My name is Jennifer and I am an alcoholic. And a drug addict. I have been in recovery for 15 years, since I was 20 years old. On January 29'th I will have 2 years sober.
Based on the above figures, it is obvious that my sobriety path has had some forks in the road. I was sober for ten solid years, during which time I got two master's degrees, began a career as the clinical director of drug and alcohol treatment center, and got married. In my career, I helped create a nationally based drug and alcohol prevention program for Jewish teens. My entire identity was based on being sober. I had never even taken a legal drink, and my husband had no personal knowledge of my alcoholism. No matter how many stories I told him about the out of control girl running around New York City drunk and high as a kite, he had a hard time matching that image with the accomplished and seemingly well-balanced woman he had chosen to marry.
I spent my days working as a psychotherapist to low bottom alcoholics and drug addicts. People alternatively sentenced to treatment from prisons and jails. Young men and women who had lost everything and been forced by their families into rehab. Moms whose addiction had caused them to lose their children.
I remember the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I were elated, and I felt deeply rooted in my sobriety, career and life.
At 8 months pregnant, my husband's mom died suddenly, and it took much of his time and energy to process his shock and grief over this loss. After I had my son, my mom's cancer (which had been in remission for several years) returned full force and she was given 2 years to live. I was flattened by postpartum depression and anxiety, which despite my clinical background, totally pulled the rug out from under me.
My return to alcoholism and addiction began slowly and insidiously. My anxiety was so severe that I found myself unable to eat or sleep for several days in a row. My OB prescribes a low dose of Ativan to help me. It worked beautifully.
I began to question whether I was ever really an alcoholic. After all, doesn't every one party when they are in college? Granted, not everyone goes to Harlem in the middle of the night to score drugs off the street. Nor do normal college kids have take a medical leave from school because their drinking and drugging is so out of control. But I was convinced that as an adult and a mother, I could now handle drinking responsibly. I cleverly found a therapist to tell me that she didn't think I was an alcoholic, and she even encouraged me to try drinking again. I hadn't had a drink in so many years, I didn't even know what to order. "What do you like to drink?" I asked her.
"White wine," she replied, with a small smile, "I love to have a glass of cold white wine at the end of the day." My husband and I went to Vegas and I ordered my first glass of white wine in over ten years.
I wish I could say my story ended here- that I had somehow grown out of my alcoholism and could enjoy that ubiquitous glass of wine at the end of the day without consequence. Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well for me. I spent the next few years battling alcoholism and addiction. I stayed sober during my second pregnancy and controlled my drinking while nursing. At 7 months pregnant my mom's cancer took a major turn for the worse. She died exactly two weeks before my daughter was born. After I brought my baby girl home from the hospital, the grief, pain, sadness and anxiety I felt was indescribable.
I had all the rationalizations. I believed I was a better mom when I was under the influence of pills and alcohol. I was more relaxed, more able to deal with the stress of raising young children, more present, more in the moment, generally happier and able to function. I prided myself on the fact that I was never abusive. I never screamed at my children or put my hands on them in anger. I took them to the park and made them organic, homemade baby food. I had the perfect image of peaceful "earth mama" down pat. I somehow believed that this persona mitigated my alcoholism and addiction, which was now spiraling out of control.
I knew I needed to get sober again. When I wasn't under the influence, my anxiety was off the charts. I literally felt like I was jumping out of my skin. I kept breaking my own rules: no drinking until they were asleep was quickly replaced by holding out until 6pm, then 5pm, then 4pm. I needed more and more of those little pills to simply get me through the day. My husband was terrified, but didn't quite know what to do because he had never dealt with an addict before and I was such a brilliant liar and rationalizer (as all alcoholics and addicts must be to justify their using.)
Things got really bad. Without going in to all the gratuitous details, my husband came home on a Friday afternoon and told me the jig was up. Unless I could immediately get sober, he was sending me to a detox treatment center for 28 days the following Monday Of course, I couldn't stop drinking and using. I was in the middle of a run and my body was completely physically addicted. On Monday morning, he dropped me off kicking and screaming at a treatment facility. In that moment, I was a desperate, broken mother who had come within millimeters of losing my children because of my addiction. I knew that I had to get sober or I would lose everything.
I never thought my alcoholism would progress enough to warrant me having to go into treatment. Being separated from my children during that time was the most painful experience of my life. I was dripping in shame. I felt like the worst mother in the world. It took me a long time to realize that my addiction didn't care about my children. It didn't care about my family, my accomplishments, my master's degrees, or my career. It only cared about getting me drunk and high, isolated and alone. That is the very essence of the malady.
The guilt and shame that alcoholic and drug-addicted moms feel is overwhelming. We really believe that we are worthless as mothers if we can't even stay sober for our children. What I learned in recovery the first time (and had to relearn the second time around) is that it is not my fault that I am an alcoholic, but I am responsible for treating it. Sobriety is the foundation of my life now. I truly understand that without my sobriety, I cannot function as a wife, a mother, a friend, a therapist and a writer.
If you are reading this and finding yourself relating to parts of my story, please know that there is a way out of this destructive cycle. You are not alone.
stef's note: Thank you so much Jennifer for sharing your story. Lives are being saved by not keeping this "in the closet" anymore! Jennifer's website is http://www.jenniferginsberg.com/ (from there you can get to her fabulous blog and other site as well) Jennifer also offers groups and individual therapy if you live in the LA area.
For anyone who is struggling, please come share on our Yahoo group (which is already HUGE) or look in the front of the phone book. There is help.
For anyone who would like to turn this into a Lifetime movie, uh yeah!