“I wasn’t sure if I was an alcoholic,” Brené Brown writes in her happy-23-year-sober-anniversary blog post, “but during my teens and twenties my partying ranged from ‘she’s fun and wild’ to ‘self-destructive.’”
I’m a country girl. Growing up in a 10.000 soul village in the middle of the wine street in Germany. We celebrate wine in big festivals under open skies and in glas sizes other people call vases. From late August to November. They’re called “Weinfest”. Germany is s drinking culture. We drink for any reason. And in my region, we drink A LOT. Bottles and bottles of wine. The government subsidises it. From beginning to end. 38,895 Million Euro in 2019. Same number in 2020.
My husband just started a new job in a rehab clinic for drug addicts. He’s a sports scientist and his job is to bring the people in the clinic back in touch with their bodies. My husband is Mr. Sober. He’s been an athlete all his life, a competitive goalkeeper for 20 years of his life. And even though soccer players are heavy drinkers at times, he’s not. And never was. He had his first beer with 18 and his last with 22. There was a competition or game every weekend ever since he was 5 years old. And to him it was most important to show up full power. No time for distractions.
He comes home telling stories about the people in the clinic. Not mentioning names, but telling their stories. Foreign stories to him. Very familiar stories to me. They are the stories of my youth. I started very early. My family was full of smokers. Heavy smokers. 1990 smoking was still hip, and sexy and very cultural. I remember being on an international flight with my mum. People were smoking in airplanes. Unfortunately we were seated in the smoker section. I was 7 years old. My 10.000 souls village was famous for tobacco. My mum remembers how to bind tobacco leaves to hang them to dry in the tobacco halls which shape the romantic picture of our area. Alcohol and tobacco. They go together so well.
There is video of me at 10 years old raging against the nonsense of smoking: “it smells disgustingly, it’s so expensive, so bad for your health, smokeing is the most stupid thing one can engage in.” My family videoed it, “to show it to me when I’ll be a smoker myself”. I hated them for saying that. But they were right.
I got drunk at a friends party at the age of 12. I smoked a cigarette that night and something rewired in my brain. In the 35 years being in my body by now I learned that I’m a very passionate person. Some call it intense. The premature intense passion surfaced in very intense emotions in my childhood. Without emotional coping strategies impossible to deal with. I bounced off every wall. Substances ease off the intensity. I learned from my surrounding. A drink here, a cigarette there. The painful comment of a parent or teacher, “let’s go around the corner to smoke a cigarette”, a deep breath and I’ll blow the smoky cloud of pain away. Or shove it deeper down into my chest… but that’s something I should only learn much later. Cigarettes became joints and a drink became the vase size glas.
I was never too much into wine. I just didn’t like the taste. Rum and Whisky did the job, too. Mix it with lemonade and it tastes much better. Joints became bongs and soon enough I packaged white powder for my friend into 1gr packages for easy sale in the club. At the age of 16 I walked into the clubs behind my tall friends. The doorman knew me. “She’s the cute little girl dancing all night”. I never touched the white powder. “It’s not for girls” my friends said. “We’re take care of you. You won’t get any of this from us. The joint fits you much better and you don’t want to problems that comes with the powder.” I accepted it. I was happy with the numbing that came with the Marihuana. The comforting soothing of the intensity of the emotions. It uplifted the heavy lows. And it cooled down the intense highs. Keeping me in a very predictable-always-same-level-flatness with puffy eyes, a dry mouth and giggles about weird things.
Watching my friends frown in scary grimaces when coming down from too much Speed and taking watches and cars from my dealer friends’ clients who couldn’t pay for the cocaine… I stayed away from the powder… not my cup of tea. Instead I learned to build tulips, build a bong myself, pull the right amount with the right amount of patience to fill a bucket and train my lungs to smoke like my male friends. I’m still proud of my rolling skills. I always wanted to become a professional joint roller. I was discussing very intensely at our youth club and was very much part of the “legalise it” party. Smoking weed helped me to stay engaged in my studies for Abitur. I spent evenings and nights smoking joints, totally immersed in my studies. I was very eager. My grades were flawless. “My partying ranged from ‘she’s fun and wild’ to ‘self-destructive.’” My mum was worried at times. But it was all “in range” and everyone hoped it was “just a phase”. And what looked like a “normal teenager” was a suffering young woman who never learned “dealing with, standing in and learning from her raw, intense and authentic emotions”.
