Last week, I was clearing out my studio when I came across an old diary in my 'private' journal stash. I opened the cover and braced myself as I noted the date.
January 5th 2010.
This was the date of my first counselling session. Originally, I was supposed to be attending a marriage counsellor with my ex husband, but the Christmas-slash-New Year we had just put down, confirmed in my heart that this was not a marriage worth saving.
So I cancelled the marriage counsellor and decided to find one just for me, so that I could save myself, instead.
I don't like re visiting diary pages from this chapter of my life. Holding my diary at an arms length, I flipped through the pages and not too far in, I came across a list titled, 'reasons to stop'.
Seven years later, I finally did.
What took me so long?
Well, to put it simply, it wasn't how it went for me. While 2010 was the year I stepped out onto the path of recovery, the place I started wasn't rock bottom. My starting point was a complete void.
A lost self.
Before I could enter into the phase in which I would begin the process of recovery from, I had to embark firstly, on a recovery of.
I had to learn how to be me.
There has been 30 plus years of conditioning to undo and phase one, was anything but linear. It was even a little wild in places. It certainly didn't always 'look' like recovery, but it was.
I didn't even realise phase one, was a phase. I was so enamoured with the novelty of not being miserable anymore, I would have happily stayed there and believe me, I tried. But it wasn't sustainable. It wasn't the kind of place one could dwell without it becoming apparent at some point that the ceiling I had raised for myself, was still only one level, above ground.
I've just reached my one year sober anniversary. And now that I have lived for 370 days as a 'me, who doesn't drink', I wanted to write about it.
So here's the first thing. Who the fuck is this person?
I had my first drink at 14. It was by the neck of a bottle filled with what we called 'dolly mix' or 'rocket fuel'. A concoction we made of pure spirits. We would pour a little of each from whatever bottles we could get our hands on, at home. Most of our parents had a drinks cabinet. Mine had a bar. There was never a shortage of alcohol to swipe.
My first drink was in a field, in the middle of a random day. Drinking rocket fuel was like training for the gag reflex olympics. It was pure poison and not for the faint hearted. The very feat of getting it past your lips and down the hatch, made you an automatic bad ass, no matter what happened next.
And that to me, was the buy in. I wanted to be a badass. I wanted to be anyone, but me.
It was on this occasion, I also became first acquainted with 'the spinners'. A complete out of body experience during which I transcended my insignificant self, spun out, fell down and vomited, much to the approval of my now drinking peers. And this was how I continued, for life. The party wasn't over until either I or the drink, ran out.
I wasn't a physically active child. I was overweight, self conscious and useless on my feet.
I wasn't pretty or cute, either. I had a mop of curly, 'stupid lookin' hair, fat rosy cheeks and crooked, discoloured teeth.
Apparently, I had 'bandy' legs as well but for some reason, I never took that to heart. I suppose I had enough to be worrying about from the neck up and you can always hide knobbly knees.
I really didn't have much hope for myself ever being anything but a fatty to push around & tease.
I seemed to have no redeeming features. I wasn't good at anything, except of course, getting fatter.
I first became aware of my weight at age six following a shaming incident, courtesy of my first class teacher.
That same year, I outgrew my communion dress which then had to be altered so I could wear it. The seamstress tasked with the apparently miserable job, seemed vexed by this and took it upon herself to poke my belly and tell me it was big, because I was greedy.
At ten years of age, I was ten stone and living with a shame that went to the very core of my being. I was nothing else, but this fat, pathetic, no so little girl. When I was alone, I would grab at the flesh on my belly and legs and think, 'If I could only cut this off'.
I used to be 'good' at swimming, until this too, was overshadowed by the fact, there was nowhere to hide my wrongness in swim suits.
Secondary school was terrifying. Especially for the first year with my cauliflower head and complete lack of coolness. I thought I was going to be devoured.
I learned very fast, to be a smart arse. A messer. A rebel. Turns out I had a talent for it. I could disrupt an entire class with my boldness. I could cut you with wit. I was funny and mad and I didn't give a single fuck about school, or you. At least, that’s what I wanted you to believe.
Finally, I was good at something.
Shortly afterwards, 'ditch drinkin' became a thing and I was good at that too. At last, a way to fit in with the cool gang. I started smoking and mitchin' school and even getting 'attention' from boys. ME! Fat, rosy cheeked, crooked teethed, cauliflower head, with a belly I wanted to carve and here I was, gettin' a look in? I couldn't believe it.
The girl with zero self, building a reputation. And it was working and I didn't want to lose that approval, so I lost the word 'no', instead.
I'll leave it up to you to imagine all the places that particular check was cashed.
I continued in this manner, for the next 21 years. It was a very good defence mechanism. Functional. Until it wasn't. Which is why in 2010, I was sitting with my diary, looking for 'reasons' to stop. I knew I was too good at it. I knew it was costing me. I knew that the 'me' I was failing to be, was too painful a loss. But I didn't know how to be her. I didn't even know, who she was.
All I knew how to be, was the mad bitch.
I built my entire identity on this. And for a while, it served me. It was how I 'survived' being the ugly duckling. It was my offence against rejection.
It was also how I left myself.
Stopping drinking wasn't really something I could do in 2010, because that was the year I began the journey back from exile. There was nobody else I could be yet. And the mad bitch I was, had made a right mess of things. Not only did I not like myself, I didn't like anyone else I had attracted into my life, either.
Enter, Daisy Jane.
