Fear Leaves the Body
“We’re going to uncover the reasons why you were drinking in the first place” is something that a therapist said to me, after I had been sober for about three weeks. I was curious - what did she mean? Didn’t I get blackout drunk because I simply loved alcohol more than other people? I went to the therapist because I wasn’t sure how I was going to stay sober. It’s a difficult, familiar place that addicts understand: I can’t keep drinking because I am pretty sure it’s killing me, but I have no idea how to stop.
My drinking was a serious coping mechanism, until my life began unravelling. In particular, my inner life felt out of control. Every day, I could feel myself losing touch with reality. I started to wonder if I cared that I was losing my mind. Maybe surrendering to my drinking was the best option. It was so exhausting trying to hold down a job, and a family, while hiding my insane levels of drinking from everyone, trying to pretend that I was normal. Drinking was my favourite thing - so maybe I should just let it be the priority! I knew I had gone over the edge, but I could not stop drinking. I had tried to stop many times, but I couldn’t even stop for a day.
Until. I woke up badly hungover one day in March 2014, with a deep sense of shame. Shame took on a new shape that day. I was sure that shame would kill me, and deep inside, I knew that I absolutely could not go on. That was the first day of my recovery.
As I moved through the world, painfully sober, I noticed how much fear was trapped in my body. I was trapped in a constant state of terror. I was scared to walk outside at night, I was scared to go running, and I felt extremely suspicious when people came near me on the subway. Everywhere I went, I had an uneasy feeling that someone or something was out to get me. Being alive and sober was grim. My nervous system was totally disorganized. I had been programmed to think of the world as a mean, awful place, and I felt so, so anxious. Because I drank heavily for many years, and was hungover and subdued so much of the time, I wasn’t conscious of the depth of my anxiety and overwhelm until I sobered up. I had to face another choice: resolve the fear, or go back to drinking.
I have heard many addicts talk about their experience with fear. The fear lives inside of us, a response to old traumas. We are hypervigilant, expecting the worst, and ready to flee the scene.
Sober, I had to figure out how to move through the overwhelm, unpack the trauma, and find a totally new way to live. I cannot overstate how difficult this work was, and is - healing from trauma is a full time job. You have to be brave to turn inwards, look at your life story, make sense of what has happened to you, process pain, and accept that this work takes time.
I learned to work with my fears and my traumas through a lot of Focusing-oriented therapy (which means working with the felt sense in the body), by listening to other people in recovery talk about their stories, and through noticing sensations and emotions in my body while meditating.
Over the last few years, I have shed old traumas, and learned how to regulate my nervous system. I don’t startle when people come near me anymore. When I feel fear arising, I have a way to work with it. I can calm and centre myself. I feel a deep inner peace and a sense of ease. Life isn’t always easy - but I have many choices about how to cope with what arises. I am deeply in touch with my aliveness, and my purpose. When I think about my old, drunk self, I feel compassion. I was fumbling around, doing the best I could. I am super grateful for everything I have learned about myself and my life, so far, through my addiction and my recovery.