1,025,882 minutes sober. Make it Count: My Story

A few things happened in my life to make me pause and look at my drinking habits. Most notably, my “habit” of drinking wine. Lots of wine.

I had joined a 12 step group for disordered eating in an attempt to get a handle on my emotional eating, and in that program, depending on your sponsor, you typically need to submit all of your food you plan to eat for the day, in the morning, and then at night do an inventory of all of the food you did eat, to keep you accountable. My sponsor, over time, asked me, “What’s up with all this wine?” See, I’m a very honest person, and a rule follower. On paper I will tell the truth. So, my (most) nightly glass of wine would usually turn into 3, usually 4, as my husband isn’t a big drinker. So, I would just finish off the bottle – who wants stale wine, am I right?

That was my first eye opening moment, trying to maintain control of both my food and my wine intake, and always failing. Then I started to moderate, and she would say, “Maybe commit to only having two drinks.” And I remember one night at a bar with my girlfriend, I turned to beer instead of wine – I didn’t mind beer, it just wasn’t my go to choice of drink. So, I justified downing 3-4 beers as they weren’t wine. That’s when I started my craft beer phase of drinking. 😊

Now, this moment wasn’t the FIRST time I thought I might have a problem, it was just the first time I was willing to let a crack of curiosity seep into my soul.

I started drinking when I was around 13 or 14 years old. The very first time I drank, I went to my parents’ liquor cabinet (I think everyone had one back in the day, although they weren’t big liquor drinkers, my dad was a PBD guy all the way). I took a flask that I got from God knows where – how does a 13-year-old even get a flask, you may ask? I have no idea. But there it was, and I was more than willing to fill it. I took every single liquor that was in that cabinet – clear, brown, you name it, it went into the flask that seemed never ending.

My friends and I went to the mall that day, and we took turns drinking from that flask. I felt *so cool*. It tasted horrible. Absolutely horrible. Very medicinal, and I’m sure it cleaned out some of my systems, and disinfected me down to my toes. But it also did something else – it made me laugh, it made me feel cool, and the life of the party. It also made me feel like I belonged. And so, my association with drinking and being an extrovert was made very early on.

My parents never found out about the flask incident, although later they would see much more.

The next time I drank was after a breakout with a boy, and my friends and I were all hanging out at this abandoned waterpark. It was fall, and getting chilly out in the suburbs of Chicago. There weren’t many places for teens to hang out in the ‘burbs, so this was one of our spots, along with Taco Bell, the cemetery, someone’s basement, and a hotel room if someone had the money.

I don’t recall how I got the bottle of Jack Daniels, I certainly couldn’t have bought it, but there it was, in my hands, and I was just drinking straight from the bottle. I swear I drank half of that bottle, if not ¾ of it. By myself. By the end of the night, I was lying down on top of the hill upside down, yelling at the top of my lungs for my boy to come back. It wasn’t a good look. That night I may or may not have ended up in another boy’s basement because I got too blackout drunk to walk. Nothing happened, or so I think, I got lucky with angels that watched over me and I usually stayed out of trouble. But you can only play with fire so many times until you get burned.

The drinking continued throughout High School, but it wasn’t an every night thing, it was a once or twice a month extravaganza of drinking, partying, and this is what all the kids did, right? At least most of my friends did. So, I was not unusual in any way.

Something I don’t talk about much at all, if ever, is the night that I was hanging out with my girlfriend, her boyfriend, and his friends. Just us two girls to about five guys. We were drinking, of course (duh) and I sort of liked one of the boys, he was cute, but known for being a player and I was the Shakespearean reading sort of girl, a hopeless romantic, so this would not end up well for me, so I was smart enough to know that this romance would not work. I wasn’t smart enough to stop drinking, however. Or to not cuddle with him while watching tv. My memory is blurred on parts of this, but I don’t remember him even trying to be kind, to, you know, stroke my back or hold my hand. One minute we were watching tv and the next he was on top of me. Heavy, and insistent. I did not want this, no matter how cute he was. I don’t remember if I said no, but I remember trying to push him off of me, and the feeling of being suffocated. Nothing I did could stop this, and that feeling is something I can’t put into words, but if I could give it a color it would be black as tar. Darkness settled over me and into me, and I wanted to puke. I must have screamed, although I can’t hear it now. My girlfriend, who was in the other room, heard me and came barging in the door. She pulled him off of me and by now I’m just a sobbing mess. See, I told you, I have angels in my life. It’s just that sometimes they don’t arrive as quickly as you’d like.

After that, I still kept drinking. It was my fault that happened, right? And I didn’t tell anyone. Not my parents, not my other friends. It was unspoken between my girlfriend and I; this was not something good girls spoke about, and it was not something we would revisit again either.

Another memory that sticks out to me is of my senior prom. I went with my best guy friend at the time, and was looking forward to it. We went with a group of friends, and we were separated into two groups – the couples who planned on having sex, and the couples who didn’t. We had a few hotel rooms, and wanted to put all the non sexers in a room together. My friend and I were in that group. After the dance, we went back to the hotel and all the people in my group started to drink and do drugs. Now one thing about me is, I never tried smoking a cigarette, I never tried drugs in high school. But drinking seemed an innocent thing, something normal that everyone did. So that’s what I did, and since I wasn’t doing drugs or having sex, I felt I had to compensate. Why? I don’t know. But there it was. A group of boys were having a drinking contest. Well, I saddled myself right up to that glass coffee table and settled into the blush couch and I was going to win this thing. I matched the boys drink for drink, I don’t even remember what we were drinking. I know shots were involved. You may not be surprised to hear that I won. The guys were so impressed. How could a girl win? Girl power, boom. Right ladies? Oh yeah, it was a great look.

About 30 minutes later, all of that booze had trickled through my system, and I was not just drunk, I was blackout drunk. Except my eyes stayed open. Looking back, I wonder if this is how smart the human body can be, to sort of be aware and know you can’t blackout completely in a room full of boys? See, I was the only girl in this room. The only one.

Either way, I laid down on the couch, and I couldn’t move. The room was spinning, and I felt paralyzed. I really couldn’t move. It was like sleep paralysis except I was awake.

My friend took care of me, I told him I wanted to go home. I told him to call my dad. He would pick me up. He watched over me, but didn’t call my dad.

He left the room to go to the adjoining room to see if one of the girls could help take care of me. When he did, two of the boys, one of them my ex-boyfriend, stood over me, and talked about raping me. They had a full-on discussion about it and I don’t remember saying a word. But I heard all of it and I was terrified. I hoped my friend would come back in the room soon. He was one of my angels and I needed him.

I don’t know what kind of drugs everyone had taken, but it caused the boys to be violent. I have a video still from this night, from earlier in the night, and the boys were just all moshing together and beating each other up and laughing. So, they were a bit punchy, to say the least.

The two boys, my ex and his friend, decided to throw empty beer cans and even bottles at me instead of raping me. See, angels. Except some of the bottles weren’t empty, and some of them hurt. Soon I was covered in beer and screamed for my friend. He came in finally, and I told him he needed to call my dad, my dad would pick me up. I was crying, and couldn’t explain what had just happened, but he must have wondered why I was covered in beer. He kept hesitating, and was looking to his friends for permission to call my dad, possibly he thought they would all get in trouble, underage kids drinking and doing drugs, but all I wanted was my dad to pick me up. His hesitation combined with the cold beer on my head broke the paralysis and I finally jumped off the couch, and now I’m pissed and screaming that I need to go. One of the boys punched me in the face. I think that finally prompted my friend to call. I don’t even think I could have dialed my dad’s number.

So, my dad came and got me, and he didn’t even ask any questions, I was crying too hard and I obviously had not had the best time.

So, I guess these early stories were the start of my binge drinking career. I never identified with being an alcoholic in the sense that I constantly drink, but I realize that there are shades and there is a shade of grey and I think I fall into that. Although at the end, I was drinking wine nearly every night.

I graduated to wine when I moved to the city and my friends introduced me to red wine, the first time I had wine it was paired with pad thai and it was amazing. But I wasn’t a wine snob, oh no. I could do boxed wine, but also my bestie and I would drink a full bottle each of Boone’s Farm wine before a night out when we lived together. Looking back at those times, they were fun. I don’t regret them at all.

