When I say those 9 words, I’m met with a mélange of reactions depending on who the receiver is: disbelief, respect, indifference, amazement, suspicion, joy, disapproval, surprise. I’ve had people argue with me about whether I was an alcoholic or not (that’s a really weird position to argue: “No, I swear, I really am an alcoholic. I promise. Pinky swear.”). I’ve been told that I was too young/too pretty/too healthy to be an alcoholic, or that I didn’t really have a problem with drinking.

I haven’t drunk alcohol since 10 September, 2006. I was 24 when I decided it wasn’t healthy for me to drink alcohol. To be honest, that was a pretty late age for me to make the decision; I, and most everyone who loved me, had identified that I had a problem with alcohol years earlier. I have been sober from alcohol for almost 7 years, but have been sober from compulsive thinking for less than a year. What does that even mean? A little background, then on to making sense…

Me, from the drinking days. The makeup, hair and clothes hid an unhappy girl - even from myself.
Me, from the drinking days. The makeup, hair and clothes hid an unhappy girl – even from myself.

I come from a long line of alcoholics, with me having the dubious distinction of being at least the 4th generation to be afflicted with this disease. I was 13 when I had my first drunken blackout, 15 when we learned my estranged, paternal grandfather had killed himself (believed to be partly due to alcoholism), 16 when my father got sober from alcohol, and 24 when being raped by a good friend while blacked out finally convinced me that alcohol wasn’t right for me.

I used many tools in early recovery. At first, I was just dry – meaning all I did was stop drinking. I didn’t address any of the underlying issues. Then I went into outpatient rehab, where I did individual counseling, group counseling and alcohol education classes. I also went on depression medication for the first time, which was a game-changer for me. I just felt more even, less prone to exhausting highs and (more often) lows. After a while (and an insurance change), I stopped my treatment as I felt I was “cured.” I knew I couldn’t drink anymore, but I felt I had the underlying issues under control. Looking back, I can identify so many ways I still acted compulsively (meaning I reacted to situations without thinking about consequences), even though I thought I was “fixed.”

Fast forward to last summer when more bad decisions threatened to end my marriage, my sobriety and even my life. I found myself at another rock-bottom; this one was even lower than the rape that triggered my sobriety. I was convinced that my son deserved a better mother than me; my own selfish desire to see him grow up protected me from following through on my suicide ideation. For the first time in years, I found myself wanting to drink, wanting to escape the agony I was living with. I was terrified, and thank God I confided these fears in a trusted friend. She made me promise to go to a meeting and get in to see my doctor. I found a local meeting that wasn’t too scary and got back on depression medication. My husband and I started some couples counseling. I started seeing another counselor who right from the start helped me define the real underlying issues behind my drinking and compulsive thinking and walked with me as I began the hard work of healing. I attended group therapy that was focused on setting healthy boundaries in relationships. I engaged with an online 12-step group that did meetings through emails and eventually found a sponsor.

Since moving from England, the only therapy I’ve been able to maintain is the online 12-step group and my sponsor, but it has been a lifesaver. I recently completed Step 7 and continually work on managing my character defects. After all that hard work, I see so many benefits. I respond to the world and situations rather than react mindlessly. I’m more thoughtful in everything I do. I find joy in the simple life. I worry less about what other people think and more about what I think. I even find that I’m starting to like myself and who I’m becoming.

blue eyes
I’m blessed to be sober enough to see through his eyes

Also, I’ve become a better mother. I’ve become gentler with myself when I don’t do it perfectly. I’ve learned to slow down and see the world from my son’s perspective; the world is a fascinating place when viewed through a toddler’s eyes! I have more patience with him, and with myself. Our relationship has grown closer, even though we weaned from breastfeeding during this time. And I pray fervently and frequently that I have broken the cycle – that his father and I can teach him healthy habits about alcohol and help him avoid the pain of this disease.

