My story begins as a 6 year old child. The day the life I think I might have had ended. I’m building my new life now and telling this story is a start.
I grew up in an affluent neighborhood filled with doctors, judges, college professors, and politicians. On the outside it was picture perfect. Nice homes, nice families, nice kids.
I lived with both of my parents and although they drank socially they are not alcoholics. My relationship with my mother did not match the ideal neighborhood. Outside of the home we were the Cleavers, inside the home she was difficult, and both physically and verbally abusive. I was afraid of her moods and my sister and I did our best to keep her happy. My dad was mostly absent or oblivious as he worked on a graduate degree in addition to working full-time. In the battle to keep my mom happy and to stay safe, my sister, older by 4 years, was my biggest ally. I often went to her for comfort when things were particularly bad at home or at night when I was afraid of the dark and storms.
I spent many summer days and evenings traveling our perfect neighborhood with my best friends while my parents enjoyed cocktails and games with theirs. Winters were spent in a similar fashion inside and the kids ruled/policed themselves in a rotation of basements.
Our favorite game was Capture the Flag. In addition, the older kids on the block built a fort in the woods that was the pride of those granted entry and the envy of those that were not. Access to the “club” was invite only and the clear leaders were 2 older brothers whose father was a judge.
I was invited to join the “club” by my older sister along with my 2 best friends when I was six. Initiation into the club was performed in a dark basement and involved acts of sexual abuse performed by the older kids. I was the last to be initiated and by the time it was my turn the oldest boys were amped up by their experience and were increasingly violent. All participated, including my sister. I left that basement bleeding and in tears.
Threats from the older kids, as well as fear of my mom and her reaction, cemented my decision to never tell anyone what had happened that night and I convinced my friends to do the same. I wish I could say that it stopped there, that the one evening was the end of my pain. It was the beginning. Following that incident my sister began to sexually abuse me in our home. The person that was my biggest comfort became a source of tremendous pain. The abuse stopped when I turned 12 and finally stood my ground and was willing to accept any threats and consequences of that decision. I never spoke of any of these experiences to anyone.
In that basement I lost my innocence and I believe to this day that what occurred there, along with the circumstances within my own home, set off a chain of events that forever altered the path of my life. I was left with both physical and emotional damage. I felt a hole inside of me that felt dirty. I experienced a deep level of shame that over the years has grown like a cancer. I felt a constant need for approval and an unquenchable thirst for success as a way to erase my pain. I experienced nightmares and was terrified of sex.
My coping skill was to attempt to be as perfect as possible. I had to be the best at everything I did and I always thought that the next big thing I accomplished would be the thing that would erase my pain and fill that hole. On the outside I looked like a superstar, on the inside I was slowly falling apart. I developed an eating disorder while trying to find something I could control in my life. I spent 10 years thinking that starving myself was the answer. I was not a drinker yet, it was too many calories and it did not fit with my perfectionism. Instead, I was the designated driver and the “responsible one” that everyone else teased but called when they needed a ride home.
I met my husband during this time and I hid the seriousness of my problems from him. We dated long distance and I managed to look totally together on the weekends and would then fall apart during the week. When he asked me to marry him I was both thrilled and terrified. I knew he fell in love with the woman I portrayed on the outside and did not know the awfulness on my insides. He had no idea how much I dreaded and hated sex. I felt like a fraud. I married him anyway because I loved him and he took care of me, he took me away.
Our first year of marriage was a disaster but was the impetus for me getting treatment for my eating disorder. I spent time hospitalized and in intensive outpatient. I still did NOT talk about my abuse, but I did find meaningful recovery from my food obsessions and the next several years of my life were pretty good. I discovered that with a glass or 2 of wine I could manage a sex life. My career was skyrocketing and I loved the professional success, my marriage was stable, and I had 2 beautiful children. I battled periods of depression, but I managed with medication and therapy.
I found a therapist that I loved and trusted. For the first time, at the age of 33, I began to talk about the abuse from my childhood. It has been a slow and painstaking process. I have spent many years pretending that it didn’t happen and then convincing myself that I was a willing participant and therefore at fault. It is not easy to rewire that thought process and for every step forward I feel like I follow it with 2 steps back. Drinking became a wonderful way to escape the shame/guilt spiral. My life felt overwhelming, 2 kids, a high pressure career, a desire to be the perfect employee, wife, mother, friend, neighbor. I needed a level of perfection that was impossible to achieve to even feel worthwhile. Perfection was no longer enough. Hard painful work at therapy was stirring up painful emotions that I didn’t want to feel and a glass of wine or two at the end of the day seemed like the perfect answer.
From there the downward spiral was fast. Fast forward a year and a half and a glass or 2 of wine had become a bottle or more a day. I began to hide my drinking from my husband, I had blackouts. I was and continue to be obsessed with alcohol. How much did I have on hand, is it enough? How can I drink more without people noticing? I was full of shame, guilt, and hatred towards myself. My life felt worthless and unlivable. I found myself in a hotel room with 2 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of sleeping pills, letters to my dear sweet children and husband, and the intention to end my life. I’m still not sure what stopped me from acting on my plan that night, but I will feel forever grateful that I did not.
I found the Booze Free Brigade through an article in a magazine. I found a group of women and a few men, with successful careers, mothers who also struggled with balancing it all, women who are not afraid to be real even when it is ugly. Women that may or may not also have experiences like mine, but offer support in a way that I never dreamed possible. I know that I was drawn to the group for a reason. I still struggle with the idea that I am an alcoholic, but what I do know right here, right now, is that alcohol is running my life in a way that I am not ok with. It is ruining my life. My children deserve more, my husband deserves more, I DESERVE MORE.
I am working hard at building a life I can be proud of. I am giving that six year old girl a second chance at the life she should have had. It’s not easy and I have many bumps on the road ahead of me. I am going to take this journey SOBER with the help of my therapist and BFB. This is where my story begins…
Note from Stef: Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. I know the holidays are tough for many of us. Don’t be shy to join the Booze Free Brigade and ask for help!