I still was “normal” in the sense that I didn’t drink every night, I only drank socially, I didn’t drink alone, etc., etc., I was a good worker, I always have been, and I was creative with my writing.

It wasn’t until after I had kids that the wine monster crept in more and more and gave me the sense of peace and relaxation. So, motherhood was the gateway, it turns out. How surprising to me. I never thought I’d be this sort of mom. And, again, I want to point out that what I was doing was no different than my friends, or the mom down the street from me. It was completely normal and accepted.

Being a mom is difficult. That’s an understatement. But really, the lack of sleep at the beginning, the feedings, all of it. Wine took all of that away, and gave me a sense of wellbeing. Wine lied to me.

I justified my glass at night because it’s good for my heart. Happy mama, happy life, right? It chills me out and I am a very Type A strung out mama. And there aren’t many outlets for me, or so I thought at the time, to relax, so wine was an instant lottery ticket that always paid out.

I recall a time when I just wanted to zone out, and I had taken the kids to a movie theater that served food and drinks. They made the best martini, and I always only had two. Except this day, I wanted/needed more. So, the kids and I saw a double feature. We saw another movie just so I could have more. At the time, I remember thinking, I am the BEST MOM. To let my kids see TWO movies! But, looking back, I was only taking care of me, really. And my (disease)?

But I was and am a good mom. We all are. But the wine became more and more a part of my routine. I used to drink after the kids went to sleep, but then it became with dinner. Then it was, I need a bottle of wine in the house AT ALL TIMES. I would freak out if a snowstorm came into the Chicago area and I didn’t have a bottle or two in reserve. More than once friends dropped off bottles for me as a result of a Facebook plea or hint for wine. See? Angels.

One night my bestie came into town, and we planned on going to a wine bar in town, going into the city for dinner, go to a speakeasy, and to meet some friends for drinks.

We had wine and cheese, the best wine I think I’ve ever had, and we got a bottle to go to drink on the train into the city. Then we went to dinner and had a pitcher or two of sangria. Then we went to a favorite old dive bar for drinks. I danced. And it gets out of order here, but my friend at the time owned a speakeasy, and we wanted to visit, so we went there and I was already drunk, and don’t remember much of it, but we left there early to hang with our friends, and we went to a few bars, at one of them I ordered rounds of fireball for the entire bar, I’m told. I don’t remember that. My friend picked up the bill. Then I blacked out, but was still walking. Sort of like a human zombie. I’m sure my friends didn’t know just how messed up I was, however, the last bar we wanted to go into wouldn’t let me in. I think at that point I was put into a cab, and I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in a hotel room. My one friend had let us crash with him. I had lost my wallet along the way, and that included a flash drive that contained all of my writing. (spoiler alert, I have since found a backup). But I thought a lot about what could have happened if my friend wasn’t there.

Alcoholism runs in my family. My uncle drank himself to death, literally. So, when I would question my drinking to anyone in my family, it was like, well, you’re not Uncle so and so. You are just fine! Although my body was telling me it was time to stop because I would get the worst hangovers at the end. Even if I only had a couple of drinks, I would wake up the next day just devastated. This was one of my decision makers as well. I Googled, “Am I allergic to alcohol?” “Am I an alcoholic?” and I took all the tests, too. Survey says that I was.

