When Someone You Love is an Alcoholic

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I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately – how things used to be and how things are today. It’s like black and white TV versus color. My life before I got sober is almost unrecognizable to me. On August 28th, I celebrated two years of sobriety and my husband would agree that the last two years have been the best of our almost 10 year marriage. I often wonder why me? Why was I one of the lucky ones who got to this point? The only thing I can come up with is by the grace of God. And, a husband who said, enough is enough.

In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve been approached by a number of people who are worried about a family members drinking. “What do I do?” they ask. “How can I get them to stop?” It’s really the million dollar question. And, I don’t pretend to have the answer. I can only share with them what I know from my experience and what worked for me. And, a few things I’ve learned along the way from Al-Anon.

First and foremost, you cannot make someone stop drinking.

But, you can take control of your environment and how you react to someone’s drinking. Believe me, you can yell at a person, bribe them and threaten them until you’re blue in the face and it’s not going to make them quit. The problem I see most often, is that the family has allowed the person who is drinking to have total control over their environment. I know because I did the same thing when I was drinking. Everyone tip-toes around the issue because God forbid you create a stir. No one wants to make an “issue” out of it despite the fact that the “issue” is ruining everyone’s life! People become so wrapped up in the drinker’s life, that they forget they have their own life to live. And, so the cycle begins: denial – enabling – denial – enabling. And, so on.

It’s a vicious cycle and the ones who get hurt the most are the family members. Heck, the drinker doesn’t care because they’re going along their happy way doing what they’ve always done. They have you right where they want you. Fearful and feeling helpless.

So, what do you do? You say enough is enough. You create boundaries. You tell the drinker you love them, but you do not love their drinking. You take control of your life and do what you need to do to reclaim a healthy environment for you and your family. Despite the fear of the unknown or the fear of others finding out your family’s “secret,” you reach out for help. If you’re living with the drinker, you pack up your things and leave. “But, I don’t have anywhere to go.” Yes, you do. There is ALWAYS a place to go or someone to call.

Alcoholism is a family disease. Living with the effects of someone else’s drinking is too devastating for most people to bear without help. – Al-Anon

When my husband sat me down and asked me if I was ready to stop drinking for good, I finally knew I had come to a fork in the road. I could either continue drinking and lose my marriage, my kids and everything I loved, or I could get help and stop drinking. For me, that’s what it took. For others, they might have to lose everything before they get to the point where they want to stop drinking. It’s not our decision to make as family members. First and foremost, we take care of ourselves and strive to live happy and joyous lives.

In Al-Anon we learn:

  • Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people
  • Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery
  • Not to do for others what they can do for themselves
  • Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink or behave as we see fit
  • Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds
  • Not to create a crisis
  • Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of event

“By learning to focus on ourselves, our attitudes and well-being improve. We allow the alcoholics in our lives to experience the consequences of their own actions.”

And, to those of you who drink or use, let me say this: you are not a bad person. More than likely, you have the disease of alcoholism or addiction. But, you want to know the really good news? Unlike cancer or other diseases, it’s curable. Yes, a curable disease! How did we get so lucky?! All you have to do is reach out and ask, and you will find the keys to the cure.

Before I end, let me ask those of you who drink or use two important questions that my husband once asked me. 1) What are you willing to lose in order to continue drinking or using and 2) Is the drink or drug more important to you than those you love? You would think those would be simple questions, but I had to think long and hard before answering them. Remember this, even those who love us can only take so much before they break.

 

 

I Take My Sobriety Seriously

Is anyone else a little pissed off? Less than a week after “we” all blogged about Robin William’s death and reemphasized how deadly addiction and depression can be, one of our fellow sober bloggers comes out and says that after almost three years of identifying as an alcoholic she’s decided she’s in fact not an alcoholic and therefore can drink again. WTF?!

I’ve been mulling over this ever since I read her post last night. First, I thought that maybe I should just send her a private message and express my feelings, but then I thought, “No. Nope. I need everyone to hear what I have to say.” I need to say this for all the other sober folks out there who are and will forever be alcoholics – like me.

I take my sobriety very seriously. It saved my family life, my marriage, my relationships – and ultimately I believe it saved my life. It gave me a second chance to live the life I always wanted and it is the sole reason I came to have a personal relationship with God.

We all have our own stories. And, no story is alike. I respect that. However, when someone who has identified as an alcoholic; shared their story and given advice to others in recovery suddenly changes their tune and publicly states that they’re in fact not an alcoholic, it is an insult to me and everyone else who has worked their asses off to achieve our sobriety.

