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On Six Years In Recovery

By Sarjé HaynesPublished about a year ago 8 min read

When I was a kid, my favorite movie was The Matrix. It still is, actually–so I’m understandably very excited that within a few hours, the new film in the series is being released. I bring up the film because there’s one scene that has always felt very important to me. It’s when Neo goes to visit the Oracle in her dingy little city apartment. With Django Reinhardt playing in the background, she pulls cookies out of the oven, and asks Neo if he knows what the phrase posted on the doorway’s lintel means: Temet Nosce. “Know thyself,” she explains mysteriously, going on to tell Neo that no one can ever really tell you who you are.

Scene from The Matrix.

Throughout my life, I have sought understanding. Understanding of who I am, of my purpose, of what it means to be human, and what it means to be me. I was born from seekers, and I grew up witnessing my parents’ fervent discussions on spirituality, morality, communication, nature, and so on. These discussions were often fueled by more than simple human curiosity. They were fueled by spirit.

Or should I say, spirits. You see, one thing I have known for most of my life was that alcohol could change your perspective, but at a cost–it often leads to conflicts.

I avoided drinking throughout my youth. I had learned early on that it made my head feel spinny; my persona feel like it wasn’t “in control” of my body. I didn’t like those feelings very much.

Things changed one day toward the end of my freshman year of college. I was struggling to keep up with assignments, papers, and finals. Suddenly, I felt the need to give up control. I went to a party with some friends, a “BYOB.” I was underage and didn’t bring anything, but it didn’t take long for someone to offer me a drink. I didn’t even think about it.

I said yes.

Eleven drinks later, I was dragged back home. I begged my friends not to tell my mom what I’d done.

Another year passed, and I received a citation for Intoxication of a Minor, while I was walking home from another off-campus party. I had to pay around $150 to the state for my “bad behavior,” which is to say–alcoholic behavior. Mom found out, and called it a “speeding ticket.”

I didn’t slow down, though.

I kept drinking to get drunk; to run away, hoping to be found. I did this for eleven years. Through a recession, and several bouts of clinical depression, I drank. I drank with friends, strangers, and mostly, alone. Alcohol and I had a long-term relationship. It fueled many short-term affairs, and a great deal of heartbreak and loss.

I woke up with a lot of hangovers, and I made a lot of vows to quit drinking that were often forgotten by evening. I genuinely fought with myself repeatedly over my drinking habit. Part of me wanted to quit, but a bigger part of me was terrified of who I would be without the alcohol to embolden me.

Late in 2014, I started a romantic relationship with a person who was newly sober. That person helped me recognize that it was possible to live without the drink, and be happy. Though our relationship wasn’t always happy, my partner never resorted to a drink. We moved in together, and I promised “no booze in the house.”

I broke the promise within a week.

They never held it against me, and they never told me I had a problem. I never felt judged for sitting up late into the night, finishing another six-pack of beer. But I certainly was judging myself!

A year into our relationship, two events happened in quick succession that changed my outlook.

The first event was a harrowing accident. I had gone to a bar to see some standup comedy (a thin excuse to consume five pints of beer). On my walk home–I’d never gotten a driver’s license, not wanting to risk a DUI–I ran into a crosswalk against the light, and was nearly run over by a car. I sprained my ankle badly and was ineffectual at work for over two weeks.

I used the injury as an excuse to drink even more regularly, laid up in our bed.

The second event came just as I began healing up. My partner went to visit family out-of-state. We weren’t really at the “meeting extended family” stage yet, and I was scheduled to work, so I stayed home. I bought a bottle of vodka to keep me company while they were away.

I took them to the airport early that morning, and started drinking as soon as I was home. “One screwdriver,” I told myself, “to help me fall asleep.” But instead, I downed half the bottle, and passed out for a couple of hours before my shift. It’s hard to remember what happened at work that day, but I definitely went straight back to drinking, as soon as I was home.

I was on my third drink–and starting to panic a little, knowing there was only really one left in the bottle–when I started feeling really bad. It was different than anything I’d ever really felt before. I can only really describe it as a soul sickness. Physically, I’d been all kinds of ill over the years–chronic inflammation, vomiting, blacking out, bloated, hungover, etc. Now, I noticed that my lymph nodes were painfully raised–specifically in my groin. I asked “Dr. Google” for their thoughts.

My instant results: common in alcoholics. The tears began to flow as I curled up on myself, the realization fully settling in: “I’m an alcoholic.” After years of “research,” the truth had finally revealed itself to me. I’d gotten the confirmation that I’d been looking for. Suddenly, I wasn’t hearing the voice that kept telling me to have “just one more.” It felt a little like someone had unplugged a fridge that was constantly buzzing in the back of my brain.

I dragged myself out of bed, went to the bathroom, and stared at myself in the mirror. I was still crying as I admitted to myself, “I need help.”

I truly felt as if suddenly, a light was turned on–one I didn’t even know existed–and I was able to witness what had been invisible to me, only a moment before.

I suddenly Knew Myself.

December 21, 2015–the winter solstice, “darkest day” of the year–was the day that I woke up to a new way of living. That was my Day One. Things I had been unwilling to do, that had frightened me or made me feel inferior, were now appealing.

A self-portrait taken early in my recovery.

I sought help through recovery-oriented groups both in-person and online. I read lots of personal accounts of addiction and recovery. I tried lots of things, many of which I am still trying, including: meditation, stretching/yoga, creative practice, journaling, reading recovery literature, changing my sleep habits, studying tarot and other forms of divination, and so on.

Many doors that were once closed to me have been opened. I am still learning about who I am, but by admitting to myself and others that I cannot safely have one drink, I have course-corrected in a way that felt impossible while I was “in the bottle.”

It is now Day 2192 of my alcohol freedom. I am six years old in the “rebirth” given to me on winter solstice.

A recent self-portrait.

In the last six years, my life has changed dramatically. The changes have included relocating several times, changing partnerships and careers. I am grateful to say that the partner who showed me it was possible to stay sober through the rough times, continues to remain my dear friend to this day.

I met my soul mate this year (they even love The Matrix as much as I do!). Like the Oracle said: “No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”

My partner gives me deep, unconditional love. Today, I was given something they had made for me, symbolizing our co-creative life together so far. Relaxing into love is a whole new experience. Knowing this person is a gift I once only dreamed about receiving.

I now spend my days creating, as an artist and writer. I strive to share messages of hope, truth, and beauty. While my life is still stressful at times, it is far more serene. I have learned to be a better listener: to my inner voice, and to the voices of others. I’ve learned to say “yes” when opportunities are presented. And I’ve learned to accept my life exactly as it is in this moment. My circumstances never have to lead me to another drink.

I still take plenty of risks–and I make lots of mistakes. I have so much to learn!

I am here today because I encountered many others who embarked on their own journeys of freedom, first. They conveyed to me, time and again, that I was not alone.

So if you find yourself feeling stuck, sick, and tired, please know: you are not alone.

We’re all in this together. Recovery is possible for all of us, no matter by what we find ourselves trapped. Whether it is alcohol, depression, anxiety, fear, or some other monster lurking inside the closets of our minds, freedom can find us.

I’m the proof!

Getting sober was all about reaching for the light. In my next story, I’ll share with you the experience of finding even greater freedom–from within total darkness.

Until then, I’ll be watching The Matrix Resurrections–probably on a loop!

Brightest blessings be upon you, today and always.


About the Creator

Sarjé Haynes

Sarjé is a painter and writer living in Kalapuya ancestral territory. You can learn more about her at

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