Monday, September 27, 2010

Alcoholism Is A Family Disease

***Submitted by Sarah

I’m Sarah. Ellie asked me if I’d introduce myself and tell a little bit of my story, because I’m a child of an alcoholic, and she thought it would be useful if those voices were heard here too. I hope it can help. I’m surprised to find that writing it has helped me.

My mother is an alcoholic. She has been since the Halloween I was eight. My brother wasn’t feeling well, so my father took just me out trick-or-treating. We came home to a Halloween-appropriate sight: blood all over the foyer. She’d been drinking and had slipped and cut her head open on the banister. My brother, left alone with her, was, apart from being sick, five years old at the time.

I think she’d been drinking for a while, though it’s hard to know anything from my memories as a six- or seven-year-old. Unfortunately, that’s all I have to go on. My brother, being younger, remembers even less. My parents didn’t have friends, no family visited, and in any case, nobody else knew. And my father - well, the less he notices, the less he has to deal with.

I’ve always known that it’s extra-unusual to have an alcoholic mom. There’s a lot written about alcoholic fathers, but if you have an alcoholic mother, you start to get the feeling that nobody wants to talk about it. My therapist says that’s because mothering is much more idolized than fathering in our society. Maybe so. All I know is, when I started to try to figure out what was going on and why my family was so unlike any other I knew, I couldn’t find much. Since then, though, I’ve had wonderful people, professional and personal, who have given me so much help - once I realized that I could and should ask for it and work for it.

I’m not an alcoholic. Which is not to say that I have my act together. I’ve had problems managing my money, my food, and my relationships, but never alcohol. I’m not exactly angry at my mother, anymore, though - I think that much is true. I’ve seen her a few times in the last couple of years, after having no contact for 10 years. Drinking has taken its toll on her: she looks more like I remember my grandmother than like I remember my mother. I’m not comfortable around her but I don’t wish her ill. She wanted the best for my brother and me: she just didn’t know where to begin. How to stop. How to get help.

My father isn’t evil either. In recent years, though, my frustration has focused on him. At first, it was so obvious to be angry with my mother that it didn’t occur to me to look at my father’s part in things. Slowly I realized that it wasn’t just my mother who didn’t step up. I don’t think he protected us very well. He hid what was going on and he went to work.

I remember feeling very grown-up levels of responsibilty. Making sure she didn’t come to harm barging in on a neighbor’s backyard party. Finding her passed out on the bedroom floor, in the dining room doorway, in the powder room, in front of the Christmas tree. Realizing that spending time with my father or my brother drew her to us and meant fighting, and the only way to keep things quiet was to stay out or alone in my room.

I could never fix things, handle things, make things be normal. What I’m still realizing was that at eight, or 10, or 12, there was no way I could have. It sounds obvious on paper, but not inside.

I wish I’d had parents who paid attention to the emotional health of their kids. I wish I’d had fewer adult worries. I wish my teachers or my friends’ parents had known - that I’d been younger when I decided to break the unspoken rules and tell people what was going on.

And then there are all of the future worries. I seem to end up in relationships that are (in hindsight) basically just throwing myself into making someone happy. Even if I couldn’t fix things with my family, I could be a model girlfriend, right? Except I can’t. Eventually I want to care about the things I like again, not just his life.

I’m trying to be patient and work through what I need to. I have so many blessings that I’m so grateful for, and among them are my dear friends’ wonderful marriages and fabulous first, second, even third kids. But deep down, there’s something in their happiness that makes me sad. I can’t help grieving for a lot of things: the ones that I wish I’d had and didn’t; but also the ones that I think I want and don’t see ever happening for me.

The tears are dripping off my face as I’m typing this. I don’t know if this will make sense, but - I think that’s a good thing. I hope so, anyway.

Friday, September 24, 2010

1,096 Days Ago - The Darkest Place

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

1,096 days ago I sat on my couch.  

