Saturday, August 28, 2010

How'd You Do It? Jane's Story, At One Year Sober

***Submitted by Jane, who blogs over at Drunken Damage

August 13th was my one year sobriety birthday. After I received my token at my favorite meeting, surrounded by friends and 'family' and led the table discussion, I was asked the usual question, 'How'd you do it?' My answer was something like this.

I believe I was an alcoholic/addict from the moment I took my first drink/toke. Even though my friends started 'partying' years before I did, I was the one who always pushed for more. Every new drug we tried I was the one wanting to do it again (and again, and again). Within a year of smoking my first joint, I had tried at least 7 other types of drugs. By my senior year I was a meth head. I weighed about 90 lbs, never slept, never ate, and was a major bitch who liked to freak out on my friends. That my parents never noticed any of this still baffles me. Although they must have suspected something, because after high school they shipped me off halfway across the country to college to get me away from my friends. It got me off the meth (thank God) but it introduced me to a new love; alcohol.

College was for drinking and I drank hard. At first it was just a way of having fun, then at a frat party my freshman year, while drunk, I was raped. Probably that experience would cause anyone who wasn't an alcoholic to never drink again, but for me it was an excuse to spend the next two years completely plastered. Not only did I drink and smoke 24/7, but I developed a lot of other habits to hurt myself with. I felt I didn't deserve to be treated well. I felt like a piece of garbage, and I let everyone around me treat me as such.

My last two years of college I did a little better. I met a great guy, I got involved in my campus Women's group. I had a few healthy behaviors to balance out the unhealthy ones, but I still drank. In secret often, to hide it from that great guy, and not as much as before, but it was still my love. When I was sad, angry, depressed, annoyed, tired, happy, celebrating, bored, I drank.

After college I ran away to another country. I was looking for a new life, an adventure, a new me really. Instead I found the lowest point of my life. For 2.5 years solid I drank to excesses I'd never seen before. I put myself into situations time and again where I really should have died. I think now that maybe I did want to die, maybe that's part of why I did the stupid things I did. Still, the things I did during this time of my life shame me to the core. That shame was all I knew for a very long time. It contaminated all my feelings, all my thoughts and all my actions. And it kept me drinking.

At the end of this period I found myself pregnant. I quit smoking, and I reduced my alcohol intake, but I still had a glass of wine a day. Hey, I was in Europe, a glass of wine was no big deal! Even when pregnant. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. Once my baby was born (healthy, thank God) my drinking escalated again. I spent the next 8 years (and second pregnancy) cycling through binge drinking and daily drinking. But no matter how much I drank, the shame was always with me. I felt like such a failure as a mother. I was so miserable in my life. I saw darkness and despair all around me all the time, and the only way I could be pleasant, the only way I could laugh or play with my children, was to have a buzz on. But I knew it was all a facade.

As time went on I became active in my children's lives and schools. I led Girl Scouts, I went to PTA meetings, I did fundraisers and taught Sunday school and had a million play dates. And I hated myself. I did everything wrong, I could never, ever achieve to the level that I thought I needed to. I was never smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, strong enough, funny enough, kind enough. I was a failure not only as a mom but as a wife, daughter, granddaughter, friend, teacher, employee, volunteer. To forget about all my failures I drank. And yet I hated that I drank. I have no idea how many times I woke up in the night, feeling sick, hating myself for having drank so much the night before, and telling myself 'never again'. At least three times a week, usually more, for 10+ years? That's over 1500 nights, over 1500 promises broken. Far over I'm sure. I knew I was an alcoholic, but I didn't want to admit it. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and he was an abusive child rapist. I didn't want to have anything in common with him. Besides, if I was an alcoholic I'd have to quit drinking forever and I definitely didn't want that!

