Saturday, July 31, 2010

From Relapse to Redemption

*** Submitted by Kalisa, who blogs over at I'll Be The One In Heels


My relapse lasted five years. And make no mistake, it is true that this disease will wait for us. When I returned to it, it welcomed me with open arms. We very quickly picked up right where we’d left off nine years earlier.

Why did I relapse? Because when my life got miserable enough, and the urge to drink returned, I did not have a program of recovery to rely upon. What we have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. I basically had no defense against the first drink.

My relapse lasted five years, during which time I embarrassed my son, humiliated my husband, alienated my mother, and lost two jobs in what had previously been a promising career in public relations. My alcoholism was a ball and chain I wore around my ankle, as I spent every single day trying to figure out how I was going to get my next drink. I drank at home and I drank in bars. I drank red wine, tequila and vodka, all of which can only be purchased in liquor stores or bars in my state. Nothing so easy as hiding it in a grocery bill. Finding ways to dink took maneuvering, manipulating, cheating, lying and sneaking.

I drank every day. I usually started at lunchtime and I often spent the afternoons working in a blackout. On the way home, I would stop at a bar or a liquor store. Sometimes both. I often drank into the night.

One evening I stopped for some wine after work even though my husband was on a business trip and my 12-year-old son was home alone waiting for me to bring him dinner. I stayed at the bar much longer than I’d planned. A mental obsession followed by a physical compulsion…Elijah kept calling me but I couldn’t hear my cell phone stuffed down in my purse. When I finally left, I called him at home.

“Where are you?” He was angry at me. How presumptuous of him, I thought. I’m the adult. He doesn’t get to tell me what to do.

“I’m on my way home.”

“Well did you get me something to eat?”

“No,” I’d already worked out what was, to me, a perfectly reasonably excuse. “I’m going to come home and get you and take you to get some new shoes. So we’ll just get something for you to eat while we’re out.”

“Well hurry up. I’m starving.”

Naturally when I got home he knew I’d been drinking. I shudder now to think of the position that I put him in — telling a child old enough to know better to get into the car with me. We drove to the mall. He didn’t like any of the shoes there. I got angry with him and stormed out. Bless his heart, he didn’t want to be shoe shopping in the first place.

On the way home, I got pulled over. For speeding. I very luckily got off with a warning. God was doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Because let’s consider this situation for a moment: If they had taken me in for drunk driving, where would my child have gone? His father was out of town. Would they have tracked down his grandparents? Or would they just call CPS?

We arrived home. Elijah called his dad, crying. He had been very, very frightened. I shrugged it off. Acted like he was blowing it out of proportion.

But oh, the next morning…The next mornings are always the hardest. That’s when all the shame and humiliation and horror is there to greet you. I knew, KNEW that I simply could not drink anymore. I had risked everything — including my son’s safety, his very life — and it had to stop. NOW.

I went to work on Monday. On the way home, I stopped at the same bar.

I could not not drink.

Tuesday I went back to AA. I found a noon meeting by my office and went at lunch. Even though I’d had nine years of sobriety in AA previously, I was still in denial. Not that I needed it — no, I knew I needed it — just that I was going to actually do this thing again. I sat quietly in the meeting. I didn’t talk to anyone, introduce myself, or participate in any way.

Then the chairperson called on Elaine* to share.

Wait…what? Elaine? No shit. I’d worked with her about four years ago when I’d tried to get sober early in my relapse. Huh.

I don’t know what made me get up when they asked at the end of the meeting if anyone wanted a white chip. I had no intentions whatsoever of doing that. God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Elaine saw me. She came right up to me after the meeting.

“Do you remember me?” I asked sheepishly.

“Of course I remember you,” she said. “Do you need a sponsor?” Man, she wasn’t messing around.

“Uhh…” How was I going to get out of this one?

She pulled out a card, wrote her cell phone number on the back. “What time do you leave for work in the mornings?”

“Seven-thirty.”

“You call me at 7.”

Elaine became my sponsor and took me through the steps. I wanted what she had, so I was willing to do whatever she had done to get it. My desire to drink was removed from that very first day — January 17, 2006. God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not.


