In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month and the millions of people, past and present, who’ve struggled with the disease of Alcoholism.
I used to think all I had to do was stop drinking. I thought once I got rid of the drink for good, my problems would disappear. It was obvious that every time I got on “the wagon” my life got a little better, so I’d tell myself I had to commit. I thought I could really do it this time. But after doing it my own way, time after time, I got drunk again. My problems reappeared, and I’d justify my drinking once again.
The real problem wasn’t the drinking itself, it was what brought me to the drink in the first place. I could never stay sober on my own for any real length of time. A few days here, a week there, a month, six months, but no matter what I tried to do replace the drinking, I’d pick up again. What I would come to realize after getting sober for the last time, is that no human power (including myself) could relieve my alcoholism. My drinking was but a symptom of a deeper problem, and that problem was me.
From the beginning, I knew I was different. I never felt like I fit in, and I blamed everything and everyone else for my problems. Whether it was my situation, my family, my friends, a boyfriend, school, my job, my coworkers, the government, etc…. If I was sad, mad or glad, I found someone else to blame. Even for my own happiness (talk about a lack of confidence). If I wasn’t blaming others, I was playing the victim card, I wasn’t “good enough”, “pretty enough” or “smart enough”. I’d been “mistreated” and blah, blah, blah. With every emotion came a reason to drink. And I’m not talking just one drink or a couple drinks with friends – my drinking meant a binge and a full on blackout. Every. Single. Time.
My stinking thinking kept me stuck in a cycle – the emotions – the drinking – the blackout – the hangover – the promise to never drink again – then again the emotions – the drinking – on and on again. Before I knew it, I’d become a full blown alcoholic. Pickled. Sure, I’d say I drank because I wanted to, but the truth was, I needed to. I couldn’t even handle talking to people without a drink in my hand. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin that it hurt not to drink. Most of the time, I drank alone at home. Late at night, when I was good and lit, I’d text people to come party with me (because, everyone parties on a Tuesday night, right?) If no one wanted to party, I’d get angry. I’d fight with my husband. I’d hop on you tube and watch sad videos as I tearfully drank myself into oblivion. In the morning, I usually didn’t remember the things I’d said and done. I’d blame the alcohol and vow to never drink again, only to fail miserably. After the hangover lifted, I’d be right back at it. I’d try it one more time. It was a sad existence to say the least. That’s the baffling part about addiction.
When I landed myself in the rooms of alcoholics anonymous for the first time, I was 26. After a bout of destructive drinking with my boyfriend (who’s now my sober and loving husband), we decided to try AA. What I saw was a room full of old men and people court ordered to be there for one reason or another. What could a 26 year old woman like me with nothing other than an underage drinking ticket ten years earlier have in common with these old drunks? Why was I sitting in a church basement listening to them? Certainly, I couldn’t be as bad off as they were? But then I started to listen and I heard something. I heard their struggles and I related to them. It was through them that heard my own story being told. You see, alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. It is a spiritual sickness that can only be made right by allowing a higher power to take the lead. I like to call my higher power God. But it can be anything you want it to be, as long as it’s not you.
I was lucky to begin my journey of recovery so young. However, after this first meeting it took several more years of beating myself up out there for me to finally wave the white flag. After a series of unfortunate events created by my own madness, I found myself completely broken, standing on the rooftop of my apartment building in LA, vodka in one hand, a cigarette burning in the other, contemplating jumping off. I realized in that moment, that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t know what to do. The alcohol stopped working long ago and I was lost. I prayed to God with all I had to help me…. He lead me back to the rooms.
At one of the first meetings I went to in LA, I noticed this young man, long sandy-brown hair, his profile a spitting image of my late brother, who was killed in a drunk driving accident when I was 15 (right about the time when my drinking career really took off). My brother was only 21, and though he wasn’t the driver, the reports showed that he still died drunk. As I sat quietly in the back of the room, tears streaming down my face, looking at that young man, this feeling just came over me. It really broke me. My brother didn’t get the chance to be sober, but here I was. In that moment, I felt his spirit, and I surrendered. I was going to do whatever I had to do stay sober. No more “poor me, pour me another”. So I listened. Meeting after meeting, to people just like me, sharing their experience, strength and hope. I too, found hope.
Early on, when I was willing to share parts of my own story, I usually cried. After decades of trying to mask my pain with alcohol and drugs, it was no surprise that I would start to have real feelings. Even if I only got out a few words before the waterworks started, people thanked me for sharing. They were kind. Many of them with decades of sobriety. I wanted what they had. So I did the work. I walked the road. And I did it for me.
Someone once said “the only thing you have to change is everything”. It’s taken time and space, but I know what this means now. I’ve learned how to say no. I’ve learned that I can’t control how others feel about me. I’ve learned how to be true and honest with myself, including loving all of me, good and bad. I’ve learned to see my part in my own story and accept my life as it is. I might suffer from alcoholism, but it doesn’t have to define me. I’m still the soul of that curious little girl from Wisconsin. At my root, that will never change. I’ve learned that my life wasn’t as bad as my mind perceived it to be. Many of my fellows have gone through unimaginable pain, the worst of things you could imagine, yet they’ve faced their great battle and won. Every experience gives us the chance to learn. Change and evolution of the self takes time. Changing the way you think, feel and act is no small feet. But you can’t solve your problems with the same mind that created them. It takes a village.
After I got a sponsor and took the twelve steps, clarity really came. The healing I longed for all my life started to take place. After awhile, I no longer craved a drink. It’s a miracle really. All I ever wanted, prayed for and needed in my life happened in recovery. Learning about resentments and their place in my drinking was enlightening. Over time, I learned how to forgive others and how to forgive myself. This was the most healing part of all. Of the twelve steps, I had to take every single one in order to let go.
This blog post isn’t meant to promote AA or any other recovery program, this is just my experience and what it took for me to pull my head out of my own ass and make the changes I needed to make so I didn’t jump off a rooftop. The transformation I’ve undergone didn’t happen overnight and I’m still a work in progress. Life has ups and downs, I still spin out and get moody, but I see the gifts of my program every day. I take it one day at a time and no longer look at my life with sad eyes. My story gives me hope for others.
Today, I am truly grateful for my life, and grateful for all the people who’ve helped me on my way. From the old guys in the church basement in Duluth, to the old timers and youngsters at the meeting halls in LA and SCV. To my sponsor for helping me find my way. To my husband for walking the road with me. To my family for supporting and loving me anyways. For all the tears and anguish I had to walk through to make it through some of the tough steps. I’m grateful for the people that told me the truth, even if it hurt to hear it. It was worth every part of it.
Changing everything is more than just changing your location, who you hang out with, and what you do with your day. To recover, you have to uncover everything, all the uglies inside of you. Surrender doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. Alcoholism is a disease. A disease of the mind and the heart. I believe it is a spiritual sickness. Not a religious sickness – a spiritual sickness. A void in the soul that can only be filled by the spirit. My sobriety is dependent on my spiritual condition, which takes daily maintenance. I know that if I don’t continue to work and fight for my sobriety, I might lose it. And I don’t ever want to lose it. The joy and love I feel today is genuine, it’s not enhanced by drugs or alcohol. I am finally free. Recovery is real and it is everything to me.
Recovery has allowed me to be present for my boy, the light of my life. ❤