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…
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.
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.