Sober 12 years and I still have bouts of anxiety and depression. Once upon a time, alcohol helped with anxiety symptoms and allowed me to be engaged and productive. It worked so well that I did not develop any other anxiety-coping behaviors. More alcohol as needed, became my prescription. This was eventually followed by darker and darker depression and suicide ideation.
I’ve written two suicide notes with one attempt, both in the throes of seemingly endless cycles of fear, anxiety, regret, shame, more depression, more fear, more anxiety, …, combined with increasing dependency on alcohol. Sober, anxiety, emotional fatigue, escape, can and have created sadness, hopelessness, that I cannot seem to shake and that eventually become depressive episodes. Though without alcohol use in the equation, I haven’t written any suicide notes.
Because I go to 6-7 AA or Al Anon meetings weekly, I avoid sinking into the despair that came with the isolation from people that I care about and that care about me. I should add that I continue to take an antidepressant and have availed myself of therapy from time to time. Sober, I can see sadness as sadness. Moments of hopelessness as temporary. Regret rarely becomes shame.
I’ve realized that there is no shame in being sober. Sober, I’m able to live mindfully. Living mindfully: I meditate, write poetry, list gratitude in journals, take a walk, play music, make and eat a good meal, and connect with fellow travelers in recovery daily as ways of being anxious only occasionally, and without being consumed by anxiety. I’ve fallen off of cliffs before and at least now, I see the edge of the cliff (or a friend sees it for me) before I fall.
Sometimes writing poems such as these, make visible the invisible. They help me be aware of feelings that I didn’t even know that I was feeling. Sometimes they serve as a reminder of what it was like then and what it is like now.
Hard to know
Which came first
Once upon a time
And oh how I crave light
The air grows cold
Chills my heart
And I sink further
Into the abyss
Of my shame
Lo the times I felt alone
In a room filled with others
The pain of alienation
Hiding from shame
Afraid of the dark
Afraid of the light
Afraid of being afraid
Breathless my helpless spirit falls
And sinks tumbling towards despair
I scrabble and grab for purchase
A handhold to stop my downward spiral
Only to windmill with desperate arms
As I career ever further into the abyss
I gasp and I cry a cry no one can hear
For in the inky darkness of depression
Cries are silent silenced by shame
I fall I spiral gravity slows my fall
I breathe long deep and slow
Once twice and thrice
My lungs fill and my spirit begins to rise
Rise on the very air that I breathe
For breath is spirit and spirit is breath
About the Author
Robert B. is a sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive.