Friday, August 31, 2012

Daughter of an Alcoholic Speaks Her Truth

A note from Ellie:  alcoholism and addiction is a disease that impacts everyone around the addict/alcoholic.  Especially family.  Every now and then we like to post submissions from family members/loved ones; to remind us all how this disease consumes not just the alcoholic but those around them.  


***Submitted by Anonymous

I am the daughter of an alcoholic. 

I am an adult myself – 32 years old, with three young children, ages 5, 3, and 1. 

My mother has not met my youngest two children at all. My oldest has met her but the only thing he remembers is her having a breakdown and sobbing uncontrollably. He asks about it and I am not sure what to tell him except that Grandma is sick. 

She has been an active alcoholic for most of my life, but was somewhat functional when my sister and I were children. However for the past four years she has really gone downhill and for the past year and a half she has not left her house except to buy more booze. She does not have a job and is spending all of the money she had previously saved for retirement – which I think might run out soon, but I am not sure, since she does not want to tell me the extent of it. She has many brothers and sisters, and of course, her children. We all love her dearly and have tried many different approaches – from staying with her for a week or two and helping her get “back on track” to formal interventions with a counselor. 

She has been to a few different rehab places, although nothing long-term. 

Nothing has worked. 

Now I am trying to practice detaching with love, but it is very hard for me. 

Every time I talk to her I feel like my heart is shattering into a thousand pieces. My sister has gone to her doorstep but she will not let anyone in. She occasionally calls on the phone but I am not sure what to say. 

She says that she cannot imagine any different future except drinking herself to death. 

I am not sure how to convey to her that I love her and I want her to recover, without her thinking I am trying to make her feel guilty. I cannot help thinking – what is wrong with me? If only I were better in some way, she might love me enough to choose another future. 

I made up a photo book of me and of her grandchildren and sent it to her, thinking that might incite her to choose to get some help. But then I think maybe it made it worse – because she was getting a “reward” of seeing her grandchildren even though her actions make it clear she does not want to meet them. She says that she has no interest in seeing any of us again. 

I feel so powerless – there is nothing I can do in the face of this addiction. 

I still call once a week, but now I do not tell her things about the children any more. I think that is petty behavior but I cannot help it. It is the only thing I can control. I alternate between sadness and anger. I try to be compassionate but I am not sure what to do to help her.  I get mad and defensive and act like a child – you hurt me, so now I will hurt you, by withholding information. She does not seem to care. I tell her that I know it seems bad now, but she cannot change the past, only the future, and ask if she wants a different future than drinking herself to death. But she says that she does not.

I am at a loss. 

I look at my own beautiful children and I cannot imagine ever treating them this way. I have no idea what it will take for her to wake up and have a moment of clarity about her addiction but I pray every day that it comes soon, before she dies.

Why doesn’t my own mother love me? She says that she remembers that she loved me once, but she cannot feel it any more. I wish there were something I could do to change this situation. I have only (my attempts at) loving detachment and prayers. But those are not enough thus far. I am failing at detachment and this is really affecting my life. 

There is not a second that goes by that I don’t think about her.

I feel like it is negatively affecting my own mothering. I am not present for my children like I should be. I cry. My children notice and ask me what is wrong. I feel terrible for putting this burden on them. I am not sure how to let go and this is just tearing me apart. 

The mother-child relationship is the most primal of all things. And I feel rejected by the one who is supposed to love me the most. What is wrong with me? What is wrong with her? Why me? Why us? Why anyone? 

She had a hard childhood but so did I (thanks, alcoholic mom!) and so do a lot of people. No one is perfect, but I am trying to be better every day. But she does not care to even try. She is slipping away and I have no idea how to stop it. At this point I fear that the constant drinking has taken such a toll that she will have physical problems for the rest of her life even if she does stop drinking.

I would love to hear from anyone about what I can do here, how to manage my own feelings and my own life without being crushed by sadness every second of every day. I know for my mom, there is nothing I can do to get her into recovery until she wants it herself. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Which I Answer The Question I Get The Most

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

A note from Ellie: I don't usually post things from my own personal blog here: your stories are so important and your voices help so many, that I would rather read your words than broadcast my own. But, for whatever reason, I have gotten many more emails than usual lately asking the exact same question, so I thought I'd post this here, too.  Thanks for reading, thanks for your emails and most of all thanks for helping to keep me sober with your own brave words


How did you do it? people who are struggling want to know.   How did you stop?

This question makes me itchy, but it is the question I'm asked the most.