I have all the respect in the world for those of us who relapse and come back to share our stories (I’ve been there). But, for someone to blatantly state that they are no longer an alcoholic and can now control or moderate their drinking, is a very dangerous message to those in recovery, especially early recovery.

I blog for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is to give hope to those who are in early recovery. Often times, this is the first place people will look when they’re trying to get sober. Whether it’s to remain anonymous or not, people come here to find support and encouragement. When I was first getting sober, I can’t tell you how many times I questioned whether or not I was REALLY an alcoholic. Everything pointed in the direction of me being an alcoholic, but I was looking for any excuse to not be one. I mean come on; who wants that label for the rest of their life? If I would’ve come across a post like the one I previously mentioned in early recovery, it would have given me one more reason to question my alcoholism.

Not only are messages like these dangerous for those in early recovery, but also for those of us with some long-term recovery. That cunning and baffling part of my disease still likes to rear its ugly head and challenge my sobriety. It’s like having a little devil on your shoulder that says, “Come on! Look at you! You’re so put together and everything is going great. Surly, you could have just one drink. Surly, you wouldn’t go back to where you were before.” And, that’s when I have to mentally squash that little devil because I know without a doubt that if I ever took even one drink again it would lead me exactly back to where I used to be. And, I truly believe it would kill me. Maybe not immediately; maybe not in a violent way, but, in the end, I believe I would die from alcohol-related reasons. I don’t know about you, but that scares the hell out of me and that’s something I’m not willing to risk – even for one drink.

I have had friends who have identified as alcoholics and addicts who ultimately decided that they could drink again. I don’t dislike them for making that decision, but I know for the safety of my own sobriety I can’t hang out with them anymore. Similarly, I don’t dislike my fellow blogger for the decision she ultimately made, however, I think sharing that decision with an audience of mostly sober people is irresponsible and dangerous.

It’s not my intent to create a big controversy, however, I think it’s important for those of us in recovery to defend our sobriety and remind others why we’re here.

The Struggle to Survive

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I was in my last year of college when I got diagnosed with depression and put on my first prescription of antidepressants. I now know leading up to that I had experienced my first mental break. I collapsed in my bedroom and my good friend at the time had to call my mom. She helped me pack my suitcase and I managed to get in my car the next day and drive home. I spent an entire week on my parents’ couch, mostly sleeping and only getting up to shower and eat. It was awful and scary. And, little did I know that I would continue to be plagued by those feelings for the rest of my life.

In graduate school, I was “officially” diagnosed with textbook Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which would manifest itself in severe compulsive activity and anxiety, which would then transfer to depression and feelings of despair. It was a horrible cycle and the only way I can describe it is like being stuck in quicksand. The more I tried to pull myself out of it, the deeper I sank. At the time, I had taken a break from my studies to regroup and was working at a nearby gym. I had an early morning shift and I vividly remember times driving back from work and thinking how easy it would be to just run my car off the road; and it would all be over. I felt guilty for the anguish and worry I was causing those around me and, in my desperation, I honestly thought it would be best for everyone if I was gone. Fortunately, the part of my brain that was rational was able to talk the manic and irrational side out of it. I was one of the lucky ones; or as I now believe, it was not God’s will for my life.

As the years went by, I would have good days and bad days. But, when my son was born, and I suffered from what I now believe was undiagnosed postpartum depression, I found refuge in drinking. Like many people who suffer from depression, drinking became my other “medicine.” It’s how I escaped the anguish, despair and loneliness I felt. I was ashamed that I couldn’t just “snap” out of it, which made me sink deeper and deeper into my despair. To those looking in from the outside, my life seemed happy and wonderful. However, at the time, I found little joy and happiness.

I share this because when people talk about the selfishness of those who commit suicide or state that suicide is a choice; I highly doubt that they have ever experienced the despair of depression and addiction. By no means do I agree that taking your life is the answer; I don’t. I believe that all life is a God-given gift to be treated with the utmost respect. But, I also believe, that like any disease left untreated, depression and addiction can and will kill you.

Those of us who do suffer from these diseases must take care of ourselves, which is why I couldn’t get to a meeting fast enough last night. I was starting to become complacent in my recovery. I wasn’t attending meetings, and just as I had heard from others’ experiences, I hit a wall. A day that was already filled with sadness from the anniversary of a close friend’s death, was exasperated with the news of Robin Williams’ death. And, with everything else going on in the world – it became too much. I felt myself begin to sink in that quicksand. The anger, anxiety and depressive thoughts were welling up inside of me and it scared me. Because, I know those feelings lead to a need for escape. The alcoholic in me doesn’t want to feel them; I want to drown them out until I get to a place of total and complete numbness.

