Note: The following is a personal account by the author. It is reflective of her personal experiences and should not be considered professional advice.
Three months ago I could not imagine my life without alcohol in it. And when I say in it, I mean the foundation, the support beams that hold everything up, the glue that holds it all together. For me, it was never just going to be a Monday morning and I’d wake up and decide nonchalantly “Yep! This is it. No more drinking for me, baby!” Because the truth was there really hadn’t been a day that had gone by in two years that I had not had some sip of alcohol. And the only thing that had gotten in the way of that two years was a minor nine month hiatus called a pregnancy. So it was hard to even imagine a day going by without that soothing sip. Giving it up would be like ending a marriage, or saying goodbye to a best friend. Incomprehensible. Granted, the marriage was abusive and I wanted to kill my best friend most of the time, but I didn’t care. The love was unconditional. And it went both ways.
I knew all along it would have to come to an end someday. But that someday was not now and that’s all that mattered. When I was 30, my sister got married and moved out of the townhouse we owned together. I had no idea who I was without her. I had never felt so alone. I had never lived alone. I had never been single and living alone. I felt all these expectations of being 30 years old crushing down on me. I don’t even know what I felt. Suffocated and numb, all at the same time. I clearly remember thinking of the bottle of vodka in the freezer and feeling instantly relieved. Boom – problems solved!! Mixed a drink, then another, then a third, and had half of it gone by the time I went to bed. Oddly, that night, feeling strangely self-conscious as I poured a drink for myself alone, it propelled me to picture myself 10 years from then as a 40 year old alcoholic in a bathrobe, no makeup, walking around my house holding a liquor bottle (some childhood stereotype of an alcoholic).
Fast-forward ten years. There was 40 year old me gulping warm vodka from a 1.75 plastic bottle of Smirnoff hidden in the bottom drawer of my bedroom dresser. The only thing missing was the bathrobe. I was wearing make-up. Did that count for some shred of dignity?? Just as I was in my kitchen ten years ago, I was more than fully aware of the fact that this didn’t feel right. I blamed my husband because he was not a big drinker. I should have married somebody who was cool with having two drinks after work every night because that was perfectly normal. I shouldn’t be judged for it. So no. I was not an alcoholic, thank you. I was only hiding it because my husband was the one who had a weird relationship with alcohol. His dad was an alcoholic so that explained that. Nothing wrong with me.
And so, I had convinced myself that as long as no one knew and as long as I kept it to a respectable amount what did it matter? How was it hurting anyone? I still cooked dinner every night (it was my turn), kept a clean house, worked my full-time job, did everything I was supposed to, even worked out in the office gym over lunch for god’s sake. What alcoholic did all of that?
I wasn’t quite sure what my breaking point would be or how it would all end, but I found out the day my husband discovered my stash. I knew the jig was up. My secret life was over. Part of me—I think 51% of me—was overcome with relief at being discovered and not rejected out of hand, finally knowing I had to get help and not having a choice in the matter unless I wanted to lose the people I love. I wonder where I would be if I didn’t have that force behind me, but that is a whole separate discussion.
In the forefront of my mind was this profound sense of defeat. The life I knew for so long was over forever and I could never go back to it. If I did, I’d be choosing to forego the people who loved me. On top of that, I had to go to dreaded treatment and AA and people would KNOW about it. Which meant I couldn’t fail and I could definitely never go back to drinking or I would lose my integrity and be “that girl” and be outcast. At the time, all I could wrap my head around was wanting to keep my dignity, but wanting to drink again someday, too. It was too much to comprehend all at once. So, I just braced myself. It was time to face whatever it was I finally had to face—whatever it was I had been running from my entire life. And trying to hide behind with booze.
In the short span of just three months (compared to my 20 years of drinking) I am simply amazed at how awake and whole I feel. By no means am I an expert on sobriety. That would be laughable. But I do want to share my experience with anyone still struggling the three “misconceptions” that held me back from seeking help.
1) The stigma. I was terrified of the stigma of treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and even what the definition of an alcoholic is and identifying as one. I’ve learned there is no definition. There is a ton of grey area and it’s a very personal thing. What’s definitely not a grey area is that these people are the strongest people I have ever met. They have overcome personal challenges most “normal” people don’t have to face. The fellowship of other people in recovery is like nothing I even knew about or expected within the loneliness of addiction. They are very understanding and not judgmental. So stigma be damned. And maybe it just took me getting to be 40 years old to not care what people think anymore. But I wish I had a way of knowing years ago because one of my major problems has been loneliness and feeling like I don’t fit in anywhere, so recovery has been like killing two birds with one stone as far as both quitting drinking and finding people I connect with that accept me. The other thing is, depending on your own personal situation, you don’t have to tell anyone you’re in recovery if you don’t want to.
2) Alcoholics Anonymous is not the only way. As I said before, I was skeptical of AA going in. I didn’t want to be a person who went to AA and got a sponsor. I mean that meant you were a “for real, legit alcoholic.” Argggh. But, what I was doing was sure as hell not working for me, so I did it and didn’t tell a soul except for my husband and sister. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. Everyone is so welcoming, forthcoming, non-judgmental, supportive…everything I needed and wanted in friends, to be honest. And they weren’t freaks of nature either. They were normal—like me (hahaha.) I even got a sponsor who I adore. We started reading the “Big Book” together and she is teaching me about the 12 steps. Spoiler alert—you don’t have to make some big grand announcement to anyone that you’re an alcoholic or go around making amends and apologies to everyone in your life. This is all a very quiet thing.
But all that said, I still think AA essentially programs you to believe that you are a defective and sick person and will always be this way, so you must work the 12 steps for life with the help of your “higher power” which can be anything you want it to be (the kitchen sink if you want), just not yourself, and remain in the AA program or else you are destined to fail or “relapse”. For me personally, something about this doesn’t sit right because, even after my battle with alcohol knowing its power, I KNOW I have more control and power over myself than that. I feel that I just need to learn how to manage alcohol and not be ignorant to its seductive ways. But more importantly, to get to the bottom of why I drank in the first place with a lot of therapy and soul searching in a space of long-term sobriety before I consider drinking again if ever. In which case, it could be for the sole purpose of being enjoyable and not used as a crutch. I could be deluding myself as to my ability to successfully pull that off if I’m to believe that abstinence is the only solution, but at this point in time, I’m still exploring my options.
And there are other options besides AA. There is a Moderation Method for people who don’t want to abstain for the rest of their lives, amongst others. I feel I have to explore these other options quietly, though because AA dominates the recovery world, and it’s my perception if you disagree with the “AA way,” you can find yourself an outcast in this recovery world.
3) Everything I thought would be hard is easy – Remember at the beginning when I said I couldn’t imagine a day without alcohol? Now I don’t even remember what it was like to think that. Ok— that’s a stretch. I do still have my days. But those obsessive thoughts no longer consume me. And I will remind you it’s only been THREE months and I relied on alcohol in some capacity for TWENTY years. I just think that shows how, pardon my French, F***CKING powerful the mind is.
I was so scared of facing my true self that I was willing to go to almost any length to run from it. It is almost comical how easy it has been to face that fear in relation to how out of proportion it had become in my mind and the destruction it caused. Alcohol is not the bad guy. I am the bad guy. And guess what? I’m not that bad.