A note from Ellie: This brave and honest post is exactly what Crying Out Now is all about - a safe and open place for women to come talk about their relationship to alcohol. So if you want to share your thoughts and feelings, please do. You don't need to have any answers, or have stopped drinking, or even want to stop drinking. Just talk about it. It helps us all.
***Submitted by Not Telling
I’m struggling with my drinking. There, I said it. I’ve written that in my personal journal, but I haven’t shared it with any other person, and I feel I need to. I cannot say that I am an alcoholic, because I don’t feel that my behavior fits that label. I know something about this, because I am (of course!) the daughter of an alcoholic. And because the parent who was the alcoholic in my house wasn’t violent, and only blacked out once to my knowledge, and was functional in daily life, I do realize that you don’t have to have a dramatic story to be an alcoholic. But that parent needed to drink all day long, and drank to the point of being (and acting) drunk every night. That parent lost a business because of drinking. And that parent was largely “checked out” mentally and emotionally for some rather significant parts of my childhood and adolescence.
So these things form the border I see in my mind between alcoholic and not an alcoholic. And because I’m not like that, and haven’t suffered any sort of consequences from my drinking, I don’t accept that label for myself. But I will admit that I am locked in some sort of struggle with myself over my drinking behavior.
I know the story I will tell here isn’t unique. But I also know that it is helping me to read other women’s stories. It doesn’t matter where they are with labels and making changes. I only care that they’re being honest with themselves, and in their writing about what they do and think and feel. This is a new development. I wasn’t always so open to reading such stories.
I remember when Stefanie Wilder-Taylor made her now-famous confession on her blog. I admired her courage and wished her well, truly I did. But at the same time, I had a parallel reaction that should have been a major clue that perhaps my relationship to alcohol wasn’t entirely “healthy,” as the addiction specialists say. I am ashamed to admit that I felt irritated, even betrayed by this (former) fellow “martini mom,” whose earlier confessions about drinking to survive parenting, and diatribes about how everyone should just stop overreacting to the idea of adult women consuming adult beverages, had made me feel more normal and less alone. At the time I was waving the martini mom flag proudly in my blog posting, my tweeting, and in my personal life. And now our fearless leader (!) was QUITTING? Whyyyyy???? Waaaa!!!! I read the post, closed the tab, and tried not to think about it. But it stuck with me, and I returned to read more. I analyzed her story. Was I like this? Surely not. And then - HA! There it was: she often drank a WHOLE bottle of wine at night. I only drank two glasses of wine. Sure, sometimes a cocktail and then some wine. But not an ENTIRE BOTTLE. So I, therefore, did not have a problem. Right?
Months went on. I enjoyed my evening libations. I in fact required them. I was cranky if for some reason I did not get them. I loved the fact that for the first time since my kid was a baby, it was easy to fall asleep at night. The evenings in which I had a cocktail and wine were more frequent, especially when I felt stressed. The cocktails I mixed and glasses of wine I poured were growing bigger, bit by bit. I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling so great during the working day, and though I was not usually hung over, some mornings were tougher than others as I tried to wake up and summon the energy needed to get started with my work. I was irritable every morning and needed coffee just to feel halfway awake. I began to snap at my little one too readily in the mornings.
After several months like this, I began to start my day with this dialogue in my head: “This has GOT to stop. I have to get control over this. Tonight, I won’t drink anything. Or maybe just one glass of wine. That’s normal. That’s how the French do it, and the Italians. Just one.” But by 5:00, my resolve would weaken, and my fatigue and headache would lead me to unwind with the help of a cocktail. And then that one glass of wine.
Then, a couple of months ago, worried about the effect of this drinking on my body, I decided to measure what I usually poured as my “one glass” of wine. It measured right around 8 ounces. I then had to face the fact that my martinis are made with two full shots of vodka. So, that meant that on an average night I was *actually* consuming far more than just two drinks. I began the daily negotiation with myself. I didn’t want to quit, but I knew I should drink less, and I knew I could do it if I simply chose to do it.
