Note from Stef: Sometimes more than a week goes by between DGDF posts. If you have one, please send it my way so I can keep this going! And if you relate to any of the stories you read here, you can get support and look into your drinking further by going to the Booze Free Brigade .
It’s been 6 months today (Nov 1st) since my last drink, but I started writing this story over 10 years ago. My journey here was slow and insidious. I’d been drifting, sliding downward.
In a journal from 2002, I found a page with nothing but this:
“10/5, full bottle cheap Cote du Rhone
10/6, nothing (hung-over)
10/8, 1 small sake, 1 large Sapporo, 1 bloody Mary on the plane
10/9, 4-5 glasses of wine = too much!
10/10, 2 glasses of white wine at dinner
10/11, half a beer”
2004: “This week I have had 3 days without drinking, but the other 3, I’ve had way too much. I can’t decide if I should drink tonight even though I’m making the chicken sauce.”
2005: “Lately it’s been tough for me to go more than 48 hours without having a glass of wine or some sort of alcoholic drink. I’ve been wondering what it might be like to drink less. I mean, when I do not drink for a day or two, I feel good. What leads me to open the next bottle? I’ve forgotten other ways to unwind.”
2006: “I drink too much. I need to stop, or else I’m never going to be happy, have integrity, or lose weight. If I don’t stop drinking, I’ll have a horrible marriage and be a bad parent. I might even do someone harm… I feel ashamed. Out of control. Like I am pathetic. Like I always need some bad habit/ destructive force in my life.”
I went to my first AA meeting sometime in 2007. I had called in sick to work because of a terrible hang over from drinking the equivalent of 2+ bottles of wine at my parents’ house on a Sunday night. I don’t remember the meeting. I was too frozen to speak, too frozen to cry. I did not go back.
I knew that the daily recommended alcohol intake for women was 1 drink per day. I told myself that being half Irish should allow me to double that figure. 14 drinks per week was a good week, a controlled week for me. “If you have to control it, then it’s already out of control,” said Nicole Daedone, a teacher who inspires me. Drink-tracking only proved what I already knew to be true.
My husband is a normal drinker, a quality I wanted in a mate. However, I was taken aback when he confronted me about alcohol. I embarrassed him at parties. I vomited in his brand new car. I started hiding bottles. I promised to change, and asked him to help me limit my drinks. Invariably, I’d shoot him nasty looks when he suggested I’d had enough. I’d told my husband that I drink because there is an empty hole inside me that can never be filled. He was saddened because part of him wished our love could fill that. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I hoped that becoming a parent would relieve that emptiness.
I was hung over the morning the pregnancy test turned positive. Quitting drinking while pregnant wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. I missed the ritual, but my attention was on baby anticipation. I thought I could not be a true alcoholic if it was so easy to stop for 9 months. After she was born, I was “good:” a glass of wine here, a single beer there. “It helps the milk come down,” everyone said. Slowly I worked my way up. I bought test strips for alcohol in milk. I pumped and dumped. One night, I pumped and was drunk enough to decide that it would be a good idea to mix the “boozy” breast milk with “sober” milk to dilute it. I loved my child more than anyone or anything in the world, yet there I was, sitting on the kitchen floor actually putting alcohol into her bottles.
The baby started sleeping through the night, but I no longer did. I woke up multiple times, my mind wrangling with anxieties. I told myself (my family, my doctors) that it was due to hormones, stress, being accustomed to the nighttime feedings, and I never considered that drinking was a contributing factor. I got a prescription for Ambien.
Pretty soon it was a nightly ritual: I’d come home from work or school, drink 1-2 glasses while fixing dinner, 1-2 during dinner, leaving 1 ½ glass for my husband, put our little girl to bed, and open bottle #2. Occasionally, he worked late, and I’d be feeling resentful about the isolating aspects of motherhood so I’d finish bottle #1 and open bottle #2, and pretended it was the first. I took sleeping pills while drunk. I went to the dark-side more often. I blacked out more often.
Every once and awhile, I’d Google “alcoholic mother” or “high functioning alcoholic.” I paid for a year membership for an online drinking moderation program, and used it for 2 weeks. I barely enjoyed drinking anymore, but looked forward to the relief. I began to drink more in the daytime. I dreamt that my family held an intervention. I had another dream that an ex boyfriend was in recovery and came to make amends.
My marriage had gotten shaky, and we were seeing a couple’s therapist. My alcohol use came up.
“I drink to disappear, to escape,” I said.
“So why do you hate yourself?” the therapist asked.
Rage filled my chest. I wanted to grab a hardcover book off her shelf and hurl it at her face. “I don’t hate myself,” I stammered, defensively. “I just have so many feelings… and this empty hole inside me… I don’t know what else to do.”
I knew exactly what to do, but it took another 6 months to start. Within those months our beloved dog died, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, and a neighbor committed suicide. Each time was a reason to drink. My husband and I kept going to therapy, started practicing sitting meditation, and also Orgasmic Mediation. I joined a parenting support group. I needed all the help I could get, but deep down, I knew none of these tools to would truly help me while I was disappearing into the fuzzy haze of wine 4-6 nights a week.
I developed a sense of curiosity about the woman I would be if I did not drink. I joined the booze free brigade online support community. Someone in my area reached out to me personally. It felt like I had no choice but to say yes. Yes, I’ll go to a meeting. Yes, I’d like your number. Yes, I’d like you to be my sponsor. The feeling of no choice was surrender: I didn’t want to be behind the wheel anymore. I didn’t want to control it.
The first few meetings I refused to say alcoholic out loud. “My name is Thea and I want to stop drinking,” and “My name is Thea and I’m not saying it yet.” At my fifth meeting, the speaker suggested the topic of freedom. Through tears I shared; “I am an alcoholic, and admitting that is freedom.”
The past 6 months have been wonderful, painful, and strange. Every time I go to a meeting, I hear at least one person mention the emptiness or void they’ve felt inside. It’s liberating to know that I am not alone. I’m connecting more with other people, and am less afraid of messing up. I’m learning to speak up instead of stuffing my feelings down with drinking and rationalizations.
I still wake up in the morning sometimes and think, “Okay, how bad is it going to be? i.e. How much did I drink last night?” but I am no longer surprised to remember that I don’t drink anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it right, working the steps hard enough, or giving enough to support others. I am still in early sobriety and there is a long journey ahead.
I hope that if anything I’ve written today, or years ago in my journals, resonates with you, that you will become curious about the freedom. Perhaps when someone offers you a lifeline, you will say yes. And even when it’s hard, you will say yes to the woman (mother, friend, wife) you’d be if you didn’t drink, and yes to the emotional richness that is available beyond the struggle.