Chapter 3 - Enter Alcohol: A Personal Journey
In my senior year of high school, I had my first taste of intoxication from alcohol. It was a camping trip at Jones Creek where I discovered the power of alcohol in helping me overcome my social challenges. Fueled by the confidence of three Zimas, that night became the setting where I experienced my first romantic encounter with a boy who I was attracted to. We shared a drunken kiss while standing on the rocks in the middle of the creek, and it was an intense moment of intoxicated love.
Upon returning home from the weekend, I mustered the courage to call the boy, but he seemed disinterested in talking to me. It was as though our fleeting romance had already come to an end and a deep feeling of rejection washed over me. I had never been one to attract many people romantically during my youth. My homecoming date was a close friend who later came out as gay. I never received an invitation to prom and my only short-lived relationship during my senior year ended with my boyfriend cheating on me.
My college experience was a complete disaster. I relied on alcohol to give me the confidence I lacked, and it only led me to situations where I was mistreated and taken advantage of by college guys. It wasn't until my senior year that I realized the negative effects of my drinking: losing friends and struggling with my studies, so I decided to take a break. And that's when I met Spencer.
Spencer was a brilliant pre-law student, who rekindled my passion for learning and creativity. Together, we made a great team, exploring museums, spending time in the library, and supporting each other in our studies. Spencer accepted and loved me for who I was, but he struggled to express it in words. When it was time for me to move back to Oregon, he didn't try to stop me and let me go.
After returning to live with my parents, I met Dan at a local sports bar where I worked as a cocktail waitress. His tattoos, good looks, and mesmerizing baby blue eyes had a certain coolness that drew me in. Dan showered me with affection through deep conversations late into the evenings, and frequent drinking and visits to bars. After two months of dating, I found out that I was pregnant with twins, and I immediately quit drinking and devoted all my energy to being a parent.
I was so focused on being a good mom that I allowed the voice of judgment in my head to convince me that a two-parent household was necessary. This led me to stay in a relationship that was not right for me. I neglected my own needs and desires for the sake of that relationship, but looking back, I don't feel ashamed or regretful about it. I believe that we can only do better when we know better, and at that time, I didn't know any better. I substituted alcohol with parenthood, molding my identity around being a mother and a wife.
Without my boys, I'm not sure what would have happened, but I truly believe they saved my life. If it weren't for them, I may never have stopped drinking then or later.
After years of neglecting myself and enduring an emotionally abusive relationship, my struggles with alcohol resurfaced when my boys were around 10 years old. This marked the beginning of a five-year downward spiral.
Chapter 4 – Saturdays: Recharge and Restore
I slept in until nearly noon today as Saturday is my designated day to recharge. Despite working remotely, the mental and emotional demands of my work in government systems can be overwhelming. Consequently, on Saturdays, I let my body guide my actions, and today it led me to sleep in until I spotted bunnies frolicking in my backyard.
My home is my sanctuary, providing me with an undeniable sense of security. I customized it with my sensory needs in consideration, including perfect lighting, comfortable blankets and fabrics, captivating artwork, an endless supply of coffee, and my beloved feline companion, Tygra. My partner, James, is the cherry on top, acting as my trusted confidant, romantic partner, and best friend.
The feeling of having a favorite person in the world is indescribable, and he provides me with a sense of absolute security.
I believe that for autistic individuals, feeling secure is a fundamental necessity. As an autist, I can attest that being in an environment that feels unsafe can prompt an adverse response with little warning. Such a reaction can range from increased anxiety and discomfort to a full-blown meltdown. Therefore, it's crucial for me and many others with autism to feel safe in our surroundings. Feeling safe entails more than just physical safety. It also involves a sense of emotional security, which includes a degree of predictability and stability. This is why I have customized my home to suit my sensory needs, as it provides me with a predictable and safe environment. Having a space where I feel secure means I can relax and be myself without fear of judgment or unpredictability.
As an autistic individual, my ability to thrive in a given environment is contingent upon the level of safety and certainty that I feel.
