My name is Emily, and I am an alcoholic. I have said these words in rooms full of friends and strangers thousands of times, yet writing it here, for the whole world to read feels terrifying.
This was the post I was never going to write. It was the stuff reserved for those who knew me well, but never to be aired publicly. It would reveal a piece of me that would tattle-tail on a past me, a lost me, a destructive me. It would create wonder and perhaps even caution, in the minds of others. It would out me. It would label me–label my kids, which above all else, was my greatest fear. I rationalized not sharing this part of myself publicly, because I felt this was my burden to carry; not theirs. But the truth is, it’s not a burden; it’s a gift. In fact it is the greatest gift I have ever given myself and my children.
Why then, have I been so afraid to open up publicly on this topic? I think at the forefront of it all is fear. We all want to be loved and accepted, and I think a part of me has held on to some old ideas about addiction and recovery, worrying about what others may think. Worrying about the folks who might view me as weak or damaged or just plain weird. I also understand the weight of opening up this conversation, and I don’t take the responsibility lightly. Addiction destroys families, kills dreams and breaks souls. This is a heavy topic, which is partly why I’ve shied away from it. But here I sit, a person in recovery–a sober mother, who escaped the odds, and it feels incredibly selfish not to use this platform to open up and start a dialogue about it.
I think the two driving forces behind writing this post are the ideas that I can possibly help another person who has struggled or is struggling with an addiction. The other purpose is to perhaps help smash the stigma of what addiction, and recovery look like. So where do I begin? This has been the burning question in my heart for months. I have carried such a heavy weight with this looming post. I can’t possibly write this honestly, without expressing how challenging it has been for me to find the proper words, and even as I sit here typing this out, I am still plagued by the idea that I may not carry the message properly. But then I am snapped back to the basics of my recovery–the very foundation of how I stay sober, day-to-day. I suit up and show up, I share my honest experience, strength and hope and I leave the rest up to my higher power, (who I typically refer to as ‘source’ or ‘universe’ or ‘god’.)
So in keeping with the simplicity of what has worked for thousands of recovered alcoholics, I will share a bit of my story in the hopes that someone will either relate, or just gain a better understanding of alcoholism and recovery, because lord knows there are many misconceptions. Let’s actually talk about that–the misconception of what an alcoholic looks like. Raise your hand if you’ve ever assumed that alcoholics are typically the homeless guy under the bridge, drinking cheap booze from a brown paper bag; (you can’t see me, but my hand is raised high). This is exactly what I used to think, in fact I had no idea that pretty little girls from affluent East Coast towns could wind up alcoholic.
I started drinking at what felt like a normal age–12 or 13 years old. I was in 7th grade, and I can’t remember whose house I was at, but I do remember drinking Budweiser from a can. One of the boys there said that I’d know it was working when I couldn’t feel my teeth anymore. I kept clacking them together, checking to see if I was doing it right. And then it happened, I chomped my teeth together one more time, and they felt tingly and numb. In that moment, I felt a sense of belonging that I hadn’t felt in a very long time, if ever. I was vibrant and social on the outside, but on the inside, I almost always felt like a misfit. I felt like everyone else had been given a ‘how-to’ manual on life, except me. I felt like I was too much and not enough, all at the same time. So that feeling–that sense of belonging, it was hugely monumental, and the only thing I knew was that I wanted to feel like that again as soon as possible.
For many years, drinking (and using) was fun–pure fun. Sure there were consequences, like getting busted smoking pot in a shed behind my best friend’s house, and getting a police escort home. Or throwing a rager at my parents house while they were out of town, which resulted in a house fire, (that I am pretty sure has gone down in my hometown history for like, ever). But the feeling of relief from my noisy head and that sense of being a part of, far outweighed any of those consequences in my adolescent mind. And honestly, I had no idea I was dealing with alcoholism, and had even less of an idea of what that even meant.
The fun eventually turned in to ‘fun with problems’, and that eventually morphed in to just ‘problems’. Look, I don’t want to sit here and rattle off my full drunk-o-logue, because it would just simply take too long. Also, the point of this post isn’t to impress or shock you with all of my war-stories. The point is, I hit a nasty bottom with it all. I was stuck in the spin-cycle of destroying my own life over and over, and looking for someone or something else to blame. It is my belief that while not every alcoholic’s rock-bottom looks the same, we can always identify with the feelings. I was out of ideas, out of luck and just plain beaten down. I felt empty, broken-spirited and spiritually bankrupt. I was lonely in the deepest sense of the word, and broken-hearted over the loss of myself. I was 30 years old without a trace of anything I wanted in my life, and I felt completely depleted of hope or inspiration. I would make promises to myself about today being the day, and yet I would find myself drunk or high anyway.
See this is the stuff I didn’t want to write; it’s the stuff I never wanted to admit because it’s sad and heavy and just so far from what my life looks like today. And that is precisely the reason I knew in my heart of hearts, that I must write it. I recently heard someone say, ‘write what you need to read’. So I guess in some cathartic way, I am writing what I needed to read, and hoping it reaches someone else who also needs to read it. Maybe this will be someone’s message of hope, or maybe a ‘sign’ they’ve been praying for, or maybe it will help you find compassion for someone else in your life. Because on the other side of addiction, is recovery.
If you look up the word ‘recovery’ in the dictionary, it means: the regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away; restoration or return to health from sickness. And this is exactly what I have found since September 25, 2009. That’s 9 years, if you’re not up to doing the math. I have spent the past 9+ years regaining mySelf. I used to really resent that I was an alcoholic, and felt that something had been taken from me. It felt unfair that my response to substance was unlike that of my peers. It felt like a handicap or a punishment, that I should have to endure life without so much as a well-deserved glass of wine at the end of the day, (but who was I kidding, I have never been a one-glass-of-wine type of gal). Sobriety has been an infinite source of gifts. It has been the foundation to everything good in my life. I can’t truly be grateful for my recovery, without also being grateful for the path that led me to it. Addiction used to feel like something bad that happened to me, but today, I choose my alcoholism so that I can choose my recovery.
I have teamed up with fellow sober mama, and all around RAD human, January Harshe to start this conversation. I hope you will visit us on Instagram, and join us in the discussion. If you feel called to, please share about your journey with recovery under the hashtag #project_my_name_is