It took me four years to find her. She was hiding under my nose all along. Daisy Jane came to me at Nineteen years of age only I didn't know what I was supposed to do with her. She was this character I had been secretly developing, thinking one day I would bring her to life as a cartoon or a line of stationary or something. I just had to figure out how to make this closet artist thing work.
In the meantime, I was sneaking her into my life. Any creative output from me, I attributed it to 'Daisy Jane'. She was the creative one, not me. She was my magical thinking, my own special brand of snowflake.
It never occurred to me that she had something of actual value to offer. Or to give her a chance to live out loud, but then something happened and I couldn't deny her anymore so I came out of the closet and as soon as I did, I broke ranks, up sticks and left the town in which I had lived, the last 13 years.
I was done being a me who was no longer working.
I moved into the forest, got online and began claiming my new identity. My TRUE identity. I quickly realised I was Daisy Jane. She was the 'me', I was failing to be.
An artist. A Pilgrim Soul.
And it's true. This really is me, here, writing to you now. I'm not sneaking who I am anymore.
When you peel off the layers of who you're not, things seem to fall into place for who you are. You become inspired to expend the most effort, you've ever efforted and yet, it remains strangely effortless. It has to, because this path, is not one where a destination is the reward.
You don't just bear down and rest up, once you get there. Every day is designed so that you feel like you're not actually accomplishing anything. This way you don't fall into the trap of external measures of your success. That's what you're leaving behind, Pilgrim. And it's only in retrospect, you realise that.
But then, to quote Phil Collins, something happens on the way to heaven. In all the efforting to reimagine yourself, a point arrives at which something has to give. You don't get to be the 'you', you want and also, the you, you once were.
You reach a crossroads beyond which, the self who served you until now, your hard shelled, outer coating, can travel no further. It's time to part ways and this is a huge moment, Pilgrim.
You may not want to do it. How can you? She's all you've ever known. But guess what? You also won't have to do it alone, because life will most likely intervene and do the whole 'pull the tablecloth from under her and see if she stays standing' trick and chances are, you probably won't.
And that's the turning point. There you are on your arse, after being so proud of yourself for finally learning to be the fetch and universe goes, 'Oh. No love. That's not who you're gonna be.'
Who the fuck are you going to be, then?
Well, if you've already walked the path to here, you might be surprised at the re arranging of constellations that happened in the process. Look around. Look at your life. Who's in it now who wasn't there before? Where are the others gone? If you really have been doing the work, things will look pretty different.
Imagine the constellation around you, as a house of mirrors. The people you surround yourself with in life, will always reflect something about you.
I've had the table cloth trick pulled twice on me now, seven years apart. My house of mirrors in 2010 reflected conflict, wrongness, oppression, isolation, separation, pretence, excess.
I looked again in 2017 and saw: Creativity. Love. Support. Expression. Community. Connection. Possibility. Recovery.
I did that.
That's the work. That's where recovery starts. Not necessarily with sobriety. At least not for me. Recovery for me, began with refurbishing my house of mirrors. It took seven years. Isn't that funny? Seven years to fix the broken mirrors.
When I found my 2010 'reasons to stop' list the other day, my immediate thought was 'why did it take so long?'. I really had to reflect on that. I was embarrassed that it took me seven years to make the approach.
But now I understand that my approach was to rebuild my house, from the underground, up. And my underground was 35 years deep. So, of course it took seven years.
And it was absolutely worth it, because the next time I found myself flat on my arse, wondering where my tablecloth was gone, my house of mirrors showed me who it was, standing back up. And that she was somebody worth staying for.
And that's what my first year of sobriety has been about. Learning to stay, when all I know how to do, is leave.
Here I am now, 42 years of age, two years married and one year sober and I won't be celebrating either, by getting drunk. And I no longer Smoke. Or write cheques I can't cash.
These are miracles, Pilgrim. If you know me, you might agree. I really did not know there was a way to be me, without smoking, drinking, binging and pretending not to give a fuck.
I'm learning how to have the kind of fun I'll actually remember. Uncontaminated with remorse. I'm sleeping like beauty. I wake every day with a clear and sober head and while I still have plenty of work to do on my overall wellness, way of relating and being, what I have to see me through all the discomfort recovery entails, is a sense of permanent and abiding comfort. That I am in charge of my own stability. This has been the year I learned to trust that. To trust myself.
To say no.
To say yes.
To acquaint with my feet.
To live as I want.
To work on the dream.
To move into my Body.
And to stay.
To believe at last, that I can do this. All of it.
To be ok with the time it takes.
To feel the fear.
To do it anyway.
To show up.
To finally agree, that I can trust, me.
Did you hear that, Pilgrim? I. Trust. Me.
Mad Bitch couldn't say as much. And that was her pain. So she did everything she could, to control instead. And it brought us here and I'm grateful for the learning.
Because now I know, to expect miracles.
Always, Amanda xx
Want to Journal With Me? See Ireland & USA dates here.
Some Resources for Recovery:
Catherine O Grady, Eating Distress Practitioner / Counselling.
Marino Therapy Centre for ED.
Fiona Brennan, Hypnotherapy.
The Positive Habit by Fiona Brennan. Online Hypno Course.
The Mantra Project by Tammi Salas and Holly Glenn Whittaker.
Me Living Free | Recovery Blog by Bríd McGill
Clarissa Pinkola Estes | Audio Collection
Sounds True | Audio Library.
The Language Of Letting Go | Daily Meditations on Codependency | Melody Beattie.