Today I celebrate thirteen years of sobriety. When I tell people I am a recovering alcoholic they have questions. Here are some of them and how I answered.
How did you get to the point of realizing you had a problem?
Nothing was more important to me than my next drink. Where it came from, when it would be, what it would be. My entire day revolved around that thought. Watching the clock. Playing games about the ‘appropriate’ time to have the first drink of the day. Rationalizing that if five o’clock was okay then certainly four thirty would be fine. Thinking that these kids, or this person, or this chore, or this thing was keeping me from drinking. Resenting these roadblocks. Conjuring up elaborate plans on how to sneak a sip. Sending my husband on errands so I could drink without interference. Picking fights so he would leave and I could be alone with my vodka/tequila/wine.
How much did you drink?
I drank a lot but I lied about it to everyone. Even myself. I would decide that a shot at three o’clock was crazy, but a half a shot was probably okay. So I’d pour a half a shot that was really 3/4 of a shot. Then I’d pour another to drink in forty five minutes. My rationality was that when I drank that second one It would only equal one shot. In reality, I have had a shot and a half. In reality, I never waited forty five minutes.
I would drink a beer with a friend without them knowing I had primed myself with a few pre-beer shots. I would have margaritas with my spouse but pour extra tequila in mine. There was a sick power in knowing that I was pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. When I told my (then) husband that I was an alcoholic he exclaimed, “No you’re not, I drink the same amount as you.” Ha! Win! I was pounding down three shots in the kitchen to your one shot with me. Ha! I have alcohol hidden in the basement. Where’s yours? Ha! I only TELL you this is my first shot of the day when the truth is, I’ve been drinking for three hours.
How did you know you were an alcoholic and not just a heavy drinker? How did you know you weren’t a normal drinker?
Normal drinkers don’t have to hide the fact that they are drinking. They don’t make up stories about how much they’ve had to drink. They don’t drink large quantities alone…every single day. They don’t take an inventory of the liquor cabinet and panic when there is only one bottle of wine left for the evening. The best part of the day does not revolve around alcohol. You don’t wake up thinking, I only have to get through a, b and c and then I can have my wine (or vodka, or gin or whatever is left in the pantry.)
Normal drinkers don’t have empty gallon bottles in their recycling bin every week. There shouldn’t be an empty gallon of vodka and tequila, plus five of the BIG wine bottles plus twelve empty beer bottles in your recycling bin…every week. Normal drinkers don’t feel the need to bag some of the empties and put them in the garbage can so the neighbors couldn’t see what was really in your recycling bin.
Normal drinkers would look at ‘large quantities’ above and think that an entire bottle of wine is not a large quantity, it is. One bottle of wine is SIX servings. Four ounces is a serving of wine. WATER is eight ounces per serving, not wine. One ounce is a serving of hard liquor. Measure it!
I could justify drinking more and earlier if I had a bad day, if I got bad news, if I was depressed, if there was a tragedy. If bad things were going on I rejoiced. Now I had an excuse to drink. I could defend my drinking with “you don’t know what I’m going through.” “This will make me feel better.” “I need this drink to get through this.” Whatever this was. A burnt dinner, a sick child, an injured child, a death, a birth, a bad grade, a ticket, a trophy and the list of excuses to drink is endless.
When was your turning point?
I read a book, “Drinking, A Love Story.” Several light bulbs went off in my head while reading that book. Her description of her love of alcohol was similar to mine. She says somewhere in the book that if someone thought her drinking was over the top she stopped hanging out with them. She found new friends to drink with. She’d rather give up a friend than give up alcohol. At the time that made sense to me. And that scared me. I mentioned to my mom that I thought maybe my drinking was getting out of hand and she agreed. My mom agrees? Once that little kernel of doubt got into my head I couldn’t get it out. I think it actually made me drink more temporarily. I thought if I have to give this up I better get all I can in before I call it quits.
How did you stop drinking?
Here is the story of my last drink. My hand was forced. Day to day beyond that first night I had to do it one day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time. One second at a time. With my fingernails clawing at the side of the sink to just. Get. Through. This. one minute without a drink. With tears. With AA. With doubt. With a sponsor. With God. With fear. Lots of fear.
Drinking took over my whole life for many years. I did not like the woman I was back then. It was tough work. It was not fun but today, when I look in the mirror, I like the woman I see. I am no longer ashamed. I no longer feel out of control. I love my life. That is priceless.