So, when my husband got home, I high tailed it out of our house and drove to a new women’s meeting I had been wanting to go to. And, the minute I walked in and was greeted with smiles and hugs, I was able to breathe again. I was with my people. People who knew and understood the despair I was feeling. As we went around the room, we laughed over our crazy alcoholic stories and cried over this disease that has taken so many of us.

But, in the end, we all expressed how grateful we were to be there, in that meeting, not as addicts or alcoholics, but as survivors.

Today I am a survivor, but I know how quickly I could become a victim to this disease. We must be vigilant in our recovery and treatment – and we must ask for help.

 

Life In 6 Songs

I’m excited and honored to be featured over on Christy of Running on Sober’s blog today in her final series of “Life In 6 Songs.” Please click here to read more.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Sadie, who went to be with the angels one year ago today. She was my best friend’s little sister and continues to be missed each and every day. When we look back on our lives, we see people in the background who influenced us and helped to shape us into the people we are today. Sadie was one of those people.

How I Overcame the Stigma of Alcoholism

I recently had the opportunity to share my story of recovery and sobriety in a featured article for Florida Beach Rehab. Please visit the link below to continue reading.

I will never forget the first time I introduced myself as an alcoholic.

It was Super Bowl Sunday 2012 and, while everyone else I knew was drinking beer and eating bean dip, I was attending my first recovery meeting. The fear I had sitting in that room full of women was indescribable to anything I had ever experienced. And, as I heard myself utter the word “alcoholic” during introductions, I knew my life as I knew it would never be the same again because I had finally let the truth escape me.

 The “Perfect” Exterior Unravels

The months leading up to that first meeting were miserable. The harder I tried to hide my secret and keep it together, the worse it got. My “perfect” suburban life had started to unravel. No longer could the white picket fence, or the luxury SUV or the gym membership hide the reality of my drinking. On that fateful morning when my husband sat across from me on the couch and asked me if I was ready to stop drinking for good; I knew I needed help.

It was clear I had a drinking problem long before I admitted it; yet the possibility that I was an alcoholic was inconceivable to me. Like most people, I had a very clear picture of what an alcoholic looked like and it wasn’t me. I had a Master’s Degree; a successful career before having children; a nice house in the suburbs; a devoted husband. But, the reality was no matter how hard I tried to control my drinking or how many times I promised myself I wouldn’t drink for just that one day, I couldn’t stop.

Click here to continue reading.

Going Forward

I admit my last post was a bit depressing and melodramatic (which I excelled at by the way when I was drinking). I partially blame that on the post-surgery exhaustion I was experiencing, but in all truth, I was/am at a crossroads with this blog.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve been obsessing over it (okay, maybe a little), but I’ve definitely been thinking and praying for guidance. I guess it comes down to this: my life is not very exciting (which I’m okay with) and, honestly, I get tired of talking about me all the time. Sure, there are things that continue to come up in my sobriety, but I feel like I’ve been putting myself in this little box – and now I’m outgrowing that box (which I think is a good thing).

So…long story short, I have some ideas of where I’d like to go. I’m not going to stop this blog because, in many ways, it’s become a part of me – like another appendage (kind of). No, as a matter of fact, I’m going to dive deeper. Not only do I want to share my story; I want to share others’ stories. And, not just those in recovery, but those who have been molded and shaped by their lived experiences.

We all have a story and I’m fascinated to learn how others have coped and overcame life’s unexpected circumstances. I’m still working on how all this is going to look, but I’m excited. And, in an effort to better promote my vision, I’ve created a Facebook page for my blog. Yes, I’ve taken the plunge, so if you’re interested in “liking” my page and following along you can find it at https://www.facebook.com/lifecorked. It’s a work in progress, like the rest of me.

Thanks for your support as I continue to map all this out! Grateful to be on this crazy ride together!

Oh, and by the way, on a totally different topic, it still baffles me that my most viewed post on a typical day is my healthy chicken enchilada recipe. And, then the second most viewed post is my “about” page because I’m sure people are thinking, “Why the heck is a recovering alcoholic writing about chicken enchiladas?” Well, leave it up to me to mix the two together! No one alcoholic is alike, right?!

 

The Little Things

As I sit here on day four of post-surgery recovery, I’m tired but I’m so grateful for some of the little things, like taking a hot shower (alone), shaving my legs, going pee like a normal person without a catheter attached to me and the texts, calls and meals from family and friends.

