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.

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Back To Basics

Finally, the media is actually presenting some real truth about moms and alcohol! If you haven’t seen Maria Shriver’s segment featured on the Today Show this morning, click here. And, coming from one of the morning shows that basically promotes daily drinking, it meant even more (I’m talking about you Kathie Lee and Hoda!).

Many of us in recovery are familiar with the author Stefanie Wilder-Taylor who was interviewed for the segment. Oh, how I can relate to her story! She pretty much sums it up when she says,“All of a sudden I was like, I don’t have an off switch.” But, as a mom who looked the part, she didn’t feel like she could be an alcoholic.

I talk a lot about my life living sober and what that’s like, but I think once in a while it’s important to go back to the beginning when I finally realized I was an alcoholic and the fear that consumed me then. I’ve been contacted by a number of women in my community who have read my blog and know my story and I’m constantly reminded of the intense fear in admitting you have a problem. Most of these women are like me. They’re moms and wives who on the outside look like they have it all together, but inside they are suffering and questioning their dependence on alcohol.

I cannot begin to express the fear I felt in admitting I was an alcoholic. I was fearful of what others would think, how they would react to the news and how they would respond to me personally. I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol, mainly wine because that was my “thing.” It had become such an ingrained part of my everyday life, that really (as horrible as it sounds now), I couldn’t imagine life without it. Date nights, happy hours, weddings, parties, girls’ night outs, work events, conferences, and yes, even play dates – you name it. The thought of not having a drink at any of these was incomprehensible. I even briefly thought about becoming Mormon because they didn’t drink anyway, right? Yes, these are the thoughts that went through my head.

Most of the women who have contacted me haven’t followed through with getting help. And, believe me, I get it. It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. It takes major desperation, defeat and humility to walk through the doors of treatment or your first recovery meeting. You’re afraid of giving up what has become your comfort, your best friend; you’re afraid of what people will think and say; you’re afraid of who you will see and who will see you. We all have our bottoms; our lowest point when we realize we can no longer go on with the way we’ve been living. As much as I want to tell them how amazing and gratifying sobriety is, they have to truly want it. It’s one of the hardest parts of being sober – seeing yourself in others and knowing what is possible for them as well.

I know there are people who aren’t crazy about me sharing my story. And, I know there are people out there who think, “Just shut up already about your drinking and sobriety.” Or, those who think it’s a personal matter that I should keep to myself. And, to all of those people I say, “Hell, no.” Hell no I won’t shut up. Hell no I won’t shut up because if I can share my story and save one life – just one life – I will have accomplished everything I ever set out to do in sharing my story.

I know we have all seen the “Are You An Alcoholic?” quizzes, but I think it’s important to go back to some of those basic questions. Our society still has this image in their minds of what an alcoholic looks like, but the reality is we are all over the place. Here are some things to ask yourself:

  • Do you drink alone?
  • Do you look forward to drinking?
  • Do you drink to relieve boredom or loneliness?
  • Do you drive after drinking?
  • Do you drink to maintain a “buzz”?
  • Do you have memory loss after drinking?
  • Do you drink before leaving the house for an event?
  • Are you uncertain about going to events where there will not be alcohol?
  • Do you drink to feel more relaxed or less anxious?
  • Do you create situations (outings, parties, etc.) so you can drink?
  • Do you become defensive when someone questions you about your drinking?
  • Are you concerned about your drinking?
  • Do you drink while angry, upset, depressed or under stress?
  • Have you switched types of alcohol to prevent becoming too intoxicated?
  • Do you limit the amount of food you eat so you can get a better “buzz?”
  • Have you tried not to drink, but find yourself drinking anyway?

Just because you answer yes to some of these questions doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic. However, if you see yourself relating to many of them, there’s a good chance you have a problem. Believe me, I’ve been there. I knew way before I ever admitted it that I had a problem.

I know it’s scary to think about opening yourself up to the possibility that you might have a drinking problem. But, there are SO many people out there who have been where you are and are willing and able to help you take the next step. If nothing else, check out some of the other recovery blogs on my site. Or, read some of the books listed. It’s easy to feel like you’re alone and the only person in your situation, but know that you are not alone. And, of course, I’m always available to answer questions or just talk with. Please feel free to e-mail me at chenoaawoods@gmail.com.

 

 

 

When the Unexpected Happens

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I get grumpy when I get sick; just plain grumpy. I tend to be irritated at everyone and everything. Needless to say, I’m not much fun to be around. With that being said, I was in a grumpy mood this morning as I rummaged through our medicine cabinet looking for cold medicine when I pulled this acid reducer from the back.

I stood there for a minute, staring at it as if I had never seen it before. But, the thing is, I had. I knew this exact box all too well, although it had been over a year since I needed it.

You see, towards the end of my drinking I started suffering severe stomach problems. It was also during this time I started the age-old alcoholic “trick” of switching my choice of drink. I’d been a wine drinker for many years, so maybe if I switched to beer the problem would go away. Or, maybe if I alternated between beer and hard alcohol, my stomach would get back to “normal.” Of course, I never EVER considered just quitting!

