By Liliana Ruiz-Healy
14 years ago I got a call I knew was coming some day. Except I expected it to come in 14 years from then. But unfortunately it came sooner.
“Li… li… liana… your… brother….” silence. My dad hung up without finishing. I knew it.
Phone rings again.
“Liliana, this is your uncle. Your brother is dead. You need to come home”
My heart climbed up to my throat and I just stood motionless in the middle of Playa del Carmen (Mexico), not knowing what to do, think or feel. I started crying as a figured out where to go. I finally got to a friend’s where I started looking for plane tickets. The earliest I could fly back was the next morning. The whole day is a blank memory. Including the plane ride. All I remember is getting home, changing to black clothes, my friends taking me to the funeral home, running through a crowd stopping me to give their condolences. All I wanted was to find my dad and brothers.
When I did, they were all in a private, small, dark room. My father was staring into abyss, all smooshed in a chair. This was the first time I saw the strongest, loudest and confident man in a moment of weakness. Everything changed in me since that moment.
My brother passed away when he was 36. Young. My age now. He struggled with alcoholism for many years, going in and out of rehabs and constantly having highs and lows in his life. He was brilliant, charismatic, charming, literate, elegant, passionate and fearless. Girls would fall for him in a matter of minutes. Men wanted to hang out with him. He was a force of nature. But alcoholism was stronger than him. Inside he felt empty and broken. He managed to ruin every good thing that he had. And even though he was successful and got what he wanted, it was never enough. Until one day he was gone. His body could not take another drop of alcohol.
I was 23 when this happened, I was drinking and trying everything there was to experiment out there and felt indestructible. After he passed, it crossed my mind I might have an addiction as well; a few months later I ran to Acoholics Anonymous to see what was going on with me. I found out that even though I was not an alcoholic or drug addict, I was struggling with my own demons: eating disorders.
Addictions have a broad scheme: You have your evident substance abusers (alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc..) to your silent behavioral & impulse addicts (bulimics, gamblers, kleptomaniacs, over exercisers, etc…). AA helped me to better understand addictions, emotions and myself.
“Emotionally ill” is how we are called. “Co-dependants”. It makes sense. Who wants to feel shitty and sad all the time? Why deal with the awful reality when it is better to get drunk and have fun? Or eat amounts of sugar that gives you the same high as cocaine? Because sooner or later, everything takes its toll. My own addictions and emotions took their toll on me when I was 28. Life had its way of giving me a big warning after a million little ones. I soon realized one addiction leads the way to others. After AA, I though that drinking in moderation and popping pills every now and then would magically make me get better at my eating disorders. It never worked. It just got worse. Enough was enough. This change had to be radical. It took me five years after my brother’s passing to really learn from his mistakes and take control.
So for some crazy reason I decided to try yoga, which I hated. Became a vegetarian, which also sucked and stopped partying for a while, which made me feel lame and SO ALONE. I became that person I used to criticize.
When I started this journey I wasn’t sure how long it would last and now I can’t imagine going back to how my life was before. The positives have been plentiful and the negatives have been slim to none. I will never forget how it felt: I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of being the party girl, I was tired of feeling like I was stuck in life, I was tired of disappointing loved ones and myself, I was tired of not letting the past go and always making excuses, most of all I was tired of living in my head which was hell.
It was not fun for me anymore. I had been trying and failing for years to regulate my habits. I’m only going to do it on the weekends or giving this up for a few months. It never worked, because addictions need to be cut off for good. My life was a hot mess and I was comfortable that way, because it was what I was used to. It was my normal. I fought through the scary days and months, struggled with reality and loneliness, until I found a new normal. Now, I feel more prepared if something bad were to happen and feel better in my own skin.
I have more clarity. I feel everything with a noticeable heightened sensitivity that includes emotions, sense of touch, sense of smell, hearing, and taste. This “feeling everything” thing can be extremely overwhelming at times, but I’ve never felt something so amazing. I have learned to understand who I really am. That there are things I thought I liked that I really don’t like and things I like that I never knew I did. I learned how to socialize and be myself with friends and family. I learned that waking up on the weekend without a hangover, having a cup of tea, and going to class is exactly what I want to do. I learned that the person who was under the cloud of constant numbing for the last several years was not me.
I have been sabotaging my romantic relationships for a long time. Why? Now that might take years to find out, but my old habits just helped fuel this problem. It supported, encouraged, and justified bad decisions of all kinds, especially those related to men. You see, I had –and still have- this way of thinking that since I was fucked up, I was meant to be in a fucked up relationship, but everyday I am more convinced that I am capable of being in a normal relationship and I do in fact, deserve to be loved. But I still have my tendency to choose the fucked up ones… not as often as I tend to see the red flags sooner (and right now I’m on a need to be single time). But, old habits do die hard
Toxic people are just like toxic habits. This is a big one for me. Obviously when you stop drinking or doing drugs or doing whatever it is that you do, you probably need to change some friends you hang out with. I definitely had to do this and I realized just how little I had in common with some people. I also realized that I had friends that were completely different from me, without the same goals and outlook on life. It felt all too fake. When you make a big life decision like admitting you have a problem and decide to stop, you really find out who your true friends are. There are those who will love you unconditionally, those who won’t bat an eyelash, and those who you will never see again in your life… unless yo go to the bar because they tend to stay there. I’ve encountered all of the above. Getting rid of my toxic friendships along with my toxic habits just makes sense and I’m still learning not to feel bad about it.
Stopping a nasty habit can bring out a lot of guilt, shame, and regret. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t felt all of the above at times. However, I am realizing feeling all the emotions I spent years trying to numb is actually a beautiful thing. Not only am I learning to feel them, I’m learning how to deal with them, and live a healthy and more successful life. I have made mistakes along the way, I have had relapses with eating disorders, coping with emotions and situations. I will never be perfect. But these set backs just help me see where there is still healing to be done. Every day I have to make a conscious decision not to beat myself up. I am a work in progress and I have come a LONG way. There are good days and bad days. Sometimes I feel like life isn’t fair, but I have accepted that this is the way my life is and that I can move forward and not feel sorry for myself.
Today I am deep into herbalism and nutritional practices and studies. Learning about the physical and emotional body, and how to heal with herbs, foods and lifestyle. Rooting each day more into my worth & feminine. This all has helped me heal and appreciate my body as it is. And my passion to spread out knowledge and the tools for what worked for me is my mission. I’ve learned to set boundaries towards people and situations that are not good for me. And as for going out… I still go out and have fun, because music and dancing are things that I cannot give up, the only thing that changed was my way of drinking. I was always that girl who needed alcohol to have fun and now I am a testament to the fact that you don’t need it to enjoy yourself.
And it all goes back to my brother. I have seen what addictions can do to someone if they (we) don’t decide to stop. It’s not easy to accept and addiction, and even once you do, it’s not easy to do the change. His loss taught me that in order to grow, sometimes you need to surrender. To let the past be and enjoy what I have now by being present and making the best out of it. To stop making excuses and take control. Pushing me to be better and most of all, to love myself. I miss him deeply and hear his contagious laugh in my head everyday, but he is one of my biggest inspirations and will always be thankful for the lessons he left to me.