I was in Love…with Vodka, Wine and Gin

Wine
Image by isante_magazine via Flickr

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 (less No 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.

Melody

P.S. Other things I have written about my life  drunk and addicted.

Being Broken by Addiction

My dog Comet is being groomed for the first time today and as I was dropping him off I glanced over at the magazines. I was drawn like a bee to pollen by the cover of  Brava Magazine.  It had an article about the secret addictions of women in Wisconsin, aptly titled The Silent Treatment.

While I am not quiet about my alcoholism here on my blog and person to person I will freely tell you my story, I have never talked about it publicly — as I think that I am ashamed. 

No-one talks about addiction in my circles. And here is what I imagine others are thinking.  Perhaps they perceive that addiction is simply a weakness or a character flaw.  And in some Christian circles a place where you haven’t allowed God victory or healing or aren’t trusting.   How in the world did she “allow herself” to get addicted?  What a mess she must be.  Addicts are just bad people trying to be good.

That’s all bullshit. (Forgive me, but it is.)

And in my clearer moments I remind myself that I am broken like every other person in the world.  We all have some “thing” or more than one, that we have trouble overcoming. Most people’s “thing” can be a secret–food addiction, money problems, compulsive shopping, secret cutting, or pornography.   I won’t pretend to know what your “thing” is.

This article talked about how so many women in Wisconsin have a problem with alcohol addiction.   More importantly, that addiction to alcohol is in some part NOT a “thing” to struggle with, but an illness to work against.  I can tell you gratefully that I am “in remission.”

“[There is a] stigma that surrounds substance abuse in a culture that loves the sound of clinking glasses.” (Brava)

One of my favorite people is Henri Nouwen. 

I would have loved to have known him and even been his friend, as we share a common lifelong struggle with melancholy and depression and need for affirmation and community.  He wrote this:

Jesus was broken on the cross.  He lived his suffering and death not as an evil to avoid at all costs, but as a mission to embrace.   We too are broken.  We live with  broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds or broken spirits.  We suffer from broken relationships.  How can we live our brokenness?  Jesus invites us to embrace our brokenness as he embraced the cross and live it as part of our mission.  He asks us not to reject our brokenness as a curse from God that reminds us of our sinfulness but to accept it and put it under God’s blessing for our purification and sanctification.  Thus our brokenness can become a gateway to new life.

Few understand that addiction is an illness like cancer.

There is a perception that somehow addicts cause their illness.  It is both an illness and an opportunity for self-control and inner strengthening.  As we grow in our understanding of our broken hearts and lives, we can become stronger.  How can we embrace our brokenness of addiction when the Church and (some) Christians make one feel as if you are cursed with a mental illness or lack self-control.

Yes, my alcoholism reminds me (almost daily) that I am a broken person.  The days and weeks when I try to avoid thinking about it, and (almost) pretend that I’ve got it all together, those are the times when I feel the farthest away from who I really am. I become lost in the idea of wellness that denies that I am and will be until the day I die an alcoholic in remission.

For whatever reason, I am an addict.

My deeply thoughtful thirteen year old daughter asked me recently why I can’t just drink socially?  We had been to party where there was a lot of drinking and I was having a hard time having fun.  I have been completely honest with her about my addiction and so I value her questions.  I believe she needs to understand my alcoholism, because it is a family illness and because one in four children of alcoholics become one themselves.

So why can’t I now drink socially?  “There is something in my brain that switches off after the first drink,” I told her.  “After that point, I have no ability to stop.”  I learned from my D&A counselor that every time I drank, my brain sends the signal to have more.  The well-worn pathway in my brain needed more, each time, to have the same impact as the last time I drank. I’m three years sober July 17th, 2011 and if I had a drink to celebrate I would need the same amount of alcohol as my last drink — about two bottles of wine, if I remember correctly — to feel any high.

As a Christ follower, it is even more complicated.

Or perhaps more simple depending on how you look at it. My addiction humbles me daily.  Drives me to my knees.  I go to church in a bar and I laugh, joyfully with the irony!  I don’t mind the reminders of my addiction because then I am drawn to the truth that my life is so improved — clearer, better, more meaningful sober. 

But three years of sobriety brings me to a place of acknowledging that I am still full of pride.  I have not been willing to help others who struggle with this addiction.  I have not been willing to speak out locally.  I have hidden my secrets and tried to live in a drinking world as a secret alcoholic.

The article in Brava was a challenge to me.

No, I am not at risk to drink, because I have created enough awareness of those around me of my illness, that the accountability keeps me sober.

But why am I so silent, so secretly ashamed? More importantly what can I do to give back?  I want others to know that this is not a shameful secret in my life, it is a disease of addiction that has harmful effects on people, families and communities and that recovery is possible with support.  It is not only possible but it is transformational!

You Are Not Alone – Thoughts on Sobriety.