Each morning I vowed that I would either take a break from it altogether or at least have just one. I knew I wasn’t an alcoholic, because I never even wanted alcohol in the morning, or even in the afternoon. Though on some weekend days it did seem to take forever for evening to arrive. And I often rushed my kid through the bedtime routine because then I could have my first drink. But I always stopped after dinner, never one to want the after-dinner drink, so that too reassured me that I am not an alcoholic.
I danced for awhile between nights where I carefully controlled what I drank, limiting myself to truly one normal glass of wine (as opposed to my own usual pour!), and nights where I allowed myself to let loose a little. If I was stressed out, there was no question, I could have what I wanted. There was even a week where I didn’t have any for two whole nights. They were tough nights, and I just got through them. I felt great after that. But not so great that it was sufficient inspiration to stop altogether. On the third night, I had a LOT of wine. I noticed it took less to feel it. But that didn’t stop me from drinking what was now common: a cocktail and half of a bottle of wine.
Then my husband quit, and I lost my true partner in crime. He hadn’t been struggling, he just felt like it wasn’t what he wanted to do anymore. He wanted to feel better, and wasn’t enjoying it enough. And he just stopped. No struggle, no problem, no need for help. I watched as night after night he just didn’t drink. I supported him, but in fact I felt irritated. It wasn’t quite as fun now that we weren’t doing it together. I rebelled, and there was no more trying to drink less. I still woke up thinking I should stop, but every night I wanted my drinks, and I had them. And then I made the mistake one morning of telling him I wanted to cut back. He of course wanted to support me. But instead, it felt like he became the drinking police. If I had two drinks, he would look at me oddly and ask if I was sure I wanted to do that. This of course irritated me, so I started to sneak the first drink (a big one) so he would think the one he saw was the first and only drink of the night.
And that’s where I am today. I know that sneaking alcohol is a bad sign. But I would gladly drink it all openly if he weren’t trying to “help” me drink less. And if he hadn’t quit, I would feel I could tell him I’m okay with the two drinks plan, that he doesn’t have to watch me. The other night, I let myself run out of wine and vodka, and the next day, I didn’t replenish the supply. The idea was simple: if it isn’t there, you can’t have it. It’s how the diets all work. And as I watched Jillian make a family toss out all of their junk food, and the little girl cried over the loss of the white bread, I for the first time understood those tears. I made it through the hour where I usually have the vodka cocktail. I was white-knuckling it, but I made it. I had no wine to pour with dinner. I almost did it. But then I remembered we did have something else tucked away, and I did what I haven’t yet done: I drank a cocktail with a liquor I loathe, just to have one.
In my mind, I imagine the recovering alcoholics out there reading this and shaking their heads, clucking away, certain that I am in fact an alcoholic but am in denial. It will be no surprise to any of you that I remain adamant that I am not an alcoholic, in spite of the evidence I have laid before you. I admit that my behavior is not that of a person who has a “healthy” relationship with alcohol. But I know I can stop, if I choose to. I sometimes almost want to. But more than that, I want to be able to keep living this double life. I am able to work all day, my work is in fact thriving. I don’t want to drink at all during the day. I don’t foresee even the slightest chance that I will begin drinking during the day. I love the hour after I put my child to bed, when I can finally have time to unwind. I love the feeling that courses through my body when I finally feel the effect of the vodka, when it makes the edges inside of me suddenly become smooth. I never feel tempted to have a second cocktail, knowing that it would make me go from feeling mellow to feeling wobbly. But I do keep the feeling going with wine. And after dinner, I just want to go to sleep.
The only parts that bother me are the way I sometimes wake in the middle of the night feeling somewhat unwell, the extreme fatigue and irritability in the mornings, and my worries that I will ultimately hurt my health. I’m not quite “sick & tired of feeling sick and tired,” so it isn’t as though I think that a life without drinking would be vastly better than life now. I am tired of thinking and worrying about it though.
And if I’m so certain that I can stop, at least to take a break, why won’t I?