How it hurts
Is so real
It feels like
And my soul
Of my body
But leaving behind
And all the while
In my mind
I hate you
I hate you
Stop hurting me
November 4, 1985
It is still hard for me to read this poem. It captured the deep level of self-loathing that had been compounding itself for years. To put it bluntly, I hated mirrors about as much as I hated myself. I couldn’t look myself in the eye. I sometimes verbalized my self-hatred when I did stop by a mirror, saying “You dumb, ugly bitch.” Saying it out loud, I felt it to my core.
No one else told me I was stupid, or ugly, or less than. It was the message my own alcoholic mind was giving me. Alcoholism is as much about thinking as it is about drinking. I didn’t understand that then, but I do now.
I wrote this poem when I was 20 years old and trying to quit drinking on my own. I was six months into that experiment when this poem came out. In recovery circles, this is called “white-knuckling it.” Doesn’t sound like fun, nor was it. The negative thinking and self-pity I could quell for a few hours while drinking, now just kept churning and churning. It is exactly why I also churned out poems like this one. When I say writing saved me, it is this time in my life that I am especially referring to.
For years, alcohol provided an escape from myself and torturous thoughts. There was darkness and stagnation, with little growth. I wasn’t talking to others about my pain, except when I was drunk. Most didn’t want to listen to me at that point because I would often be crying, blubbering, and angry at myself. Sometimes that anger became physical and I would hit my fists against my thigh, hard and repeatedly. This could happen in a blackout and only my tender and bruised flesh the next day would tell me the truth.
I also didn’t talk to others about my fears regarding my drinking because it seemed like a sign of weakness. No one had told me that, but it was what I took away from others. You didn’t talk about the tough stuff. Put your head up or down as the case may be and keep working. Always keep working and moving forward.
That may get you through the short term, but the long term effects are inhibitions and emotional hang-ups galore. They were for me anyway.
It’s no surprise that this first real attempt to quit drinking failed. I did not understand alcoholism at all. I was sober, but still carried much dis-ease throughout my days. I made it 464 days, but months before I drank again I started convincing myself that I was better and that I could drink “normally” now. Normal drinker? Never have been. Never will be.
In many respects, however, these 464 days were a success. I started getting to the root of my painful emotions, the ones that had kept me drinking. Mainly through my writing and the runs and exercising I did with clenched fists and clamoring mind. I got through many times when I wanted to drink. The emotions were raw, and the sobriety was tenuous, but it was there.
Most importantly, this dry time taught me that alcoholism is a powerful foe, and if I thought I could single-handedly take it down, I was sorely mistaken. And dry is not peaceful, it is combustible. That realization was vital when I next gave a serious attempt to quitting drinking-at age 24. I reached out to others and to the God I had an on-again, off-again relationship with. It made all the difference, and I am still sober today, one day at a time.
Mirrors and I get along much better now too. There is still a tender part of me that recalls my lowest feelings about myself, but it serves only as a reminder now. A reminder of how far I have come from wretched self-hatred to appreciating myself, the life I have, and the people and Great Spirit who support me. A downward spiral of self-hatred has become a forward-moving journey of self-acceptance.