I realize I’ve alluded several times throughout these posts to the number of years I believe my drinking has been a problem, and I believe that number morphs and changes depending on the day and the factors I take into consideration in the moment. So this post is my attempt to nail down some specifics, as well as detail the last four years a bit more clearly and the build-up which led, ultimately, to choosing a sober life.
First, the discrepancies in the amount of years I’ve thrown out there…. I believe I’ve said ‘four,’ ‘ten,’ and ‘fifteen’ years at various points in this here bloggy. I will go on record at this moment in time and say that my drinking has been a problem since the first day I ever drank. Fittingly, the night was deemed ‘My Night of Debauchery’ as I was a straight-laced do-gooder throughout high school. I swore I would never chance losing all that I was involved in by getting caught with alcohol, and so I never drank. I will admit to seriously judging those who did drink, alongside of my dearest, most wonderful friends as we sipped our intellectually astute gas station coffee ’til all hours of the night at our favorite hang-out place in our teeny town in Midwest, Minnesota. We were very good at judging, and we were very good at staying sober. Throughout high school, I was never tempted because it was clearly stated to anyone who would listen that I would never drink in high school. Ever.
So, yes. MNoD was quite the event. It happened a few weeks after high school graduation. Friends of mine took it upon themselves to walk me through the steps of drinking a beer, drinking a hard alcoholic drink (vodka & cherry slushie, I believe, the creme de la creme of all alcoholic drinks), smoking a cigarette, and then smoking a cigar. It was quite the night. I remember it as fun and silly and ridiculous, and it was all of those things. I believe I walked away that night feeling like I had just broken the seal on ‘Naughty.’ It was fun to be a little bad, to feel the rush and giddiness of the alcohol and smokes, and later, walking away feeling like I had gotten away with something.
I’m sure I thought about doing it all again as soon as I could, but I was also wrapped up with my friends who did not drink, so pursuing a drink wasn’t my be-all or end-all…. Yet.
Then, as Fate would have it, my best friend in the entire world and I ended up in an extreme drunk-driving accident perhaps a week after my first drink. To clarify, we were not drinking. Not a drop. The people in the car which crashed into us were blackout drunk, perhaps even drunk enough to be hospitalized. The driver registered a .24 blood alcohol count, and the two people with him were as much as that, or more, I’m sure. It was horrendous. My best friend was so hurt from the accident (she was driving), that she missed her first semester of college, which was supposed to start three months later. Her life’s momentum was put on hold, her physical health was wholly compromised, and the mental toll it took on her takes my breath away, even today. For the others involved in the crash, they were also critically injured, but because of their responsibility in the accident, I felt no remorse for them. As the passenger in the second car, I was the only one to remember the accident. I had a small cranial fraction and some more severe facial cuts, which required stitches. I was unconscious for about ten or fifteen minutes, and when I came to, the accident scene was rushing forward in full force. I was taken to a regional hospital, while my best friend was airlifted to a trauma center, as were two of the other people in the first car. I still have issues driving as a passenger to this day.
You would think that after such a traumatic event, I would avoid alcohol at all costs. However, without my best friend next to me every day, I found a new, older group of friends to take me in that summer. They were not ‘partiers’ per say, but because they were older, they had already been to college for a couple of years, and they came back and took me under their wings. They were an awesome group of friends (and still are), but I quickly associated drinking with fun. I left behind all of my former choices and stances, and I began seeking out alcohol in order to have fun. I started to work my schedule and my events around drinking.
This pattern was full-blown in college. Even though I was underage, I managed to drink five to seven nights a week, easy. At this time, my bipolarismness really came to the forefront as well, and I wonder now, with the clarity of hindsight, if my manic and depressive episodes would have been as extreme had I not been drinking as regularly and as wholeheartedly as I was in those early-twenties’ years of mine.
