There are flowers in the vase where I left them last week. I can never remember to change the water and there’s a part of me that worries about what that says about me. There’s a part of me that always worries what things say about me. That part isn’t big though and it’s crowded out by other worries most of the time. I find myself accommodating that part a lot, though. Little ways I remind myself to do what I’m supposed to. Clean the house, water the plants, I sit down at this desk and open that document. Make things presentable, some carry over from a suburban childhood, I swore I’d never imitate. We always go back to the things we fight that hard.
There are so many rules for being a human being and I worry sometimes that I’m the only one who can’t keep up, no matter how much control I exert over myself. I’ve always felt a bit off, like my reactions never quite fit a situation. Like I am doing emotions wrong maybe. Like maybe I should practice more. Drinking kept that close to me, even as it held it at bay. And that’s the funny thing about drinking. For me at least it started out a social activity and it’s really easy to explain something like that away as okay, as normal even. But sometimes the easiest and the scariest place to feel alone is in a room full of people.
Drinking also kept me anonymous. Drunk people don’t care about the answers to the questions they ask. They don’t even care if they remember to ask them. You cannot connect there, everything is turned inward. It’s play-acting at connection, and sometimes it’s even convincing, though you know it’s fake. It still makes you feel safe knowing you won’t need to say one true word all evening. No one will even notice. You are, in all of the ways that matter, alone. And when the booze haze wears off and your head pounds in the morning, you won’t be able to escape that anymore.
When you get sober, the noise rushes in. You can’t stop it. It comes in with all the emotions and the dreams you’ve stomped down. It comes with regrets and shame, memories you have been running from for longer than you can remember. Fears that speak your name and wear your face. But what no one tells you, when you get sober is that that’s just the beginning. I was naïve enough to think I would have a handle on things by now.
I didn’t sleep much last night. I alternated between the deep sleep of the exhausted and staring into the darkness. A pure perfect darkness where you don’t know what’s right in front of you but it holds you in itself, suspended. I remembered, for the first time in a long time, what being alone and afraid in the dark feels like. And I resent it.
I’ve been working a lot through the things that make me who I am, the things that I never thought to question. The things the drinking hid because that was what it was supposed to do. The things that control has kept tightly in place since. You see, I know what it is to create an identity that protects. To wrap it tightly around your body and pray it is enough, while you know it isn’t. I know what it is to collect pieces of other people and try to make them fit over your own wants and needs. I know what it is to go silent behind a mask of what other people want you to be. I know how it can feel like it fits because you want it to, so badly. But it never does.
I always thought that if I faked it enough I would eventually feel at home in who I had become. But I never did. I became a good actor, but never a good liar. Taking all of these pieces off, remembering where they came from, and honoring the role they used to play for me, is a long road. One I can’t see the end of yet, if there is one. This will never be finished. And if I’m honest, and I’m trying to be now, I don’t know how to become myself because I don’t even know what that looks like. I never knew that I got to make those choices. And I don’t know how this isn’t something that other people struggle with.
There were so many expectations on me, always so many. First to be smart, to be tough, resilient. Later to be beautiful, small, accommodating, understanding, “easygoing” which really meant devoid of needs. I didn’t know that I was allowed to want. That I could exist outside of the wants of other people. I didn’t know about boundaries. I didn’t know I could be myself even when others didn’t like who that was. The people who’ve loved me through this whole mess feel like miracles. Like something I didn’t earn.
Sometimes I think of the things and the people that I’ve lost and I wonder how I’m still standing. What is wrong with me, that this hasn’t knocked me down? Is this stubbornness or just self-preservation? I don’t know. But I know that I have hopped people and places and lives because remaining holds up a mirror with eyes I don’t know that I can meet. I’ve been running from what my portrait has become my whole life. And I don’t know if people will like her, this me I’ve hid, but I’m trying to be okay with the fact that that’s not the point anymore.