The Bright Side/Opinion

Collateral damage: An apology to those I hurt along the way

Trust is a precious thing, denial is a hell of a drug

Photo courtesy of Katy Linwood

Katy Linwood, author of a regular column in ConvergenceRI, "The Bright Side" of sobriety.

By Katherine Linwood
Posted 8/21/23
In her second column on sobriety, Katy Linwood shares the balancing act in the redemption arc, acknowledging the harm she caused herself and the harm she caused others.
What is involved in the process of willful ignorance – the unwillingness to take responsibility and accountability for your actions – in the political arena? When you encounter someone in your workplace that appears to have an active drinking problem – or an active smoking problem with weed – what is the proper course of action to take? Why is it that children of adult alcoholics often find themselves drawn to each other?
On Friday, Aug. 25, the Governor’s Overdose Task Force will convene a virtual working session of the Rhode Island Fatal Overdose Target-Setting group. It is a discussion that promises to be laden with lots of assumptions around metrics. Judging from the conversation that occurred at the June 14 meeting of the Task Force, the role of alcohol as a contributing factor in overdose deaths remains an under-discussed phenomenon in calculating the annual [and, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion, “perverse”] number of overdose deaths a year in Rhode Island. In 2021, there were 435 deaths; in 2022, there were 434 deaths. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “How do you tell the stories of 434 deaths in RI?]
The failure – or the denial – to address the fact that research shows that in 80 percent of all OD deaths, alcohol is a contributing factor lends that much more importance to talk about the bright side of sobriety.

PROVIDENCE – It is impossible to honestly talk about addiction and recovery without discussing people who suffer because of someone else’s substance use. I have a graveyard of relationships and bad decisions in my rearview; far enough that I have given myself grace for that chapter of my life – but never so distant that I forget. I hold this gently.

There is regret. I hurt people I loved. I hurt myself. Facing the totality of damage can seem like a reason to keep using. Getting buzzed instead of having hard conversations and changing can be a no-brainer. And so the cycle can continue, fueling itself with obscured truths and escape. Denial is also a hell of a drug.

Lying is a core piece of addiction. To be an addict is to pursue our poison of choice above our better judgment, above the care that loved ones show. Please believe I know what it’s like on both sides.

Since I’ve gotten sober, I have a family member who continues to struggle with substance use. Disappointment, anger, frustration, and worry take turns in the hot seat when I observe their choices. I see the denial first-hand. I love them from a distance, and I will be here to support when they want to quit.

I mean this with all the empathy in the world: There is no way to love an addict out of active use. Inconvenient however it may be, at the end of the day, sobriety begins and ends with them. It doesn’t mean abandoning them – nor does it mean entertaining all the damage – but it does mean acceptance. Making peace with the uncertainty, setting boundaries to protect yourself and any children that may be in the picture. No one needs to like it for it to be the right thing.

Trust is a precious thing
The first friendship I lost at the hands of my drinking happened a few short months after alcohol passed my lips for the first time. I was 18 or 19. The details are hazy, but I know for sure it was my fault. Rather than look at my drinking, I decided that this friendship was on the rocks anyway. This was a friendship I’d had since childhood, and I was willing to sacrifice it at the altar of willful ignorance. I’d never been so callous, but alcohol beckoned in a way that accountability couldn’t.

Projection is a deeply effective – also deeply dysfunctional – way to avoid change. My fiancé was particularly affected by my drinking. I am so thankful for the fact that he stayed by my side through the hardest days of drinking. There’s no generic handbook for partners and close loved ones of those in active addiction, and I know what an unfair toll it took. I do believe that my behavior when drinking damaged the very foundation of our marriage.

Trust is a precious thing. And patterns of behavior don’t magically fix themselves once you’re sober. We are now divorced. I am grateful that we co-parent our daughter in a healthy way. And I’ll always have remorse for how I behaved.

The redemption arc
People don’t owe you their forgiveness for the ways in which they’ve been hurt. I emailed the friend years later, and the truth is that she was not interested in any further conversation. I respect and understand that. It’s something I have made peace with. I don’t get to determine how much my actions impacted someone else, and how repairable the connection is.

If I was drinking when I hurt you, and now I’m sober, surely we can move on, right? Well – maybe. It’s not up to me. Trust is fragile, and that’s the first thing to be given up for addiction. Just because you’re on a redemption arc doesn’t mean everyone wants to be involved.

It took me years to see the both/and of the damage that I caused. I didn’t see how much I was hurting myself, too. I believe that acknowledging each type of damage doesn’t take away from the other. I can hold the hurt I caused others without beating myself up. I can discuss the ways I betrayed myself without taking away from my responsibility.

I’m not proud of the choices I made while drinking. And I don’t feel bad for myself for that chapter in my life. I’m not sad, and I’m not mad. I’m not blind to the hurt I caused, and I have forgiven myself. It’s a fine line to walk when talking about addiction and sobriety. The last thing I’ve wanted when I started discussing sobriety is sympathy.

Sharing the story
While my brain cannot tolerate alcohol, I was still the one who made the choice to take part. I willfully denied that I had a problem, and I avoided any kind of accountability for a long while. That’s wrong.

I was also in over my head and using alcohol to cope. I thought that having a serious alcohol problem meant losing your job, meant run-ins with the law, meant drinking all day every day. And this is why I share my story. Alcohol abuse isn’t always obvious, and it doesn’t always mean spectacular wreckage.

I’m thankful I am sober, and I wish I didn’t harm people I loved, including me. But it’s part of my story. What good is growth if we only share the result, without sharing the ways we actually got there?

Katherine Linwood will be writing a monthly column, “The Bright Side,” on sobriety for ConvergenceRI. Connect with her on IG@katherine.linwood

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.