I’m sitting at the table in my living room, surrounded by a sea of half-packed boxes and bags, one of the most harrowing and exciting sights for me today. I’m eating a bowl of something I whipped together with the contents of the fridge and cupboard that I was trying to use up. Considering the fact that it contains the odd ends of umpteen bottles and spice jars, it actually tastes great. Admittedly, it’s not that much of a feat – I don’t mind admitting that I’m quite good at this impulsive, agile cooking – I’ve moved around a lot.
This is the first time I’ve moved since I got sober two years ago. As with many things I’ve done during this time, I have to approach it with curiosity and an open mind, without the prejudices that tell me “oh, this is how I act when I [insert activity]” or “I’m no good at [insert whatever] because of [insert excuse]”. No excuses – the only thing that’s limiting myself in those situations is me.
The last few times I’ve moved, I’ve kept myself well-oiled to avoid the feelings of loss and fear that tend to underlie those junctures. When I was moving out of my last house in Dublin in 2013, packing to move to the US for the first time, I was drunk and rolling on MDMA (on the other side of my bedroom door was a gnarly house party, in full swing). I arrived at the airport late, was ferried through by some airport staff who took pity on me, and was the last person to get on the plane as the other passengers looked on with scorn or amusement, all my worldly belongings hanging off me like decorations on a Christmas tree, eyes just as glassy.
When I left the USA after three debaucherous months there, to move to Italy, I spent the entire day before my flight with J, at the time a new anam cara (soul friend for you non-Gaelic speakers) who ended up being my future husband. We drank cocktails and ate a delicious (probably?) drawn out meal in a restaurant, talking about nothing and everything for hours and hours as the light faded on the street outside. Afterwards, I had him accompany me back to my house; first, we swung by his apartment to pick up his guitar. He sat on my bed and played to me while I packed, as I took intermittent breaks to collapse into my case and bawl my eyes out, swigging from a bottle of supermarket red wine that I’d insisted on getting for both of us but ended up drinking alone. I wasn’t truly feeling; I was blubbering like a spoilt child. J left with the openest of goodbyes, planted a kiss that was a semi-colon on my cheek. I passed out with my clothes on and my passport in hand, to be woken up by a weary friend who’d long been tired of my antics.
From Ireland, I flew back to the USA four months later on a whim, knowing that I had unfinished business. I’d convinced myself that I had a cold in the days leading up to the flight, which justified a self-prescribed flow of hot whiskeys from morning ’til night. My poor mother dropped me off at the airport bus that leaves my hometown at 2AM; I was slurring my goodbyes to her, barely able to stand, let alone wheel my bulging suitcase. She later told me that she cried for days.
A year after that, J and I (now married) were packing up our lives together in San Francisco, ready to take on the great unknown. We were both on the floor of our bedsit room, separating papers and clothes into piles. I was still swigging from a bottle of supermarket red wine; his silence was heavy.
We spent some time in Europe with my family and some months with his in St. Louis. Eventually, we decided to move to Chicago. In the last few days before we moved here from St. Louis, I struggled to keep up the secretive drinking patterns that I’d developed living in that house – because he’d outed me so many times, and because we were clearing out the closets, there weren’t enough places left where I could stash a bottle of wine or sherry. I could get momentarily tipsy if we went to a supermarket (I’d just steal some wine and drink it in the bathroom), but I couldn’t rely on being drunk. So, instead of being numbed by substances, instead, I was numbed by anxiety. I wasn’t present at all.
It’s been two years, and now we’re leaving the city; everything has changed. Although I keep looking at this mess in my apartment and thinking about getting into bed and curling up in a ball under the covers, I haven’t done that yet. I’ve been moving through all the logistics of leaving with ease. I am finally knowing what it feels like to walk away from a place rather than run.
In the next twenty-four hours, I leave the apartment I got sober in. The one I hid (and drank) my last bottle of wine in. The one I hit my bottom in, ten days after moving into it. The one I’ve come home to every night since, to a love that’s as big as the universe, to a comfort and a home that I’d never known before in my adult life. There’s so much richness in my sadness, I want nothing more than to experience it. And it seems to be coming naturally to me to be present, which (given my history) is quite unexpected.
But maybe, then, I shouldn’t be expecting anything.
Addict or non-addict alike, it doesn’t matter – this might be the best approach to take. We need to stop telling ourselves the same old story when the only truth is that we are constantly changing.