GUEST POST BY ALAINA BASKERVILLE-BRIDGES
Last night my thirteen-year-old daughter’s Snapchat app bumped her out of her account. She clomped down the stairs to the living room where I had just settled in to watch the second season of Homeland on Netflix, and she thrust her phone at me, a gold iPhone 5S that I foot the bill for. Her eyes were wild and her long brown hair bounced around her head as she stomped back and forth. She was devastated that she had been bumped out of her account—didn’t I know she had almost thirty streaks going? And one of them was for a total of 108 consecutive days??? I shrugged. I had better things to worry about, like, why does Carrie get so much flack in this damn show? I told her to punch in her username and password and voila, she’d be right back in. Exasperated, she explained that not only did she not remember her user name and password, she kept this info in her notes on her phone, but for some strange reason the phone had deleted that as well.
“Maybe,” she looked at me nervously, her eyes suddenly big and serious, “I’ll just turn the phone off, and when I turn it on, I’ll be back in.” After several attempts at this—turning the phone completely off and leaving it off for several minutes before turning it back on and hoping beyond hope to be back in her Snapchat account, she threw the phone on the couch and pointed at it with disgust.
“This effing phone sucks,” she declared.
It dawned on me then that I was watching my daughter cycle through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. I was riveted to say the least. I had already witnessed Denial and now I had a front row seat to Anger.
“Stupid. Effing. Phone!” She snapped at me, and gave me a vicious side eye/up-and-down look only reserved for purposes where a swift and immediate show of disgust is required. Somehow both the phone and myself had just shown ourselves to be gruesome, mud dwelling demons. (I have seen this in myself unfortunately, when I’m really frustrated with something and my boyfriend comes along and tries to help but I’m way past the point of being helped— I’m half unhinged—so everything he does completely pisses me off, so I didn’t take it personally.)
Then, she shifted gears.
“I’m going to make a list of every password and username I have ever used in my entire life, and try them all. One of them will work.” She settled in across from me on the loveseat with a pad and pen and wrote furiously for fifteen minutes. Then, she tried each and every password. She was calm at first, even hopeful. But, as the list dwindled from twenty or so potential names to two, the punching in of the words slowed: each punch a sad, singular, cry for help.
Finally, she looked up.
“Mom,” she whispered, “Help me.”
“Okay,” I said. I got on the ride too, just like that. Maybe she used my email as her password? Maybe she used one of my usernames? Lord, I was gone, I wanted it to work so bad, to save my daughter from having to feel the feelings. In a snap, I too had entered Bargaining along with my daughter.
But, alas, none of my passwords or usernames would open my daughter’s account.
After Bargaining comes Depression.
I felt the darkness settle around her as she stood up, head hung low and whispered, “I’m going to my room now.” The slow plunk, plunk, plunk, of each foot hitting the stairs as she slowly, painfully, made her way to her room and then the loud “plop” as she let her body drop like dead weight onto her mattress. Oh, it was a long two hours. I watched two episodes of Homeland, and waited for tears.
Out of the blue, my daughter’s friend and her mother came by.
The mother offered to take the girls to Tim Horton’s for a treat. I watched my daughter make her way slowly downstairs. She was quiet, eerily so, but, yes, she said, she wanted to go. I gave her a quick hug and told her to have fun. I didn’t mention the Snapchat at all, I could see it alive, burning in her eyes.
An hour later, I was surfing on my computer and saw that my daughter had posted an image on Instagram. The picture was grainy, just some random people walking on a sidewalk. You could tell that the image itself wasn’t important, but the words underneath sure were. It said: “New Snapchat account,” along with her new user ID.
My daughter had reached Acceptance.
So there they were: all five stages of grief, in just under five hours.
I reflected on this, then, because I knew something about the five stages of grief. I had cycled through them (except for the Acceptance phase) continuously for more than a decade during my drinking years. When the drinking got out of hand, I’d use Denial: “It’s not so bad, it’s just a little drinking,” “Everybody lets loose sometimes.” “I deserve it after all the crap I’ve been through.” Sometimes I would fall into Anger: “It’s not my fault. My childhood was traumatic.” “My partner/friend/boss/neighbor/whomever drives me to drink.” (This is not to say that trauma wasn’t a real factor in my wanting to numb out. I have had trauma in my life. I also have mental illness and addiction in my family tree. I didn’t know about these factors in my early twenties; I only knew that alcohol soothed me, then slowly, sneakily, started to destroy me.)
Then there was Bargaining: “I’ll stop tomorrow.” “I can change, I promise.” This is the most frantic part of all the stages. You’re anxious and wild eyed because you don’t want to lose what you have: your loved ones that are starting to raise concerns, nor the alcohol/drug that gives you comfort. You go into bartering mode. This for that. Only after six. Only on weekends and special occasions. I’ll won’t drink hard stuff. A glass of water for every drink.
