I’ve had one year to think about this post, to decide what I want to say and how I want to say it. I’ve journaled endlessly. I’ve spoken in meeting after meeting. My husband and I have discussed this journey in pain staking detail. I’ve relived moment after moment. I’ve been more aware than ever how addiction does not discriminate and how many people just like me need to hear my story; a journey in raw honesty and without refrain, yet I don’t even know where to begin or how to do this. I’m honestly terrified, but I know my story holds strength for someone else. I’ve always been the type of person that lives in authenticity because I don’t know how to live any other way, and it’s not like me to keep something like this so close to the vest for so long, but I needed to do it this way. I needed to find myself, and my path, after so many years of living behind a veil. I needed to feel secure in my sobriety and in who I am before putting myself out there to potentially be judged, criticized or even praised for something I HAD to do in order to save my life. I needed to find me again…or actually, I needed to meet myself for the first time because I’m not sure I’ve ever truly known who I am. So, here it goes; the revealing truth about how a suburban mom, a wife that appears to have it all together, and a successful, business-minded, woman ends up taking on the hardest fight of her life in sobriety at 35 years old.
If you’re like I was, you might think of those that need a program to stop drinking as the typical stereotype; hopeless, a junkie, trashy, out of control, in jail, or like the television and movie portrayal of them. You might not realize that alcoholism can affect anyone and there is no specific look and no specific person that is immune to it. Alcoholism is on the rise now more than ever, especially for women. (JAMA) I will talk more about this as my story continues to unfold, but today I want to share about my journey in the sole hope that it might reach someone that needs to hear it. I hope that someone might see themselves in my story and if they feel like it’s worth taking a deeper look at their drinking, that they might reach out for help. I hope that by sharing and honoring my truth that someone might push past the shame and pain that they feel and know that they’re not alone. I hope that someone who feels like I might be talking to them and likely already knows they have an issue with drinking might seek out further truth within themselves, and take steps towards a different future. As you’ll read, for me, it was a gradual process and a journey I needed to come to terms with on my own. I also hope for the family and friends of addicts, that you might see a person behind the addiction and be encouraged not to give up on them. Finally, I know that nothing changes, if nothing changes, and if people like me, or you, or anyone else brave enough to put themselves out there can speak about the unspeakable then maybe one day, this subject matter won’t make people so uncomfortable, fearful and judgmental.
My story is not uncommon or unique. Like many kids, I began experimenting with alcohol when I was a teenager. I would not say that I drank more than most high school kids that I knew. I could easily control it, but I did binge drink and made my fair share of intoxicated mistakes. I enjoyed the boldness and confidence that alcohol gave me. I thrived on it and this would later become an excuse for drinking. I have never spoken about it publicly, but I can’t deny a brutal piece of my story and admit that I was sexually assaulted at 18 years old. My already fragile self worth disintegrated instantly. Again, this is not an uncommon story among female alcoholics. Most of the women I personally know in recovery have been sexually assaulted at least one time in their lives and can pinpoint that event as being a turning point in their addiction. Over the next year, I began using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that I wouldn’t allow myself to feel. By the time I was 19 I got a DUI and spent 24 hours in Arizona’s infamous “Tent City.” Several months later, I wanted a fresh start and I moved to Colorado, where I quickly picked up drinking right where I left off. In retrospect, I can recognize a co-dependent character flaw to fix others and to look for quick ways to fix myself. At 21, I thought I’d accomplished both when I rushed in to a marriage and motherhood. I was young and financially unstable, struggling to keep the water on and food in my baby’s belly, so there was no extra money for booze. This forced me to go about 3 years where I drank only occasionally. While in the deepest depths of my alcoholism, years later, I remembered this time of my life and used it to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem then, or now. Soon came a divorce, a new job, a new relationship, a surprise pregnancy, temporary financial freedom, and a shitstorm of drama beyond my spiritual, mental and emotional maturity. My solution: Drink!
For the next 10 years my drinking gradually increased. I went from happy hour once a week to habitually having wine at home to constantly having a bottle of whiskey in the cupboard. Now, I want to make one thing very clear before your mind takes off on you. Not one person that I’ve shared my sobriety with over the last year has said, “Yeah, this does not surprise me, you were obviously a drunk and this has been a long time coming.” No! Every single person has said, “I had no idea you had a problem.” I didn’t have the common signs one might look for in an alcoholic. I didn’t get another DUI. As a matter of fact, I didn’t drink to intoxication and drive ever again. However, most women I know in sobriety did do this and regret it beyond words, thanking God every day that their children are okay. I may one day look back and realize my kids were much wiser than I think, but my children weren’t in danger or much aware of my drinking, other than knowing mommy had “adult drinks.” They didn’t see me lying in my own vomit or know that most of my migraines were self inflicted. My husband wasn’t going to divorce me over my drinking. (Although, my drinking certainly wasn’t helping our marriage in any way.) The point I’m making is that my life was not on the verge of disaster, but everything inside of me was completely broken…shattered…I was so lost.