* - Names are changed to protect anonymity.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reaching Out

A note from Ellie:  Alcoholism impacts every single person around an addict.    Knowing how to help a loved one suffering from addiction is a lonely, frightening place.   I emailed this person back suggesting Al-Anon as a resource; I know many, many people who have found a safe community there.   We posted this message here to let others know they aren't alone, and to encourage people who may have had similar experiences - either as an addict/alcoholic or a loved one - to reply with their own experience, strength and hope.     There are no easy answers, but by talking about it openly we help break down the isolation and denial in which addiction thrives.  

***Submitted by Anonymous

My 35 year old daughter has arrived at the place of full blown alcoholism. After getting sober from drugs in her twenties, she married an alcoholic that has encouraged her to drink. He likes her better that way and she can tolerate him more when she drinks.

Over a period of several years, it has evolved from a couple of beers a night for her to being intoxicated almost every evening from wine and beer. There is a lot of family conflict involving arguments, control, manipulations, and hiding the truth. The children ages nine and six are put in the position of hearing and seeing all that goes on. Little eyes and ears have take in big impressions. I have especially noticed changes in the nine year old who already stays close to home and has become moody.

I know this is a site for those who are trying to stay sober but please tell me how to help my daughter. I rarely say anything but when I do it just seems to separate us further.

I hope you will consider posting this so your readers can advise me. Thanks!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day Three

***Submitted by Anonymous

I'm feeling pretty good.

Three days in and I feel positive, confident, hopeful that I can end this once and for all. I've done some things differently this time, I've reached out to some people, although anonymously, I've dumped the troubling bottles of liquor that have ruled me, I've tried to be brutally honest in my personal journal.

Then the fear creeps in - How many times I've been here before and eventually fell apart, fell back into drinking too much, then way too much. What will be the next event, party, get together that will call for, even require, drinking? What will be the next stressful event that will require a drink or five to feel relaxed?

Besides pregnancies, I've probably lasted, at most, 5-6 weeks without drinking. I had pledged to myself and my husband I would go 3 months. Isn't that how long some rehabs are, maybe if I could last that long I could stop for good. Well, I couldn't do it anyways. Occasions that called for, required alcohol were coming up and I rationalized I could have the self-control. I would only have one extra drink before going out, instead of 2 or 3. Quickly, every time, things snowball out of control until I'm unable to not drink for more than one day.

I've been to counseling twice. The first time we dealt with some anxiety issues and the counselor recommended drinking in moderation. Great! Awesome, I thought! That is what I've always wanted! We talked about drinking slowly, limiting yourself to two drinks. I remember a wedding where I really tried. I drank my first glass slowly and as soon as I had the alcohol in my body and the 2nd drink came around I drank in larger swallows, hoping to intensify the buzz. I didn't drink more (that night) but wanted to, badly. That has always been part of this problem for me, if I'm not drinking or can't drink more I really, really want to and think, even obsess, about it. It makes everything less enjoyable.

The second counselor suggested abstinence and AA meetings. No way was I going to an AA meeting. Who would I see there? Would it be someone I know, that knows me or my family? What would they think? I'd be so ashamed and embarrassed! So I didn't go, never even really considered it. I tried abstinence, for a while. I went to yoga, which I do really like and find helpful but certainly not the answer.

This time I want to try a meeting but I'm really afraid. Those old feelings are still there and I feel anxious and overwhelmed even thinking about it. I've gone as far as to look up meetings in my area and think I may have found a good one that is even at a time I could go. But... I feel sick to my stomach thinking about it.

Often I wonder, why am I like this? What is wrong with me? It's like there's something in me that is deformed or doesn't work like it should. I am amazed and envious of people I see around me having "a couple of drinks". How do they stop? Don't they want more? I want to be like them but I'm not. My husband has decided he will not drink either. He shouldn't have to give up that cold beer or once in a while cocktail for me. But, when I tell him that, he tells me he wants to do this. To me it's a loss for him. For him, I think, it's no big deal. We're in different worlds with this and neither can really understand the other. But, I do appreciate his support and lately it's been more that than anger and warnings that things can't, won't go on like this.

It seems crazy to me that I would even consider drinking when there is so much to lose!!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alcoholism Q & A, Or Maybe Just Q

***Submitted by Ellie, and originally posted at One Crafty Mother

There are some questions about alcoholism I get kind of a lot, not because I'm so smart, or I know more than anyone else, but because I blog about it for the world to see.

By far, the most common question is how to tell if someone is an alcoholic - this either comes from someone who is worried about their own drinking, or from someone who is worried about someone else's drinking.

