Untangling My Brain Through Sobriety

**Trigger warning: writing on intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, etc.**

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship. Er, well, if I can call it that. We’re technically broken up but have been actively talking about our issues and what it might mean to reconcile. And it’s really gotten me thinking: about me, my sobriety, my trauma, and how all of my past experiences have turned me into the person I am today. This breakup has been extremely revealing for me. Regardless of which direction it takes, I’m on a personal path toward finally, finally being able to address some of the things that have haunted me and affected the ways in which I interact with the world around me, especially as an alcoholic turned teetotaler.

There were many reasons I began drinking. Right after turning 21, having never really drank consistently or to blackout, I left an abusive relationship and rekindled the flames of an old one. Somewhere in-between the two, I started drinking. I drank a lot. My partner and I were capable of finishing off one of those huge gallon jugs of Carlo Rossi in a single weekend, in addition to stops at the pub that just happened to be in the basement of his apartment building. I never fully stopped drinking until I turned 27, almost one year ago, on July 9th. I drank like a fresh 21-year-old for 6 years straight, with a few half-assed quit attempts thrown in around ages 23, 24, 25 and 26.

I’ve spent the last 11+ months trying to disentangle the crazy squiggly line my brain has become over the years. It’s similar to trying to untangle a pair of pair of earbuds that are twisted almost to the point of no return. It takes patience, foresight, and nimble fingers to get them loose again. It’s a little infuriating. But eventually, with enough persistence, they’ll start to wriggle loose and come apart with greater ease.

I’m trying to be patient with myself as I gently tug and loosen the most stubborn parts of my mind. With alcohol out of the way, I can no longer ignore that it’s a big messy problem that needs to get sorted out.

There is one huge part of my past that I have tried so, so hard to push aside and “get over” for the past 7 years. it’s been the biggest knot in my tangle, and so I’ve been trying to ignore it, knowing that it would be a bitch to smooth out. It was the main driver behind my deep dive into drinking after turning 21. It’s hard for me to talk about now because it happened quite a while ago, and many of the details have since become fuzzy and blurred – the chronology of certain events seems to overlap and run into itself. But the main feeling stands, and after 7 years of suppression, anger, confusion, and self-blame, I think I’m ready to finally start making it a part of who I am, rather than letting it control me and my life over, and over, and over again.

I’m talking about that 2-year relationship I mentioned above, with a man named Eric. I’ve talked about him on this blog before in spurts, usually as part of the larger picture of my alcoholism. But more and more, my focus has returned to my experiences with this person, and the influence he’s had on my life in the 7 years since I left him.

Eric was abusive. I used to say that he was only emotionally abusive, because it seemed like the safer way to talk about those things, but as I’ve grown and learned more about what abuse actually is, I’ve come to realize and accept that Eric was emotionally and physically abusive to me for almost the entire two years that we dated.

Eric weaponized intimacy. My therapist recently commended me for speaking about it in those terms, calling it very descriptive and direct. But it’s the only way I can think about it now. Eric weaponized the most sacred part of any romantic relationship and used it against me time and time again. If I cried during an argument, he would try to step in and comfort me, only to revert back to yelling and blaming if I didn’t stop crying immediately. He told me to look happy in public, even if I was miserable. He called me fat. He called me a slut. He accused me of cheating, of looking at other men. He kept me awake at night and pressured me into having sex with him, making me feel guilty if I didn’t show him affection and pushing me until I woke up if I showed signs of trying to sleep.

Eric weaponized love. He turned it into a bargaining chip. Every time I tried to break up with him, he would both physically and emotionally block me from doing so until he exhausted me and I gave in. He promised to change every time. And every time, he would change for a week or two before reverting back to his normal self. He told me repeatedly, “If you really love me, you’ll do X, Y and Z,” and “If you actually loved me, you wouldn’t keep threatening to leave.”

Eric would often try to intimidate me. He once pinned me to his bed and screamed in my face until the veins in his neck stood out. He once ashed his cigarette on me and, as he did that, the cherry flew off and burned me through my sweater. He threw ashtrays at the wall by my head. If he was angry at me during an argument, he’d sometimes push me off of the bed we were both laying in. More than one, he threatened to jump out of the moving car that he was driving.

When I was with him, I was put on academic probation during my first semester at University. I was exhausted. He would drop me off at class then pick me up again after. During one of the first attempts at leaving him, he somehow found a way into my secured apartment building and left a sad note + drawing on my apartment door. He would go through my phone and demand access to my social media. My parents hated him. My friends tried to convince me to leave him and gave me a free, secret place to stay a few times when I was trying to make an attempt at leaving.

The two big things I’ve been really grappling with, though, go beyond emotional manipulation and relationship dysfunction. They go into the realm of criminality, and victimization. It’s taken me 7 years, several broken relationships, bouts of depression, alcoholism and now sobriety to be honest with myself about two of the most traumatic things that happened to me during that relationship.

It’s taken me 7 years to be able to sit up straight and say with acknowledgment and conviction that…Eric raped me. He did it once. Many other times during our relationship, he used pressure and guilt and manipulation to get me to have sex with him, but there is one distinct time I remember that he forced himself onto me in a display of his power over me, and I was scared. I didn’t feel like I could say anything, so I didn’t say no, but I also didn’t say yes. I can only describe the feeling coming off of him as pure hatred. And we were both 100% sober.