I thought I was doing what every other mom was doing, as the going perception is that drinking is required for motherhood, and that was all the excuse I needed. I even joked about picking my new mom friends based on how much they drank and cursed. (I still prefer women who curse because it makes me feel better about my own cursing, just like I preferred women who drank because it made me feel better about my own drinking.) My closest confidants in my life that have learned about my decision to get sober saw me at a point of true intoxication. However, our society teaches us that drinking (sometimes very heavily) is normal and commonplace. First, it’s not normal, and it’s not okay, especially when one is responsible for children. Second, not everybody does it! If you take that as judgment, it’s not, it’s truth! We are also discouraged from engaging in brave, honest and tough conversations; we’re told to mind our own business. Perhaps this is one reason why no one, other than my husband, sat me down and told me they were concerned.
I do not want to leave any room for doubt here, nobody was responsible for my decision to get sober but me, period, end of story! The reality that I am optimistic about changing is that in multiple years of my drinking becoming a very alarming problem, no one said anything. Sometimes I wonder why and then I remember that most people do not have the tools to have these kinds of tough conversations, that addiction is not spoken about and very shameful in our society and that for many, addicts and alcoholics look a certain way and I did not fit a profile. Maybe someone you know does not fit the profile, but you know they need someone to advocate for them. Maybe that person is you…..
I could (and I will in time,) talk more about the specifics of those 10 years of progressive alcoholism, but I want to focus on 2017. At the end of 2016, I had a surgery that left my body in shambles and I was barely holding on to my sanity and my health. I was also raising three daughters, running a business and doing my best to maintain a marriage. In December of 2016 I went 30 days without drinking, and this was not uncommon for me. This is another misconception of what an alcoholic looks like, to the outsider and to the alcoholic. Not all of us carry around a 5th of Vodka in a brown paper bag and have mini bottles hidden all over our homes, because we need to drink every minute of the day. We’re also not all falling down drunk, going to jail, losing our jobs, losing custody of our kids or passed out on a park bench. What many of us are is— really good at hiding it.
When I drank, the pain I was feeling from lupus, fibromyalgia, migraines and chronic back pain would decrease. I would even giggle and laugh with my family and play tag with my daughters, and the patience that I couldn’t muster up for endless stories and made up dances would suddenly come in truckloads, and my daughters would look at me with joy and not with fear in their eyes that I might die. This became an excuse to drink more, not less. My husband noticed and distance grew in our marriage as he became impatient of the days I was sick with hang overs and the nights I would go to bed early because my eyelids were too heavy to stay awake. In the summer of 2017 I stopped drinking on two occasions at my husband’s request. A fight would then ensue because I would tell him that I didn’t have a problem and that he was too sensitive to people drinking due to his own past and that it wasn’t……MY….problem. He doubted that I would ever get sober if he gave me an ultimatum and instead he continued to give me space as well as the tough love that I needed until I came to terms, on my own, with the fact that I was powerless over alcohol. What does that mean, powerless over alcohol? If it was in the house I would drink it. At first I would set boundaries for myself, like, I’ll only drink beer and wine and within a couple of weeks, I’d be back to hard liquor. I’d tell myself that I wouldn’t drink until Friday and on Tuesday I’d find a reason to “celebrate” and drink again, still convincing myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic because I’d easily gone a day or two without drinking. I’d tell my husband that I’d only have a maximum of three drinks when we’d go out and be the person buying shots for everyone…multiple shots. I’d say I wouldn’t drink more than two drinks at home and then I’d fill my two drinks as full as possible and sneak shots from the bottle that I conveniently hid in the pantry so I’d have an easy excuse to go in there while cooking dinner. Throughout all of this, rarely did I look or act drunk to someone that did not know my tells, other than my husband, who would catch on at the first slur of a word. In the year before I quit drinking the classic alcoholic symptoms began to come more often, and I felt like a tornado spiraling toward my own “peaceful home,” but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. You see, nobody chooses addiction. Nobody sets out and thinks, I’m going to take this first drink and one day be so out of control that I feel like I literally cannot stop myself from reaching for the next drink, at ANY cost. Nobody wants to wake up every single day in withdrawals, hands shaking, cold sweats, migraine headaches, sensitivity to sound and to your own life. Nobody keeps going back for drink after drink and intends to hurt those that love them and themselves. Alcoholics are consumed by a progressive disease; they can look like the homeless man on the corner with the brown paper bag or the “Pinterest Mom” in suburbia making perfect cupcakes, heading up the PTA and tucking her kids into bed each night. Addiction does not discriminate!!
