On the eve of my birth week, I want to take a moment to remember where I have come from, now that I am three plus years sober.
While purging and organizing books this week I came across a little orange index card that I wrote to myself while I was working hard at accepting my need for sobriety. I thought I had lost the card and that would have been tragic because the thoughts written on it are very important to me.
About five years ago, I spent more than a year — at two different stages — seeing counselors specifically about my drinking. At that time, I wrote what I thought of my life without alcohol so far. I said:
I value my recovery because …..
- I have an improved mood.
- I feel strong.
- I am more present and self-aware.
- I am more willing to face my feelings.
- I am more hopeful about the future.
- I am more in control of my world, actions, responses to life.
- My relationships are more honest.
- I am a good role model for my kids.
- I am a cultural enigma.
- I am more relaxed socially (
lessNo worry about embarrassing myself.)
- I have a higher quality of mental engagement.
All this is true. And more. Today when I look back another thing I am so grateful for is that my life partner, family and close friends never judged me. At least I never felt judged. Especially Tom could have. Boy, oh boy, I made some bad choices. Tom lived with my addiction for many, many years, continuing to love and support me. At my worst, he wiped up my vomit and put me to bed. He pulled me out of parties before I could do something stupid. All those years he was simply loving. I never felt that I was a bad person because of my dependency to alcohol. Not from him, but I did judge myself!
In my head, I was constantly accusing myself.
I cannot count, because it happened so many times, the number of Sundays I spent sitting in church nursing the world’s worst hangover, full of shame and self-loathing. I am not sure which felt worse, the physical symptoms of being hung over or the emotional beating I gave myself. I just knew I was living the life of a hypocrite. I didn’t have the courage to give up on churchgoing all together, but I was miserable being there.
For a long time my drinking made family life feel disjointed and a mess, because it was!
I started in on the wine too early in the evening, so I was too “tired” to do anything else in the evenings, except veg in front of the television. When it was time to put the kids to bed, I was too tired to read to them, something I had always loved. That memory makes me deeply sad still, but I will forgive myself some day. Some things are harder to forgive yourself for like driving drunk with my children in the car, even if it was just a few neighborhood streets. I did that. I am utterly horrified to think of it now but it happened. Why do I admit that today? Why do I force myself to recall the shameful choices I made?
Because I do have fleeting thoughts that perhaps I could drink again. And those are lies, but it is all too easy to forget.
Back to Tom, he was unhappy with our choices and (very) willingly quit drinking many times with me, for me. He encouraged me to quit many times and we did quit a few times. But it was such a part of our lifestyle that we soon were drinking again.
It grew more difficult as the years went by for me to even consider quitting, as I was afraid that I couldn’t live without it. And, suffering as I was from major depression all those years, I was self-medicating with the very drug that furthered my depression. (Alcohol is a depressant but I either didn’t know it or didn’t want to know.)
The first time I went to counselling for my alcohol addiction it was an intellectual exercise.
My mother was in a recovery program and addiction is all over my family tree. I was drinking too much, but I was not yet the sloppy, falling down drunk that I became. I was “abusing” alcohol. I was addicted. But I had convinced myself that I was managing. I learned a lot from those counselling sessions, most important of which was that I should quit for lots of reasons.
In order to have that type of counselling you must agree to not be drinking as you go through it. And I did that, but I was just a dry drunk. All of my behaviors were still of an addict who wasn’t using. I didn’t yet believe the things I wrote on that index card. I had not lived long enough as a sober person.
I asked my counselor at my last session, after five months of sobriety, “What if I just drink socially? Don’t keep it in the house. Don’t drink every day. Just have a drink from time to time (
like normal people)? Maybe I won’t have to quit completely.” I was desperate to not have to quit.
At that point I could not imagine being happy without alcohol in my life.
“Then I’ll see you back here in about three years.” And I literally thought “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.” That is how far I was into the lie. Well, I’ve said it before, but it didn’t even take three years.
About a year and a half later I was back and that time I was serious about quitting. I knew that alcohol had control of me and my life. I had no power to fight it. I thought about alcohol all the time. I was so in love with wine — and vodka — and gin! I had spent that summer drinking heavily every day and spent most evenings drunk. I just did it in such a way that I thought I was hiding it from others.
But enough about that. (Perhaps the rest will go in the memoir.) Today, I am so grateful for my sobriety. It isn’t that complicated to figure out if alcohol has power over you. How much do you think about alcohol? How often do you choose not to drink, because you wonder if you have a problem? Do you drink every day? Do you squirm answering those questions honestly? Although it is certainly not true that every person who drinks too much from time to time is an alcoholic, rather what I think about is, what is the main focus of your life? Can you live without alcohol? If you’re not sure , … I would seriously consider talking to someone.
Those are the questions that haunted me and it wasn’t until I quit that I realized without any doubt that I was out of control.