I’m grateful for my husband who took over all the household duties and selflessly cared for me, which included emptying my “pee bag” and holding it while I took a shower; for my children who were so sweet and caring (and quiet) when I first came home from the hospital; for the first nurse I saw as I came out of surgery who happened to be a friend from my recovery program who kissed my forehead and reassured me everything was okay (definitely a God shot!).

I’m grateful for the message I received today from one of my doctors telling me my results were benign. I’m grateful that I could take my pain medication as prescribed and have no desire to take more than I needed, which can be a major issue for those of us in recovery regardless if we were previously addicted to them or not.

I’m grateful for my God who is with me in not just the good times, but the times when I’m scared or uncertain of what’s to come. Who gives me strength and peace in knowing that His will for my life has already been determined. I am not in control.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this blog. As you may have noticed, I haven’t been writing as much lately. I’ve felt a distance growing, which makes me think it’s time to bring this chapter to a close. Maybe I’ll start a new blog that focuses on something different. Maybe I’ll just focus on life as it happens.

I know this; my main focus is being the best mom and wife I can be. My sobriety has made that possible. My children are getting older and I want to be present for every moment possible.

More than anything, I want to focus on those little things that often get overlooked in our efforts to always be “doing” or “going” or “making.” I feel the need to be still.

God bless you on your journey.

 

 

 

 

A Harsh Reminder

When I first got sober almost two and a half years ago (I had a relapse at six months), I came across the website Crying Out Now, which shares stories of recovery and of those struggling with substance abuse. I soon discovered that it’s founder, Ellie, also had her own blog called One Crafty Mother. As I got further into my own recovery, I communicated with Ellie and at one point had a portion of my story featured on Crying Out Now. Later, Ellie founded The Bubble Hour, a podcast featuring discussions about sobriety and interviews.

I related to Ellie and in many ways looked up to her. She was like me – mom, wife, otherwise pretty “normal” person – and alcoholic. If she could get sober; I surely could. Over the past couple of years, I’ve followed Ellie’s journey, becoming one of the most well-known sober bloggers and online recovery advocates.

I hadn’t heard or read anything from Ellie in a long time (time is all relative in the sober sphere) and I had this nagging feeling something was wrong. A couple days ago my fears were confirmed, when I came across a recent post from Ellie. She had relapsed and after spending two months in inpatient treatment, was currently living in a sober house with three other women.

I have hurt a lot of people over the past few months. I lost myself, and instead of asking for help, I thought I could tough my way through it on sheer force of will. I was so, so scared, but I kept madly weaving myself a tale of strength and hope, instead of admitting that fear had me by the throat. I would like to say I should have known better, but the irony is that all the knowledge in the world can’t help against addiction. I forgot about God. I took my will back.

Her words hit me like a brick. I sat there, staring at her post in disbelief, but also in fear. Because, if she could relapse, so could I. It was a harsh reminder that no matter how much sobriety we have; how well-known we are; how respected we are; how far we’ve come since that last drink – we are always an alcoholic just one drink away from going right back to where we began or worse.

I’ve been feeling comfortable in my sobriety – maybe a little too comfortable. I haven’t been going to meetings, I haven’t been reaching out to other women, I haven’t been talking to my sponsor – the list goes on. I haven’t been feeding my sobriety and that is a dangerous place to be. Because, I know from stories like Ellie’s, that when we stop feeding our sobriety, our all-to powerful self-will starts taking over. That little voice that says, “I’ve got this; I don’t need any of that other stuff.” And, that is a very, very dangerous place for me to live. Because, eventually, that voice gets louder and it takes over the voice of God.

Yesterday, I had what we often call in recovery a “God shot.” I was on an important “business” call and all of a sudden the call got disconnected and my phone was ringing, as if I had hung up and called someone else. A woman answered on the other end and I said, “Hello, hello? Who is this?” And, the woman said “Hi Chenoa, it’s Dana. You just called me.” What?! Huh?! Dana was a friend from my recovery program who I hadn’t talked to in a while. I quickly explained what had happened and said I would call her back after I finished with my original call.

Later in the day, Dana and I talked for a long time, catching up on our recovery and life in general. We both struggle with reaching out to other women in the program, and we agreed that we needed to get together soon. She had been spending time with a few women who she thought I would enjoy. After we got off the phone, I got a text from her asking if I could make it to the 5:30 meeting tonight. I think I will.

I don’t believe in coincidences anymore. I believe that God puts certain people and situations in our life for a reason. God knew I needed that “God shot” yesterday from Dana. And, thankfully, I’m at a place in my life where I can recognize that, listen and take action.

I’m saddened by Ellie’s story. But, I’m also grateful that she has the courage to write about it and share her story with others like me who might need a wake up call…before it’s too late.

