“There’s so much that I’ve yet to really scratch the surface of, that I know is in there waiting to be looked at with strength and dignity. I haven’t gotten to every part of it yet. I also have, hopefully, a few decades ahead of me to do that.”
My name is Bryn. I am a person in long-term recovery. The part that comes next kind of keeps changing, but mostly it means that the life around me right now is not something I would have imagined, or maybe even necessarily hoped for. There are things that I just didn’t even think I would want to be doing with my life that I’m doing. People I get to be surrounded by and spend time with, including my family, that just looks different than I imagined that it would. That’s a good thing. Someone the other day actually said, “In recovery your wildest dreams will come true,” and you keep hearing that, but then this guy said, “Actually what I like to say is that ‘your wildest dreams will change and then probably they’ll come true.'”
That hit me because I grew up, I’m the oldest of four kids and two loving parents. They’ve been divorced for a number of years, which I like to say is the best thing they ever did. I think back to high school, and I could go earlier back than that, but I think back to high school and the stuff that I wanted to do with my life wasn’t specifically one road or another. It was just anything around me that made me feel good, you hear this a lot, was really what I wanted to be right in the middle of. For me that wound up looking like many different, you call them like pots of honey, or these like alluring places to be, whether that is a bar scene, or whether that is right in the middle of a really social group of people and get right in the middle of the action, or whether that is being outside. I never really felt like a shut in, I liked being outside.
All of these different environments, I wanted to be in the middle of them all the time, all at the same time. I couldn’t pick one to just be in for a moment and relax, and so I never really wound up forming this idea of where I wanted to go after high school, or even college, because there were so many different things that appealed to me, mainly at that point like friends, and drinking, and guys, that I never really took the time to form an idea of what I wanted to do and what my dreams were.
My behaviors as a kid were almost even more like classic addictive behaviors and like deviant behaviors than a lot of my having a drinking behavior was. I always wanted to push limits, push boundaries. I wound up getting in trouble a lot with my parents but there was some part of me that wanted that, I think, because it meant that I was getting attention. It was just this kind of sick cycle.
So I got into high school and my parents were going through their divorce, which still, obviously, had an impact on my life, a heavy impact, but there are many positive things that came out of it, and it just so happened that it was happening during kind of my transition into high school and me finding my place in high school. It was already this emotionally strenuous time where I’m kind of shifting friend groups and figuring out, “Oh, I feel the best when I’m getting validated by other people.” When stuff is crazy at home I can find that through people at school, I can find that through weekend activities. I was in the middle of switching schools from a private school to a public high school.
Some options in front of me were to have people over to my parents’ house that they were trying to sell. I did that a couple times and it wound up causing a lot of damage to the selling process of my parents’ house. That was, certainly, I think, one of the most harmful things that happened in terms of my relationship with them in high school, but it wasn’t necessarily enough of a wake-up call for me. Ironically, I was part of Youth Advocacy Program, YAP. Back then it was partially pathetic and also some parts of it were just funny. We were working to make Main Street in Freeport, where I grew up, smoke free. We had this megaphone walking around school doing these pump-up exercises to get kids to find other things than drinking to do.
Then forty-eight hours later I was to be found at a friend’s house with substances and kind of this escapism feeling of, even though a lot of parts of my life were great, I just wanted to get away. I’ve heard that a lot, too, with other people’s stories. Regardless of what they used to look like, just the need, the urge to step outside of where I was, whether that was at home, or at school, or at work and be somewhere else.
Drinking let me do that. Certain social situations let me do that. Codependency is a part of my story. Relationships I had with guys in my life let me do that, let me not really be present and not feel emotions and kind of just cover stuff like that up. I spent a semester at a small liberal arts school in New Hampshire, [a] very remote part of town. I wound up just spending that one semester there. My drinking and codependency took me to some pretty dark places while I was there. That’s stuff that I’m still working through. I wound up transferring back home and spending a semester living at home and working and, to be honest, that semester itself is kind of blurry. I think a lot of it was just self-medication and, again, dipping into these honey pots, these parts of my life that felt good and not really being willing to be present for my family at that time.
My mom was going through cancer treatment, and she’s fortunately doing incredibly well at this point. I was not really able to show up for her then. Really, I think the darker part of my drinking started at this point. I transferred down here to USM in Portland, University of Southern Maine. I was taking a few classes and that’s when I actually got this apartment. I’ve lived in this same apartment for almost four years, which is one consistent thing that I’ve had since before I came into recovery. I started USM. I had two roommates here, both lovely women, one of whom, she and I really did like to drink. We ordered fake IDs off line. I don’t know if that’s incriminating now, but used them downtown at the bars and went on a road trip to see a few friends of ours at different colleges on the East Coast.
One pattern of my drinking was that I blacked out. That was, I think, the steadiest pattern. There were times that I didn’t and I took those times as these shining moments of, “You are okay. You don’t need to look at this, because you can control it.” What happened most of the time was that I was getting sick by the end of the night. During this trip that we took down to New York I one night got lost in one of the bars and wound up having to call my mom from New York saying, “I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know where my wallet is, and I don’t know where my roommate is.” I still don’t… I think, until I have children I won’t know the impact of that on her. We’ve since had conversations about it. She’s so forgiving and loving. Still, that is something that sticks out as the effect of what happens when I drink, the effect I have on my parents and other people.
We came back from our trip and it wound up being just under a year after that that I wound up getting sober. What happened in those nine, ten, eleven months was tumultuous and yet, at the time, really fun. It wound up being kind of heavy drinking mixed in with meeting people who had moved up to Portland to get sober. While I’m really kicking off this, “Yeah, I have this fake ID and I’m close enough to twenty-one that most places it works,” I’m finally feeling like I’m fitting into this lifestyle. The timing, I’m meeting people left and right, because there’s this huge recovery community in Portland, that I’m sure you’ll keep hearing about.