It makes me itchy because there is no one way to get sober, and nobody is an authority on how it is done.  But just like I share my stories of drinking and addiction, hoping someone can see themselves in my words and find some measure of comfort, I realize it's okay to talk about my recovery the same way.

I don't like giving advice.  I like sharing stories.  But on some level, I guess, they are one and the same.

Looking back on it now, I can see two main things that kept me sober even when I really didn't want to stop drinking:  talking and breaking patterns.

I found sober women.  I found them in recovery meetings - I didn't know where else to look, and I knew they would be there, so that is where I went.   A lot about meetings was completely overwhelming at first, and much of it was downright off-putting, to be honest.  But the people, OH - the people.  It was such a relief to talk to people who understood, who weren't pointing their fingers at me and asking: why did you? or how could you?  or what's wrong with you? 

I came to understand that these people were safe, that I could pour out my feelings and my truths, share the burden of my shame with them and lighten my load.  They didn't have magical answers, but they would nod their heads in empathy and understanding, and just the act of unloading made me feel light, free and hopeful.

Some people were full of advice - lots of  you should do this and you shouldn't do that.  I listened to all of it, discarded the advice that didn't work for me and embraced the advice that did. At first the advice felt crippling; I was caught up in the 'right' way to get sober, and felt like I was doing it all wrong.  Finally, one of my new good recovery friends gently pointed out that the idea was to find the way that worked for me.

"Are you drinking?" she asked.

When I replied that I wasn't, she smiled and said, "Well, then whatever you're doing is working."

Even when I wasn't sure at all why I was there, I kept going to meetings, because for all of my confusion I felt safe there, my mind quieted and I felt peaceful. So I kept going. I found the people that helped me the most and I clung to the them for dear life.  I am not a clinger, and falling back into their arms is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but it worked.

I talked.  A lot.  I talked wide-eyed in wonder about the all the feelings I had, the ones that I had stuffed down for so long.  I was so angry - at myself, at the fact that I was an alcoholic and couldn't drink.  I was so scared.   How was I going to navigate life without the soothing effects of wine?   These people understood why I felt that way, because they had lived it, too.  When I would ask people not in recovery how I would live without alcohol, they would blink and say, "well, just don't drink!"

In response to the same question someone in recovery would say, "it seems impossible, doesn't it? But it is possible, although it's going to get harder before it gets easier, so hang on tight and keep on talking."

The other important part of my early recovery was breaking patterns.  I looked at my triggers and could see there were times of day, situations and feelings that always made me want to drink.   It was hard to look at my triggers, because the number one item on the list was my kids.  Admitting my kids were my biggest trigger, and having safe people to talk to about it, was the turning point in my early recovery.

The toughest time of day was late afternoon and early evening, and I spent the first couple of months white-knuckling it, muddling through, until I followed the advice to change my patterns.  During the tough hours I would talk to another recovering alcoholic on the phone, go for a walk or lose myself in video games or mindless movies.   I had two small kids at home, so I couldn't just escape any time I wanted to, but I would pile them into the car and head to the playground at 5:30pm if I had to.   I walked in a different door of my house for a while. I rearranged furniture and I cleaned like a maniac.  It didn't matter what I did, really, as long as it helped me get out of my head for a little while.

I slept a lot.  Life was so bright, loud and chaotic, and the feelings were so pointy without the numbing effects of alcohol, that sometimes my brain would simply shut down.  It took me some time to understand that sleep was a safe way to escape, to drop away for a while, so I didn't beat myself up about it, although it freaked my family out.  Seeing me sleep at odd times of the day was a trigger for them, and with the help of other recovering people I found the words to explain to my family how I was feeling, why I needed to shut down sometimes.

But the single most important thing I did in early recovery, was get honest, both with myself and with other people.  Those things I didn't want to think about, let alone talk about?  I started thinking about them and talking about them.  I wrote in a journal, before I started this blog.  Honesty is the antidote for denial, and denial keep you stuck.

And lastly, I stopped drinking. Such a simple thing, but it is the hardest step.

If you are trying to stop and you physically can't, get help.  Talk to a doctor, or go to rehab.  Rehab is such a nasty word, isn't it?  To me it smelled of failure, of bottom-of-the-barrel drinkers.  I wasn't expecting to find other Moms, other smart, funny, creative and interesting people who were just like me, but that's what I found.  Rehab isn't a dirty word; it is a place of healing, and it is full of people who will understand you, and get you safely sober and on the path towards recovery.

