“I don’t want to be thought of as a survivor because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift, and I’m not interested in doing that anymore.” – Carrie Fisher
Something I learned over ten years ago is that getting sober is hard. Harder than I imagined. Harder than non-alcoholics can imagine. Stopping drinking was hard. Looking back, with a clearer mind, and seeing all the damage I’d done was hard. Trying to stop blaming the world and other people for all my troubles was hard. Accepting that everything didn’t immediately get better when I put down a drink was hard. But, I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told.
Funny enough, I lost most of my “friends” when I cleaned up my act. At least I thought I did. It took me awhile to learn that fellow barfly’s really can’t be classified as friends. I had no more of an interest in hanging out with a bunch of drunks than they had interest in hanging out with someone who was sober. I got to know people in Alcoholics Anonymous, but it took a while to develop new friendships. I was lonely. But, I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told.
Once I got sober I had to find a job, even though my brain wasn’t fully functional yet. I didn’t have my act together enough to return to corporate America, so rather than sending out resumes, I was going door to door filling out applications. When I found a job my suits went into the back of the closet so I could put my aprons in the front of the closet. I had been offered a job as a cashier and a bagger at a supermarket and finances forced me to accept it. It was humbling. But, I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told.
After a few years sober things started coming together again. I started a new job and was quickly promoted to manager. I began dating again and eventually got into a loving relationship with Maurice, the man who would become my husband. I stopped renting someone’s bedroom and moved into an apartment. I met knew people and developed loving, long-lasting friendships. Then suddenly I took a turn for the worst. My depression became more pronounced and I began to have more manic episodes, which were more frequent and more pronounced. But, I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told.
The rollercoaster of extreme highs and extreme lows forced me to quit my job. I became agoraphobic. I began having seizures and my highs and lows became more extreme. My life was spinning out of control. I was confused and scared. But, I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My mania and my depression both progressed. I began to get confused and lost easily. I’d get off the bus and have no idea where I was. At times Maurice would have to leave work to find me. I couldn’t enter a supermarket because all the lights, sounds, packaging and people bustling were too overwhelming. Once I even got lost in a movie theater. It was all terrifying. Sometimes all I could do was sit and cry. But, I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told.
For years I was told I was a survivor. I was told I was a fighter too. It made me proud at first, but that quickly faded. I became angry. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to be a fighter – I didn’t want anything to fight about. I didn’t want to be a survivor – I wanted nothing to survive from. Once, I was at an A.A. meeting with a man with over fifty years of sobriety. You’d think during that time he would have been wise enough to know what to say and not to say. Instead, he made the unfortunate mistake of telling me I was a survivor because I was such a fighter. By the time I was done with him, he clearly regretted opening his mouth. But I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told.
Why was I born with the predisposition of becoming an alcoholic? I don’t know. Why was I born with bipolar disorder? I don’t know. Why did it have to be me? I don’t know. All I want to do is be the best me – the best me I can possibly be. When I look back at my life, it was hell, yet I made it through it. Of course, I wish I didn’t have to be survivor. I wish it hadn’t been so hard. But what good does it do to be resentful? What good does it do to whine? I am a survivor and I accept it. I embrace it. It’s been a long road. But I’m a survivor. That’s what I was told – that is what I say. That is what I say with pride.