PHETASY: The One That Got Away -
Baby Steps
Bridget Phetasy

By Bridget Phetasy
Published on 02.12.12

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve:
the fear of failure.”

~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Stinking Thinking
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve:
the fear of failure.”

~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

It’s a miracle I make it on the plane to Sydney.  In the face of living my wildest dreams, I experience nothing short of sheer terror.  It’s as if after years of having the rug pulled out from under my feet, I have a hard time believing I deserve anything good to happen to me.   I had a shrink tell me once that I suffer a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome just from my hectic upbringing.  I think he was just being melodramatic.

I’ve mentioned that I experience occasional bouts of anxiety.  I choose not to medicate this because most of the time it’s pretty mild and a very useful signpost pointing to my deeper emotions, fears and irrational thought patterns.  (As you can imagine, it can be very hard to discern just being a woman from clinical anxiety sometimes—but clinical anxiety manifests much more physically.)  Unless you’ve had anxiety before, it’s really hard to explain the sensation.  It’s like my mind starts on a mental loop that creates worry. 

I don’t deserve this.  My plane is going to crash.  I have cancer.  I’m going to die.  I’m going to go crazy.  I AM crazy.  I’m an idiot.  A loser.  Full retard.  Ugly.  Lazy.  Worthless.  No good, God Damned freeloadin’ son of a bitch.  A scumbag.  There is something wrong with me.  I don’t deserve this.  I don’t deserve this.  I don’t deserve this.

The worry then starts to perpetuate itself and my body responds accordingly.  As my mind races, my heart races.  My breath quickens.  At times I feel like I’m having trouble breathing.  When it’s really bad, I fear that I’m going to shoot my adrenals, go crazy and end up in a psyche ward.  Drooling.  Babbling incoherently.  Screaming at the other loonies in the looney bin: “I made up a word once!!

A lot of where you end up depends on where you start.  I can totally understand why people like Eminem--people who have had very little support, very little guidance and have done nothing but fight themselves, the world and the haters to get where they are—go absolutely fucking nuts and become shut-ins when they do achieve success.  It’s too good to be true.

Speaking of Eminem, this is where I have to take something else into consideration.  Something I don’t usually like to look to closely at.

My love of drinking.  Seriously.  I fucking love it.  It’s in my genes to be fantastic at it.

Back in December of 2010, about a month into deciding I want to see if I have the self-discipline to stay sober for 365 days, I go to an AA meeting because I have no sober friends and I figure it will be a good place to meet some people and probably the only way I will attain my goal.

It’s the absolut truth because drinking is so completely ingrained in our entire global way of socializing--it’s nearly impossible to quit without some other system to replace it.  So for 8 months, I diligently go to meetings and try to find my place in a system I have openly raged against for years.

When I was 19 coming out of rehab, I fucking HATED the Program.  Hated it.  I saw so many kids go in because their parents sent them for smoking weed, and come out with a full-blown addiction.  They are set up for that mentality because the entire concept of pure sobriety is so extreme—they swing the other way the minute they “go out” (AA slang for relapsing).  They figure “Fuck it.  I drank a beer.  I may as well smoke some crack with three whores and rob a convenient store on a meth binge.  I’m screwed anyway just from drinking this one beer.” This can be a dangerous line of thinking.  It’s not very empowering to say the least.  If you haven’t seen the South Park that takes on AA, well, now would be a good time to check it out—because they friggin’ nail all my issues with the whole system.

I don’t fault anyone who needs it though.  Hey, as long as your beliefs aren’t so fundamentalist you’ll strap a bomb on your chest and take out a crowd of innocents, I say, use whatever gets you through the day.  Even if it’s heroin.  Just kidding.  I know a lot of people who would be a danger to themselves and society if they weren’t in those rooms and I applaud anyone for taking Steps (get it? Ha! I crack myself up) to be a better, more functional member of society.  And who knows, maybe I’ll end up back in the rooms, a shattered shell of a woman, eating my words.  Whenever I spoke at meetings I always said, “No one who drinks normally ever thinks about going to AA.”  But I’ll cross that bridge and write about it when I get there. 

For now, because I know on a gut level, I won’t be there forever, I enter back into the rooms with trepidation—but figure I am mentally tough enough not to buy into all of it hook, line and sinker. 

This time around, I learn to appreciate AA.   Sobriety is great for me.  And not just because I’m an alcoholic.  Honestly, sobriety is great for anyone.  I’m just not sure it’s that realistic.  I feel light and energized.  I deal with emotions that I have been putting off feeling for decades.  I enjoy the meetings.  I like listening to everyone’s stories.  They always make me feel better. 
I wish there was something like it where you could attend and learn how to drink in moderation.  Oh, right.  It's called a bar. 