They would tell me, “Yeah, we support each other and we go to these groups.” They would kind of talk around it. I was [like], “Well, I would love to come with you and support you. That’d be really cool to do.” They kind of laughed. Since being in recovery I’ve had a couple friends who have done the same thing. I get it, the moral support. People for whom it’s not an issue, I think, wouldn’t typically like to spend their Saturday night in one of these groups. That’s not your first choice of activity. I went. I went to a couple of these meetings.
I didn’t necessarily relate to the depth of the use. A lot of the stories that I was hearing involved harder drugs and they involved detoxes and they involved hospitalizations, and I didn’t experience that. I hadn’t yet. I actually never did. At this point what I did relate to was the emotional void, the escapism that I mentioned, really the internal stuff. I sort of justified my use and my drinking and said I could keep doing it, told myself I could, because I didn’t think I was as bad as these people I was hearing. I “othered,” you know, and I separated myself, continued to separate myself from them.
I’d already made plans at this point to study abroad in Spain, in Barcelona, the party capital of the world. My thought process was not, “Okay, yea, I’ll get sober and then go to Barcelona,” but ironically that is where I came into recovery. They have wonderful English-speaking support groups and so I started going to them. I think the low of my drinking came before I went abroad and came in these nights of just such intense blackout, even when I tried not to, that while I was never actually hospitalized, I think I created a lot of harm that still maybe I don’t realize fully. I justified it because our culture does that, we normalize alcoholic drinking, especially at the college age.
So when I went abroad I enjoyed myself for the first month, to an extent, but I was not drinking as much, which I think, whether or not I wanted to admit it, unsettled me. I was away from my family. I was not acting the best, highest, truest version of myself. I was kind of a mess and really emotionally unstable. I went to one of these meetings thinking, “Maybe this will fix it,” but not because I want to get and stay sober. Maybe just going to one of these will fix it. This is a group of people, the only group of people, who have explained in words the void that I felt for most of my life. It looked different for them but they felt it, too, and so I went.
It looked different for some of them. I hadn’t yet heard my story, exactly, in the meeting, but there were these overlapping puzzle pieces, I guess, where some parts overlap here and some parts overlap there. What’s so beautiful, I think, is that you hear so many stories that eventually it’s just this cloth that’s woven where you connect with someone on this level, and someone on this level, and someone on a totally different plane. That’s that kind of enmeshment of the community of recovery that is so cool. I began to see that there.
I kept going to these meetings for two months, one a day almost. Truly without fully intending at that point to remain in recovery, but I started working this program of recovery and didn’t delve too deep into it. I think I was still a little scared and in denial that it might actually help me. I moved home and started working with a new mentor. I’m still working with her today. They like to say the job of the mentor is to put your hand in the hand of God’s. She’s done that, and the community around me has done that, too. They’ve helped me with that.
My mom’s ordained clergy. I grew up going to church. I never had a negative, terrible relationship with God, I just didn’t have a very clear one. It existed. I didn’t resent the idea of God. I went to some church camps, summer camps. There were periods of my adolescence that I felt pretty connected to God. Obviously, in the middle of my drinking there was very little to no connection.
Over the course of being in recovery I got to dump out, this is an analogy that was spoken to me that I appreciated, I got to dump out this box that had what I thought was God in it and start refilling it with what made sense to me now. It wasn’t up to the people who I relied on for validation so much. It wasn’t up to my mom, or my best friends, or my boyfriend what I could put in that box. One of the things I’ve struggled with is that two and a half years into recovery, I still put other people’s values and ideals in there, in the place of my own, because they seem more valid than my own in some ways. Whether it’s my addiction, or my disease, or my codependency, I think they’re all kind of lumped into one in that way. It is something I still struggle with.
Fortunately, the past two and a half years have allowed me—the people that I’ve met and the work that I’ve been able to do—have allowed me to move through and grow through some intense stuff. There’s so much that I’ve yet to really scratch the surface of, that I know is in there waiting to be looked at with strength and dignity. I haven’t gotten to every part of it yet. I also have, hopefully, a few decades ahead of me to do that.
What my life looks like now is I have a stable place to live—basic needs. I have a stable place to live. I have a job. I am starting law school in the fall, which is crazy and, really, the closer it gets it’s scary. That is the stuff that in the beginning when I was talking about these wildest dreams that I couldn’t recognize then and how they might have shifted by now, that’s what I’m talking about. Grad school? I had no intention. My mom would encourage me to, but it wasn’t on my radar then.
I fully believe that being in recovery and surrounding myself with other people who want to grow and want to help the world around them, that is what’s pushed me and encouraged me, along with my family, and my close friends growing up, who are still around. That is what has carried me to this place where I’m able to take on this next chapter of school and keep this beautiful apartment with my roommates, and keep a job. Not just those basic things, but to find enjoyment in helping other people when I do volunteer or when I do get involved in things outside of my own personal needs, when I do take on involvement in the community and connect with people. That brings me joy now in ways that only material things used to be able to do.
I still get caught up in the material things. I think maybe part of me always will. Who knows. They’re satisfying a smaller part of me now. They don’t fulfill my heart and soul the way that connections with other people do now. That’s a gift. That is a gift of being in recovery and being able to look someone in the eye, like a stranger, and open up and then want to know about them, too, what we have in common, their new wildest dreams that might seem crazy but that they’re empowered to do because there’s a community of people around them, too. That’s a gift. I think I’ve always really enjoyed connecting with people, but I’m able to now in a completely different way. I think I’m most grateful for that.
Photographs taken outside of Bryn’s apartment in Portland, Maine.