I was eleven years old when I discovered the thing that made me feel most alive. It was poetry. It was reading. It was the digging in and undoing and unfolding of pain, in words. It was confessionalism. It was being honest and real with myself. It was being true to who I was and it was the knowing of love. It was the magic in being alive.
It appears every hard and tough memory that I remember, came at the age of eleven. If you look at pictures of me from my past, at eleven years old, there is no smile. There is never a smile. There is raccoon eyes and darkness. And a belief that happiness was unattainable.
Poetry was my escape. And it was my release. It was me moving from pain. And maybe, at this age, I moved from pain in a healthy manner. But, the desire and the obsession of moving from pain, led me into a darkness and a merciless addiction, that existed in my desperation to succeed and be validated.
I cannot pinpoint why I became a sad girl at such a young age. I have had therapists and psychologists and case managers and magicians try to understand it, try to unfold it, believing in a myth of repressed memories. Memories so terrifying that they are left as something other than a memory – perhaps a terror or a trauma – that has lived on in my soul. A terror that is pushed so far away and tucked so deeply, I still cannot touch it today.
The only reason I remember the darkness at eleven, is because that is the only time in my life, outside of my addiction, I remember being truly unhappy. Every other memory of my childhood is founded in the good – in the smiles and happy tears and love and laughter and life – in simple moments.
People tell me their stories about their mothers who didn’t love them and their fathers who left them – about their parents not holding them, and how they have longed for love their whole life.
I did not long for love. I longed for validation.
I longed for the moments when my parents said they were proud of me. The moments when they looked at me like I was just as beautiful and special as my sister. I longed for my teachers to nominate me for homecoming queen. I longed to be accomplished and successful and for people to like me and celebrate me and honor me and hold me up as something more special than I really was.
There is this saying that says: “all of the children of God are special, and none of the children of God are special.”
We each have our own talents and gifts to give. We each have a place in this world. All of us will die and all of us will live. It is what we do in the now that matters. It Is the process of surrendering.
And surrendering is hard. It is very, very hard.
But, it is possible.
This is why validation was my first love and this is how validation led to my addiction. I was attached to the result, not the doing. I was attached to what people would think of the final project, rather than the process and the experience of the project. I was attached to the future, rather than the present – in the result, rather than the gift.
I had to surrender. I could no longer live in the past or the future. I had to place my life and my heart in the hands of the universe, into the protection and care of the now. Into the beauty of the present moment.
I had to realize my life was a gift.
And I could not do it. I could not do it until I went through the awful, terrifying, debilitating darkness of addiction.
I could not surrender, without pain.
And honestly, I had hardly ever experienced the true pain of grief, and loss, and ugliness, and abuse. I did not experience this as a child. I experienced love, but I also experienced the desperation for validation. The obsession with the words: “I am proud of you.”
Every single night my mother told me she loved me. She came into my bedroom and kissed me, and told me the words that so many people long to hear from their mother. A simple I love you. I LOVE YOU.
It should have been enough, but it wasn’t.
Why wasn’t love enough?
The thought makes me tear up. I ask again, why wasn’t love enough?
I don’t know why I craved validation so much. Or why I couldn’t breathe without it. I don’t know why I preferred to hear the words “I am proud of you” over the words “I love you.”
Perhaps it had to do with jealousy, or envy. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I thought my sister was better than me. That I thought she was smarter than me. That I thought my parents loved her more than me.
I tried to be my sister. I tried to get good grades and to follow the rules and to accomplish and succeed and be kind to others and be good and strong and mighty in my resolve. I tried to be a cheerleader, like her. I couldn’t dance. I tried and I tried and I tried. And for the majority of my life, I tried to be my sister and I lived in the shadows of her.
The moments of joy. The moments of pure passion came easily when I wrote poetry. In those moments, I did not think about my sister or my parents being proud of me. I did not think of the result or the future; I was in the moment.
People say they use drugs to be in the moment. I remember an ex-boyfriend, from rehab, telling me that. He said he used drugs so he could be present and whole. At the time, it made sense, because I had cocaine in my nose and Xanax in my heart.
“Yes, my love, this is when we are our most alive.” (insert sarcasm here)
In actuality, it is the exact opposite of that. Drugs stole every moment of awareness and consciousness from my life. Drugs stole my life and drugs stole time.
But drugs, awoken me. They brought me into the blackest place, to my knees, stumbling, for life. For a breath. For a release from the constant obsession of getting high.
I became desperate. And at many times, I was desperate to die. But, something in me, wanted to live. And I did. I am sober today. But more importantly, I am alive. And not alive, in the sense of breathing and passing time. Alive in the sense that I am in love with life and the expression of gratitude. In the awakening to the beauty of what is in the now. In the present. In the moment.
When we do the things we are afraid of doing, when we step out of our fear and into our courage, we become whole. We become alive. We become full of passion and fire and wisdom and excitement and terror and magic. We become ourselves.
My addiction broke me. It allowed me to see myself for who I really am, as opposed to the person other people wanted me to be. I don’t live for the validation of others anymore.
I have surrendered to the experience rather than the result. And that is the true gift of my addiction. The ability to be fully present and whole, in today, in the now.