One of the things I always excelled at was drinking. I think that’s why it took me so long to really understand that I’m an alcoholic. The horror stories I’d hear from others- on the rare occasion I could be bothered to attend AA meetings- didn’t sound like anything I’d experienced. That’s part of the reason AA and I never gelled.
I’ve never had a DUI. In fact, I’ve never been in any legal trouble at all. I’m college educated, and I make good money. I work for a Fortune 100 company, I’m financially stable, and I’m in no danger of losing my job. I have been steadily employed without exception since 1996, which happens to be the year I joined the workforce, at 17. My drinking caused me to miss work exactly one time in my life, and that was the week I finally decided to quit. My children are well-adjusted, well-rounded honor roll students. I’m happily married, and my alcohol abuse has never jeopardized a relationship or caused one to end.
Most people didn’t even know I had an alcohol problem until I started blogging about it. In fact, just this week I got a text from a friend I’ve known for about 11 years now, expressing her surprise to learn that I’m an alcoholic, despite the fact that I used to see her daily at the height of my drinking.
I always took immense pride in what a good drinker I was. I was never the sort of drunk who got crazy at parties. I always held my liquor very well, and with the exception of my husband, people could rarely tell that I was completely out of it. Even he didn’t know a lot of the time. The only outward clue to my excess was when I happened to be out and about with friends. People who had the pleasure of physically seeing me drink can attest to the amount of alcohol I could put down and still remain standing.
I wore it as a badge of honor. People would say, “How are you still conscious? You just killed that entire bottle of vodka!” and I’d beam with pride, like I’d just accomplished something really amazing.
About a year before I got sober, I remember overhearing my oldest daughter on the phone with a friend of hers. This friend has a mother who’s a mean drunk, and she was venting about what it’s like to live with an alcoholic. My daughter was sympathetic.
I’m so sorry you have to live with that. I can’t even imagine what it must be like- I’ve never even seen my mom drunk before.
Ironically, I was a good 3/4ths of the way through a bottle of vodka at that exact moment, and was completely fucked up. I almost choked on my drink- I found it absolutely hilarious that I could hold my liquor so well that I could be (and regularly was) three sheets to the wind, and those who knew me best, didn’t have a clue. At the height of it all, I’d go through 4-5 bottles of vodka in a week’s time.
It was my secret weapon, and I loved it the way I imagine others love their life-partner or their very best friend.
Many people don’t understand just how awkward a being I am. Naturally anti-social, I do not like going out, and I hate large crowds. I’m painfully shy, and I have really bad social anxiety. With the exception of just a few people- and I’m related to almost all of them- there really isn’t anyone I feel completely at ease around. Alcohol was the perfect solution anytime I had to go somewhere or do something that made me leave my comfort zone.
That’s how it started with me. When I drank, I felt the way I imagine “normal” people feel when they’re out in public. I didn’t have panic attacks, and I could relax and even have a little fun. Initially, I didn’t even keep alcohol in the house. There wasn’t any reason to. I was in my element when I was at home, so I was at ease and comfortable. I would only drink when I went out, and that didn’t happen too often.
It wasn’t until after my first marriage collapsed that I started drinking daily, and drinking at home. I wanted to move past my divorce as quickly as possible. My divorce was an ugly one, as my ex-husband physically assaulted me after we’d separated. Since the incident was both violent and involved his breaking into my home at night, I became fearful anytime I was at home. Even though I immediately moved to a new place, for years afterwards, I was scared- especially if anyone came to the door unexpectedly. Since I was also an anxiety-ridden mess anytime I went out anywhere, I soon became a walking, talking nervous breakdown just waiting to happen.
… And not a single soul knew about it.
Alcohol gave me the courage I needed to be able to move forward, and when I wanted to hide, it helped me do that too. Throughout this entire time, I excelled at my job, I raised my kids, I finished school, and I developed relationships with other people. Yet I remember very little of it, because I was drunk the entire time.
Somehow, I managed to do what I had to do to survive, and on the outside, it even looked like I was thriving. The problem was, I wasn’t present. I was blacking out at night, so I couldn’t remember much the next day. Sometimes it was entire conversations that I didn’t remember. Other times it was movies or TV shows that I’d watched, but had no recollection of. It was trippy to log on to my Netflix account and see all kinds of stuff in my “Recently Watched” queue, having no idea what they were, or why they were there.
Finally, my health started to nosedive. I gained an unbelievable amount of weight, and developed all kinds of digestive problems I’d never had before. My skin became dry, brittle and extremely itchy. My entire body ached, and I started getting weird infections with alarming regularity. I was retaining a ton of water, and my liver enzymes were elevated. After being warned by my doctor that I was well on my way to liver disease, I stopped seeing him.
Then my daughter got sick. Really sick. Hospitalized in the Pediatric Intensive Care unit sick.
That’s when I knew I had to make a change. It wasn’t possible to escape my life and still be present in the lives of my daughters or my husband. Even after I finally admitted that I had a terrible drinking problem, I still didn’t stop right away. I couldn’t. Instead, I tried to moderate. I tried to pick 3 days a week I wouldn’t drink. It didn’t work. I tried switching from hard liquor to wine. It didn’t work. I tried only drinking on the weekends. It didn’t work. I joined Weight Watchers, only to use my points-allowance for the entire week in a single drinking session, every night.
I notice for the first time that while the consequences of my drinking were more subtle than what I was hearing at AA, I was still suffering them. I wasn’t losing a job, or my home and my kids, but I had missed out on so much life. I had never felt that void before, but I felt it then.
I had to get help.
I found a treatment program, and worked it aggressively, even as I looked down on the other people in attendance. They were rough-looking men and women with bad grammar and criminal records. Some of them had no teeth. I just knew I was better than they were, as a “successful” (wink-wink) white collar professional. I managed to stay sober for a couple of weeks, until a work-related trip out of town. I relapsed. That’s when I realized what a complete and total bitch I had been, and that my ego could cost me my life. Maybe those people I was in recovery with were rough around the edges, but they were managing to do something I had never been able to do: Get Sober.
So, with my pride in check, and with my tail between my legs, I tried again.
This time it stuck, and here I am.
I’m still weird and socially awkward, but I’ve decided I’ll take that over where I used to be any day of the week.
Thanks for hangin’ in there with me while I spew.
Until next time…