I believe I’m growing up for the first time at the not-so-tender age of 43. I spent most of the last 30 or so years of my life avoiding the pains of growing up or, more exactly, numbing myself against those pains and feelings in general. I believe that growing up is hard but not compared to the isolation of running away. I chose to run away while staying put: by drinking. A lot. I started drinking when I was 13 years old and that’s when I stopped growing.
I’ve done a lot of “adult” things over the past 30 years. I went to college, I got married, I bought a house, I gave birth. I’ve held a number of semi-professional “good” jobs. But nothing was ever quite right. I never felt wholly present—ever. I was nagged constantly by feelings of fear, inadequacy and doubt. Wherever I was or whomever I was with, I always felt like I should be somewhere else, with someone else. I spent lots of years and lots of money on psychotherapy. But I wasn’t even present or completely honest with my therapist. Often, after a tearful session, all I could think about was the end of the day when I could have a drink. Or two or three or four to drown out those feelings that did manage to rise to the surface.
20 months ago, I took the first step toward really becoming an adult: I stopped drinking. I found strength and fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous and my life has changed dramatically. The differences may appear subtle, if at all, to the outside observer, but they’re huge for me. I’m still married, I still have a house and my daughter is 10.5 years old. I have a good job. What’s different is that I act more like a grown-up. I do what I say I’m going to do. I tell the truth. I show up. When I feel afraid or inadequate or doubtful, I ask for help. I try to be present with others and take the focus off myself. That’s the way the grown-ups I admire and emulate live.
I often revert to the scared, immature child I’ve been for so long. But it’s ok because I know that that child needs to be loved and nurtured into growth not numbed to the pain and beauty of life. Ironically, becoming grown-up has freed up something like childhood joy in me too. There’s a freedom that comes with realizing that all I have is today. I still believe growing up is not easy, but it is simple if I just work on being present as often as I can.
The truth is I didn’t believe in anything before I stopped drinking because I didn’t and couldn’t believe in myself. I was “just a kid.” Well, slowly but surely, that’s changing. I still have to work on cleaning up my room though.
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