18

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According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, “No one is sure how electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) helps certain psychiatric disorders. It may promote changes in how brain cells communicate with each other at synapses and it may stimulate the development of new brain cells. ECT may flood the brain with neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are known to be involved in conditions like depression and schizophrenia.”

A beloved friend has personal experience with ECT. Her residual memory loss now cripples her. She doesn’t remember places she’s been, who or what she loves, or knowledge she once proudly hoarded.

“I don’t know who I am,” she explains.

My heart breaks for her as I try to imagine this.

Today, I’m sober for 18 years.

One’s identity – lost and found – leaves a crazy trail through sobriety.

Ok, time for some math. 18 years. When I was 18, so was the legal drinking age. Let’s say, only because it’s true, I had my first drink at 13.

So, for way over 1/2 of my life, how many identities I’ve since abandoned did I drink my way through? Ugh, I hate story problems.

During my 20s, 30s and ok, my 40s, one of my identities was The Fun Girl. One of the last to leave the party. The one who sat on the porch drinking Ouzo, with whoever else didn’t leave the party. The one who went out for breakfast, or for a dip in the pool, before heading home at dawn. The one you counted on to have tiny boxes filled with an array of substances in her bag, along with a change of clothes. Ready for anything.

I don’t remember a lot of details here. I never wanted to get off Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Finally motion sickness caught up with me.

In the 70s, women weren’t encouraged to accept wife or mother as a total identity. Mass media said we should be able to do it all. I tried. It wasn’t that I embraced doing it all; I had no choice. In our house, two incomes were needed to pay the bills. And to buy the booze.

I had a parallel identity as an elementary teacher. For 20 years. Soon after I quit teaching, I stopped drinking. On 9.9.01. Now I had to figure out who I really was, minus the teacher label.

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I remember every one of their names.

If you’re lucky, your past builds a path to your true calling. My path is paved with cobblestones. The first 7 years of sobriety, I was a graphic designer, a consignment store owner, and corporate trainer. Someone called me a “job-hopper,” a negative label to some people of my generation. Thank the lord for job-hopping. Miserable jobs forced me to put serious effort into finding what I was meant to do.

I’ve spent the last 11 years as a writer. A sober writer: that feels like a solid identity. It keeps me honest.

A side effect of sobriety is remembering what you said last night. Good or bad.

And memory is a privilege we take for granted.

I learned this from my sweet friend who lost hers.

And from 18 years of sobriety.

Pack your snowballs a little less tight, but in the middle, still put rocks.

Brandi Carlile, Keep Your Heart Young

10 thoughts on “18

  1. Congratulations on 18 years!
    So proud to call you my friend Kitty – Those years we were related by marriage were missed opportunities for me to get to know you better. So glad we have stayed connected and I have been the beneficially of your shared insights. You may not have a career title of “teacher,” but you still provide many of us with “teaching/teachable” moments.
    Susy

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