Zipping forward into my mid- and late-twenties, I see that I used alcohol to dampen the weight of a couple of bad relationships I worked hard at entangling myself in. I would go so far to say I even sewed myself into them. They were Bad. The first was bad because I didn’t respect the man, even though I had said ‘yes’ and gotten myself engaged. (So many times in my life I have wanted to grow-up faster than everyone else. My question to my younger self now is, of course, ‘Why, you crazy nutjob?! Slow the fuck down and enjoy the ride for Christ’s sake!’) To clarify, I did not marry the first man (phew!). The second relationship was emotionally and verbally abusive, and I am pretty sure (again with hindsight) that the man is a narcissist. So all through my twenties, I used alcohol as a social lubricant (what a weird phrase), as well as a buffer for my unhappy home life. I probably drank every night at this point. If I wasn’t out with my friends, or my current boyfriend, then I would cook at home and usually drink a bottle of wine by myself. Those nights were my favorite. I loved time to myself, I loved cooking, and I loved drinking wine. And I honestly thought that my friends were all living this way, too. I was single (to a degree), and I didn’t have the pressure of taking care of any children, so I could fit most of what I wanted into a day.
…. A note, too, to say that not all of my twenties were shit. In fact, I was mostly happy. I used to believe… I convinced myself that I shouldn’t be too greedy. In my world, my life was a pie divided into three pieces (.33333333333 for those math nerds out there). So, here I was over-the-moon happy with my career (teacher – still am, p.s.) and with my family. I thought to be completely happy in love was just not part of my equation. I thought it made me greedy and that it broke some cosmic rule in the universe if I should happen to be happy with all three pieces of the pie. So I just accepted my fate and lived with what I got (i.e. not much, love-wise).
Then, tuh-dah! The heavens rained odours on me (that’s a Shakespeare quote (I’m not kidding – I know it’s weird)), and I realized I was a stupid idiot. I met my amazing, sweet, kind, handsome, good-kissing hubs, and had my pie and ate it, too (sorry for the quotey misappropriation).
But? The weird part that I noticed in the side of my mind…? I was still drinking just as much, if not more. And I didn’t know why. I blamed it on winter and seasonal blues. I blamed it on being in theatre and going out for drinks with everyone … all the time. I blamed it on the stress of work and let myself decompress at the end of a long day. … I knew I didn’t have anything to be truly unhappy with, but I still kept drinking. In my late twenties and early thirties, I was easily drinking a bottle of wine or more a night.
Then, children struck, or were born… Take your phrasey pick. My first pregnancy was wonderful. I was the epitome of a healthy, cute pregnancy. I didn’t drink during those ten months, except one glass of wine a month. And I usually tried to make my decision well in advance so that I could celebrate a family birthday, or a holiday or something.
When my daughter was born, I was so happy and such a helicopter (I still am). I didn’t go right back to drinking. I would have maybe a glass here or there in a week, but not much at all – not compared to my old numbers. But after about five or six weeks of monitoring, I slid back into regular daily use. Plus, now that I was home with her all day, every day, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I would drink. I remember one night when my daughter was about two or three months old, I drank so much and ate so much of what I had cooked that night (feeling like a grown-up for a change and feeling put-together), that I threw up. I threw up a lot. My husband wasn’t home, and I was scared. My little baby was on the couch crying, and I was heaving my guts out and trying to clean everything as soon as I had made the mess so that my husband would never know. I don’t think I’ve ever told him about that night. The next day I went to my first AA meeting and wept and spun in circles as the AA members were so eager to pick me up and guide me along their path. …. Looking back, I just remember being so happy at the beginning of that night. Here I was a new mom, with the sweetest, smartest baby in the world, and I was being a grown-up in my own kitchen cooking a love-ily meal, with fresh groceries and a baguette, and I had picked up a box of wine, and I was just enjoying those minutes So. Much. And I was so excited for more and more and more goodness, that I ate and ate and ate, and then I drank and drank drank…. It was horrible. And it so quickly spun downward from something so exciting and good to one of the worst nights of my life. I still beat myself for putting my daughter in danger. Thank god nothing happened to her. Thank god, thank god, thank god… I shudder remembering that night.
As I remember it, and I will admit to not remembering it well, I believe by that night of the AA meeting, I had convinced myself that the night before had been an accident and that I wasn’t that bad. I’m sure I also needed a drink in order to soften the hangover, and so convinced myself that I wasn’t as bad as all that. My husband is still confused about that weekend. I won’t tell him about it, or rather, I haven’t had the courage to yet. I don’t think I’ve told anyone that story until now. …. There you go, world. Not glib at all here, to clarify. I’m shaken and scared to put that out there to you, but it’s one of the biggest reasons in my long list of reasons over the many years it’s taken me to realize I needed help, and that I needed sobriety.
