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I marveled at how very much I’d come to hate myself, how little of my interior life I’d truly shared with anyone.For the first six months of recovery, my brain played a constant loop of this is bullshit this is bullshit this is bullshit.There was a mere handful of years between my present self and the rotting of everything in me that was good.The fear of that smothered the self-loathing that argued, “Who cares?But in dating, that rubric expanded to one great, miserable marketplace in which my wares would be laid out alongside those of other women and found wanting.It didn’t matter if I dated guys who claimed not to believe in this imaginary marketplace, or in the conventional perfections that eluded me.Even here, there was the sense of performance: I’m normal, nothing to see here, folks.

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My voice was not mine either; when I bothered to lift it, it was shushed, corrected. But now it was the time in our date to tell him that I was an alcoholic, and I was finding it very, very hard.“What’d you get? I’d made a magical connection on some random sick day: Drinking this did something incredible. I had an unhappy, clumsy childhood in a small rural town in Kentucky. The evening would end with the limp handshake reserved for non-closers, and I would go home to hang over my Big Book from AA and cram handfuls of Lucky Charms into my open, keening mouth. The biggest kid, good and frantic on sugar, landed another in a mean headlock and began to throttle him back and forth. One of my earliest memories is of standing on top of the toilet to reach the children’s cough syrup in the bathroom cabinet. I had no way of putting words to this feeling, but my heart was roiling with it.I was fiercely protective of my new habit, knowing that secrecy was paramount, that any alarming behavior might cause interference. I have a clear memory of sitting alone in my bedroom some night before I left for college, drifting, sucking on one of the wintergreen lifesavers I used to mask my breath.I thought, This is who I am; this is for good, and I felt a sense of aloneness so profound that it terrified me.

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