When I am in a space that provides me with a sense of security, I am able to operate at my full potential, allowing my unique strengths and talents to shine through. However, when the environment is unstable or unpredictable, my anxiety levels surge, leading to a cascade of physiological and emotional responses that can greatly compromise my functioning. The resulting sensory overload or meltdown can make socializing an uphill battle. As such, creating an environment of safety and certainty is paramount to my well-being and ability to meaningfully engage with the world around me.
Last night, uncertainty crept into our home. My partner's daughter is currently battling an alcohol use disorder and required admission into a treatment facility for a week. In the midst of this, my partner agreed to take on the responsibility of caring for her adorable cavapoo named Romeo. As soon as the proposal was made, I realized that agreeing to take care of Romeo was not the best idea, given our dog Vito's tendency to struggle with smaller dogs. Despite my reservations, my inclination to please others overpowered my better judgment, and I agreed to assist with Romeo's care.
Despite our efforts to make it work, the introduction between Vito and Romeo was a complete disaster. We even took preemptive measures by ordering a muzzle for Vito ahead of time and devising a plan for their first interaction. However, it quickly turned into a chaotic scene as Vito despised the muzzle and managed to break free from it. The attempt to bring the two dogs together resulted in Vito aggressively charging towards poor Romeo, and I had to use all my strength to pull him away. Despite our attempts to separate Vito and Romeo, it was a futile effort as Vito persisted in roaming around the house, constantly sniffing out Romeo's location. On the other hand, poor Romeo was confined to a room and expressed his distress through incessant whining.
Last night, I dedicated my time to scouring the Rover app in search of a dependable and appropriate caregiver for Romeo. After careful consideration, I found a wonderful individual with exceptional reviews. Upon dropping off Romeo, I discovered that the pet sitter, Kye, was not only a proficient caregiver, but also a preschool teacher. While I feel somewhat remorseful for not including Sarah, James's daughter, in this decision, I strongly believe that it was the correct course of action. Despite any lingering guilt, James and I are both convinced that this decision was imperative for the safety of both dogs, as well as our own mental and emotional wellbeing.
However, we decided to keep it a secret from Sarah for now. We don't want to add any unnecessary stress to her current struggles with alcohol use disorder and her decision to seek treatment. Disclosing that Romeo is in someone else's care might only add to her worries, and we want her to focus on her recovery. It was a difficult decision, but we believe it was the best one for everyone involved.
Sarah, who is currently 26, has been struggling with alcohol use since the age of fourteen. The death of her mother four years ago only intensified her reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism, exacerbated by the pain of her parents' divorce when she was just fourteen years old.
James has been a pillar of support for Sarah since she bravely revealed her struggles with alcohol about three years ago. Her initial attempt at sobriety involved a 30-day stay at a Malibu treatment center, and although she was able to stay sober for a while, the COVID-induced isolation and unresolved emotional issues led her back to her familiar coping mechanism. Last November, she checked into an inpatient treatment center on the Oregon coast for another 30-day program, which seemed to have transformed her. However, she recently confessed that she had been drinking again since Christmas and was seeking help to get back on track.
Alcohol is a dangerous substance that often goes overlooked in our society. Despite its harmful effects, it is often normalized and even celebrated in many social circles. When an individual battles with an addiction to alcohol, they are often met with stigma and judgment, which only adds to their struggle.
When I first sought help for my struggles with alcohol, I was overwhelmed and lacked an understanding of Alcohol Use Disorder, or alcoholism as it's commonly known.
The truth is, there isn't one singular reason why someone may develop this issue, and the complex interplay of contributing factors is unique to each person. As a result, overcoming this problem can be one of the most difficult things a person may face in their lifetime.
In my own experience, I turned to alcohol because I felt lost and unsure of my own identity and alcohol helped me cope with the overwhelming social and sensory stimulation that was constantly present in my life.
To me, recovery is a journey of self-discovery where one peels away the layers of societal conditioning and the pressure to conform, which can shape a person into someone they are not. Thus, in my case, alcohol was not the root cause of my struggles, but rather a manifestation of my lack of self-awareness and understanding.
For me, recovery has been a journey towards personal liberation and taking back control of my life.