This week, I am rounding out the recovery series with one final episode. I have been so blessed to have nine amazing conversations with women in recovery. You can catch up on all of the episodes here.
In this episode, I read two blog posts I wrote on the 2nd and 3rd anniversaries of my sobriety. Plus, I include some new insights along the way.
I want to start this post by telling a story that is really hard for me to tell– and I tell it in hopes that it helps someone else.
In May of 2011 I made my first attempt at sobriety. I made until September 26th of that year. I was active in my recovery, but in hindsight, a few things happened that were slowly chipping away at me. I kept hearing the voice that “I wasn’t that bad”…that I wasn’t like “those people”. Those alcoholics that told their stories, that had been arrested, had DUI’s, etc. The voice whispered that since that wasn’t me, surely I could moderate and drink like a normal person.
On September 26th, 2011 I got into an argument with my husband. We don’t argue often, so when we do, I can tend to slip quickly into this-is-it-it’s-over-he’s-going-to-leave-me land. It’s one of those really vulnerable places for me where I feel I’ve lost control over a situation– a situation that is very important to me.
In that late afternoon, he left the house to go for a drive. I sat at home alone and desperately wanted to drink. I called a friend in recovery. She talked me through it. I sat again alone in my glass case of emotions. I didn’t want to drink because I didn’t want to break my sobriety and have to start over. Plus the shame of relapse was too much to bear. But, I remembered hearing that if you drank enough NyQuil, you could get a buzz. And since it’s not technically “drinking”, it’s like a loophole, right?
10 seconds later I was in the bathroom chugging a bottle of cherry NyQuil.
A few minutes later the buzz hadn’t reached me yet. I then remembered hearing that Vanilla Extract could do the same thing. I went to the pantry and took a drink of putrid tasting Vanilla Extract. I looked closely at the bottle to see that not only had murky sediment gathered all along the bottom, but it had expired in 2005.
And to think I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic.
As I type this, I’m embarrassed to admit this. But, now I understand just how cunning, baffling, and powerful alcohol is to an alcoholic. I didn’t think clearly and rationally at that time. I remember thinking, “Okay, I’m an educated person. I’ve done YEARS of my own personal development. I’m in the helping profession for pete’s sake”. And the reality is that none of that matters at all if you are truly an alcoholic. You don’t get extra credit for that. I don’t care how smart you are. We can’t think our way out of it.
I truly believe I needed that short relapse to prove to myself that I truly am an alcoholic. If the whisper ever comes back that I’m not that bad and maybe not a “real” alcoholic, I think back to my Vanilla haze (as my friend Courtney so lovingly puts it) and I’m back to reality.
And if I’m being really honest, I don’t want to drink like a normal person. I don’t want just one glass of wine. I want at least three. In a big ass glass. And if there’s white and red, I just can’t decide, so I’ll have a few of each.
This is insanity.
I tell my story not for the pats on the back or congratulations, but to show others that even people like me are alcoholics and that there is hope in recovery. I tried to quit by myself back in 2011. I strung together 6 miserable days. It wasn’t until I reached out for help and started a recovery program was I able to not just stop drinking, but stop obsessing on alcohol and being able to feel my feelings without resorting to drinking. <— That is a fucking miracle.
So, if you’re that person who thinks you aren’t that bad like I did…you may very well be right. You’re not that bad right now. But alcoholism is progressive and I can assure you, if you keep drinking, you’ll be that bad. I don’t know how long it will take. But, for me, I didn’t want to wait and find out. I left the movie early because I was SURE the way it was going to end. And if I left and chose another way, I could change the ending.
On Saturday, September 27th, 2014, I celebrated 3 years of sobriety.
I considered not writing about it this year, thinking to myself, “Well, nobody needs to hear about it anymore. They know you’re an alcoholic in recovery.” I wrote about it on my 2 year anniversary and thought maybe that was good enough. And then on Friday I got an email from a friend that needed to talk to me about her drinking. And a few weeks before that another friend asked me if she could give my contact info to her friend who needed support. Both of these women are moms, both of them needed help. And neither of them would have known I could help them if I had never come out with my story in the first place.
