A common misconception about addiction is that it has to look ugly to the naked eye. Of course it's ugly. It's ridiculously foul and disgusting. It's rude and offensive, but as addicts we can disguise ugliness. Cloak it. Conceal it. Render it completely invisible even to those who know us better than anyone else does. If no one can see a problem, then it doesn't exist. Right?
Wrong. I worked excruciatingly hard to keep the truth of my addiction to myself, it was my pretty little problem. All wrapped up in a neat little bow. As long as I didn’t bother anyone else with the ugliness, my addiction didn’t have to become real. I never caused an accident or landed in jail with a DUI or caused a physical fight or showed anyone exactly how much I drank. I was just a mom who enjoyed (loved!) and celebrated her wine and beer. Once in awhile non-family members saw me drink too much, but everyone does that from time to time and it's not an ugly thing. Right?
Wrong. I hid the truth. I masked the ugliness. Even I didn't know what was really going on. Not for a long time, anyway. This is what drove me to live in fear, drinking more all the time.
When I was in active addiction, I lived in fear of exposing my addiction. Getting found out. The more afraid I became, the more I tried to drink away the fear right along with any other emotion (good, bad, or indifferent) I was having on any given day.
Until I just couldn’t keep up with the lies anymore. Until I had lost myself so deeply I no longer knew who I was. Until I realized if I kept drinking all day every day, someone was going to find out. I was going to cause an accident or successfully finish the job of completely giving up on myself. Then all the ugliness would be sitting out there in plain view for everyone to see. Even if I didn't stick around to watch.
Now that I have been in recovery for over two years, I can say that one of the biggest misconceptions about recovery is that it ends. That addicts can overcome their addiction in such a way that after enough time has passed they will no longer be addicted and can go back to consuming their drug of choice. People ask me all the time, “You’re not really going to give up drinking forever, are you?” “When do you think you’ll be able to drink again?” Or, my new favorite from my father, “I know you’re off booze right now, but one of these days you are really going to have to try Tito’s vodka.”
When I first decided to get sober, all I knew was that I needed a break from alcohol. Like when you need some space from that not-so-fabulous boyfriend to determine whether he’s really as bad for you as everyone says he is. Booze had been my best friend for so long, celebrating the good times, supporting me through the bad, and mourning losses. However, it was no longer fueling me with the power it once had. It was ruining everything it was supposed to fix. I didn’t know if the break would be forever. In fact, I assumed it wouldn’t. I truly believed one day booze and I would get back together and I would be able to drink normally, giving alcohol another chance to make good on all its beautiful alluring promises. In my heart, I knew I was an addict, but I had not come anywhere close to accepting that a life of sobriety was the only life for me.
It wasn’t until I relapsed seven months later that I realized I had become and would always be powerless over alcohol. I made a choice to recover, but unlike healing from an injury and simply resuming regular activity, I would never be done recovering to the point that I could return to the way I lived life before addiction broke me.
As I came to terms with the fact I would never have a “normal” relationship with alcohol, I committed myself to sobriety and began the process of learning to value myself. Why had I deemed myself unworthy of people’s trust? Why was I constantly feeling less than? Why had I dedicated so much time to self-sabotage? Why was I so afraid to succeed? Why was I trying to hide from every single emotion I might feel? Why was I working so hard to remove myself from everything around me? Why didn’t I want to be present in my own life?
So many whys. So, so many. I am still working to answer them all by peeling away layers of my onion one by one and getting to the core of who I really am and not who I had become; the grown up version of the child who was driven to perfection, who believed nothing less than excellence was acceptable, who simply shut down when consumed by the anxiety of never being good enough for anyone (personally and professionally).
Just as my addiction took years and years to inhabit every fiber of my being, recovery is not an overnight transformation. I worked with a wellness coach for the better part of a year and while I no longer need to check in weekly, I am nowhere near finished exploring, discovering, and healing myself. That’s tough for me. I have never had much patience, and I am an all or nothing kind of person. However, recovery has taught me to be patient. Patient with myself, patient with my family, patient with life. That patience has allowed me to slow down without the aid of alcohol and take regular opportunities to come up for air and evaluate what I need to do to stay happy and sober.
I used to think I needed alcohol in order to function. Now, I have no idea how I managed it all when I was under the influence. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I was still drinking, and I don’t want to. It was ugly enough right before I stopped, and I can still see it clearly enough in the rear view mirror to remember.
Today, I am committed to living my truth and pursuing honesty in every aspect of my life. The only ugliness is what I see in others who simply cannot understand or accept that sobriety is so very much more than a simple case of mind over matter, or those who believe an addict is perpetually unstable teetering on the edge and about to relapse, or those who refuse to acknowledge that we can change, we do recover, and we can fix what was broken.
When I began blogging about my journey to recover from alcohol addiction, I was anonymous. I used a pen name. I was terrified of the people who don’t understand and I feared for my business. I didn’t want anyone making any connections between the wife and working mother of two, telling her addiction story to the world, and the respected public relations consultant working to make a living. For about four months, I kept up the charade until I just couldn’t stand feeling like I was living a double life, lying when I was working so hard not to lie. I am no longer anonymous. Interestingly enough, my business has only grown.
My decision to share my story was born at the bottom of a bottle of wine at the end of a six-week relapse. It was a way for me to hold myself accountable. I have always loved to write, and I thought it would be therapeutic, even though I highly doubted my ability to write sober.
From its very selfish beginnings, my blog has become something people find helpful. It’s so rewarding to know I am reaching others – either those struggling with addiction themselves or those who know someone in need of help – and providing words they can relate to, learn from, and from which they can derive hope and inspiration. People have called me brave and courageous. I’m humbled. And, I am eternally grateful for any opportunity to share my story. Addiction does not discriminate. And, addiction looks different on each and every one of us. But, we all deserve the chance to recover without judgement. Because we can recover. And, we do recover.