sick of being scared of what they had done and what they might do. And I heard this tiny voice inside myself saying “yes, me too”.

In some ways, writing this story feels like one I have to tell. It feels like I’m writing it to myself, but myself when I wasn’t ready to quit. The me that needed a story, about how it could be better. A story where you can fall in love even when you’re not drinking. A story where the girl goes to Paris, and walks through the streets, and feels the breeze, and doesn’t feel like she’s missing out because this story doesn’t include little bistro tables covered in glasses of rosé.

I’m learning new things about right now, but while I write about that, I need to write about the before, and the beginning of all of this. Before I forget. Before it feels like someone else’s story. Now is so bright, and so much better than I thought it would be, and I would talk about it all day if you asked. But, if you need the darker story, like I did, if you need the shadow side to all this light, then that’s the one I will gladly tell.

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