To fully understand my story, I must start at the beginning.
The summer before my freshman year of high school I got drunk for the first time on champagne at my mom and stepdad’s wedding. Classy, right? It was my first experience with alcohol and I loved everything about it. I loved the carefree feeling it gave me. I loved how it made me feel beautiful and funny. And, above all, I loved how it took away all my inhibitions and fears of what others thought of me. That was the beginning of my drinking story.
I went to high school in a small, working class town in Northern California where fun and drinking went hand in hand. Of course, there were kids who didn’t drink, but they were the exception. Do I blame where I grew up on my drinking? No, but I’m not denying it didn’t influence it. A party wasn’t a party without alcohol. My peer group consisted of the jocks and cheerleaders and despite being viewed as “good kids,” we were hard partiers who liked taking risks and lived for the anticipation of the next big party. When I look back on some of the risks I took during those years, honestly, I’m surprised I’m still alive to tell about it.
After high school, I went to a “party” college (surprise, surprise) where the parties were even bigger and better. Alcohol was everywhere and I was in Heaven. As a freshman living in the dorms, my friends and I would walk in groups to frat parties where they would have barrels of “jungle juice” up for grabs. At some point in the early morning hours, I would stumble back to my room and pass out in the bathroom or on the floor of my room with a trash can nearby. Luckily, I had a roommate who was responsible and took it upon herself to take care of me during these times. Needless to say, these were not some of my proudest moments.
Throughout college, my drinking habits mainly consisted of severe binge drinking. I didn’t drink on a daily basis, but when I did I did it with dedication and tenacity. Somehow, throughout all of the partying and hangovers, I was able to keep my grades up and graduate with honors. At this point, I had a degree in English and no clue what I wanted to do with my life. So, like many recent college graduates, I moved home. While I was able to regain my career focus while living at home, I continued to party hard with new and old friends.
In September 2001, I moved to Oregon and started graduate school. Fortunately, my binge drinking took a backseat to studying, however, during this time I discovered wine and loved it. I was in graduate school and wine was classy, elegant and smart – everything I wanted to be. On breaks from studying, my girlfriends and I would get together for dinner parties, trying different varietals of reds and whites, or take day trips to the nearby wineries. Wine became my drink of choice, and so began a long-term love affair that would last for many years.
During my last year of graduate school, I met my future husband, graduated and got the job of my dreams. Life was good and everything was going according as planned. Two years later my husband and I got married and I got another dream job in the city where we lived. During this time, I would have a cocktail here and there or a glass of wine or two a few days a week, but nothing excessive. I was a normal drinker and had, what I considered, a healthy relationship with alcohol.
Nine months after getting married, my life as I knew it would change forever. In the midst of buying and remodeling our dream house, my mom was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. After much thought and consideration, I decided to resign from my job so I could be with my mom and help take care of her. With the added stress of my mom’s illness and being away from my husband for extended periods of time, my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which had been under control for some time, came back with vengeance. I did my best to “control” it, but it seeped into all areas of our life. You would think I would have turned to alcohol during this time to deal with the stress, but instead I obsessed about anything and everything. I was too busy obsessing to drink.
To add to everything we were going through, I became pregnant with our first child during this time. My mom had dreamed of being a grandmother and I wanted to give her that one gift before she died. She never had the chance to meet my daughter because she died when I was five months pregnant. However, in her last days she was able to feel my daughter kick inside of me and, for that, I will forever be grateful.
After my daughter was born, I felt a joy I had never felt before, yet I also felt an emptiness that would not go away. I had considered being a stay-at-home mom once I had children, however, I felt as though in some ways I had been thrust into my role. Within a year’s time, I had gone from being a confidant, career-minded young bride to a new mom with no career dealing with the grief of losing my own mom. Despite a wonderful husband and beautiful baby girl, I felt a sense of loneliness I had never felt before. I began drinking more regularly during this time to take the “edge off.” However, it wasn’t until my son was born two years later that my drinking would seriously escalate to a new level.
In 2008 when I was six months pregnant with our son, we sold our “dream” house and moved across town to a house that happened to be across the street from my in-laws. Despite having a good relationship with them, it wasn’t my first choice, but I knew it would be a wonderful experience for our daughter and helpful once our son was born.
Our son was born in December 2008 two weeks before Christmas. Despite being a difficult sleeper and having some reflux issues, he was a happy baby. We soon settled into our routine as a family of four, me staying home while my husband went to work. In the beginning, I was content and happy, but after awhile I started to feel the emptiness and loneliness creep in which I had felt before. I started drinking wine on a more regular basis to help me relax and unwind after a long day with the kids. What began as a few days a week gradually turned into five and before I knew it I was having a glass or two every day.
Within a very short amount of time, drinking began to consume my thoughts. I couldn’t wait until the clock hit 4:30 to pour my first glass of wine. While the kids played on the floor or watched cartoons, I would settle into the couch with my laptop and glass of wine by my side. It wasn’t long before 4:30 became 4:00 and 4:00 became 3:30. And, it wasn’t long before two glasses a night became two strong cocktails before my husband got home and three or four glasses of wine throughout the evening. Usually, by 7:30 once my husband had put the kids to bed, I went to bed myself. It wasn’t until much later, I would realize and acknowledge I hadn’t just been going to bed early; I had been going to bed and passing out.