So why write about this? I hope my story can help another mother. Many women don’t talk about their alcoholism. The stereotype of the alcoholic is the angry, middle-aged man, the (male) hobo on the street with the brown paper bag. If a woman has a problem with alcohol, she is a “party girl” or a “lush.” I tattooed my sobriety date on my left wrist – I’m as proud of that day as I am the day my son was born. I want women to feel empowered to seek help when they need it. When a woman says, I have a problem, I want her to be greeted with, “How can I help?” rather than “You’re a young woman; you can’t be an alcoholic.” Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate – it accepts all genders, races, sexualities, ages, socioeconomic statuses.

If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, I encourage you to find support. A 12 step program is working for me, but there are many avenues for treatment.

Find help:
Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Anon
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
SMART Recovery
Women for Sobriety
Dual Recovery Anonymous
SoberMommies

Find information:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Centers for Disease Control – Alcohol & Public Health

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18 thoughts on “My name is Sara and I am an alcoholic

  1. For the last year I have been consumed by my best friend’s alcoholism, and working to define our friendship post-treatment. I wish I understood him better, and had tools to be more supportive of his sobriety, and hope he will confide in me when he feels he is vulnerable. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Thank you so much for bravely sharing your story here Sara! I am absolutely SURE that it will help others. Your journey is inspirational and I admire your strength.

  3. Sara, I know we have only met once or twice while we were in England, but I have to say that I am so proud of you for confronting this disease head-on. It isn’t something that is easy to do. I watched my father struggle with this for most of my life until a life-changing altercation took place. He was given the ultimatum that he would either quit, get help for the alcoholism, and the underlying problems, or he would lose me and any future I had forever. He’s been sober since that day over a decade ago, not just because of my words, but because he realized that he was about to lose absolutely everything. He continues to go to meetings and seeks help whenever he feels that he’s slipping up. I have always been terrified that I would follow in his (and my grandmother’s and uncle’s) footsteps, and have always held myself so uptight so I wouldn’t lose control of myself.

    What I have learned from you with this post is that I have a problem as well. I have a problem with compulsive actions when it comes to eating. I need to figure out how to move past this and act more deliberately and with recognition and acceptance of the consequences. Even moreso now that I have my son. Just as you want your little guy to have healthy habits with alcohol, I hope to teach my son healthy habits with food (as well as alcohol). I just pray that I have the strength that you have had.

  4. Sara, you are a truly strong, thoughtful, caring, wise and evolving woman. Your son and husband are so lucky to have you in their lives–to love them and to show them how to prevail. Plus, you are a darned good writer!
    Cheers!

  5. Thanks for sharing–this post will help so many people who have struggled with alcoholism, especially moms who already have so much on their plates.

  6. Sometimes all someone needs to speak their truth is one person willing to bravely and honestly share theirs. I think you will be that person for a lot of women.

  7. Me too! I’ll be four years sober (god willing) this summer. What an amazing journey it is, isn’t it? And crazy. And challenging. Thank you for your honesty…haven’t been brave enough to blog about it yet!

  8. So very proud of you. Hopefully soon you’ll be able to accept that you are the beautiful, strong woman we all see. Thank you for reaching out to others who may find healing and help in your words.

  9. Thank you for such a very brave post. I too am in recovery from a few addictions myself — once I peeled away the alcohol and cocaine, I discovered still more. And I am also starting to write about it — especially after my 7-yr-old outed me at school as a 12-stepper. It’s so important to talk and write openly about these issues, especially for women, so that no one has to feel that they’re alone dealing with addiction of any kind or shame for needing to get the help they need. Congratulations on your sobriety and I wish you well on your continued journey in recovery.

  10. So brave of you to share this. I also come from a long line of alcoholics on my mother’s side. My Mom joined the mormon church when she was in her mid-20’s and therefore, raised me a mormon as well. I have never had a drop of alcohol in my life. However, she reminded me the other day when I was struggling with some issues with my in-law family that all of the character attributes of those that suffer from alcoholism are still part of my DNA, and I need to remember that as I focus on negativity, have compulsive thoughts about other things (like food), and have trouble interacting with others that don’t have those issues. Anyway, I’m enjoying your blog. 🙂

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