A glass of red wine. Photo taken in Montreal C...
Image via Wikipedia

At times I detest that I am an alcoholic. It’s damn inconvenient.  Those are the days that it seems the whole world drinks – except me and perhaps James Frey.

I dreamt of drinking last night. That scares me a little, because in my dreams I seem to “forget” that I can’t drink.  Now that’s a nightmare – an alcoholic that draws a blank on their past.  Even if it is only in their dreams.  I recall now that I just wanted a small glass of red wine. No we don’t need to order the bottle. A red, to accompany whatever I was eating.  Harmless.

I have never actually taken a sip in my dreams, thus far.  The dreams come unbidden, which may make you think that drinking is on my mind a lot.  Most of the time, these days, I never think about being an alcoholic. But when I do, sometimes I resent that I cannot drink.

Lest you begin to feel sorry for me and think that I am an innocent former drinker, I must set you straight. In the end I was a falling-down drunk. I had to quit. I would have lost my life eventually. I never hit “the bottom” which some say you need to do to recover. But I got close enough that my conscience, and my husband, and God finally said enough is enough. Some people will need to hit the bottom to change. But most of us feel it building in our lives for a long time and finally one day we know.  We are ready.

For more than five years I had wrestled with the knowledge that I might be addicted. I didn’t know enough about the disease to make a good call on it.  But in my experience your gut is usually right. If you are wondering whether you just might be addicted to alcohol, listen to your soul. Hear the voices that talk to you late at night after drinking too much. Or the ones that pop up with the morning hangover.

Recognizing that we have a problem is a drawn-out and bit-by-bit process, at least it was for me. No one wants to think of themselves as an addict or alcoholic. Unfortunately our culture says getting addicted to it makes you weak. It is shameful and definitely not for Christ-followers! Christians do not become alcoholics, because they “trust in God.” Ironically, addiction is no respecter of race or religion or status. And all that stuff about just trust in God is bullshit.

Once I finally quit, July 17th, 2008, I have never relapsed.  I’m fairly certain that is because I have a family. They are my accountability. My kids are my Program. I am intentional about talking to them about my addiction to drinking and I think it is important that they know and understand the nature of the illness is hereditary.  And I am not shy about reminding them of the ugly side of drinking.  When I passed out in front of them. Or threw up all over myself in the car. Those memories return for a reason and that is to help them see the unglamorous side of addiction. And remembering keeps me sober.

Seeing others who clearly struggle with drinking is a good reminder for me, but it is not a reason to stay sober. I feel pity and empathy and hope they’ll figure it out soon. Because life is beautiful sober – in full color in a way that being a drunk is living in sepia tones compared to full color, 3D. It is loneliness vs. living in community. It’s living in starvation when you can live with a full stomach. You get the idea. Living in your addiction is like living in an ugly broken-down smog filled factory.   Sobriety is living in the glorious Grand Canyon!

But people do relapse and I hope you know this too is a part of the journey. A few years before I quit for good, I decided to go to counseling to “learn about addiction.” (That’s what I told myself.) I settled into about seven or eight months of not drinking, because that is what they require of you to receive alcohol counseling.  I learned all I could about the issue.

Near the end of my time I asked my counselor if she thought I could be a social drinker.  You know, if I wasn’t “up for” quitting.  I could still not imagine my life without alcohol.  I loved alcohol.  I didn’t go through a day without thinking about it or craving it. I wasn’t giving in to it right then, but after seven months of sobriety I thought I was “strong” and got the notion in my head that I would simply be “a social drinker.” I would just stick with one or two drinks in any given setting and definitely not drink at home.  I would be okay.  My counselor answered the question like this: “If you continue to drink socially, I predict I’ll see you back here in three or four years.” Yeah right, I was thinking, not me.  She does not know me.

She may not have known me, but she knew an addict when she saw one.  It took about one year – Yes, that was all it took for me to fall on my face literally and figuratively. I remember walking out of there, thinking “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.”  That was how seductive alcohol was for me at the time. I did not believe AT ALL that I could be happy or have joy without alcohol in my life.

I walked out of that building full of the idea that I hadn’t been drunk for a good long time, so it would be easy to limit. Or at least it would take a while for the problem to present itself.  Honestly, I didn’t really care either way.  I was just glad that I could still drink.

Oh, it presented itself alright! More strongly than ever. With a vengeance.

I do wish that I could drink.  It still lures me. It teases and ultimately lies to me that it is a simple thing to drink. But those lies I can overcome and made my peace with in time. I stop them as soon as they pop in my head.  And remind myself that I and my life are worthy of my sobriety.

Sober people are some of the most brave people I know.  And that includes me.

If you or someone you love ever wants to talk confidentially with me about this, I am glad to do it.  I can only share my experience.  The answer is different for each person.  But knowing that you are not alone is important.

MHH

Here’s something I wrote two years ago about being an addict.