The answer, in my opinion, is simple yet unsatisfying: there isn't a way to know for sure. There are signs, or symptoms, but there is no blood test to take, like for other chronic illnesses. There are countless questionnaires that people can take that ask about their drinking habits: how often, how much. But there is no silver bullet - no definitive way to diagnose alcoholism - at least not that I have heard about.

Even discussing this is treading on thin ice. People are very opinionated about this topic. If you ask 100 people about this, you will likely get 100 different answers.

When I'm asked, this is what I say: it doesn't matter how often, or how much. It matters what it does to you.

I don't wake up every morning wondering how I'm going to get my hands on, say, Roquefort cheese. I don't go through my day thinking about the Roquefort cheese I can have at the end of the day, as my reward for existing successfully. I don't eat Roquefort cheese to access my emotions, dull the edges, entertain or distract myself. I don't hide my Roquefort cheese consumption, or lie about it. I can have one piece of Roquefort cheese. I can even have half a piece. In other words: I don't obsess about it. Because, to me, obsession is the definitive characteristic of addiction.

So I can't point to someone and know whether they are an alcoholic or not by how they look, or even what they tell me. Because denial is such a huge part of addiction, often behaviors that are indicative of a problem aren't even acknowledged, consciously, by the person doing them. At least it was that way for me.

It's a double-edged irony, if such a thing exists: it is a disease that tells you that you don't have it, and at the same time only the person suffering from it can diagnose themselves.

I can share some of the signposts I missed along the way (and some that I didn't). If someone identifies with any of them, then it is up to them to decide if they have a problem or, most importantly, if they want to do anything about it. Here are a few things I wish I had paid more attention to along the way:

  • Feeling possessive about alcohol. Even early on, I would watch how much was in other peoples' glasses, always looking to be sure I got my fair share.
  • Thinking about drinking earlier in the day. I could snap myself out of a bad or bored mood at noon, just thinking about the drink(s) I could have that night.
  • Lying about my drinking. I make the analogy to when people are asked how much they weigh. Most of us fudge it a little, shave a few pounds off the truth. I was like that with alcohol. When asked how much I had the night before - even when I was with a group of friends and we were comparing hangovers - I would always diminish the real number.
  • Sneaking drinks. Even before I actually hid bottles around the house (it's hard to lie to yourself about that one) as I was pouring wine for my husband and myself before dinner, I would pour one for me and slug it down (when he wasn't watching, of course) and then pour myself another and act like it was my first drink. Or, if he left the room, I'd top off my glass, or drink some of his.
  • I always, always finished my glass. I was never the type to drink half a glass and forget it was there. It baffled me - even early on - when people could drink half a glass and pour it out.
  • Having one glass was almost impossible. Once I had the first, I always wanted another. Even if I didn't have another, I always wanted one.
But by far, the primary symptom was how much time I spent thinking about drinking. Even when I wasn't drinking - when I was trying to cut back - I'd think: here's me not drinking. As my drinking progressed, what had been a pleasant anticipation of drinking turned into a full blown obsession.

That, to me, is addiction.   And recovery?   Recovery is many, many things to me.   Even on the toughest days, though, one of the biggest gifts of recovery is the freedom from that obsession.

Please remember these thoughts are based on my experience, and my experience alone.    I don't mean to imply that I have any answers to a complicated issue like addiction.   Please share your thoughts on this, too.  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Just Talk. It Helps.

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?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lost Weekend

Submitted by Diana. She blogs at Diana Republic about life in Chicago with her husband, furry kids, and sobriety.

I always have a glass of wine to get ready. Doesn’t everyone? Don’t’ answer that. It may or may not be my first drink of the day. I now put it in a highball glass instead of a wine glass, but I won’t deny it is wine if asked. There will come a time when it will be a rum and diet coke because it looks like diet coke and I need caffeine.

I look at my face in the magnified makeup mirror and the negotiations begin.

“I will keep it under control tonight. Maybe I will just drink wine. That’s it -- just wine. But they have the good blue cheese olives there… one martini and then just one glass of wine with dinner, “ I tell myself as I apply concealer to the dark puffy circles under my eyes. Of course, it’s the blue cheese olives that sway me and not the vodka that they will be doing the backstroke in.

My steel-like resolve will waver before I’ve even left the house.

