Chaos – I can’t quit you! – By Jo Black Sullivan

Chaos has been in the fabric of my being since I was five years old.  I didn’t understand it then but I was most definitely cultivating the art of creating it, developing an eye to spot it and seeking out people who responded to it.


Photo courtesy of Jo Black Sullivan

Chaos was my safe place long before booze and drugs took over and it has remained so long after.  In the years they were both in my life – I was a constantly twisting crescendo of ecstatic misery.  Living life in a cycle of artificial highs, sick and craving hours that served their own purpose to fill my soul and the brief moments of reality which were completely unacceptable.  So I wrapped it all in chaos and mayhem in an effort to never ever – even for one moment – be alone with myself.

It started when I was a child.  There was on older boy in my life who introduced me to very adult things.  He told me I was special and that what we did was special.  But he also told me if we ever got caught – I would be the one in trouble.  I took that knowledge to heart.  It became my job to walk into a room and break into song, to dance from one adult to another with the ridiculous showmanship only children have.  I had feats of daring on my pink bike across the hills of back yards.  I pushed my swing set so hard the front leg popped out of the concrete in protest as I flew so high my stomach landed ages before I did.

I laughed too loud, hugged too long and cried too hard.  I’d read the adults in the room better than any dime store psychic  – fetching cigarettes, cups of coffee or lap blankets before they knew they needed them.  I began rescuing stray dogs and cats at six or seven.  Sometimes even rescuing a neighbor dog if I thought I could do better in providing for them.  I’d take toys up and down the street to entice kids to play with me.  And sometimes.  At night.  When we played Spotlight.  I’d let the neighbor boys hide with me and tell them I knew how to keep us from getting in trouble.  It was, after all, all I knew at seven years old. I did all of this to be accepted, loved.  But in the same breath I moved so fast and frenetic in everything in an effort to make sure you didn’t look at me.  Didn’t see me.  If you saw me you’d know.  And if you knew you wouldn’t love me.  So I grew my skill at creating chaos to an art form.

At 43, I tried to put the vodka away and to find myself.  Probably for the first time ever.  But, sobriety was elusive to me for a long time.  I blame my inner chaos daemon for that.  What had started out as a little girl’s self-preservation had turned into a life time of lying, inappropriate relationships, co-dependent behavior and general “hot messness.”

In those early days, I’d sit in meetings quite proud I didn’t have cravings and thinking I got this. But just like my inner child, I did not.  I treated meetings like I treated life:  too loud, too fast, too much. I found the vulnerable, the sicker the most promising and I started spinning.  Arms out wide. And I caught them in a web or intrigue, lies and drama.  And it comforted me.  It was the swirling black mass I needed to shove in the deep dark hole that booze and drugs left.  And booze and drugs had filled a deep dark hole left by my childhood.  It was a merry go round out of a nightmare and I couldn’t get off because I never ever understood I was actually riding.

A last binge.  A final two or three weeks of 24/7 drinking, driving in black outs, waking up reaching for the bottle in order to go back to sleep – and the merry go round slammed to a stop.  Flinging me far afield.  Shaking, broken, confused.  Desperately trying to make sense of what happened.

jo 2

“Jo” – By Aaron Lee Perry

It was only then I could look back and see the wreckage for what it was.  Like a 747 coming to a stop at the end of 5th Avenue and passengers emerge amazed they survived only to look back and see a city behind them wrenched and rendered destroyed.

It has been two years and some change.  I struggle daily with the desire to wreak havoc.  When things are going well – I end up itching to do something to derail it.  That comes from issues of self-loathing, feeling undeserving.  Less than.  The old voice in my head returns telling me I suck and that if people knew me they would not say kind things, like me or want to be in my world.  And I know how to fix that.  I can find a husband to flirt with.  Or a wife.  I can start gossip, cross lines, push boundaries and crate the whirlwind that releases that sick sense of satisfaction and will drive away everyone because I would be visible for what I am

When things are going badly – I reach for chaos like I reached for booze.  It would fill that blackness with deeper blackness and for a fleeting moment – I would feel whole.  Twisted, miserable but comfortably whole.

I battle these daemons with 12-Steps, a therapist and a lot of practicing in the virtual world of social media.  I am not yet certain enough of myself to take on too many actual people.  It is a process and it is work like I never expected.  I pull people close and shove them away. I am envious and resentful of the people who can simply “do lunch” or go ice skating and it is nothing more than that.  The anxiety, planning and fear leading to any interaction leaves me exhausted and unwilling to try again.  But I do.  I have to.  I want to put down chaos.  I want to quietly meditate, hit a meeting, grab coffee and walk my dogs without imagining what I could do to bring down the temple or fantasizing about taking the dogs and running away to Montana just to see if anybody would notice I was gone.

Chaos.  I can’t quit you.  But I cannot be the person I am Becoming as long as you are here.  So it’s time to open up and have courage and faith to tell people I need help to overcome the pull of merry go round.


About Jo Black Sullivan

Jo is a woman in recovery who is working hard to uncover the person she was always supposed to be. For many years she channeled her chaos into a sense of urgency in the nonprofit world - working for or with ASPCA, UNHCR, Wounded Warrior Project and many others. These days, she's working towards her certification as an Addictions Counselor and has returned to graduate school at University of Maryland Baltimore to pursue her master's in Social Work. Her husband and two mutts have been the pillars in the storm and will continue to be.
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  1. Incredible is right. Not to be believed

  2. Thanks. I identified a lot with the deep hole that existed before I ever turned to drugs and alcohol. I am trying to live less chaotically, but it is so familiar.

  3. Thank you for telling your story so honestly. Every day you help me stay sober. Just so you know…I would notice if you were gone.

    • I adore you Noreen – you know that. Even in the bad. And for the record – I’d probably text you to go with me! Thelma and Louise ride into the sunset!

    • Thank you for reading it! It is freeing to put it in words but still surreal to think people will actually read and be impacted by it!

  4. Wow, That’s a incredible story…I am so grateful to have read this…So many times we don’t know whats going on with us or that the way we act or react to situations in our life are a direct result of the things that happened to us a child…Thank you for your honesty.

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