Then a little over a year ago I succeeded in making a complete idiot of myself in front of my husband, my children, my best friend and her family after drinking 1.5 bottles of wine on a camping trip. The next morning I finally said out loud that I had a problem. I told my husband that as soon as I took even one small sip of alcohol I lost all control. It didn't matter what my intentions were before that sip, they all flew out the window and all I knew was a giant craving for more, more, more! I agreed that morning to try AA when we got home. But when we got home I kept drinking. A few weeks later my husband brought it up again, and with a few glasses of liquid courage I called the hotline. I went to my first meeting the next night, and my life changed.

At the first meeting I sat with a bunch of men and 1 woman. As the men told their stories of jail, DUIs, lost wives and children I thought 'I'm not that bad'. I said so. I talked about how I wanted to drink like a normal person, that's all. Oh yeah, and be perfect. And then the other woman spoke about how she wasn't that bad either. She never got into trouble. Yet she was a whole lot worse, because she was a mom, because her drinking was ruining her children's lives by taking her away from them, nearly permanently. That night she gave me a poem about loving myself, and she gave me a Big Book. That night she saved my life.

I'd like to say I never had another drink after that night, but it's not true. The next night, as I sat and read the Big Book, seeing myself in every page, I drank my last glass of wine. My husband drank with me, telling me how I just needed to learn to drink responsibly, that I didn't have to live without alcohol forever. I knew he was wrong.

The next days, weeks and months were some of the hardest in my life, yet looking back on them they seem to be some of the easiest, because there are no bad memories, no shame or guilt associated with them. I had awful, horrible cravings. I hung on with my fingernails most days. I ate a TON of ice cream, and I read a lot. I went to lots of meetings, and I read lots of fabulous blogs like Ellie's One Crafty Mother and Stefanie's Baby on Bored. I joined the Booze Free Brigade and learned about the thousands, probably millions of other moms who are JUST LIKE ME who are also alcoholics and read some of their stories on Crying Out Now.

On the worst days, I walked through my house literally chanting, 'one foot in front of the other. Just take one step, do the next thing that needs to be done, you'll get through the day eventually.' I said the Serenity Prayer over and over again, and the Lord's Prayer too. I learned new prayers, I learned how to talk to God, and I learned how to turn my problems, fears and frustrations over to him. I learned that I don't have to be perfect, I just have to be human, and I don't have to care what other people think of me. And somehow, after 365 days of thinking, praying, and taking one step at a time I found myself receiving my 1 year token from a friend, surrounded by surrogate uncles and brothers, my adoptive grandpa, and two other moms at the start of their journey who I already care more about than I can say.

As my sponsor says, 'I am so thankful to be sober by the Grace of God and the 12 steps of AA'. That's how I did it, and how I continue to stay sober.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Yesterday was Day 1. Again.

***Submitted by Trish.

Yesterday was Day 1. Again. I made it through, but all I thought about the entire day was having a drink(s). I intentionally didn't have any wine in the house; I had poured out the small remainder of the third bottle I went through the day before and was determined not to get more. But there is an array of other alcohol in the house I could "enjoy." My drink of preference is wine, but the others are a backup every time I try to stop drinking.

I knew this wasn't going to be easy; it has been a very long time since I didn't drink at least one bottle of wine a day. But there seemed to be so many hurdles. At least that's what it felt like.

I spent the day doing laundry and digging out from the miserable mountain trip that was cut short by a family funeral my DH had to fly off to and my daughter's sniffles and fever that increased her already incredible teenage drama. I organized. I cleaned. I turned on TV and watched a movie about housewives on chrystal meth. I made it to 3:40 PM when I pick up the kids. I was edgy with the kids after school. Their loudness annoyed me. Their cheerfulness annoyed me. Everything annoyed me.

My neighbor called. She had some dish to return and I needed to borrow some dinner ingredients so I went over. When I went over, the first thing she did was offer up a bottle of red. I told her no; I wasn't drinking today. When was I going to drink again? What about our day at her club this week? Aren't you going to have a cocktail with me? (We never have just one). I told her no, again, and that I had to start somewhere and this was it. I didn't elaborate and she seemed shocked and surprised that I thought I had a problem. We chatted and then I got up and went home.