Let's say it was a Tuesday - I don't recall, of course - but it was a weekday, because Steve was taking the kids to daycare.   It was about 8:40am on a sparkling August day.

I sat in the wrinkled tee-shirt and cut-off sweatpants I wore to bed, stiff and achy, staring straight ahead.   Just leave.  Just leave now, was my only thought.

"I'm only going to be gone ten minutes," Steve said.   "So don't get any ideas."

Just leave just leave please just leave.

I listened to the gravel crunch under the tires as he pulled down the driveway.   I waited.  Thirty seconds.  One minute.  My heart was pounding in my chest, my hands were clammy with sweat.   When I was sure I couldn't hear the car engine - when I was sure he was out of sight - I sprang into action.

He had hidden his car keys, but I had a spare stashed away.   I grabbed the key, and without bothering to put on shoes - no time, no time - I slid behind the wheel of Steve's car.  The black leather seat scorched the backs of my thighs, but I didn't care.  I realized I was grinning like a cheshire cat.   I knew I was going to get more, and my heart soared.


The night before I had convinced Steve to drive me to an 8pm recovery meeting.    He agreed to take me, but only after telling me, "No purse.  No wallet.  No keys.   I'll drive you there and pick you up.  Understand?"   

I had proven to be untrustworthy with a car and money of my own.   The disease had me by the throat, and every single time I could get away,  I went to buy booze.   It had been this way for a few weeks now.

I pretended to walk into the meeting.   As soon as his car was out of sight, I scurried back outside.   A little less than a mile away was a convenience store, and I had $10 tucked into my sock.    I ran the whole way.

I bought a small four pack of airplane-sized bottles of wine.   I sucked down two in the store's parking lot, cowering behind a large bush.   I stashed the other two small bottles, in their brown bag, behind the bush.    I felt a surge of pride that I didn't drink all four.   See?  I can control my drinking.  

I ran back to the meeting, ducking through people's backyards to avoid being seen from the street.   I took a seat in the circle with ten minutes to spare.    Steve picked me up at exactly 9:30pm, and when I got in the car he knew immediately that somehow - however improbably - I had gotten my hands on alcohol.   He shook his head in sadness and defeat.   I felt nothing.   I had gotten my fix, and that was all I cared about.


The next morning I sat on the couch and waited for Steve to take the kids to daycare.  It had been decided that I will go back to rehab.  I had just gotten back from this same rehab two days ago, and had found a way to drink.   Twice.   I hadn't even unpacked my bag from my most recent stay.   The plan was for Steve to drop the kids at daycare, take me back to rehab and return in time to pick them up at the end of the day.   

Ten minutes, I've got ten minutes.  I drove like a madwoman down the street, shoeless, in my pajamas.  I turned into the parking lot of the convenience store, and saw the brown bag I had stashed behind the bush the night before.   I didn't care if anyone saw me.   I didn't stop to think that what I was doing looked odd.  I parked and stepped out of the car like I had important business to attend to, grabbed the bag from behind the bush and got back into the car.

I drank the remaining two bottles on the way back home, tossing the empty bag out the window of the car.

I pulled into the driveway, rushed back into the house and plopped back down on the couch, feeling smug.   Steve walked in about four minutes later.

"Nice try,"  he said immediately.

I tried to feign ignorance.  "What?  What do you mean?"

"The car hood is hot, and I put a stick behind the right rear tire, which is now broken in two.   I know you left.  I know you drank.   I'm done, Ellie.   You're going back to rehab - I'll take you there - but I'm telling you right now that this is it.  I don't care what you do with your life after rehab.  I hope you get better, for your sake and for the sake of our kids.    But I'm done."

His words floated over and around me.  They couldn't touch me.  I had had my fix; my mind and body had quieted.   The beast that lived within me had been fed, and that was all that mattered.


That was my last drink. 