None of that seemed to work, so I immediately went to worst case scenarios. My mom had died of pancreatic cancer so maybe it was that; or maybe I had an untreated ulcer; or what if it was my liver? I mean, could my drinking be “that” bad where it could be effecting my body? I was never completely honest with my doctor about my drinking, so she had no way of knowing there could be an issue. For my peace of mind, she ordered an ultrasound and all came back clear – whew. She told me to take some acid reducer when I felt sick and that was that. On my merry way I went. Or, more like on my merry drinking way I went.

I’m sure you can guess the rest of the story. Despite taking tons of antacids and acid reducer, I continued to have stomach problems. It didn’t matter what I drank or when I drank, nothing changed.

And, then, through a serious of events I quit drinking and got sober. And, guess what? My stomach problems went away – completely. You don’t have to be a genius to put two and two together.

And so, as I stood in the kitchen this morning feeling grumpy and irritated, I was snapped back into reality by this innocent box of acid reducer that had been hiding in the back of the cabinet for nearly two years.

Sometimes it’s the uneventful and unexpected things like this that remind me just how truly far I’ve come. And, how God continues to do His work in both big and small ways.

Sometimes I Forget

Respect Yourself

Sometimes I forget about things that happened when I was drinking. I’m not talking about blackouts; I’m talking about memories I choose to forget. Once in a while, I will hear something or see something that takes me back to that time – that crazy time that I eventually walked away from.

I was recently listening to The Bubble Hour, a radio podcast about real stories and recovery. The topic was the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and as I listened I was catapulted back to that place in my mind; a place I try to avoid but need to remember for my own sobriety.

As with many, my alcoholism progressed quickly. Of course, I denied my alcoholic tendencies until the day I finally admitted I needed help. Even then, I’m not sure if I REALLY believed I was alcoholic.  But, looking back, all the signs and symptoms were there. These are just some of them (see the Mayo Clinic for a full description):

  • Be unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink – I could never “just have one.”
  • Feel a strong need or compulsion to drink – Even on days I said I wouldn’t drink, I would find myself holding a glass of wine by that afternoon because I truly felt like I needed it to relax and unwind.
  • Develop tolerance to alcohol so that you need more to feel its effects – Over time I “needed” more and more to achieve that “perfect buzz.” Towards the end of my drinking, the alcohol stopped working and there were many times I couldn’t get buzzed no matter how much I drank.
  • Drink alone or hide your drinking – I loved to party with friends, but most of my drinking took place alone. I would start drinking before my husband got home from work and then continue while I cooked dinner. I would fill my glass when he wasn’t looking or hide wine bottles in the back of the fridge, hoping he wouldn’t discover how much I was drinking. And, I always drank at home before going to social events.
  • Experience physical withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink – Besides the compulsion to drink daily, I would often experience physical symptoms especially after a long night of partying. I specifically remember one time towards the end of my drinking where I got out of bed one morning and began to have almost seizure-like symptoms. I was standing by my dresser, when I started shaking violently and fell to the floor hitting the dresser as I fell. I was scared, but unwilling to accept the truth.
  • Not remember conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as a “black out” – This was very common for me, especially after a night of binge drinking.
  • Make a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned – Most days I started drinking between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. If I was unable to drink, I would get irritated. I remember helping with my daughter’s preschool party one afternoon and all I could think about was getting home and having a glass of wine. My husband questioned my drinking more than once, but I would brush him off and get angry.
  • Gulp drinks, order doubles or become drunk intentionally to feel good, or drink to feel “normal” – Many alcoholics will say they didn’t have a “stop” button. This was true for me. I drank to feel good. I never understood the point of wine tasting; I didn’t want to taste it, I wanted to drink it or better yet gulp it. My main goal in drinking was reaching that perfect feel good place.
  • Lose interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure – Eventually, I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything that didn’t involve drinking. I didn’t read or write anymore – how could I when I was smashed every night and unable to focus? If I did try to read a book, I never remembered it the next day.  I didn’t enjoy cooking anymore because by the time dinner came around I was already three drinks in and only cared about putting together something easy for my family. I didn’t want to participate in non-alcohol related activities, because, really, what was the point?

Towards the end of my drinking, I started having chronic stomach problems. Of course, I was never honest with my doctor when she asked how much I drank. And, even when she ordered an ultrasound on my stomach, I never admitted that it could possibly be linked to my daily drinking. Around that time, I decided it must be the wine that was causing my stomach problems, so I switched to beer. Of course, I didn’t think once that maybe, just maybe if I stopped drinking altogether my stomach problems would go away. No, because this is the thinking pattern of an alcoholic.

As difficult as it is, it’s important that I remember what my life used to be. I don’t dwell on it, but I keep the memories tucked away; always ready and available when I start doubting whether or not I was REALLY that bad. Because, at some point, the doubting and questioning will enter our minds.

I must always remember the life I walked away from in order to truly appreciate the life I now live.