Tabatha Wharton


{musings of an aging millennial trope}


I have never not been involved with addicts.

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Most are children of alcoholics, if not ones themselves. There was that one guy, legitimately born on crack. And the one I held through his heroin withdrawals on my bedroom floor. And the active user, the one who called me to pick him up from his benders, the one who grabbed me by my spiky short hair and tried to force me to do a line “as a joke.” 

I had never been more grateful for my near complete inability to breathe through my nose, than that night. 

People still scoff in indignation when I state that I’ve never as much as smoked pot. How is that possible? they laugh. I am a liberal artsy punk kid -- drugs are at some point part and parcel with that tattooed and pierced and hair-dyed package, aren’t they?

But I knew better. Maybe it was my sheltered upbringing, but I fully believed in the gateway drug concept -- not from a scientific, chemical standpoint, but from knowing myself well enough. Knowing the strength of my feelings … and fears, and anxieties … once I began to do anything more than drink those away -- let’s just say, that scene, in Requiem for A Dream, with Jennifer Connolly, in that dank basement room? That felt like prophecy.

Because, I, myself, am the descendant of an addict -- a fact I didn’t learn until full adulthood, after my own turns with binging and black outs I could never quite mitigate, when the allure of Not. Fucking. Feeling. Anything. overtaking any concept of sense or restraint was my regular weekend past time. I had long already been completely disconnected from my corporeal self, and the promise of being able to chill out and let go and not care who was touching me or where … that, in and of itself, was drug enough, even if I never felt so come morning.

I never really stopped to drink that all in. I just kept drinking.

Even in my marriage, alcohol was the undercurrent of our union. We drank to be social; we drank to date; we drank to overcome fights and we drank to forget our damage … and each other. I drank to gather the strength to leave, to escape the hell I was living inside of that house and at the hands of my former spouse. And I drank to continue on that journey, to release the immense stress and sadness and anxiety at the end of my days -- as women, we are encouraged to do. Just look at Facebook for the memes about moms and wine.

And, I drank to not hate myself for becoming someone else’s other woman, and to dull the incapacitating ache that came from loving someone I couldn’t have.

When I decided to not date last year, I quietly toyed with not drinking, to force myself to sit with my heartache and discomfort and to feel my feelings without dulling them to the point of incoherence. Inevitably, once a month or so, a friend would come to town, or an event would take place, and I would partake because, well, that’s what you do when you suffer from crippling anxiety and low self esteem and you want to pull off being cool or interesting or relaxed and not a general fucking trainwreck on the inside.

Only a couple of times did I see the shadows of my former self -- around the death of a college friend; in handling the unsure terrain of a new-old relationship -- and each time, the shame and regret were as sharp as the headaches and nausea that last for days, in the wake. 

I have spent countless hours in therapy over my 33 years, deciphering my own patterns of brokenness. I have been on medications and off; I have done meditation and cognitive behavioural and yoga and anger release and running and journaling and self-affirmations and witchcraft and radical forgiveness and vulnerability and in the end, in the very flagging end, the one thing I have clung to is … 


Knowing it is a depressant. Knowing it hinders my abilities to make smart, rational, loving choices. Knowing it robs me of full days in exchange for nights I only vaguely remember. Knowing it destroys my blood sugars and my heart rate and dulls my complexion and makes my hair fall out.

I have never wanted to admit there was a problem. 

I still don’t, actually.

But I’m willing to try a year without it, a day and a week and a month at a time, to see what difference it can make.

Because I’ve watched women I admire and women I once partied with set down their bottles and let their hazy eyes clear. I’ve already lived with the Serenity Prayer as my internal plea for so many years -- dealing with active and latent addicts your entire adult life will do that to you -- that I am no stranger to that quest for that step back, that reevaluation. Can I accept this? Or can I change it? Can I tell the difference?

Can I tell the difference?

I know that I am codependent, though that is a post for another time. It is my greatest struggle, to see my own value and worth through my own eyes and not in conjunction to anyone or anything else. And I know that behavior, along with my traumas and my mental health wiring, are a prime and fertile land for a seemingly innocuous substance to take hold, especially where I sit in my life right now -- as a single parent, on the cusp of real poverty, navigating one of the most complex and heartbreaking in-flux relationships I’ve ever encountered.

Besides, have you seen those before and after photos of people who quit drinking? Dang, you guys. Dang.

I want to be able to see my life as clearly as my prescription glasses will let me. I want to learn to sit with the ugly as easily as I sit with the beautiful (which actually I don't do well with either because anxiety ruins fucking everything). I want to be present. I want to be open. And I don't want to have to live my life counting on a social lubricant to feel worthy of taking up space in the world.

I want to be able to love and to be loved without having to be lit to express or accept it.

So, my other word for 2017 is short, simple, and hopefully the beginning of true serenity.