Disclaimer… I’m pecking at this entry on my iPhone while I’m sitting on a flight to visit my family in New Orleans. After a wonderful morning brunch with my bestie, Emily, where my eyes welled up with tears when she reminded me how far I’ve come, I said to her, “I’m sorry, I get emotional on my sober anniversaries… I know this now because there’s been three.” Typos and misspellings should get a pass today, my friends.
I recently started talking in my sleep again… or, maybe there is just someone there to notice now. When I was drinking, I’d sleepwalk and talk regularly; however, it was usually only on a “big” night. My college friends are very aware of this habit as we’ve been on many vacations where there’s at least one night of debauchary for some, but for me, I would participate at every opportunity.
I called it sleepwalking, but I often wonder if it was more of a blackout. I find myself relieved that I’m now doing something similar again… a much less extreme and safer version, I must say. Sleepwalking is hilarious in the morning and the only scene of “Stepbrothers” that I enjoyed when Will Ferrell and his step-brother are sleepwalking around each other while stuffing pillows in the freezer, not knowing that the other was doing the same.
On one such occasion, I was on a beach vacation with my friends from Penn State and woke up earlier than everyone else. This is as I always did and never do now – probably because the alcohol would burn off and the sugar would ultimately kick in, lodging me into consciousness along with my hazy memory of the night before. I walked into the bathroom and saw the sink lying on the floor, seemingly ripped from the wall. A friend had heard a crash in the middle of the night, she said, and saw me exit the bathroom and leave the condo. Apparently found my way back to bed and went to sleep. While I had no recollection, I said, “It had to be me who broke the sink! I must’ve hulked out or something.” We all laughed, but I was incredibly embarrassed. This was just another silly Heather moment that helped my friends to love me and my antics, even though I ran into my roommate’s bedroom one night, jumped into her bed, and shouted, “I don’t want to go to school today!!” Prompting my roommates to lock their doors every night before they went to sleep. Or, that another roommate and I decided to duct tape the freezer shut so that I wouldn’t open it in the middle of the night.
While I laughed and pretended that I thought it was funny… the truth is, I was horrified. I had a relative get arrested for “Sleep driving” after leaving his children alone at home with his marijuana collection, and another relative sleepwalk naked into his neighbor’s apartment. Sleepwalking is incredibly frustrating, and leaves you in such a vulnerable, scary state where you have no control or memory over your actions. I hate it.
Today I am three years sober. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that my freezer remains shut every morning that I awake. That I babble is something that I find hilarious because the person that hears it is someone I know and trust. That vulnerability isn’t as scary when someone has your best interests in their heart while you’re in their bed.
My sobriety comes up often in personal conversations (usually upon ordering), and rarely on stage or in public. I don’t want it to be my identity. Especially after so many years wasted as the me I lovingly call “drunk Heather”. There’s so much more to me than beverages.
The one sober joke that I tell in both recovery and drinking audiences is, “I had to stop drinking because I couldn’t stop crying.” (In drinking crowds, it often doesn’t get a laugh, it gets an ‘AWEEEEE’. In recovery crowds, I have to pause for a while for people to stop laughing at our inside joke. Lighten up, normies! I find this incredibly fascinating, and always tell the joke regardless of the audience.) The truth is, that after I stopped drinking I couldn’t stop crying…. for months. I’m incredibly grateful to ‘drunk Heather’ for managing to develop some friendships with amazing people who carried me through that seemingly impossible first year. Being a strong, independent woman, I was ashamed, and just like sleepwalking was incredibly embarrassed that it had gotten so far out of my control. Also, with the buffer of unconsciousness removed, I felt EVERYTHING. My anxiety was debilitating. It was unbearable in situations where a drink would’ve put me at ease… Sober, I felt as if my skin was on fire.
I’m far from having it all figured out. I’m tearing up while writing this. However, my tears are from relief and retrospect. Everything tastes and smells better. Hell, I smell better! My friends call me for advice, I don’t call them to gossip or find out what I did the night before. I laugh harder, sleep through the night and my depression and anxiety is under control. My world doesn’t revolve around selfishness and I’m healthier, happier and free. I’m no longer ashamed of this still new journey of being present and healthy. I’m proud to be brave enough to see life and all of its joy and muck without using filtered lenses.