My second pregnancy was the opposite of my first. I was still depressed and not very good at figuring out how to balance my life with a baby, a job, a husband, my drinking, or at the very end of my list – time for myself. I was feeling frayed, hollow, lonely, and empty. I drank a lot – similar to my mid-twenties – about a bottle and a little more every night. With my second pregnancy, I still was mostly sober. Instead of my one glass of wine a month, I allowed myself a glass of wine a week. I also ate anything I wanted because I was trying to fill the something in me that was so empty. I gained a lot of weight, struggled with sciatica pain, and was just sad and disconnected from my life and my toddler. Of course, my sadness was not apparent to the outside world. I was the picture of perfection (besides the weight) to the world at large (so to speak). In fact, I was Wonder Woman. *ching* (That’s the sound of my golden bracelets chinging together, p.s.)
With my second babe, I jumped into drinking almost immediately. As before, I was always careful with my breast milk, but I definitely brought back my ‘reward’ faster than with my first. And I was still in my funk, in my depression.
All that time – almost four straight years – I honestly thought it was my bipolar that was bringing me so far down into depression. I figured the added complication of post-partem accentuated the depression of my bipolar, and was probably multiplied by two quick pregnancies, one after the other.
I am a smart woman. I have two undergraduate degrees and a masters. I am a leader of my peers, as well of teens. I organize and accomplish school-wide agendas. In short, I get shit done. …. And no where in this strong, independently-minded, smart woman did I ever consider my drinking as being the root of my extended depression. I thought it was my fate as a woman in her 30s dealing with the changing nature of my dear old friend, mental illness. I thought I was just having a tough time sliding into the adult world of marriage, mortgages, and motherhood. No where in that brain of mine did it occur to me that (so much) drinking was affecting me so poorly. My habit was an every day habit, and most mornings, I was recovering in one way or another from the night before, while mid-days I was usually figuring out how to get more, or at least figuring out when I would drink later that day/evening.
How could I have been such an idiot?
… Alright, no judgment. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to recognize the problem that drinking and alcohol had become in my life. The last four years, especially, have been particularly painful and challenging, because of the added complication of being a mother and not being a very awesome one much of the time. I was also carrying so much Shame because I was working so hard to hide my habit. I’ve said before that I had switched to boxes of wine because a. Cheaper and b. So much easier to hide how much I was drinking in a night. In my last four to six months, I would say I was probably closer to two bottles of wine a night than one. …. And even though it’s only two months ago, I just remember always being So tired. And resentful of everyone around me wanting me for this or for that. My resentment was growing bigger, as were my instances of anger. I began seeing a therapist two years into my heavy depression, but as my depression was weighing heavier and heavier on me in the following years, I sought out help from a psychiatrist for the first time in twelve years. I really thought, I believed the problem was a fix that could be given from the outside. That there was a cure outside of me that would magically make me all better.
But no. That was not the case.
The cure was in me. In my accepting that alcohol had become too important, too much my reason for making it from one day to the next, too big a reward for getting through a day or an event or a minute, too much my anchor. Without realizing it, the alcohol was making my life unhappy, listless, and lonely. Everything and every day was foggy. My memory was getting worse and worse, my sleeping was affected every night with early morning insomnia, and my resentments towards my family, my friends, and my responsibilities were growing daily. It was a horrible and difficult life to move forward each and every day, and it was mine. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would ever want to grow up, why anyone would ever want to be an adult. This was awful. And since it was, I believed everyone was working as hard as I was to keep their dirty little secrets hidden, which kept me running in my hamster wheel.
Then, some time in May, I think, I found Kate and The Sober Journalist blog she created when she was pursuing sobriety. Although I had wondered about my alcohol consumption levels over the past eighteen years here and there, I didn’t see or identify myself in the word ‘alcoholic.’ And yet, here was a woman who looked like me, and worked like me, and who drank like me. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone! I wasn’t the only one. My secret only felt like a secret – there were others in the world who felt and behaved as I did. … All it took was the one blog (and all of her archival posts), and I found myself able to consider the possibility that yes, I might be an alcoholic. In the weeks to come, I found other blogs and met other voices with more stories I could relate to. Day after day I felt less and less alone.
On 9 June, 2015, I found myself ready to commit to sobriety, and here I am two months later and feeling centered, emotionally richer, happier, and not ashamed of who I am.
Day 62, What’s your story?