I hate remembering that day.   I picture myself in my pajamas, barefoot, scrounging through the bushes, and I'm disgusted.   I remember the way my heart leapt with excitement when my hands wrapped around the paper bag.   It felt like freedom.   

For the past week or so my mind has been probing that memory like a rotten tooth.   I don't like to think about it, because I want to believe that woman wasn't me.  I want to erase that woman from my memory bank.    I want to banish her to some desert island in my brain, isolate her from the vibrant, loving, independent woman I am today.

But that woman was me.   On my three year anniversary, I force myself to embrace her, hold her close, tell her she's stronger than she knows.   Only by staring her in the eyes and reminding myself that she will always reside in me can I remember that she waits for me.   Waits for me to think I'm all better, waits for me to feel far enough removed from that day that I can lie to myself, tell myself that I can drink in safety now.    That one drink won't lead me right back there.   Because it will.


I haven't told this story here before.  I hesitate, because I know people who are wondering about their own drinking can read it and use it to tell themselves they aren't that bad.   That they would never scramble through people's backyards with money stuffed in their sock.   That they wouldn't ever risk losing their husband or children just to have one more drink.

I tell my story because I said those things to myself for years.   I would read addiction memoirs or listen to other people's tales of woe - arrests, DUIs, hiding alcohol all around the house - and think:   I would never do that.   I'm not that bad. 

It's a frightening truth: if alcohol is slowly (or perhaps not slowly) taking over your life you won't know when you cross that line, because you'll find a way to normalize it.    You'll slide down into the obsidian eye of addiction where your world will be small and dark and only one thought will occupy your brain:  more.

If you're wondering - do I drink too much?   If you are sneaking a drink here or there, if you're lying about your drinking, if you tell yourself in the morning:  never again - only to break your promise hours or days later, please take heed.    It's already happening, and all those things you tell yourself you'll never do?   They are only things yet to come.

If you're struggling with alcohol, look inside yourself, at your truth.   If there is a woman inside you who is slowly drowning, hold her close.   Tell her she's stronger than she knows.

Life away from the obsidian eye of alcoholism is full of light.   Light and freedom.   I'm reminded of my favorite lyrics from a Jeffrey Steele song (he wrote it, but it's sung by Pat Green), "Trying to Find It" :

There's a feeling that I left behind

I felt it once running down my spine

The fear of God the joy of life

And I'm trying to find it

There's a spot on earth a man can go

To find himself and free his soul

A place somewhere between hell and heaven

Where no one hurts and all's forgiven

A door that leads to light and grace

But the keys are in the darkest place.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Problems are Small, but They Are Problems Nonetheless

Submitted by Anonymous.

I needed to read Robin's post today.  TODAY, the day when I woke up feeling not-so-great but not horrible.  The day after having a paltry 2.5 drinks the night before and still feeling like total and utter crap.  

Because, see, here's the thing: what I realized TODAY is that it is a problem if it is a problem. 

My problems?  Not so bad relative to others, to be honest.  I've never blacked out.  I don't make an ass of myself.  Would never drink and drive.  No lost job or spouse.  No big "bottom."Yet.  

Actually I rarely, rarely, am ever even drunk.  But the fact is that I do drink -- not a lot but fairly consistently.  I don't think about it all day but I do think about it around 9 PM.  I don't worry about alcohol not being around in social settings, but try and get me to stay long at an adult party at night if there's not any wine around.  Just try, because I don't think I'd hang. 

My problems are small, but they are problems, nonetheless.  A little tired once or twice a week.  Not getting as much out of my workouts as I'd like.  Sleeping fairly late on a weekend and missing the morning sun.  Gaining weight around the middle no matter what I do.  Being more tired than I should be and having less patience at times.  You see, these are the problems.  My problems.  And today, reading Robin's post about being the only one that can release yourself from them? Really hit a nerve.

