The Dread Pit

In her amazing book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, Catherine Gray writes about the Dread Pit she felt while actively drinking— “an unnamed pit of dread that sat in my stomach…dread that I was destined to stay stuck…”

I remember this feeling all too well. It was an underlying sense that something was slipping through my fingers, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. It was a feeling that something else existed in the world that was just outside of my awareness. I was missing it and I needed it, but I couldn’t find it.

The only thing I could do to make this feeling go away was to drink some more – gulp some more wine, go to more bars, find someone willing to coast with me for a few hours.

It was a temporary salve to the dull ache of doom. As Gray says, “[the Dread Pit] was subdued somewhat when I poured wine on it; but when I awoke the next morning the dread was bigger. Blacker. Thirstier.”

Sure, now from the outside looking in, it seems glaringly obvious— addiction was creating the Dread Pit. But it’s amazing how blind we are to this when we are living the loop of dread/drink/hangover/dread/drink/etc.

Image by Vixen Lea | enhanced using

I’m at that point in sobriety where I have all but forgotten what life felt like when I was a heavy drinker. I don’t have the surprising euphoria anymore of a clear-headed Saturday morning or the budding pride of passing up a glass of wine at a party. Sobriety has become pretty standard for me. Reading Quit Lit like The Unexpected Joy helps me to recall those emotions of fear and longing during the latter parts of addiction and early phases of recovery. This empathy is important as I begin my work towards becoming a certified recovery coach.

I still dream about the dread pit sometimes. It’s like a feeling that imbues my dream state— amorphous and elusive. Sometimes I dream that I am back in Kansas City, which is where I lived when my dread pit was at its deepest; sometimes I dream that I never met my husband or had my kids and life has passed me by; sometimes the dreams are more obscure and abstract but the dread pit is hanging there, looming as it did when I was drinking.

That little addict voice inside my head still pipes up during times of anxiety and boredom (like, say, snowy February). It says things like, “Hey girl, you ought to just open a bottle of wine and have a dance party… you know your troubles will fade away!” or “Remember how you used to day drink on snow days? Wouldn’t that be fun? And your kids wouldn’t seem so demanding…” 

Sigh. I’m far enough removed from those days that I’m able to pat that voice on the head and respond, maybe a bit patronizingly, “Yeah, yeah, Little Addict Voice. I know that drinking seems like it would do the trick at first, but I can see behind the curtain now. I know that temporary numbness is not going to solve anything and I will feel a bazillion times worse tomorrow. I actually would like to feel better.”

I know that even if I do nothing but wallow in my own pity party for a day, I will still feel better in the morning than I would if I indulged in that bottle of wine.

Image by Vixen Lea

You know the saying, Tomorrow is a new day? Well, when you’re sober, each “new day” builds on the previous. Even when you are in the doldrum-dumps, you will eventually wake up feeling like there are possibilities. The sunrise makes you happy (or at least refreshed).

But when you’re drinking, each “new day” is a fresh wound you have to triage. You end up in a constant state of starting over, like walking the wrong way up an escalator. Sunrise is like getting a final notice for a bill you know you can’t pay.

So today I am grateful for knowing the Dread Pit. It taught me to appreciate being topside, no matter how down and gray I may feel.

And I am grateful for the little addict voice still tittering away in the recesses of my mind. It reminds me that, even if I am feeling unproductive and stuck, when I continue to choose sobriety I am ultimately coming out on top.

©Skye Nicholson 2021

Listen to Sound Waves of Echoes, an original poem by Vixen Lea describing the repetitive motion of the life of an addict:

2 thoughts on “The Dread Pit

  1. Yes ma’am!! YOU are such an inspiration and your truth is TRUE! That’s why your writing is so important in the world. Keep rocking girl!


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