Say what? Early on, when I would hear that somewhat perverse phrase being bandied about the rooms of my twelve-step program, I would cringe. Why, in order to move forward, would anyone be required to experience pain? It made absolutely no sense to me at all. And it certainly was not a philosophy I subscribed to.
The import of those four words, however, did ring familiar. My sister who beat me into recovery by three years never tired of trying to impress upon me that the only way to get to the other side of pain was to go through it, rather than walk around it. And I always thought she brought that little gem home from her therapy sessions: Interesting analogy.
Pain was my justification for diving into the sacred font of alcohol. Not only was alcohol a rational choice, but It was convenient and accessible. It was an escape hatch that I was familiar with, long before my own baptism into this disease.
Growing up in an in environment where alcohol seemed to provide relief from the day to day stress of life in general, I viewed it as a miracle elixir; a cure-all for most of life’s problems. I remember when my dad wanted to escape my mom’s nagging, a trip to the corner bar seemed to work. Hours later when he returned, he would be all smiles, the tension siphoned into that second or third, or maybe the fourth, draft beer.
But, before he took off his jacket, the fireworks would begin. Arguments often ensued for hours, and by the end of the evening, his stress was two-fold, as was mine, my mom’s, and my sister’s. But I did not see that, then, nor later, when I was in my own addiction.
The reality was, instead of issues getting resolved, the pattern of using alcohol to escape life and its pain, and the ensuing consequences were repeated again, and again. The can was kicked down the alley and solutions were sacked on the forty-yard line.
From the beginning, my drinking career was based on escape. Whether from feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy, fear of people and social situations, or emotional abuse; I seemed to be aimlessly drifting downstream into the ocean of alcohol. That temporary life-raft became a ton of bricks weighing me down in my own passivity. Without realizing it, I had voluntarily submitted to true powerlessness.
I finally had to ask myself: Did alcohol miraculously instill in me the confidence I envied in others? Did it really put me at ease with people and situations where I could carry on an intelligent conversation without the nagging butterflies and sweaty palms? It may have allowed me to hide in the corner, or prompted me to make an ass out of myself, but it did not attain that burning desire to fit in. And whatever payoff I thought I had netted; it was not sustainable.
Then there was the emotional pain I lived with for years. The abuse, that was as loud as thunder and as oppressive as an onerous gray sky forcing me to my knees; that pain that I saw, heard, and felt, yet was invisible to the world. Invisible, because shame prompted me to hide it behind a phony smile and an everything’s fine response.
In my addiction, I did not realize that I had choices. Every time I was faced with an opportunity to make a troubling decision or turned my back on the fact that my children were as threatened by my domestic situation as me, I hid in the bottle, thinking tomorrow everything would be better. But nothing ever changed; nothing ever got better. My husband had taken me hostage, but it was my inability to act, that took my children hostage.
Coming to grips with that reality was equivalent to being hit over the head with a sledgehammer. It was devastating. The escape hatch slapped shut, and I was forced to sit with the pain, like it or not. And the most valuable lesson that I have learned in recovery is that action is the antithesis of escape.
Today, when I am sponsoring other women: no pain-no gain is my little tagline after the twelve steps.