If you can physically stop but your mind goes nuts, start talking.  If you are triggered because you're irritated - be irritated.  Get to the other side of an unpleasant emotion without the numbing effect of alcohol.  Be in it, ride it out.   And then do it again and again.   Get through anger, hurt, resentment and boredom.  You can do this on your own, but it is miserable, so find safe people - ideally sober people - and start talking.

You can find sober people at meetings, or in chat rooms, or on blogs.  I get emails every week from people who say: "I've never said this to anyone before, but I think I'm an alcoholic", or "I can't stop drinking, even though I want to."   I know exactly how brave it is to admit that to yourself and to someone else, and it makes my heart soar because I know this person just broke through denial and gave themselves a fighting chance at sobriety.

Sober people are the bravest people I've ever met.  They are authentic and compassionate, and they exist in the truth.  It is a beautiful, beautiful place to live.

Come join us.  It's amazing here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Knows She Is An Alcoholic. Wants To Stop. But Can't.

***Submitted by Justine

I am in a committed relationship and am fortunate enough to be the mother of an amazing little boy.  I am under no illusions about the fact I am an alcoholic.  We have a lot to be grateful for and still, I drink.  My partner is loving and generous and this is how I continue to behave.

I’ve always had a “problem” with alcohol.  The writing was on the wall before I had my first drink.  I grew up in an environment where binge drinking was accepted as the normal way to let your hair down and enjoy yourself.  I was raised as a Catholic in an Australian rural area with a lot of Irish heritage (including the alcoholic relatives, priests & family friends!).  As a child I remember most adults I knew drank to excess on Friday’s, Saturdays and whenever there was a social occasion.  Everyone apart from mum. 

My father used to be a big drinker.  At least once a week he’d have a few too many at the pub then, after driving home, take his frustrations out on us.  He would overreact to any perceived disobedience or annoyance and belt us with the strap (his belt).  I remember being hit so many times, including with the buckle that I wasn’t allowed to wear my summer school uniform because of the visible bruises.  I had to wear pants.  I remember mum crying begging him to stop hitting me.

Being raised Catholic didn’t resonate with me at all.  I saw so much hypocrisy and I rebelled against their rules (be a nice girl etc).  As soon as I left home I busied myself with partying.  I can’t remember when my drinking changed from weekend binges to drinking each evening, but I know it was in my early 20’s.  I’m now 40.  

I’ve been fortunate not to have ended up in serious trouble if you don’t count two divorces, one from an incredibly vicious, violent man, a DUI in my mid-20’s, lots of wasted money and several other failed relationships including a long running affair with a married man who had his own substance addiction problem.

During my second marriage, the stress of living with a jealous psychopath fuelled my drinking to unprecedented levels, even for me.  I used alcohol to cope with his behaviour and used it to numb my fear after I escaped his tyranny.  It was then I engaged in counselling for PTSD.  That counsellor was fabulous at the PTSD side of things but was not equipped to counsel my alcohol addiction.  She referred me to a psychiatrist, who was clearly an alcoholic himself.  I went twice but didn’t buy what he was selling.  You can’t bs a bs-er.

So I struggled on, always wanting to drink less, to be in control of my drinking without succeeding.  

Several years after leaving my 2nd husband, I had undergone a reasonable amount of healing and embarked on a relationship with my current partner.  The first night we were together, I had a blackout.  It was a combination of alcohol and PTSD because I went into a flashback then passed out.

That didn’t scare him off.  Soon after, he took me to a party to meet some of his friends.  Everyone was drinking, my partner was driving and he doesn’t usually get drunk.  It does not appeal to him.  I certainly got drunk and ended up saying nasty things to a girl I decided I didn’t like and completely embarrassed him.  He didn’t say anything about it the following day and, as far as I know, he hasn’t kept in touch with any of those people.  Another outburst occurred when I got drunk at his new company’s first Christmas party.  I became paranoid about him talking to a female business associate, and then apparently completely abused him in front of everyone at the party.  I can’t remember it but it must have been terrible because he didn’t come home that night and the next morning completely lost it with me and was set to leave.

I was humiliated and grovelled and apologized and somehow convinced him that I was worth staying with.  Since then he has virtually turned a blind eye to my alcohol abuse.  He’s hoping I’ll sort it out one day.  He mentions it occasionally.

I stopped drinking as soon as I found out I was pregnant and didn’t drink for the first six months of my son’s life, but then stress crept up on me and before I knew it, I had started abusing alcohol again.  Planning my days around my child but also factoring in enough time to buy wine and ensuring I had enough for the night. 

