This time of year makes me feel especially nostalgic. Not because it’s the holidays, but because this is the time of year when I made a decision to change my life. Eight years ago, I was being beat up by the consequences of my actions on a consistent basis. The pain caused me to continually run from one thing to the next, participating in meaningless relationships and always playing the victim. I was a prisoner to the forever spinning hamster wheel in my brain, ultimately making me feel like I no longer wanted to exist. Looking back on who I was then, it is clear I was very broken.
As a teenager, I was very aware of the disease of alcoholism. I knew it was something that ran in families, and my family was one of those. There was no alcohol in our house, and to be honest, whenever I went some place alcohol was served, I felt uncomfortable. It was just taboo in my mind.
Aside from the alcohol discussion, my upbringing was normal. But what is normal anyway? I assumed everyone hated to be alone, that most kids struggled with friends, and at the end of time spent with friends most kids were filled with regret. Did I say the right thing? What if I would have done this instead? Can I go back and do it over, oh please oh please? Anxiety was a part of my life early on, but I never knew that’s what that feeling in my gut was. It was just the way I was — never able to be still or at ease.
One thing I remember well is having this strong desire I always wanted to “be better”. Better than what? What does that even mean? I had no idea, but that’s what I wanted so badly. And I spent lots of time trying to improve myself. This is normal for an adult, but for a 12-year-old? Needless to say, I was wound pretty tight.
Back to alcoholism… since it tends to be a family disease, I was made aware a young age that I might have an issue in this area. I decided I just wouldn’t find out! If I don’t drink, I can’t be an alcoholic, right? So that’s how I proceeded through high school and into college. Avoiding alcohol worked well, until it didn’t.
Discovering My “Solution”
And on that day that it didn’t — oh man! I remember it so vividly. We were on a band trip for an away game during October of my freshmen year of college. With in minutes of my first alcoholic beverage, my racing mind started to slow down. My shoulders to drop from my ears, I could take a deep breath for the first time in my life and I finally felt like people actually liked me. The best part? I stopped over thinking every single thing!
Side note: I’m not sure why I love it so much because the first night I drank, I got into huge fight with two good friends. Perception, right?
Needless to say, alcohol quickly became this magical thing, my solution. Even though I knew the potential risks, it made me feel so awesome, I didn’t want to NOT drink. However, I tried to be “good”, I stayed away from it as much as I could over the next couple of years. On the occasions when I did partake, blackouts came quickly and happened every time. In my mind, that was the goal; let’s shut out this crazy world!
I Had Arrived
When I moved off campus into a house with friends, things escalated quickly. If I was drinking, alcohol was fine. If I wasn’t, well no one else should have a good time either. I battled with trying to be a chill/laid-back person and trying to be successful. For me, they are not the same. That battle led to another: controlling vs. enjoying my drinking. Also not the same. Like I said I drank to black out and get away from the pressures of life. Looking back, I can’t imagine I was very fun to be around during this time in my life, sober or drunk.
The next year of campus I was over trying to fight the battle. Enjoy my drinking it is! I made a decision to do whatever would make me feel ok. And what worked best was for me to be on the go. That meant bars and parties whenever possible. Class, sleep, homework, work were secondary priorities to my new way of life.
Many of the people I spent time with those last few years of drinking were people who drank like me. I preferred to be around them to make it clear that I was FINE. If I have a problem, they do too. The funny thing was, when I’d say things like, “Do you wonder if you’re an alcoholic?” they gave me strange looks and shook their heads.
“Oh, yeah, me either….”
I’ve always found it difficult to describe exactly how I felt during this time of my life; the best thing I’ve been able to come up with is that I just felt “not ok”. I couldn’t stand to be alone, but being with people made me exhausted. In crowded bar, I felt trapped and alone. I’d dread nights without plans and would turn my phone on and off, thinking it was broken because no one was calling/texting. Anxiety filled my body; drinking made it stop. Well, it made me less aware of it. So I welcomed all consequences that came from my drinking to be rid of the alternative.
I Am Not the Problem
As my situation became less acceptable to me, I began searching for a new solution. I landed on the fact that my home town was the problem. Clearly, I’d lived there too long and I just needed to get out. That’d make all these feelings of uncertainty, panic, and wanting to “just be done” go away. So I moved. And worked at a bar. Oddly enough, things got worse! So I moved again.
This time, I had a full-time job for a small sports team doing marketing — DREAM JOB! I rarely drank, but when I did it was lights out. It was still impossible for me to figure out how to control and enjoy alcohol. And guess what? Things got worse.
As weeks went by, I kept convincing everyone I was fine. For the people I saw daily, I just became a cynical b*tch and they accepted that. Facebook and texting made it really easy to convince people who knew me well, but were 2,000 miles away, that I was “great”!
Beginning of “The End”
My secret came to a screeching halt Thanksgiving weekend 2008. For weeks I’d been planning my trip home. Arranging get-togethers, buying tickets to the football game, it was going to be an epic 5-day weekend! It was epic alright, and NOTHING like I planned.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is the big rival game for my alma mater. Ticket and vodka in hand, I had my mom drop me and a friend off down on campus. That was about the last thing I remember. My blackouts were coming on much more quickly these days, and that day in particular. Bits and pieces of that day have come back to me, but it is mostly black.