I finished fixing dinner, fed the kids, and meanwhile my neighbor came over again with her glass of wine. I still didn't drink, but sat on the porch with her making plans for the kids who are out of school this week. When my husband drove up, I am sure he thought I was drinking and was immediately annoyed by her presence. When I went in the house soon after, instead of a greeting, he made a snide comment about how he saw I hadn't unpacked from our trip and went to change, pointedly making a bid deal about unpacking from his trip. (I had unpacked in the laundry room but the suitcases weren't carried up, along with the kids' backpacks I had asked them to carry up a bunch of times.)

Since I WAS ALREADY ON MY LAST NERVE, this really set me off. I SO wanted to pour a drink, any drink.

While he puttered around and pouted and helped himself to a drink, I came to this blog and read and reread all the posts since March. After he changed and ate and spent time with the kids, he realized his error and tried to make amends (no apology but compliments about my day's accomplishments and tried to engage me in conversation). Eventually I snapped out of my funk and we talked a little. No mention of me not drinking or that I was trying, again, to moderate or quit. The dynamics of our relationship is another story for another time, but he is basically an enabler most of the time.

At 10, I went to bed and debated about taking an Ambien. I decided to pass and see if I could get to sleep on my own. Eventually, I did but sleep was restless and not the retreat I needed.

So here I am this morning, husband gone to work, kids still asleep, with another day to go through. The vacationing kids will be seeking entertainment and engagement, and I will not have a disguised glass of wine in my hand to mellow me. I will try to engage and enjoy them without that crutch today. I will try to be done with the traits you all mentioned, alternating liquor stores, bargaining with myself for just one drink, hiding evidence of any drinking before happy hour, guzzling drinks ahead of time so it looks like I drink moderately...etc, etc, etc.

I will have more hurdles to overcome... a girls' drinking weekend coming up, pending social occasions where everyone drinks and expects me to, family visits...

As with many of the other posters, I have never thought of myself as an alcoholic; surely I can drink in moderation. I was always the designated driver who could hold her liquor the best. What's the big deal about a glass of wine a day? Except now it is at least a bottle. How did I get to this place and how do I get out? For me it will be one excruciating day at a time.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scared. And Hopeful

***Submitted by Aimee

I have written this story a dozen times in my head, drunk, on my backporch,, cigarette in hand. I have written this story while vacsilating between hysterical laughter and tears, drunk, while my family sleeps.

It was about 9 years ago, somewhere around my 30th birthday that I started drinking. Prior to that I could count on 2 hands the number of alcoholic drinks I'd had. My realtionship with my new friend started out okay and i'm not sure when it crossed the line or how.

I've never been a daily drinker, but like so many, once the first swallow goes down and that warm, numb hits my brain-it's already to late. I will consume all that there is to consume and if my husband hasn't already hidden my keys and purse from me, I will drive for more or get on facebook to see which neighbors were still awake. Most of my close friends (neighbors) drink just like me, so a random message at 11pm for wine or beer is akin to borrowing an egg for a cake.

Somewhere around 4 years ago I went from the fun, happy drunk girl to the woman who after a point got angry and sad and manic. God help you if I decided you slighted me in the least-my poor husband, my poor kids. My oldest girls (17 and 18) remember their "normal" mom and not the drunk me that my 7 year old only knows. It breaks my heart that I have not been present for her for most of her life. It breaks my heart to think about shooing her inside to her father so I could finish my wine and cigarette with empty promises of I'll be there in 2 seconds, as soon as I'm done were going to read that book. It breaks my heart that this is her reality and she thinks is normal.

I'm not even sure where I am going with this other than to say that I have not had a drink in 3 days. Part of it was my constant fight with myself and part of it was I was too busy with PTA and back to school to drink. Tues- Thurs was "easy" but tonight is Friday-tonight the neighbors will all head outside to our shared alley where the kids will play, the men will bbq and drink beer and the ladies will drink wine or martini's and comiserate about kids, husbands and jobs.

I will be going to my first meeting. It starts at 7pm and there is another on at 10pm that they said I could stay for if I didn't feel like I could go home. My husband said after my meeting we can just hole up at home with a movie and popcorn with the kiddo-but I'm not sure I trust myself. I am also profoundly sad that I can never, ever again comiserate over drinks with my friends and hope that someday I can do it over iced tea.

I am scared, I am hopeful and I am glad that I found this place.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Road To Recovery

***Submitted by Gappy, who blogs over at Gappy Tales.

Alcoholism – you may remember – is something that I have written about before. I wrote about it and then I dropped it. I metaphorically wiped my hands down the thighs of my jeans, sighed and said, “Well there’s that done and dusted. I don’t have to hide anything anymore… good. Now then, what to write about next?” I didn’t want it to define my blog because I don’t want it to define me.

But recovery, I have discovered, requires vigilance. It requires you to not drop your guard. It requires you to remember. The moment you forget and begin to think that you are better – that you have recovered as opposed to being in recovery - is the moment you start to convince yourself that there’s no harm in a teeny weeny little glass of something. After all, you can stop any time you want right? You’ve proved it right? You’re FINE, RIGHT??

I am fine. But I am fine because I’m sober. I realise that to most people this must seem like a no-brainer, but when you have a relationship with alcohol that is as screwed up as mine is, your brain will play all kinds of tricks on you in order to make drinking seem like a good idea again. Like this thought, taken purely at random from a whole big stupid selection that I have had this week: “Wow. A whole eight months in recovery. Surely that deserves a glass of wine or two.” See what I mean? It would be funny if it, you know, wasn’t.

Anyway, last weekend something happened to pull me up short. Something happened which served to remind me to remember. I’m writing a post about it to give myself something to refer back to in times of temptation, and because, in a funny sort of way, writing about my issues with alcohol and knowing that people are reading what I write, makes me feel a little more accountable.

I went to a party. A party at my mothers house. I drank lime and soda and hung out with my younger brother who had also invited a few of his friends. I was nervous. The last party that I had been to at my mothers was almost exactly two years ago. I had been drunk and there had been a scene - a scene which proved to be the catalyst to my deciding that enough was enough and that my drinking couldn’t go on. It took another year of spiraling downhill before I finally accepted that I could not do it alone and needed to ask for support, but I will always remember that night as being the turning point. The point at which I was fully confronted with just how bloody ugly it had all become.

There were to be some of the same people that had been there that night at this party too, and if I’m honest my shame nearly got the better of me and I came within a hairs breadth of not going. But I decided in the end that I was/am not prepared to hide myself away forever. Life goes on in spite of our mistakes and disasters and I’ve as much right to enjoy my life as anyone else. It is a waste of time to live in a past that you cannot change. I knew my family were behind me and wanted me there. I would go.

It went fine almost up until the end. With my lovely brothers supportive arm around my shoulder (“y’alright sis?”) I started to feel more confident, and soon I was chatting to people and having a pleasant enough time. It wasn’t until the party was beginning to wind down that the last guest arrived. It was another friend of my brothers, someone whom I recognised instantly from two years ago. He had already been drinking all day at a family gathering of his own, and over the next hour or so I watched as he sped inexorably towards, then tipped finally and inevitably over, that clear but invisible line that separates drunk but o.k. from no longer in control. You don’t cross that line as many times as I have without developing a sixth sense for where it lies in other people. It is disturbing to view the trajectory through sober eyes, like a car crash happening in slow motion. I could also sense his awareness of me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see his head periodically flicking towards me, like he was just waiting for an opportunity to say something.

In the end it came apropos of nothing. “Do you remember last time we met…” he began, and then – with a nasty glint in his eye - proceeded to describe in lurid detail the events of the party two years previously. I simultaneously felt the floor slide out from underneath me and the contents of my stomach turn to liquid. I honestly didn’t know what to do. When I eventually replied that I didn’t feel it was a particularly appropriate situation in which to be discussing it, he tried another tack and began to rapidly fire very personal questions at me. Where were my two youngest children he demanded to know, and did I really think it was fair on my eldest son to be asleep upstairs when there was the noise of a party downstairs? By this time the room had gone silent.

His verbal attack was so carefully aimed and so vicious, it left me almost speechless. My son was at his grandmothers party for goodness sake, surrounded by family that loved him. He was safely tucked up in bed, fast asleep. The music was playing at a perfectly normal level on the living room stereo and the only person who was dangerously drunk was the man currently and publicly berating me for no other reason than that he had sensed my vulnerability and decided to go for the jugular.

I went to bed feeling both mortified and devastated.

But I have since had some time to process what happened. And I can see that while he certainly embarrassed me, it was his own colours that he truly put out on show. I take comfort in the fact that while I have taken steps to clean up my side of the street, his is still looking decidedly grubby. But mostly I just feel incredibly grateful for my sobriety in a way that I didn’t before. Being sober served me in that situation, and ironically, the situation itself served my sobriety. It reminded me to remember. To remember just how ghastly that place was that he described.

To remember that I never want to go back.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sober Stealth

***Submitted by Susan

I picked up Augusten Burroughs' Dry off the shelf last night. I read this while drinking, knowing I was an alcoholic actively drinking, but it's a great "I'm not that bad" book when you're still tossing them back. With four months sober today, I decided to revisit it through dry eyes. This passage struck me - he's in rehab, talking to his therapist, Rae, about the process.

"...I'm realizing I don't like to feel things, don't want to feel pain or fear. And mostly, how I can see that I don't drink like a normal person. That I use booze like an escape hatch and also like a destination in itself. I tell her my recent observation of rehab in terms of how it works. How it sort of sneaks up on you. The way somebody will say some dumb affirmation and then later in group, somebody will say, "I didn't buy that affirmation you said at all," and there will be a heated argument and somebody will be reduced to tears. And how all of this will bring something up inside of you, wake something up. And you have some insight you wouldn't have had otherwise. It's very odd and nonlinear and organic. And yet it's real.

Rae smiles because she knows this is exactly how it works. It is stealth

I did not go through the rehab experience, but this passage could apply to any recovery work. As I walk this sober journey the second time around, focusing this time less on the alcohol, but the control issues of which alcohol is one of many that feed my Ism, this "gave me an insight I wouldn't have otherwise". As a woman alcoholic, I am a fixer, manager, controller and general "woman who does too much". I let go of a lot of control 15 years ago, when I was in my mid 20s. Between then and now, however, my natural tendency toward self-reliance has served me extremely well. If I can't make you do what I want, I'll just do it myself.

But fixing and managing are very linear processes, as is doing a lot of stuff to stay busy, and avoid feeling my feelings. It seems that what we alcoholic women all struggle with is the non-linear, unpackaged, unpredictable nature of recovery (however you choose to do it). Recovery is a series of miracles: minor shifts in perception that sift through the subconscious. Dammit! That never happens when scheduled; I scheduled Sober Realizations from 9-9:15 on Tuesday.

I offer that we are all so used to planning, organizing, calendars, to do lists, and managing it all that the non-linear, odd nature of recovery baffles us. Who are we without our lists that serve us well? If we are so busy taking care of the obvious, who can be open to stealth?

For Augusten is absolutely right on. Recovery is stealth. It isn't the under-the-bed monster that will grab an ankle if you put it on the floor, but a lover sneaking up behind you, covering your eyes and whispering in your ear: "Guess Who?" The one you turn to in a circle of arms, laughing and smiling, with a heart that is open and wondering and full. The lover you want to hold so hard you become melded together, taken into each other, breast to breast, pelvis to pelvis, breath from lung to lung. That kind of moment, that kind of stealth, that kind of recovery.

A whole series of those moments strung together over a lifetime