sober lifestyle, Uncategorized

Perfectionism, Addiction, and Rebuilding Your Life at Age 41

Rock bottom. Has anyone reading this ever hit it and bounced back?

It’s not just a phrase, not a joke to me, and as I sit here, I am not even sure how to define it. I have thought, several times in the past several years of my life, as my lifelong journalism career evaporated, that I’d sunk to the lowest point I’d ever been in my 41-year lifetime. And yet I have continued to sink lower since I left my newspaper job and started working at a digital marketing agency – the only job offered to me in a four-month search last fall.

In all seriousness, I have contemplated ending my life, because by my standards, my life, all my academic and athletic talents, my Northwestern education, my 20 years of reporting on sports, all has amounted to nothing. Right now, I’m an entry-level nobody with everything – advanced age, lack of non-journalism experience, creative skillset – working against me.

But I have kept going, kept maintaining a reason – however small – to care and to live. So “rock bottom” has apparently eluded me.  I have every intention of keeping it at bay, despite every message I send myself that the struggle is just not worth it.

Since I am still employed and alive, and my husband has not divorced me nor my family disowned me, I understand that I am one of the lucky ones. I understand that many others dealing with addictions and professional and personal crises have given in to the lure of eternal sleep, sleep that doesn’t haunt them with visions of past perceived failures, bitter coworkers and unhappy clients and unfulfilled potential, or of a promising life wasted and what looks like a disappointing future.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have continued to live and function. I have willed myself to do so, so yes, I also believe I am strong. But I still have those dreams, am still dependent on alcohol to get through everyday life, and the toxic cocktail of stress and booze is rapidly destroying my health and my relationships with those closest to me. It’s threatening to push me off the cliff, to make me finally give up.

Maybe it’s time to create a “rock bottom” for myself.

I’m too far into the weeds to truly understand how my past as a Type-A perfectionist kid whose self esteem always depended solely on achieving important things in school and sports and making other people proud and happy contributed to being a depressed, alcoholic, underemployed adult. But the past doesn’t really do much to help, except to inform and to teach, and the one thing I am 100 percent sure of right now is that ALCOHOL ADDICTION ONLY MAKES EVERYTHING WORSE.

In the long term, it absolutely makes things worse. In the short term, it doesn’t even really make things better. You only feel relieved for a little while because you’re avoiding. You’re in denial. And the more you turn to that method of coping, the more you erode away at your true self. You stunt – even kill – the growth of the powerful person who, despite being a perfectionist in search of unattainable goals, was a pretty fucking amazing girl with a bunch of things to offer the world. I still have a zest for life and for people, hidden deep down inside, that occasionally comes out.

Even if I have a lot of flaws and awkwardness and I’m “weird” and some people don’t like me, I usually turn out OK when I follow my instincts and my heart.

But, for decades, I’ve been binge drinking to escape self-doubt and crippling anxiety and existential dread and everything else a deep-feeling person feels. I started drinking because it helped me escape thinking and feeling, but it never really worked, so I just kept drinking more.

Fast forward to present day. I’m addicted to alcohol. I’ve known it for a long time, known it was a problem, known it was destroying the things I held most sacred – my identity and my connection to my family. Thing is, I didn’t care. As long as I didn’t hit that “rock bottom,” or the point where I was completely lost and alone with nothing, I didn’t care to change. As long as I had a job, a family and I wasn’t in the hospital, I rationalized that I was OK.

It’s not OK anymore. If I have to create a rock bottom for myself, it’s the realization that – regardless of what I’m doing for a living – recovery from this addiction is really the only path to a better future, for me and the people who continue to love me in spite of myself. I will never be perfect, but I’ll also never know exactly what I can accomplish with my life until I rid myself of this immense weight of addiction I’ve been carrying all this time.

I have resolved to quit forever. I don’t know yet what recovery looks like, I just know it looks really fucking scary. But I also know the alternative is death, which is worse than rock bottom, and the people who have stood by me thus far deserve better. They deserve the Jen I’m meant to be, which is, at the very least, the Jen who has the strength to be her real self – immensely imperfect, seriously flawed – and take on challenges without always looking for an escape. They deserve someone who gives unconditional love to herself so she can truly do the same for them.

They deserve the Jen who proves she’s capable of more than academic, athletic and professional success, and who proves that life is about much more than passively riding out the gifts you’re given. True strength is having everything fall apart and taking the gifts you were given to build it back up to something better than anyone knew was possible.

Wish me luck, fam. I’m going to my first meeting next week.








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