Recently, someone asserted that my writing has become a replacement for my gambling addiction. It wasn’t implied that, through my writing, I’d chosen to challenge myself in a productive, positive way. Instead, it was implied that my writing consumes me in a dangerous way.
I started blogging almost a month after I came out of the addiction closet. My life was in turmoil. I’d just admitted to some of my friends and family that I had hidden my addiction for a couple of years. Not only had I concealed it, I’d also broken the law to feed it.
It was my rock bottom. Rock bottom is different for everyone. Mine wasn’t the police officer standing on my front porch trying to coerce a confession, nor was it explaining to my children that their mother had done something morally questionable. Mine came out of nowhere. My rock bottom was being entirely consumed by the burden of my very own shame. It was so heavy that darkness was my only solace, the only place I felt safe.
After the rumors of my addition swirled around my circle of friends, my shame grew into a monster that I couldn’t control anymore. I sunk deep inside myself, terrified, desolate, and uncertain whether or not I would ever be able to show my face to the world without feeling so disgusted with who I had become.
Almost immediately after my secret was out, I began seeing a counselor who specialized in gambling addictions. We spoke about the ebb and flow of addiction recovery—that recovery is about feeling the pain, owning it, not covering it up with the addiction as I once did. She went on to explain, my feelings of shame may indeed grow before getting better.
And grow, they did. My shame became more than just shame and disgrace; it became me. The pain was overwhelming; I hadn’t let myself feel a real emotion in years, maybe ever. And this time, I couldn’t gamble it away.
Finding my remorse and shame unbearable, one night I found myself powerless against the tears pouring from my eyes. With a bottle of wine in one hand and a container of sleeping pills in the other, I sat quietly in my dark bedroom, alone and terrified. I was unable to see myself as anything but a disgusting human being, a liar and a thief. I started tearing away any good I had ever done until all that was left was darkness. The thick black cloud of humiliation and shame wrapped itself around any good intentions I’d ever had.
A sip of red and a pill, another sip, another pill.
I wanted to die.
So the suspense is gone; I am clearly not dead. That’s the deal with mixing sleeping pills and alcohol. Before I was brave enough to swallow all the pills, I fell asleep. Lucky? Or maybe I didn’t truly want to die.
That was my rock bottom.
The next day I knew it was time to face my demons, but with a hangover of monumental proportions, it was hard to find the motivation to do so. Where I did find motivation was in the faces of my two teenagers, who no matter what, still looked at me with unconditional love. They didn’t see the vile human being I did; they only saw their mom.
I scheduled an appointment with my counselor that afternoon. Coupled now with the shame of my addiction was an attempted suicide—an embarrassing, selfish act no good mother would ever choose. When I saw my counselor that day, among the things she told me to do was to write. She said, “Write until the tears stop, and when they stop, write some more.” Those words resonated with me.
When I got home, I wrote. I wrote as the tears soaked my face. I wrote this—a letter to my 4-year-old self:
If I could say anything at all to you right now, as you are living in what might feel like hell, it would be that I promise you, it will be OK. I know you can’t see that now, but you are going to get through this. You may be wondering how I know this. It’s because I am here right now, and I can write you this letter.
I want you to know that none of this is your fault. He’s not a good man, and he doesn’t deserve your silence. I know you want to go outside and play now, but you are afraid. You are afraid he will be there, watching, waiting. He will be, and you will do what you always do. You will be strong, and you will get through it.
You want to scream, yet you keep it inside. You hold everything inside. I want you to let it out. I wish you knew that you don’t have to do this alone. I want you to feel the pain and not push it away.
It will stop one day. I think he moves away, and you will put it all behind you. You will forget everything. I want you to remember!
You are going to spend holidays with him and his family, and it’s OK to hate him. You won’t understand why because you buried it deep inside. Remember, you have an inner voice, and it is not wrong. Remember that you don’t have to hug him or sit on his lap. None of this is your fault, and I love you!
For every moment, he took away, remember there will be so much more in your life. I can’t promise you it won’t be hard; it will! When it gets hard, please open up. Not everyone is going to hurt you like he did.
I wrote those words to aid in the recovery of the addiction I nearly let claim my life. I kept writing, and when the tears stopped, I wrote some more. I didn’t edit. I just wrote.
Many women who face addiction have survived some type of trauma. For me, putting my pains on the page has given me the strength to overcome it. The strength to recognize I am not alone—not only in my recovery from my gambling addiction but a trauma over which I had no control.
Each day I spend penning my thoughts for others to read, I find more solace in who I have become. I will never be the same girl I was before my addiction; no one is. When it comes to recovery, there is truth to the adage “one day at a time.” Because I spend my days writing, I have opened up a whole new world for myself, something I enjoy, something that keeps me from gambling. It certainly has not become a replacement for my addiction, but instead a healthy choice. Addiction recovery is different for everyone, but there has to be an alternative to the time spent while addicted. I have chosen to write while some may choose exercise, or painting, or volunteering. Whatever it is you choose, be proud of the accomplishment that you are recovering from an addiction that may have haunted you, as mine did me.
Writing has given me the strength to move past the initial shame I nearly let overtake me. Not only does it help me escape from a tormented mind, but it also has given me the freedom to forgive myself. Today, I can say writing has done virtually as much for me as my counseling sessions. Channeling my energy into something I love and feel passion for has given me the confidence to believe in myself again.
So, no, writing hasn’t replaced my addiction; it’s one of the reasons I can say that I am clean.
Writing may have even saved me.