With Depression, there is nothingness. I was just so… tired. This stage is dark, heavy, and lonely. When my Depression was at its height, I had to muster all my energy for the day to take a shower. That was all I could do.
It took me a long time to reach Acceptance. And, that is because of the soul sucking shame of it all. I would wake each morning, hung over, and an image or scene would trickle into my memory. I would remember then, that I had acted in ways that were horribly destructive, ways that were completely out of character for me normally. No, no, no. Too hard to acknowledge in the harsh light of sobriety. A drink would numb my remembering—and also bring on the next life destroying action— and away we’d go again.
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally, thankfully, Acceptance.
I didn’t get sober because I reached Acceptance, I got sober because I knew if I didn’t stop drinking, I would die. And, there was a part of me that was stubborn and that part wanted desperately to see my children grow up. No, more than that, I wanted to be an important, positive, part of their life. You cannot be an addict and a role model; the former cancels out the latter. In order to make a difference in their life, I had to get sober.
It was education that taught me Acceptance. Once sober, I began to learn about the disease of addiction and it was in this quiet, clear headed space, that I finally understood that I wasn’t bad, I was sick, and these are two very different beasts. Although I had acted in ways that were bad, I finally recognized that I, intrinsically, was not. And that allowed me the freedom to start healing.
In those early days I sat in meetings and cried. I thought I looked like a freak, but, for any newcomers out there worrying about losing it in public, let me tell you, I was not seen as a freak. Showing one’s powerlessness in the rooms is not only no big deal, it might even be common. Vulnerability is A-Okay in meetings. And the people. Thank the heavens above for the good people in those rooms who took me in, hugged me, listened, walked with me and shared their own stories… and, what do you know? Other people’s stories were just as jagged and painful. I was not alone.
Nowadays, almost six years in, I go to the odd meeting here and there. While they were pivotal to my sobriety for the first few years, I find what works for me now is a mix of exercise, the right medication, counselling, and community. I have a good group of strong sober friends whom I adore, and exercise ranges from running and weights to yoga[i] as well as a kick-ass therapist[ii] who sees the potential in me.
For any newbies out there working with a therapist or counsellor, know that you do not have to stay with the first therapist you find. This was an important lesson for me to learn. I’d spent most of my twenties and early thirties trying to get sober in a softer, gentler way then baring my wounds to the people in the rooms of AA. I thought I would get myself a therapist and he or she would help me privately work out the kinks. This is what happened. I asked my doctor for a referral to a therapist and he gave me one. I made the assumption right then and there that this therapist would help me heal. But that is not what happened. I spent a whole year hemorrhaging the painful details of my life to a person who sat and looked at me with a cold, judgmental expression. I’d walk out of the session feeling worse than when I walked in, and frankly, many a times, I would hit the liquor store on my way home to drown out the shame I’d dug up in my counselling session. The therapist just didn’t see me, or my value, and I felt it. We give so much of ourselves in those rooms, and when we’re really ready to change, the weight of the past is so painful, so heavy, so utterly impossible to navigate— that once we let it out, it oozes here and there, the rawness spilling to the room and we look up at our therapist’s face and say, “Help me.”
You have to have someone who says, “I am here, every step of the way.”
The first two years of my sobriety were the most difficult; they involved navigating and amending the Past and it was a difficult journey. To have to walk through the wreckage of the life I had made, sober, and feel the feelings, and make amends to the best of my ability, was exhausting. Take a friend, sponsor, mentor, counsellor, addictions worker, someone that wants the best for you and respects you on this part of the journey. For people in my my little corner of the world, Victoria, B.C., Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health[iii] made this journey possible for me. A worker walked with me through every step of my journey. Without judgement. With kindness and respect. This is big.
Still, many times during those first few years, I asked myself, can I keep on going? Is it worth it?
To those in early recovery: Yes, a million times, yes.
Each moment, each step, each breath, is a gift. Getting sober is the bravest thing I have ever done. I gave myself a whole new life. That is huge.
And there are these Promises, you see. In AA and NA, they refer to all the good things, no, magical things that start to happen the moment you claim your sobriety.
A clear head is a magical thing.
Loving all of myself, the good and the bad, is a magical thing.
Having relationships built on honesty and respect is a magical thing.
Sharing my story to help others feel less alone, and maybe, just maybe, help another person know that they too can change their life, is a magical thing.
Another magical thing?
She’ll be home any minute. I think I’ll Snapchat her now.
Though she’ll always be a prairie girl at heart, Alaina Baskerville-Bridges now lives in Victoria, British Columbia, with her two daughters and cat. She is currently finishing her BFA in Creative Writing and Visual Arts at the University of Victoria. If she is not working on a billionth draft of a story or article, you will find her cheering on her kids at soccer or volleyball practice, going for long meditative runs to work out plot and character, or sprawled on the couch, watching Homeland or reality T.V.
[i] Taryn Strong http://sherecovers.co/author/taryn-strong/
[ii] Maureen Drage http://www.maureendrage.com/