Once at the restaurant, we move to the bar to wait for our table.

“A Grey Goose martini, dry, with blue cheese olives straight up, please.” I tell our favorite bartender. And off we go.

If I am lucky I will remember dinner. I will probably remember what I ordered, if not eating it. But the negotiations have failed and I will have a martini and a couple of glasses of wine and for dessert I will have black Sambuca with my coffee. I will pour another glass of wine when I arrive home, more than likely, if I think I can get away with it.

And in the morning I will wake with a dry mouth and a throbbing head. I will be wracked with anxiety and guilt. I won’t remember stumbling as we left the restaurant or slurring my words to the staff, who by now expect no less. I won’t remember the dinner conversation and will therefore have to hope that no really important topics were covered. I won’t remember passing out half dressed while my husband brushed his teeth with vain hopes of lovemaking. I won’t remember if my husband is hurt and angry with me.

Sunday morning I will apologize and try to make up for the night before. Then I will lobby for brunch where I can order mimosas before starting the whole pathetic cycle over again.

This sad, lost weekend was what I was afraid I would be denied in sobriety.

And thank God, I have been.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rehab Diaries, Part Two: Detox Days

By Robin. Part One is here. I share my stories here and over at Life... On Its Own Terms. Thanks for listening and as always, if you want to know more just write to me, I'm always happy to correspond.

Before I went to detox I had never been inside any institution but the orphanage we adopted our daughter from, and that place did nothing to dispel my general idea that institutions were peopled with drooling, grunting, dull-eyed beings fed and changed by professionals in white uniforms.

I had thought, before, that institutions stripped people of their humanity but in this place I discovered that the opposite was true: here we lost everything we had constructed for ourselves and were left with only our selves, the human-ness with which we had each been born. No longer were we swimmers or accountants or parents or Republicans. We simply were.

I remember the day one of us sat down at an old piano that squatted in the common room and played Mozart’s Requiem and we stared, dumbfounded, as if we’d never heard music before. He looked startled, too, I recall, as if he didn’t know where the notes flowed from either.

We were, to a person, liars and braggarts of such magnitude that we didn’t even believe the details of our own lives. One day the director casually told me that she had googled me and that some story I’d told her about working in Pakistan was apparently true and I said, “Oh?” as if it was the first I’d heard of it. She was just making conversation but now that I think about it I imagine she and the other counselors spent a great deal of time fact-checking, or else they’d never know who’d they actually meet when they got to work in the morning.

Someone who was there when I was did turn out to be famous – you could kind of tell by the way he hid, not meeting anyone’s eyes, while the rest of us spun tales of climbing mountains and slaying lions. I hadn’t heard of him before then but now I see his picture everywhere and it disturbs me, the way a stumbled-upon love letter from a long-ago affair that ended badly disturbs, stirring up a brew of anger, vulnerability, and dangerous intimacy.

For in that place, where we had no last names or IDs and we sported matching blue cotton robes and took our exercise walking in endless circles around dull trees, there where we weren’t who we were anymore, we were as intimate with one another as twins in the womb.

From the stately older woman pausing in the lobby to chug one last bottle, to the young mother caught pilfering pills who was brought to the door in handcuffs, our paths there had been wildly disparate but once inside we converged completely.

From this forced proximity we began to grasp, slowly, how necessary we were to each other; to a person this was a revelation. We’d come together from different times, places, and circumstances yet we’d all somehow learned the same essential lesson: people hurt you. And throwing down smokescreens of laughter or promiscuity or daring-do, or money or charm or whatever superpower your drug gave you, would keep others at bay while you made your getaway.

And finally, we’d learned that a good backstory could keep others – or, hell, keep yourself – from knowing your essential truth, and if no one could know it then no one could condemn it.

To a normal person looking in on us, it would have appeared that no one accomplished anything there, and it’s true that no one got engaged or took a photograph or prepared a speech or fixed supper. I only knew I was getting better when my next-door neighbor and I had wheelchair races around the ward. I knew I was getting better not because I did this mildly off-limits thing or because I laughed out loud while doing it but because the nurses let us.

For it was only when our wardens allowed us to crawl tentatively back out to the edge, out beyond the basics of human upkeep, to shift focus momentarily from eating and sleeping to play or to converse, it was only then that we knew we just might be climbing, at last, out of the depths, and might one day glimpse the sunshine.