I am a 36 year old mother to two. I’m a wife, daughter, sister and friend. And I am an alcoholic. I’ve been sober almost two years, which makes me a statistical anomaly and a medical miracle. That said, like many of us with a lasting and happy recovery, I give credit where credit is due. I have had a great deal of support, practical advice, spiritual community and wonderful friendships every step of the way. I have those things today and I am so grateful for them all. I would die without them.
I knew I was an alcoholic a few years before I even thought about trying to get and stay sober. I was ashamed to be an alcoholic because of experiences from my childhood, so for several years I minded my drinking. For an alcoholic, this means I attempted to control my drinking, even though I didn’t see it that way at the time. I didn’t do half bad at this, either. I avoided some of the more unpleasant episodes that I’d later find out my fellow alcoholics had fallen prey to. Of course, those stories could all be mine, if I ever forget where I came from.
I owe my life to countless friends in recovery who have helped me, but the first person along this path was a physician who correctly identified my primary ailment as alcoholism. Needless to say, I was seeing him for a different complaint. He asked me a few questions about the medicine he’d prescribed me and, when I admitted I was still drinking a little while taking it, he said, “I think you’re an alcoholic.”
I usually laugh when I tell this story now, but at that time it was the worst moment in my life. Today, it’s a fond memory! I can remember so much about that conversation on my first day sober. At one point in our brief, direct and raw conversation, he asked me, “Have you ever tried to quit drinking?” I told him that I had, but my life hadn’t improved, so I’d given up trying to quit. Then he said a few words I will never forget. He told me, “You don’t quit drinking for your life to improve. You quit because you have a disease, and it is your responsibility.” Those words gave me the courage to try sobriety, no matter what came of it. At the time, I thought I was hopeless and that only people who are very, very tough could get and stay sober.
That day, I came home and told my husband I was an alcoholic. We’ve known each other since we were 17, but he didn’t know! He was confused but he accepted what I said. He rid the house of our wine glasses in a very touching demonstration of support, which was the first of many. Later, he told me he didn’t believe I was an alcoholic for quite some time in my early sobriety. We are both very grateful that there is a recovery program for those friends and family who love or are in relationship with an alcoholic. He understands a great deal more about this illness today.
On my second day sober, I sat with a small group of people and I thought I knew that I couldn’t live with drinking or without it. I might be able to not drink for the next few hours or even a night. But I thought that someday I would have to drink again. If I was very honest with myself and not worried about managing others’ perceptions of me, I believed a life without drinking was not going to be a happy one. I really thought that, if I got sober, I’d be boring!
These first few days I spent without treatment or detox, in the same home and relationships I’d had for years, were frightening and painful. I suffered a great deal physically and I didn’t know how to reach out or treat myself like the ill individual that I was. I was sick and frightened but, more than anything, I was confused. I heard people say, “Getting sober was the easy part, staying sober is hard.” This used to drive me mad with fear, as I was suffering so much already and I didn’t want to suffer more. Despite my fear, I did follow the suggestions of those I met in recovery and I quickly realized I wouldn’t have to suffer like that again. My journal reveals that, even in these early days, I had periods of clarity and even bliss. Soon, I stopped wanting other people’s time in recovery and I became happy with my own. This was another beautiful moment of many in my recovery.
My life improved quickly, but getting over my guilt and shame did not happen overnight, especially when it came to my mistakes as a mother. However, I didn’t let these feelings of inadequacy, fear, remorse, and self-blame stop me from seeking out recovery on a daily basis. Over time, I began to learn how to be kind to myself. One thing I have not yet seen in the thousands of alcoholics and addicts I’ve worked with is the ability in early recovery to be kind to oneself. For many, it will come in time but it drives many more back out to suffer and die.
Today, I live a joyful sobriety. I am a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and citizen than I was while drinking. The anger and fear I used to have over the ways I’ve been abused and mistreated is no longer with me. I have also accepted my own role in mistreating others and I make amends today. I practice Buddhism, a faith tradition that has appealed to me my whole life. The other day I read, “If you die to the past, you enter into the greatest adventure there is.” Dying to the past is how I can practice kindness today. My past is factual information I can use to help others. It is no longer judge, jury and executioner. My past is one of my greatest assets, especially when I work on a daily basis to help other alcoholics. They think they are hopeless in the same way I used to think I was hopeless.
I have always enjoyed films or television shows that depict, with some degree of emotional or spiritual acuity, what it’s like to be an active alcoholic. It seems that many cultural and media edifices characterize and cartoon-ify the disease, making a maudlin spectacle of what I’ve come to think of as a beautiful, complex spiritual illness. The funny thing is that I enjoyed films about alcoholics long before I ever got sober. I still enjoy many of them today such as The Long Weekend, Prime Suspect and Magnolia. I know what it’s like to hit bottom and I love when I see this articulated in film or a song. It is a beautiful, amazing, heartrending and wonderful thing. I treasure this memory, as it was a necessary step for me to have what I have today.
Thank you for letting me share my story. I wish you the most beautiful journey on your way to restored health.