On October 2nd, 2017 I got word that a member of our family had been shot and killed in the shooting in Las Vegas. My world stopped. How could something so horribly tragic hit so close to home? I was rocked by the news, and I drank. The next morning I woke up and thought to myself, what in the hell am I doing? This man will never take another breath and he had so much life to live. He died shielding someone he loved and I’m over here numbing out precious days that are a gift! Later that month I went to a work conference. After spending so many of these conferences hung over, and unable to retain information, I vowed to myself not to spend a single day hungover and to control my drinking. I then spent one whole day hungover and did not go out my last night there in order to stay sober. I flew home without consuming a drink for the first time in many years, and since I have a fear of flying, I knew I was growing stronger if I could fly without a buzz. A few days later, our family attended a Halloween party and I told myself that I would just have a few drinks and not get drunk. Have you ever walked in to a social situation and not known anybody, so you have a couple drinks to loosen up and by the end of the night, everybody is your best friend? I was famous for this and that night was no different. I often say that God blessed me with the worst hangovers of anybody I knew and if he hadn’t I don’t know that I’d be sober today. It was because of the many wasted days I spent being extremely ill due to my drinking that I knew I couldn’t keep drinking—for the sake of my kids, my husband and myself. In order to be a functioning member of my family, I got up the next morning and went straight to the bottle to cure my self-inflicted wounds, knowing it would be the last drink I ever took. I don’t know how to explain it, but I woke up that morning and knew it was over. I’d felt it coming for months but I had to do it in my own time and in my own way. I truly believe that my higher power took control of my addiction that day because I finally stopped trying to run the show and turned my will and my life over to the care of God, something I had never done. (As the months progress and I share more, I look forward to revealing more about my spiritual journey during this process. My relationship with God today is night and day different than it was a year ago.)
The next day I told my husband that I knew I had to stop drinking and that it was no longer in my control. I told him that based on the number of times I’d tried to quit drinking in the past and failed (I’d even quit for seven months just a couple years ago,) that I couldn’t do it on my own this time. Coming to terms with needing to do this with the support of a program and the people in it was incredibly humbling, but not as humbling as the day I walked in the doors and sat among the first group of people I’d ever witnessed truly owning and sharing their stories; people who allowed themselves to be seen in all of their messiness. After one month of white knuckling sobriety on my own, I went to a meeting daily and cried at every one of them for a full month straight. There was something about walking through the doors that completely stripped away any lies I was still telling myself, and made me push through the fear and face all of my own bullshit. It was so hard and I barely made it there but I did, and one year later, I can honestly tell you that if I hadn’t gotten sober with the help of a 12-step program that I would have continued to believe all of my excuses about not being an alcoholic and I would have been right back where I was, probably worse. I plan to discuss much more about getting sober with a program as I share my personal journey in the coming months, but today I want to end here and with these final thoughts:
Anyone can have a problem with alcohol and it’s okay to seek help, even if you’ve only just begun to question it. Many people already know, but it takes strength beyond measure to actually address it. People ask me why I would put this out there publicly and with such vulnerability and all that I know is that for whatever reason God made me this way; it’s what I do and who I am. I also believe that if someone had exposed their truth, their vulnerability and their journey for me to read years before I got sober, I might have realized I needed help sooner. If you suspect someone you love is struggling with addiction, it’s okay to reach out with love and concern and to let them know that when they’re ready you’re there for them. Continue to show them that you are a safe space for them. They may not get sober right away, they might even get mad at you, but one day, you may be the person they reach out to because they remember the love and compassion you showed them. Today, if you need that safe space and don’t have someone in your life to provide it, I encourage you to find a meeting in your area and to reach out to a recovering alcoholic/addict and allow them to guide you in the process. There are people waiting to love you until you can love yourself.
Lastly, I see you, I love you and I’m here for you.