Given my history with alcohol it was always on the cards that I might not be able to stay sober or in control of my drinking after becoming a mother, especially given the stresses of new parenthood.

When my rational mind looks at the situation, I think “what an irresponsible mother, getting wasted every night after her son and partner go to bed”, but that doesn’t stop me.  I often think of the health consequences of my long term alcohol abuse.  I can’t imagine how my liver is fairing and I’m afraid of my elevated cancer risks, but as of yet, that hasn’t stopped me.

I know I want to stop.  I really do.  I want to wake up energized every morning instead of feeling like exhausted death warmed up.  My family deserve better and I deserve better.  I’ve been controlled and manipulated by alcohol for far too long.

I try to imagine the good things that will come from not drinking such as the body I could have.  I would lose some weight and have energy to exercise regularly.  I would stop loathing myself and feeling ashamed.  I might be able to make some close friends, instead of living in my foggy alcoholic bubble of confusion, remoteness and isolation.

Here’s hoping.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Gift of Gratitude

***Submitted by Alison, who devotes much of her time to MARR—a non-profit treatment center in Atlanta that provides lasting treatment through gender-specific programs.

A dear friend of mine is experiencing trouble in her marriage, and my heart breaks for her. While I am not at will to declare whether or not her husband is an alcoholic, I can say that alcohol is at the root of their troubles. Fifteen months into recovery myself, this subject hits way too close to home.

I entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous to save a seven-month marriage. But what I didn’t know then is that I would be saved along the way. My drinking had spiraled out of control to the point of unmanageability, but my denial ran too deep to claim powerlessness over alcohol. It took a relapse to understand that I am not in control—and haven’t been for quite some time.

I have learned so much about myself these last 15 months, but I have also had to ‘unlearn’ attitudes, behaviors and ways of thinking. My marriage has experienced great joys in recovery, but my husband and I are still as human as we were before I got sober. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines daily, surrendering to God’s will, fulfilling His purpose and taking responsibility for our part in everything.

Today I am more than sober—I am in recovery. I am thankful for the gift of gratitude, because when I am thankful, I am at peace. The 12 Steps teach me how to live each day to its fullest; when I stumble, I rely on God to bring me to my feet once again. I can look at life through clear lenses, and I can enjoy things as they are—not as I wished they would be.

I believe every prayer should be a little bit of please, a touch of thank you, a splash of forgive me, and a handful of requests for others. When my prayers are filled with far more pleading that God’s will bend to my own, I re-boot and focus solely on the things for which I am grateful. Recovery has allowed me to look deep within myself, as well as wait patiently for my Creator to respond in all things.

I am thankful God awakened this morning. I am thankful for my precious life just as it is—for my wonderful husband who supports and loves me for who I am, and for my children who remind me how to laugh. I am thankful that the breath of God is all around me, and I am thankful for this very moment. I am thankful for sobriety, freedom and new life. But most of all, I am thankful for the opportunity to be thankful. 

Life is truly a gift—that’s why it’s called the present.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Renee - How She's Feeling At Five Months Sober

*** Submitted by Renee, who blog at The Sober Party Girl

(note from Ellie - this was submitted in June, so the actual anniversary was then).