So, I speak again.
A couple of weeks ago I was at meeting at my son’s school. We’re brand new to this school having just moved to this state in late August. He’s in first grade and has high functioning Autism. I sat in a conference room with his teacher, the special needs coordinator, and school principal. It was nothing new, I’ve had these meetings before. But, this being a new school we had to go do the typical paper trail, have witnesses, and sign papers.
The special needs coordinator led the meeting and was reading parts of his file aloud, and as she read his report given to us the year prior from the psychologist she got to the part about his diagnosis and family history. “Colton’s mother was diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder in 2002 and has a history of substance abuse”. She continued with other facts that had nothing to do with me and the meeting continued as normal.
But in that moment I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. “Has a history of substance abuse.” Instant shame washed over me. chalk that up to a please-let-the-floor-open-up-and-swallow-me moment. I immediately wanted to interrupt her and explain myself to these people– these three women I barely knew. The principal with a PhD, my sons teacher, and the pregnant special needs coordinator that just 20 minutes before laughed with me as we exchanged funny pregnancy stories. I wanted to tell them, “Well, ‘substance abuse’ doesn’t really describe ME…I mean I wasn’t a drug addict or anything, just wine. And beer too. Oh, and I’ve been sober for yeeeears now, and I was never like ARRESTED or anything like that. Yep, just too much wine. So, see? I’m good. Not bad at all.”
Which at that time would have been a bit weird and uncomfortable.
And I’d love to tell you that since I do what I do for a living, and because of all the work I’ve done on myself and continue to do, and because I speak publicly about my journey that now I’m immune to the shame. But, I’m not. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. If she’d said, “Colton’s mother has a history of high blood pressure” I would have felt no shame. But, to be outed as an alcoholic in front of people you don’t know, where you worry you’ll be judged, or whispered about, it’s hard stuff. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to be known in my community as “the lady with a history of substance abuse”. I know it’s not really who I am, I know this in my heart. But, still after 3 year of being public with my story, I still feel fear and shame.
You might be wondering if it’s gotten easier. Yes, it has. I think in that conference room the shame was so visceral because it took me by surprise and I already felt vulnerable not knowing anyone in this new city. Plus, we were talking about my son, so it was the perfect storm. As the last few years have passed it’s gotten easier to talk about, but it certainly depends on the situation. And I think that meeting reminded me how painful it can be for people new to sobriety or thinking about getting sober.
And that’s really what I wanted to talk about today. That intense shame can keep people drinking for years, decades even. Can pull them back into drinking after years of sobriety. Of course other factors come into play, but shame can cripple us. Years ago had I felt shame like that I would have just drank it away. Went and hid in a bottle of wine where the shame would have been suffocated for a few hours that evening, only to wake up again the next morning so the cycle could continue. Same shame and fear and thoughts revolving around drinking. It was the same feelings every day.
And when you’re an alcoholic thinking about getting sober, you have to weigh those two painful things out: Quit drinking PLUS deal with asking for help, going to “those meetings” where “those people” are and actually talk about it all (scary), or continue to drink when you’re pretty sure that it’ll get worse and continue the cycle you already hate (also scary).
For me, I had to reach a point where the latter was scarier. Lucky for me, I only stayed active in my alcoholism for a short time and I was blessed to have people in my life I trusted to reach out to for help. I knew where I would end up if I kept drinking and that scared me more than anything. I knew alcoholics only go one direction: worse. I knew I had to quit.
Does the shame hit me every day? Certainly not. But, I know I can do hard things. You can too. I survived. And I’ll be okay. And I hope if you’re reading this and you think you need help, you ask for it. Shame will keep you sick. It won’t go away, but you can walk through its shadow and ask for help.
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