The other event was, at an earlier point in our relationship, not long after the abusive behavior began, was when his visibly intoxicated uncle covertly molested me. Eric lived with his mother and every time his uncle got in trouble with his wife for drinking, he’d be sent over to Eric’s place to stay for weeks at a time. Eric and I were laying in bed one morning and his uncle, drunk, wandered in and began rough-housing with Eric as I laid watching. His uncle then proceeded to jump onto the bed and offered to give Eric a shoulder massage, kind of like a gorilla beating on the ground. Since I was laying right next to him, and I was on my stomach, his uncle started giving me the same kind of shitty massage on my shoulders. I didn’t feel like I could tell him to leave because Eric was so amused by the whole ordeal, so I just stayed silent.

Eventually, his uncle started massaging Eric’s feet and legs, and began doing the same to me as well. I tried to just let him be his drunk self and play along. But before I could react, I felt his uncle reach further up and put his hand right between my legs. My face was red hot and I felt like melting into the bed. I think I tried to weakly shake him off.

He got bored and wandered off after a while. I later told Eric about it and instead of showing shock or disgust, he told me I should have said something in the moment, and that I probably liked it anyway.

I felt like dying for most of this relationship. I never had a plan to take my own life, but I often wished that something would just kill me. I felt like my only way to survive was to leave him. But for some reason, despite my own desperation and my friend’s/family’s attempts at helping me leave, I kept going back. I kept going back. Call it fear, or stubbornness, or whatever. Somehow he trapped me in a cycle, and I allowed myself to keep getting pulled back in.

Until, finally, I found the courage to leave. It was by jumping into the arms of my high-school sweetheart, Josh. Despite the way my relationship with my Josh ended (he is, after all, my ex-husband), I can say with conviction that he saved me. Having him there saved me. It’s not how I would have liked my life to go, certainly. But he saved me.

And once he did, the two of us fell into drinking – hard. I drank to blot out every moment of pain. I drank because being drunk and numb felt a thousand times better than sitting with my trauma. I don’t know what, exactly, caused Josh to drink like he did, but we certainly kept up with each other. It caused a lot of problems that neither of us knew how to talk about. I was sexually and intimately paralyzed at times. He had issues with anger, especially toward his father. Our arguments were usually while drunk. We loved each other very much, but dysfunction sowed its seeds early in that relationship. It only makes sense now that, despite everything, we ended up divorced.

My most recent (ex?)boyfriend knows only a few of these details because I’ve always felt paralyzed trying to talk about them. He doesn’t know I was raped. He doesn’t understand the degree to which my relationship with Eric has influenced my ability to show love and be loved. Up until this point, I’ve presented myself as fairly normal, with a few disappointing relationship experiences and big life changes that have influenced where I am today. I think he sees me as kind of stubborn, and after some of our more recent conversations, he may even see me as someone who conceals their emotions and feelings to a severe degree. Maybe he even thinks I’m a little crazy.

He’s not wrong. But he also doesn’t have many of the intimate details behind why I am the way I am, and why these things affect(ed) our relationship the way they do. He doesn’t understand the importance sobriety holds in my life because I haven’t found a way to make myself feel comfortable with that vulnerability. He doesn’t know these things because I haven’t found a way to tell him before.

But these things – this history of mine – they’re not going anywhere. They are with me, forever. And I can keep allowing myself to be re-traumatized and negatively influenced by them, or I can choose to open myself up to healing. I can choose to open myself up to vulnerability and fear with people who truly love me, and accept me as I am. That scares the shit out of me. And even if it doesn’t end up happening with my (ex)boyfriend, I know that I’m in a good place to start the process on my own, so that maybe — just maybe — my next relationship will get the chance it really deserves. So that I’ll get the chance I really deserve at loving and being loved.

Sobriety is weird. Relationships are hard. I feel so emotionally exhausted I can barely get out of bed these days. But I’m making my way one step at a time.

Thanks for reading my somewhat unhinged rant. Sober on, sober folks ❤

2 thoughts on “Untangling My Brain Through Sobriety

  1. Cristal Clear says:

    This is the hardest part about sobriety . Healing . all those things we didn’t deal with are the most important things that we have to deal with if we truly want to be free. I pray for your healing ❤️ I know it’s not easy but one day we will look back and be so proud of ourselves for talking about these things and dealing with them

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mikeykjr says:

    Crystal is right on point; healing from past events is the hardest part of sobriety. After we get it out in the open, then start dealing with what happened and our part in it. We begin to to truly change who we want to become – free of the toxic relationships of our past. My story revolves around my Mother, also an alcoholic. She verbally, emotionally and physically abused me. I never imagined the day I would forgive her for all those things that transpired early in my life. We hear people saying they had to forgive people to move on. Honestly, I didn’t believe them. One day in a meeting, sitting quietly, I did forgive my Mother. I recount the event as my “spiritual awakening”. At that point in time, I knew sobriety was the path toward healing myself. I had to a lot of work to do within myself. Slowly I changed things. I’m not the same person I was almost ten years ago. Am I perfect? No, I’ve fallen back into some toxic relationships again. I regret doing so but I’ve also learned why I did so and what I need to do in the future to avoid them. I don’t want to slip back to who I was because inevitably I’ll begin to take the path down a dark road which I simply don’t want to travel. It’s something I try to work on every day.

    Liked by 1 person

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