But the most important one has to do with my youngest daughter. 3 yrs. ago, when she was 7, we were up at our cottage in Michigan, and in Michigan it is very normal to drink before noon, it is the place to relax, and so after a full day there, I had had more than my share, and the thing about me is that I didn’t have a gauge to know when to stop drinking, which I think many gray area drinkers have in common with me. So, my stages of drinking were 1. Relax, 2. Happy, 3. Loud, 4. Fun/loud and the fifth stage was anger (or blacking out). And sometimes I wouldn’t get to that place, but other times I would, and when I did it was not fun for anyone near me. (I’ve been known to fight men in bars, literally, when I’m at this stage). So, I came back into the cottage after a nice boat ride w/ my family to find my youngest daughter jumping up and down on the daybed. It was no big deal, our cottage is relaxed, and not a place where you can’t let loose. But for some reason, the sight of my daughter jumping on the bed really got me angry. I am typically not a parent who yells often, or gets physical with my kids. It is very out of character for me. But I walked right up to her, and to be honest, it’s a blur what exactly happened, but I definitely yelled, and I did hit her. I don’t remember where, but I remember it was hard, hard enough to hurt my hand. And I was terrified that this was me. I had a moment where I looked outside of myself, and saw me for what I was in that moment. I had such a moment of clarity. Of course, it was too late. The look in her eyes is something I will never forget. And I decided right then that I never, ever wanted her to look at me that way again. I was her protector, her safety, her mom. She and I have a relationship that I am so blessed to have. And here I was, taking steps to ruin that, chipping away at this beautiful thing I had, and for what. For a few moments of relaxation? The calm before the storm? It was not worth it.

I immediately apologized to her. But the damage was done. She was crying, and I was crying. It was around bedtime, so we both went to sleep together, and we both cried for a long time before we fell asleep. That was when I prayed to God to take this away, to show me what to do.

That morning I made the decision that I would stop drinking.

There was so much that led up to this, the red flags and the fact that my games of moderating, switching to beer, etc., nothing was working, I realized after this event with my daughter, that I needed to just completely stop. Something if you told me 3 yrs. ago, I would do, I would have told you to get out! No way. But God transforms, and I feel like I am a completely different person.

This was 3 yrs. ago. Shortly after making this decision, when I was about 6 months sober, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. It was very unexpected, and she was given 6 months. We all thought she had more time. She didn’t. But the gift of sobriety let me be present during this difficult time. I will never regret that.

After she died, I was lost, in more ways than one. I relapsed then, with a year of sobriety under my belt, and drank at our annual end of summer party, but it felt more like in celebration of her life. A few weeks later, as I saw how alcohol crept back into my life, very sneaky, after reading Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind, I decided again to be sober, and that it was just going to be a way of life for me. Committing to anything forever is scary for me. So, I take it one day at a time, and try not to think in absolutes.

This is a progressive disease, and I don’t like using the word disease, I don’t like labels at all. But it ramped up for me, it went from being a social binge drinker to being someone who drinks a bottle a night, but it wasn’t every night – and this is where it got hard to admit I needed to stop because society makes you feel like it’s perfectly normal to relax every night w/ wine.

And while it wasn’t every night, it was often enough. I used to say the secret to a happy marriage was a bottle of champagne in the fridge, and it got to the point where I would get nervous if I didn’t have a stash of wine. I once put a shout out for wine during a winter storm and a good friend did bring me wine. Wine became my carrot, it was the answer to everything, and the reward for everything. I ran a half marathon – wine, I had a baby, wine (yes, I had some in my hospital to go bag). Ran a marathon – wine.

It’s surprising I didn’t get sick of it, but looking back, to be so dependent on this one thing and it was the one thing I didn’t want to give up. When my sponsor recommended it, my dr., I thought they were crazy. Give it up? No. I’ll moderate.

But then I was surprised to find I couldn’t do that.

But, turns out I could, through the power of the Holy Spirit, whose voice nudged me every step of the way.

And my life is so much better for it. That was the day before thanksgiving and I haven’t looked back. I will celebrate 2 yrs. this November. And I feel like I’m just getting started.

There’s so much I haven’t done yet that I’d like to do. (sort of like Hamilton, but he did all the things). And my daughter doesn’t remember that time in Michigan when Mommy lost her temper. It’s amazing to me, and that is grace. The other day she told me, out of the blue, after a commercial for beer came on, that she was so happy I didn’t drink. I looked at her, and I told her, well I used to. And we had a conversation about that. And it was beautiful.

I’m done sleeping my life away being hungover. The first year was like an awakening, the second year was figuring out what I want to do, or starting to. The first year I did experience a pink cloud for the first few months, the second time, after my relapse, it was more like a relief, like this is how it is supposed to be. Like I was returning home to myself.

I was recently on a plane home from DC for work, and the guy next to me had a tattoo on his forearm that read: “Make it count”.

I didn’t get sober to do nothing with my life.

I want to make it count.

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