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~ Follow along and read all of Annie’s columns on Elephant here.
I had no idea how incredibly and deeply broken I was until I took away the tool I’d been using to hold it all together.
Here I stand, six years later, and I’m still working to glue back together the pieces of myself that fell apart when I ripped off the duct tape that was supposedly holding it all together.
Addiction is a funny thing. We don’t seek to turn to alcohol, food, drugs, or other vices. It happens quite innocently, almost MacGyver-style. It’s like when a button pops off your shirt in the middle of the workday and you life-hack it back together using a paperclip. Addiction is that paperclip—at the moment, we’re using what we have to hold ourselves together. So a glass of wine, a bag of chips, or a website works as a quick fix.
Our brains are funny things though and they easily get programmed to go back to what worked before. So while we intended our vices to just be a quick fix, our brain sees the opposite. It’s saying, “Hey, this worked when we were broken before. We need this again to fix it.” And that is how an innocent glass of wine turns into two bottles of wine a night. The paperclip transforms into an entire roll of duct tape, and what was working to fix us instead just broke us even further.
When you spend a decade or longer reaching for wine, food, or whatever it is to help you get through every unpleasant situation life throws at you, it’s an incredibly long, complicated, and sometimes painful process to heal how incredibly broken you are inside. This journey has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and the most painfully beautiful thing I have ever witnessed.
Working through the depth of my brokenness and uncovering the incredible human inside of me who had been numbed and dumbed down for years by alcohol has been an incredible gift. It’s forced me to grow and define success in ways that had nothing to do with my status in life and everything to do with learning how to be human.
Initially, I wasn’t much of a drinker at all. I could take it or leave it. It wasn’t until a boss, who I respected greatly and wanted to impress, told me that drinking was required for success in my career that I started drinking. I approached it the same way I had always approached everything else—I would be the best at it.
And I was.
I could drink just like the boys, I was on fire in my career, jet setting around the globe, and “living the life!” On the outside, I was incredibly successful in all the ways society tells us we should be. On the inside, I was shattered. I was taking upwards of five medications to deal with the crushing depression and anxiety that I was dealing with. Drinking to be social, to relax, for intimacy, for liquid courage, in order to sleep.
If there was a problem, my wine could fix it. Until 3:33 am when the alcohol would wear off, and I’d awaken anxiety-riddled and questioning why I was so unhappy when I was living the life everyone else wanted.
That began the journey I’ve been on ever since. I ripped the duct tape off and stopped thinking that alcohol could fix me. Maybe my brokenness wasn’t even something that needed fixing. Maybe it was just a part of me that I needed to accept rather than numb.
Could it be that our broken parts are part of what makes us beautiful? Like a piece of Kintsugi pottery that was broken and beautifully repaired. Don’t we all shine brighter when we stop numbing ourselves and instead allow ourselves to heal?
I quickly discovered that the very things I was drinking to fix weren’t really broken. They were a very real and sometimes uncomfortable part of life. What was incredibly broken was my response to those things. Rather than accepting that in order to heal and grow I needed to feel and deal with the unpleasant parts of life, I instead chose to numb myself from them.
That is where I found the beauty in being incredibly broken. I learned that you can’t numb selectively. When you choose not to feel, it steals away the emotion from every situation—good or bad.
The beauty in being incredibly broken came when the ability to feel came back. How many incredibly joyful and heartwarming experiences had I missed out on when I thought a glass of wine would make the event more enjoyable? How many times had I lost the catharsis that comes from allowing myself to cry, yell, or just complain to someone when life gets hard?
What is incredibly broken in not just me but in our society, is that we think feeling things and being human is wrong. It’s not. We’re beautiful and so are all of our emotions—even the unpleasant ones. I’ve discovered all those things are what force me to grow and cope as a person.
Now that I’m no longer pouring wine on my woes, I have the freedom to learn more about myself and get curious about my feelings. What I saw as being incredibly broken was really just the areas where no one had poured the gold in yet to patch the cracks we all have as people.
None of us have it all together. We are all constantly breaking and healing. The roots of a tree have to break the soil in order to grow and we too must stretch and sometimes fall apart in order to grow.
There is no greater beauty than being able to look back on a moment when I fell apart and see that instead of choosing to numb myself and stay stagnant in the situation, I instead chose to get curious. To ask myself what I was feeling, why I felt that way, and find a way out instead of around.
Even broken, we still have a purpose and potential.
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