By the time my son was two years old, drinking consumed my life. I didn’t want to go anywhere unless I knew alcohol would be available; all of our social activities centered around drinking; I even insisted on having drinks available at my son and daughter’s birthday parties. My husband would drink, but he could take it or leave it. He didn’t need it like I did…or so I thought I did.
My husband would comment on my drinking and suggest that “we” cut back, but I would brush him off as making a big deal out of nothing. At times, I would say I would cut back but that would usually only last for a couple days at most. It started taking more and more wine to achieve the “buzz” I depended on to make me feel relaxed. If I was hungry, instead of having a snack, I would begin drinking because I could get a faster “buzz” on an empty stomach. I started manipulating the situation to get the results I wanted – classic signs of alcoholism.
I knew I had a problem long before I ever admitted it. I would wake up most mornings with feelings of shame and guilt, promising myself that I would not drink that day. Yet, by the afternoon I would find myself with a glass of wine in my hand. I started having stomach problems, but instead of cutting back or stopping drinking all together, I blamed it on the wine and switched to drinking beer instead – another classic sign of alcoholism. I started going out and binge drinking more; spending the following days comatose on the couch, unable to interact with anyone.
On the outside, I looked like I had it all. I went to church, had a nice home, a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. I took care of myself, going to the gym daily and leading a healthy lifestyle (aside from the drinking). However, despite all of this, I was falling apart on the inside. I blamed my problems on everyone else. I was angry, lonely and empty. I was physically there, but I wasn’t present in my life. I rarely felt joy or happiness; I didn’t laugh like I used to. I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t truly living anymore.
I was falling quickly and it was only a matter of time before I hit bottom. After a series of drinking fueled incidents, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take the lying, deceit, guilt and shame I was putting myself and my family through anymore. One night, while reading on the couch, I felt an overwhelming sense of heaviness on my heart that I had never experienced before. I knew without a doubt that once and for all I needed to be honest with my husband about my drinking. Despite going to church, I had never had a close relationship with God, however, I truly believe that God was speaking to me that night and gave me the courage to finally speak my truth.
As we sat across from each other in our living room that night, my husband asked me once and for all if I was willing to give up alcohol for good. I said I would and admitted to him that I needed help and so began my journey in sobriety. And, it is just that, a journey.
I spent the first six months of my sobriety attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and working with a sponsor. And, while I am grateful for all AA has taught me about my disease of alcoholism, it is my relationship with God that is my true strength and inspiration and what I believe will keep me sober in the years to come. When I stopped drinking and welcomed God into my heart for the first time, I experienced a sense of peace and joy that I had never felt before. For years I had been searching for something to fill the emptiness I had felt inside, not realizing that the only thing that could fill that emptiness was my relationship with God.
Getting and staying sober is not easy. I have relapsed twice since first getting sober, but God willing I will never take another drink again. I will never be able to be a “normal” drinker therefore alcohol has no place in my life. Before getting sober, I couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol. Would I have fun anymore? Would my friends want to hang out with me? Well, I’m here to say that life goes on and your old way of living gives way to a new “normal.” Getting sober is not a death sentence; it is a second chance at getting to live the life you have always wanted.
Sobriety is a personal journey. I can only speak from my own experience, but, for me, getting sober gave me the freedom to truly be the person I always strived to be. I can now say with total confidence that I am the best mom, wife, daughter and friend I can be. I have been able to delve into my passion of writing again along with discovering new talents and passions. Previously, when I was angry, stressed or lonely I would drink because it’s what I was familiar with. It was the only way I knew how to “escape.” In sobriety, your problems don’t just go away; you find new ways to deal with them. Instead of pouring a glass of wine, I write or try a new recipe or create something. It’s different for everyone; the key is finding what works for you.
When we go through challenging times or hardships, our first question is always “Why?” “Why me God?” I asked this when I struggled with my OCD, when my mom died of cancer and when I admitted to my alcoholism. The thing is, continuing to ask “Why?” prevents us from moving forward and accepting our circumstances. Because, it is those challenges and hardships that end up making us who we are, which is often a much better version of the person we were before.
I truly believe God brought me to this place in my life so I could share my story with others and put a face on what I refer to as “suburban alcoholism.” I know there are other women out there, who despite having everything on the outside, are struggling with the same loneliness and emptiness I felt on the inside. Perhaps, you’re reading this right now and feeling the same guilt and shame I felt every morning when I woke up after a night of drinking. I am here to tell you there is no shame in admitting to your weaknesses and asking for help. There is no shame in wanting to be a better mom, wife, daughter, sister or friend. Alcoholism is a deadly disease and the longer you wait to get help, the worse it will get. Trust me. I was fortunate to get the help I needed before I lost everything that was important to me. Look in your local phonebook or Google AA meetings in your area. Most AA groups have closed meetings just for women, which provide a safe and comfortable setting. If you don’t feel comfortable going to an AA meeting, reach out to your pastor or clergy at your church. Many churches offer their own recovery groups. The first step is admitting you have a problem and seeking help. From there, things will only continue to get better. I promise.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross