The poet Eileen Myles—who reached some mainstream fame as the inspiration for a character on the show Transparent—has been sober for decades.
“I remember the first spring I wasn’t drinking; it was 1983,” they said. “My friend Tom and I were walking around the West Village, and we were staring up and pointing. ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ It was like we had never looked up before.”
Poets often notice details, but sobriety allowed Myles to see things they hadn’t been able to recognize in active addiction. Recovery tends to profoundly change the way you see the world. This is almost always for the better, but at first it was hard for Myles, as someone whose work and art is all about their perception of the world. Getting accustomed to writing sober was a process.
“When I was in my twenties and thirties and doing a lot of drugs and drinking, I feel like my mind was so dirty,” they said. “I had all these shelves and crevices, and I could pack stuff into all these places. And I remember when I got sober, I was scared because I felt like this water had rushed through my brain and it was clean. I was like, ‘How can I work with this?’ It was working in a clean room suddenly.”
Being sober means learning to do everyday things without drugs or alcohol. That may sound simple, but it’s in fact an enormous feat. You often don’t realize how many aspects of your life substance use impacted until you get sober.
“What being sober comes to mean is days and days of life,” says Myles, “doing all sorts of tedious things that no upstanding addict ever wanted to live to do—flossing, for instance.”
Sobriety means learning to do things as though for the first time, making mistakes as you go, and having the capacity to learn from those mistakes. Often when we are in active addiction, we can’t hold on to those lessons.
“And now that I’m not f*cked up, I still f*ck up a lot,” says Myles. “I make mistakes…It’s really what made me drink, I think, the pressure of time and imperfection and the body…because it’s so hard, or even so glorious, bearing the enormous burden of being alive.”
Those burdens exist for most people, though systemic issues like racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and others add a lot of weight and minority stress. Minority stress is also linked to substance use. Myles has spoken about growing up working class, realizing they’re queer (and, more recently, non-binary), and facing misogyny.
“I have learned to ask for the things I want,” they said. “Being female, and being working class, I didn’t always know how to do that. Sobriety has taught me this: you ask, and if they don’t pay attention, you ask again and again. There were so many things I’ve always wanted that I used to think I couldn’t have—and now I’m fighting against that, and it’s really exciting.”
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build a great life in sobriety. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.