And then, Christmas 2001, I fell sick. Suddenly and unexpectedly. My lungs were still hurting from our “Christmas pot smoking”, it felt like a flue and then fever struck me so hard that I started hallucinating. Taken to the hospital, intensive care, sepsis, multiple organ failure, artificial coma. 3 weeks of school medicine digging in the dark while saving my life. There was a staphylococcus aureus involved. But they didn’t know from where and how and why. After a lot of research and Trauma work I put it ad acta as:
A strong invitation to change.
Being on morphine is a whole other layer of experiencing numbing through substance. Something I certainly don’t need to repeat again. And there it was. A wish arose. I just wanted to be clean. Clean to be able to concentrate and understand what has happened to me. Lying there in intensive care recovering from artificial respiration, I just wanted to be able to breath again fully and use my body, get up and walk, dance… When I looked down my body, my brain rewired again. Back to its initial wiring. This body is a gift. It’s a miracle. It’s a celebration.
Weeks and months of recovery. Of learning to walk again, read again, move again. Of loosing hair. All of it. Of searching… for the true purpose of my life. I was so ripe. So raw, so fresh from shaking hands with death. Before life flushed me finally into the tender arms of yoga I had to take another detour through “the ways of society”. A “cheers” with my friends “to be alive”. A night out here. A cigarette there. A perfectly rolled joint. But the alcohol hurt my stomach. And the smoke hurt my lungs. And the marihuana blurred something in my mind that truly wanted to see clearly.
A friend of my family came from Chile for a visit. A wild woman who left Germany many years ago to go traveling. She told stories of magic and bravery. Of divine intervention and the ways of god. Her eyes sparked passion, joy and wisdom and I hung at her lips waiting for the next exciting word. I was just 18. And I was taken. She went to an ashram for a retreat. She asked me if I wanted to come. Highschool was done. I liked Yoga. It helped me very much in the recovery and was always an anchor during my times of study. I came along.
It was a “Bodywork” Seminar. 7 days. Asanas 8 hours a day. My friend crawled out the tent at 5am to take the morning Pranayama also. It’s very powerful she said. I came along. It blew my broken lungs open to an extend that I got scared. It was too much at once. And I was grateful that we had to leave early. Her dad had a tumor diagnosis.
I was grateful we left. Yet something shifted, I went back. But I went back as someone else. Or better. I went back as “myself”. But “myself” was so foreign to myself that it took me a long time to get to know, uncover, integrate and embody who I really am. I have done a lot of harm to my body and my psyche. We had to become friends slowly. There was a lot of forgiveness to be done.
I left alcohol, cigarettes and marihuana STRICTLY behind to substitute with coffee. To overdo that. I left coffee behind to substitute with asana and superfoods. To overdo that. I left the nutrition dogma behind for fasting. To overdo that. An all or nothing personality. Once addictive, always addictive? Is what I thought for a long time. In the beginning of sober I didn’t want to and couldn’t be around my old circles of friends. I couldn’t engage in old activities. Everyone and everything was loaded with addiction triggers. So I practiced Yoga. That was safe. And I stayed strict. That was safe. And I learned about my every possible emotion. To notice them through meditation. To name them through non violent communication. To rumble with them through the work of Brené Brown. To be in them with my-rock-in-the-shore-nothing’s-gonna-scare-me-husband. And in those 15 years those I feel something in me has eased.
I rolled a joint around this new year. I still enjoy rolling. I smoked because I felt safe in myself. It was a fun evening with friends.
I woke up with a sore throat and pain in my chest. I knew I was done. A clean, clear feeling of lightness.
I’m done with this.
I love myself the way I am.
I love my life the way it is.
I’m receptive enough to notice, feel, embrace and sort out any possible emotion my body-mind-continuum is capable of manifesting.
I remain in gratitude. Life meant very well with me. And I choose to believe in the good of things, people and the ONE.
I remain SOBER and think it’s fun!
I still use the vase size glasses. Apfelschorle is an amazing drink.