Last night's meeting was one of those. Before we all hunkered down in the basement of the church where I went to preschool, I canoodled with some folks while smoking cigarettes and drinking 7-11 coffee. Showing up 15 minutes early to a meeting has given me time to socialize with others, not just about sobriety, but about our lives in general. We aren't just a bunch of drunks; we're people. We have jobs, families, life experience, emotions, stories, and dreams that extend beyond the scope of powerlessness over alcohol.
Juan Valdez and his burro: patron saints of Alcoholics Anonymous
A friend chaired the meeting tonight, meaning he told his story and then opened it up to the rest of us to respond or share. One of the things he mentioned was that there was a period of time where things got really bad, maybe the last six months during his drinking career. This was the same choice of words I use when I tell people about when it started to get bad for me, when I started to dig my hole deeper and get my hands dirtier every weekend. He didn't get his wake up call until he was physically injured. For me, it took me getting assaulted to stop drinking. It took kicking, biting, scratching, and clobbering for me to really take a step back and look at how awful my life had become: the job I hated tremendously was slowly laying me off by allowing me to work from home and cut my hours (therefore giving me more opportunities to drink), the stupid winter was wearing on me, the Seahawks were doing really well, and my stress level was through the roof emotionally.
At some point, I remember thinking, "Shit, I hope this doesn't get so bad I need to drink to get to sleep." But it did get so bad I needed to drink to sleep. Instead of trying to quit drinking, you know, the responsible option, I looked for solutions that allowed me to keep drinking, one of which was Ambien. While it was partly true that I was switching jobs that were drastically different in regards to their hours of operation, I couldn't sleep if I wasn't drinking. My anxiety would culminate at 3 or 4 in the morning or I would be so deep into Reddit I couldn't r/findawayout. Ambien was the answer! On nights I wasn't drinking, I could pop 5 milligrams of the generic and be dead to the world in 10 minutes, just like drinking whisky before bed. My doctor warned me not to mix alcohol and Ambien, and as far as I know, I never did. I nodded to confirm I heard her warning, but really I was thinking, "Don't fuck this up - it'll interfere with your drinking." I didn't even realize I was becoming addicted to Ambien. A few people warned me that it was severely habit forming, even though the drug claims it isn't. But I sluffed it off. After all, I had already formed a habit with alcohol so naturally I had this Ambien thing on lock because you can only be addicted to one substance at a time haha!
When Google fucking nails it.
During the six months before my assault, I started doing something I never did: drinking off my hangovers. Usually I would be so hungover I couldn't even stomach the idea of drinking any more alcohol. All of my hangovers were usually Never Drinking Again hangovers because I drank so much. But as soon as the time hit 5pm and I had convinced myself that one meal for the day was enough, it was ON. Drinking every other day became drinking every day within the last six months of my inebriated conquest. I mean, I had zero responsibilities. I might as well drink, right?
When women mention they have a drinking problem, it's usually chalked up to enjoying too much white wine at happy hour...
...and not drinking so much whisky you're physically unable to remove yourself from a sweatshirt.
My friend chairing the meeting also stated that everyone around him knew his drinking was out of control before he did, that he had lost control of his addiction and his life. The same occurred on my end: both my divorced parents spoke with each other, unbeknownst to me, to discuss my tolerance for pinot noir during holidays and family functions. Usually when my parents speak to each other, the topic of communication is usually centered around me, as I'm the only thing they currently have in common. But instead of discussing my finances or flights for the holidays, they were talking about how much I was drinking. My boyfriend at the time knew: alcohol helped me not as lonely when he was traveling, and because he traveled a lot, I was drinking a lot. I figured that no one knew how bad it was getting if I stayed within the confines of my own home and didn't make a lot of noise, but I was wrong. I joked numerous times I had a drinking problem, but I didn't accept it. I knew for months it was getting bad, but I was too afraid and ashamed to ask for help. Even when I went to the ER after getting assaulted, I couldn't even call my mom; I had to have my boyfriend call her for me. Alone and shaking from withdrawal in a hospital gown, I knew something had to change. My friend chairing the meeting said the same: if he hadn't lost his footing by trying to avoid not stumbling onto his dog and breaking his eye socket (like the ER technicians were worried I had done), he wouldn't have had such a monumental awakening to his alcoholism.
Left photo: going through withdrawal in the ER. I have a black eye and bruises on my neck, back, and chest. I got a tetanus shot for a bite on my left hand.
Right photo: 30 days sober.
I was afraid of asking for help because I didn't want to be alone. I didn't know what would happen if I really buckled down and was HONEST for a change, honest with myself and others. If I was good at one thing when I was drinking, it was lying to people: how much I had to drink, if I was okay to drive, why I called in sick/drunk/hungover/someone died to work, how things were going with my life, why I didn't return phone calls or texts, why I was angry or upset with someone. I lied to myself a lot. My drinking career was Two Lies and A Truth instead of Two Truths and A Lie, that stupid game people play. That's what my life was, numerous lies surrounded by one giant truth: that I had a drinking problem and it was fucking bad.
I thanked my friend for charing the meeting. He received many good responses from multiple members of our small but mighty group. I've been going consistently enough now that I remember people's first names and what kind of cigarettes they smoke. I have the same spot I sit in every week and know who is going to sit across from me. It's growing my sober network that has allowed me to know that I'm not alone. Between inpatient, outpatient, and my AA meetings in Minneapolis and Seattle, I have numerous people I can call, people who won't turn me away at the first sign of fear or vulnerability. I am sober, but I am not alone. When I was drinking, I was the most alone, the island trying to climb over the waves to see land. I feared that becoming sober would leave me cast as a shadow without a person to follow, but really it was the exact opposite: I was alone because I drank, and becoming sober provided me with numerous people on which I can seek out in a time of need.
Today I have some of my ducks in a row, and I'm working on gathering the rest either by way of old Nintendo games or bread and a hammer. I was a fortunate drunk; I never had any serious legal issues or crimes to pay for. Somehow I never got a DUI. Somehow I never got a Drunk and Disorderly. Somehow I always woke up in the morning. And somehow I'm alive.