I find that men in AA tend to be a lot more evolved and a lot less more emotionally retarded than "normies" (AA slang for people who can drink normally) because they are forced to do a lot of introspection, something most men avoid like the plague (thank God for that—it’s what gives me the upper hand).  A lot of the principles are good for everyone—not just alcoholics—and I still apply them to my life even now.  But I underestimate how much fear you absorb just sitting in those rooms.  

I remember the transition out of the Program well.  When I did it at 19 after coming out of a halfway house I lived at for 7 months, I still vividly remember having to fight the urge to go on a serious bender and become a prostitute--just because that’s what was expected of me.  The move from AA back into the world of moderate binge drinking can be very rocky after months of hearing what a degenerate loser you are with no self-control.  Imagine how shitty you would feel after years of taking that in?  There is a reason they call it a program—because you’re subjected to shit tons of programming.  Programming that is hard to tune out when you start drinking again, which is why most people who leave, end up going on serious benders and winding up in jail, crazy, dead or back in the rooms.  Because that’s what they believe is going to happen to them.  It’s pretty funny how that works.

Anyway, around 9 months, I stop going to meetings but still manage to stay sober for another 3 months—even at fucking BURNING MAN, a magical place where I was offered every drug under the sun within five minutes of arriving.  And on the Goat Farm.  Goat Farmers really love their weed, let me tell ya'.  Both feats are miracles of determination and willpower.  But, as I approach my departure date, I know for a fact I have no desire to be sober in Australia.  That’s like being a blind man and going to a museum. 

So around the 20th of December, after meeting my goal of 13 months of pure sobriety, I decide to jump off the wagon. I have a margarita.  Now despite what they may tell you in AA, I didn’t end up going off the deep end and winding up in a Mexican prison.  I have a glass of wine at my aunt’s birthday dinner.  I drink a bit (a lot) over Christmas with my good friend, The Dark Lord (another story—another day).  I figure it would be best to make the transition in my comfort zone than to have my first drink in over a year in a foreign country.  See.  I’m drinking responsibly.

Which brings me back to the anxiety.  I’m not the only person who feels anxious when I’m hungover.  I know a lot of people who do.  They feel scattered and restless.  Unable to sit still, but inert nonetheless.   So I inadvertently create the perfect storm for myself when I decide to head off on my adventure of a lifetime and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere after a year of saintly abstinence.  The voices of AA creep in almost immediately.

I’m going to die.  I’m going to lose everything.  I am only here because I was sober.  I’m a loser.  Jails, institution and death.  Oh my.

I continue to put one foot in front of another, all the while waging a silent internal war, battling my negative self-talk and urge to implode.  It’s like my mind is made of quicksand and I’m fighting like hell not to get sucked down into the darkness. 

The “too good to be true” anxiety and “jails, institutions and death” AA predictions plague me in the 10 days I have to prepare to leave the country after leaving the Goat Farm.  I keep reminding myself to take it one day at a time, one step at a time (the irony is not lost on me, people).  If I think the whole process through, I will freeze; chicken out, self-destruct or think of a million reasons I shouldn’t get on that plane.  I go through the motions of packing, dealing with my car, saying goodbye to people, getting immunizations and blood work completely on autopilot. 

What do I do to combat all of this insanity?  What I do best.  I run.  Every day on the beach.  Everything makes sense to me by the ocean.  My cells rejoice in the flicker of the sun off the waves, the sound of the gulls overhead, the feeling of sand between my toes.  I feel small and meaningless by the ocean.  My thoughts don’t carry so much weight and neither do my puny decisions like to drink or not to drink.  This is all fleeting.  The surf will continue to pound the shore long after I'm gone and no one will even care I existed, let alone whether I drank a beer or not.

I’m eerily calm as I head to the airport.  Even my friend who brings me is surprised.  He knows how much I hate flying.  I over think (imagine that—me, over thinking something!) the whole situation.  I’m convinced all pilots went to Hogwarts and I can never shake the feeling that we’re violating some law of nature when we’re up there with our little TV screens, compressed air and peanuts being shot through the air in a tin can.  My travel doc prescribed me Xanax just for the occasion because she says, “No human should have to fly that way.”  I tend to agree.  It’s the only time I will take anti-anxiety meds and even then, I’m so petrified of them I only take half.

I think my serenity is due to my internal battle I silently waged to get here.  Whatever it is—I know that once that plane takes off, I fucking made it and there is no going back.  Just that fact alone brings me an immense amount of relief.

Or maybe it’s the 2 glasses of champagne I had in the terminal. 
Or the Xanax I pop before take off.

Which brings us to Sydney…