Today is my soberversary. Five Months. 
It’s funny…I remember when my kids were little people would ask how old my baby was and it begins with weeks, then months and then somewhere around two years, you switch from saying,,,”she is 22 months” to saying “she is 2 years old”. 
I think the soberversary’s are like that too. I remember how dumbstruck I was when I had been sober for two weeks. I really surprised myself with my determination. Then it was a month and then two and so on. Now, at five months sober, three months COMPLETELY sober (no nicotine or pot). 
I know, without a doubt, that I am going to make it a year. I said I would be sober a year and I will be. In the last few days I have found myself wrestling with the thoughts about whether I am an alcoholic or not, whether I will ever drink again or not. 
But this morning I committed to putting that internal dialogue to rest for the next several months. It doesn’t really matter one bit what the future holds. One of the main reasons I have been able to successfully quit drinking and smoking is because I told myself it was a game and that is would last one year. I have been exploring my own tendency to over indulge, not just in alcohol, but in EVERYTHING. I over-exercise, over-work, over-love, over-think, over-eat, I over-EVERYTHING. Figuring that out…the hunger I feel ALL THE TIME…is really what this year is about. Or at least that’s what it started out as. Now, things have shifted a little.
Sobriety is really more than simply the absence of alcohol. In order to be sober…at least for me…everything has had to change.
I can’t go the same places or hang out with the same people. I can’t numb the pain with a substance, instead I have to face it, I have to feel it. I can’t celebrate with alcohol anymore, instead I have to learn how to have fun without it. I have surprised myself on both of these accounts. It turns out that I am still fun without partying and even better…I can still  experience fun without it. And I have learned that I can deal with emotional situations without getting wasted. 
It is more difficult in the moment but in the long run, it is so much better. It is better because I haven’t done anything to humiliate myself in five months. I haven’t woken up once, wondering whether I did or said something stupid the night before. Dammit, I gotta tell you, that’s my favorite part of not drinking. That’s the thing that may keep me sober forever, the knowledge of never feeling that out of control, I did a bad thing, overwhelming shame. Opps…there I go again, thinking about forever. They call it “One Day at a Time” for a reason. 
Forever is a long time, today I can deal with.
The other surprise sobriety has brought is the realization of how disengaged I have been. I have been floating on the outskirts of my life. I work my ass off as a mom, as a wife, an employee. But generally, I have just been floating through it all, just on the edge of actively participating. It is a hard thing to change. I have only just begun to recognize the tendency I have towards this and I don’t know quite how to fix it.
I am reading a book I really like called: Cool, Hip and Sober by Bill Manville. It is a series of questions and answers from Bill’s radio show on recovery and addiction. I find it fascinating. One quote he uses several times in the book is “Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you acted wrongly the first time.” -Viktor Frankl after leaving Auschwitz
I like this quote because that is what sobriety feels like to me…a new life. A new opportunity to live life fully engaged. I suspect there are people who quit drinking and never do any work on themselves, the parts of their humanity that led them to overindulge. I hope the work I am doing to engage fully in my life will carry me into the next ten, twenty, and thirty years.
My final thought on my soberversary post is HALT. A friend mentioned this to me the other day and I liked it. Basically, it’s the belief that if you really want to be successful at quitting an addiction, you must never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. All four of these states can make it more difficult to remain sober. I can definitely see that on my worst days, I allowed myself to get hungry, angry, lonely or tired. I am actually tired right now. Feeling tired makes me crave cigarettes big time.
If you have stumbled across this blog and are worrying about your drinking, just quit. Tell yourself you are quitting for a designated amount of time and then do it. You won’t regret it. It has been the most important and smartest decision I have ever made. It has been hard. There have been days when I didn’t want to do it anymore. But there have been more days when I have felt fine, even happy at the way life looks through clear eyes.Writing about it has helped me. Some people really like AA. A few friends read and comment on online sobriety groups and that helps them get through it. Some people do it completely on their own…although I don’t know how they do it. I think that would be really tough.
But it’s good.
Sobriety is really, really good.
I can’t believe I said that.
Even more, I can’t believe I feel that.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Drinking, Anxiety, Fear, ADD and Motherhood

***Submitted by Anonymous

I am a mom of three, two in college. 

I have been drinking for about 9 years now, or almost half of my youngest's life.  

 Alcoholism runs in both sides of my family though neither of my parents were drinkers, their siblings and parents were. 

 I have ADD, diagnosed about 10 years ago.  

I am a nurse and know that I am slowly killing myself but can't seem to stop for more than 2 days at a time.  

Drinking quiets my anxiety and shame....about the state of my house (as my husband says, it looks halfway to being a hoarder's house), about feeling inadequate as a mother, friend, nurse, employee, wife......  

I can't do AA because I am afraid  admitting my problem in a public way will send me over the edge.  

My shame is too great now, never mind putting it out there to strangers.  I am so sad and full of regret over all the time wasted not really being there for my kids (either hungover or drunk) that that is all I can think about.  Empty nest syndrome is not helping, feeling I wasted time I can't ever get back.  

My ADD causes me to be slower about housework, organization, etc.  But so does the drinking, especially because when I drink I wake up at 2-3am and can't get back to sleep for an hour, making me exhausted for the next day, which continues the cycle of feeling inadequate because of fatigue, etc..  

My husband has MS but has not told the kids or anyone else.  The anxiety of what will happen in the future paralyzes me, but I know my drinking adds to that feeling.  

Yet every day, 4-4:30 pm comes, anxiety comes, and I convince myself alcohol will make me feel better about how little I got done today.  How to break out of this cycle???

I plan to try again, today to stop.  It is almost 3am.  

Today would have been my mother's 82nd birthday.  Maybe a good day to start? 

Thanks for all your stories.  I hope they can keep me going.  I am looking for a safe place to vent.  My husband doesn't speak about my drinking tho I am sure it distresses him.  

Help please.