I’ve heard things about that day. It makes me wonder who takes over when I black out. And how do my friends not realize it isn’t me?! I sure didn’t like the girl I heard about. But I couldn’t stop her. Once I took a drink, it was inevitable that she’d show up, and no one knew when.
I came to that Black Friday in the 4th quarter of the football game. Standing in the stands, surrounded by college students screaming, and I felt more alone and frightened than I ever had in my life. I raced out of the stadium. Soon I learned I had lost my driver’s license, bank card and game ticket. Who knows how I even got in there!
Panic ensued. I’m able to recall bits and pieces of detective work I did over the next few hours. Back at my parents house, I cancelled my bank card and tried to figure out how I’d fly back home on Monday. Once my cell phone was recharged, I got a voicemail from some one who found my belongings. My heart beat slowed down and I was eager to go retrieve and then, you guessed it, hit the bars.
Many problem shake their heads when they hear me say my very next thought was MORE DRINKING. Those of you with alcoholic minds will understand and the rest of you, I’m sorry. But this is the true mind of an alcoholic.
As was freshening up for my night out, I heard my dad make a comment to my mom about me going back out. I knew he had concerns, and I’m sure he knew I wasn’t sober. But I assured them I was fine and it was all just a freak accident. The things we do to protect our loved ones, when really we are just protecting our “secret life” of drinking.
As soon as I retrieved the missing items, I felt free to continue partying with my friends. After all, I was on vacation! There are photos from the evening that remind me of some of the people I was with and even a place or two where we stopped. But that’s all I have. This “epic weekend” I had been longing for for months quickly became a whirlwind of drinking and blacking out.
That morning after was different from any other. At that point, I had nothing in my brain from the day before; all the memories were pieced together later. I wasn’t even sure what city I was in! When I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t sure who that girl was looking back. But she made me angry to look at. I hated her for how she made me feel. Alone. Empty. Sad. Scared.
That morning, I made a decision that my plans were going to change while I was home. I no longer wanted to visit with friends and party. Instead, I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. Yes, it could have been the hangover, but I choose to believe it was more. Today, I know that God was preparing me to make a decision that would change my life.
Made a Decision
It was still early, so I drove over to the cafe where I used to work and where my best friend was still working. When I walked in, she knew something was wrong. Although she was busy, she paused and looked in my eyes. I told her, “I think I’m done.” She nodded. “I think that’s good.”
The magnitude of my words that Saturday didn’t set in for the rest of the weekend… I’ve said things like it before. “I need to stop drinking.” “I should take a break.” Of course, once I was feeling better from the night/day before, those thoughts quickly vanished. No one ever argued the point with me. Now I know it’s because I believe they all agreed that yes, I should.
For the rest of my time home, I declined calls, nursed my hangover and enjoyed time with my parents. My body seemed to appreciate my decision. But, again, my mind still hadn’t comprehended the words I spoke in the cafe and what it truly meant.
Before I knew it, it was Monday and time to go home. Of course, after Thanksgiving weekend, airports were a zoo. I got stuck in an airport, missed my connection and missed even more work. My boss wasn’t happy and I felt helpless. There I was, stuck in an airport with way too many cranky people, day 1 of sobriety. I think I called my dad half a dozen times and sat in tears for the rest of time. Longest day of my life!
When I arrived back at my apartment much later that evening, I sat on my bed and stared into space. What was I thinking?! I was not a daily drinker, but I loved drinking to slow down my brain, to shut out the world, to quiet my crazies. Now what?
One thought I had continually in the beginning was that maybe I overreacted. I kept questioning myself, especially as the days of sobriety started to add up. Was I really that bad? And then the flashes would come — I’d remember back to that football game, or a month prior, or even back to some weekends that summer. Keeping track of my cellphone had become impossible, making sure I got home at the end of the night was rare, having A drink never happened. If A drink was my option, I’d just pass.
So my thoughts slowly began to change. I suppose one could look at my decision to be sober as an overreaction, but I see that it was exactly what needed to happen. Me and drinking were not going well. Friends who drank around me were growing up, moderating, or just stopping all together. And for some reason, I just couldn’t do the same. All my thoughts in previous years about being an alcoholic came rushing back and I knew it to be true.
Decision Made, Now What
Getting sober was not something I could do on my own. I had the help and support from a fellowship of men and women. If anyone reading this is interested in hearing more details, I would love to share. Please do reach out! That is my greatest hope for this blog and this post in particular, — to help women who might know what I’m talking about here because they can relate.
This fellowship played a huge part in guiding me back to God. The same God I chose to walk away from years ago. Why? Well… long story short, it was hard to live the life I was living and try to follow His “rules”. So the “bad girl” won out and, in my mind, God and I parted ways.
**Definitely more to this story that will be coming in another post.**
Alcohol was my master, but it was my solution. Not my problem. I AM the problem. Of and by myself, I am not making good decisions for my life. I go after every shining thing that pops up around me. Alcohol made that infinitely worse. Clearly I wasn’t running life well on my own. And we all know that God hadn’t left me. So… I had made a decision to quit drinking. Next on the list: will I choose to have a relationship with God? Here I was, faced with two choices, death or God, and I still wasn’t sure what my choice should be. Thankfully, I know I’m not alone.
When I made a decision to get sober, I was thinking my life was over. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the life that was just beginning…