 

The Truth Behind My Gym Clothes

And, the hits keep coming on the health front around here. I’m convinced this is God’s way of reminding me that this is not my eternal home and complacency is not what this life is all about. Just when I thought we were out of the woods (no pun intended) after Tyler’s surgery, the tables were turned.

Okay, so admittedly, I ignored some symptoms that I shouldn’t have – lesson learned. I was so focused on Tyler’s surgery and recovery that I put off going to the doctor when I really should have. So, after a routine annual exam with my doctor last month, I was referred to not one, but two specialists. Over the past three weeks, I have had a pelvic ultrasound, abdominal CT scan and blood work. I have been to my OBGYN, a rehab specialist (for my neck) and a urologist. All of this has confirmed that I have two kidney stones, a faulty seal on my ureter (I didn’t even know that word existed before all this), a uterine polyp and a messed up neck muscle. In two weeks, I start PT for my neck and in a few weeks I’ll have a double whammy surgery for the stones, seal and polyp. And, ironically it will all take place at the same surgical center where Tyler had his neck surgery. Really?!?!

And, of course, all of this is happening in the last few weeks of school and t-ball season. It’s times like these, I look at Tyler and say, “Okay, what gives?” And, it’s also times like these I have to put it all in perspective. None of it’s life threatening and in the grand scheme of things I’m still pretty healthy. And, despite it all I can find the humor in it – thank God for the gift of laughter!

Speaking of finding the humor in things, there’s nothing like sitting in the waiting room at the urologist’s office. As I looked around and observed the 70+ couples sitting together, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “So this is what Tyler and I have to look forward to. Morning dates at the urologist’s office. Perfect.” Sitting there in my gym clothes (aka I’m too lazy to get dressed in real clothes), I have to admit I felt pretty good about myself considering my fellow patients. Well, the joke was on me, because once I sat down in the young doctor’s office and he started talking about broken ureter seals, kidney stones and oh by the way, do you run? And, I say no because I have bursitis in my knee and my neck’s messed up, and oh can you remove the stones while my OBGYN is removing my polyp – yeah, I realize that the gym clothes are a total mask to how I’m really doing inside. Ugh. Another lesson learned…again. Looks can be deceiving.

Driving home, I flashed back to my drinking days and I was reminded how my gym clothes were always a great cover up when I was drinking. Because, really, anyone who’s in decent shape and wearing gym clothes could never be an alcoholic, right? Um, wrong. Those of us who try to cover it up are sometimes the worse.

So, now I’m just laying it all out for you. No more hiding behind gym clothes or anything else. This is it. Life goes on and we deal with those struggles and obstacles that pop up along the way. We don’t drink; we don’t hide; we just take it one day, one minute and sometimes even one second at a time.

Today, I am SO (scream it on a mountain top) grateful to be sober and to have a faith in a God who will always carry me on His shoulders through it all…until I reach my eternal home.

 

 

 

 

Not So Bright and Shiny After All

After my baptism, I was convinced I would wake up the next morning radiating from the eternal glow I had. I was positive people would see the outward difference because, after all, I was totally free of all my past sins. In other words, I was squeaky clean.

But, the next morning brought the same early wakeup from the kids (earlier because it was Easter morning) and the same zombie-like walk to the coffee maker. The only thing I can compare it to is when you get married. You have this vision that marriage is going to completely change you overnight. But, like every other morning, you wake up and there you are. Same person, different last name (if you changed it). Of course, I’m simplifying this, but for the most part that’s how it felt.

Tyler asked me the next day, “Well, do you feel any different?” The thing is, I didn’t feel different, I felt complete. I felt like my whole entire life and all the experiences good and bad had led me to that perfect moment of my baptism. That’s what’s so great about this journey we’re all on. You never know where you’re going to end up, but at some point we can step back and say, “Ah, now I understand what it was all about.” If I had never come to that point in my life where I had sank to my lowest of lows, I wouldn’t be here today writing about this. Every joy; every sorrow; every disappointment led me to this place.

Yet, going forward, I was determined to make this new bright and shiny self last as long as possible. But, being human and all, it didn’t last as long as I wanted. As Tyler and the kids and I were driving down the street, a truck turned directly in front of us making Tyler swerve and before I knew it my arm was up and I was shaking my middle finger at them. Damn – I mean darn. Well, that was that. Tyler looked at me and said something like, “I guess that was short lived.”

So, I go forward being my imperfect self and continue to ask God for forgiveness, knowing that He knows my totally imperfect heart all too well.

XO