Can I honestly say I won't drink ever again?  No.  But I need to grow up and take responsibility for these little problems.  I need to be conscious about when I drink and why.  I need to know deep down that although I haven't hit a bottom that a bottom is out there.  

Waiting for me. 

And so, we are all alike and we are all different.  Maybe some of us dive down the rabbit hole.  Maybe others trip and fall and wake up wondering how the hell it happened.  And maybe some of us creep right up to the side and take a good, long look at the abyss and then scamper away down the hillside and make a decision to just f-cking deal. 

To breathe.  To cope.  To accept life on its own terms.  Without the slight buzz.  That is now my new problem.  

And my blessing. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rehab Diaries, Part Three: High Security

By Robin. I blog, here and at Its Own Terms, to share my story, and to hear yours. Part One of Rehab Diaries is here. Part Two is here. Please stay in touch.

In my treatment center, there were cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom. They kept tasers in the nurses’ station and no one was allowed to go anywhere alone. The two huge steel doors that led in and out of the ward required remote sensors, and a 30-foot wall surrounded the smoking porch. While I was there one kid did manage to get about halfway up before losing his nerve.

In truth it wouldn't have been all that hard to escape. The nurses weren't that great at keeping track of where everyone was all the time and the burliest security guards were assigned to another ward, the one where they kept the really psychotic people. It wouldn’t have taken much effort to get around the ancient ladies who pushed our cafeteria cart in and out, three times a day. An accomplice would have made it almost too simple.

No, it was clear from the beginning that we were not held in by guards or by fences, really, but by our own booby-trapped minds.

Most of the time, of course, we didn't think about any of this. We were busy. We were awakened before 6:00 AM for morning vital signs -- no one ever figured out why they banged on our doors so early, it wasn’t like we had anywhere to go -- and our last group ended at dinner. In between, there was reading and journal writing and doctors' rounds and classes to teach us good sober habits. A few times a week we were taken outside onto the grounds for a miserable walk in the blazing sun and on Saturday nights they ordered in pizza -- can you imagine being that delivery guy? -- and rolled a movie.

Turns out sensations can keep you pretty occupied, too. Physically each of us was feeling either lousy or terrific, depending on the stage of detoxification we were experiencing. In addition to that kind of feeling we were dealing with emotions: dark, scary ones that hid around corners and under beds, teeth bared and claws unsheathed. Our counselors cheerfully nodded, pleased with our "progress," while we shook and moaned and raged and sobbed.

The last thing any of us felt was grateful to be sober. We might experience a twinge of gladness here and there because someone smiled at us for the first time in forever or because we had "three hots and a cot," as they say, but by and large we were so ambushed by sensations that the last thing anyone could imagine was staying that way. People do this -- feel -- on purpose? Stop talking crazy and someone get me a damned drink already. 

Because that, you know, a drink, would do the trick, this much we each knew full well. We'd each lived -- forever, it felt like -- in our own airless prisons, trapped inside our heads with those dedicated jailers, Mr. Pain and Sgt. Fear. Never mind that we’d built the prisons ourselves, they’d been constructed under duress, like the guy in the movie who is forced to dig his own grave. Don’t bother asking why he does that if they’re going to kill him anyway; in that kind of situation you don’t think rationally.

So that, in case you were curious, is really the hardest first step toward sobriety. Not putting down the drink or asking for help or admitting you have a problem – after all, haven’t we all done those things, over and over and over, perhaps? No, the hardest first step is to stare down those prison walls, the ones you’ve built yourself, and knowing – accepting, really, because that’s all that will do it – accepting that no one can destroy them but their architect, namely you.

It’s knowing that you’re going to have to dig your way out with your bare hands, facing whatever demons your newly exposed brain wants to throw at you. And knowing that in doing so you’ll bleed and weep and stumble.

And it is knowing – accepting, really, ‘cause that’s all that will do it – accepting that you can do this because if you do not, if you cannot do this, there is no escape, no pardon, no other way out.