There was never a time in my life when strangers would have looked at me and said, “What a waste.” From the outside, I looked like someone who just was not capable of accomplishing much, but who was capable enough to keep my own head above water, so to speak. When I was at my worst, I had been in the same job getting steady pay increases for 9 years. I did not have a degree, so this seemed pretty good from the outside and it allowed me to drink the way I wanted to drink. The way my mind and body were compelling me to drink.
It is important to know that this compulsion made it impossible for me to stay away from alcohol. Eventually, I was completely obsessed with fulfilling my compulsive need. In the early days, I slowly learned that the way I wanted to drink did not fit in with the way others wanted to drink. I tried to find ways to involve myself in the drinking activities of people who were not obsessed with it, and I struggled with the idea that people did not like me. This idea made me drink even more.
I was sad, lonely, angry, irrational, and in a fog. I knew nothing of what it was like to enjoy the world around me without alcohol. Drinking was not fun, but I desperately wanted it to be. I deluded myself into believing that alcohol was the only reason I occasionally did have fun, and I never considered that alcohol could be the reason that fun was so elusive. I drank more and more in order to find enjoyment that never came.
In the moments when I wanted to quit, I was scared to make the admission that I could not control my use because it was the one thing that seemed to make life bearable. This fear grew over the next few years. I was afraid of people finding out that I was weak, and being forced to leave behind my security blanket forever. I was afraid of never having fun again, and being an outcast in a world full of people who enjoy a drink after a rough week. I had no idea how many people were out there enjoying life without alcohol, and I had no idea how that was even possible.
By my final year of drinking, I had lost a marriage and countless friends, even the ones who drank too much. I had switched to vodka to try to hide my problem more effectively, but I also started talking to a couple of my roommates about quitting. I was worried someone would have an intervention for me soon. I knew I needed to quit. My body could not handle it anymore. I was unable to sleep without it, and when I would have too little I would hallucinate. Eventually, I began to shake. I would start to panic when I was getting low on my supply, and I had stopped long before to try and fight the need.
Quitting seemed like a prison sentence, but I knew I could not continue to live the way I had been. I could not see a better life ahead. I was afraid to ask for help, because of judgment, or that my employer would find out about my problem. I was afraid to come out of the fog and see the wreckage around me. I had spiraled for so long in my emotional hell, I wondered what life I was even trying to salvage.
One day in April of 2012, a former neighbor posted on Facebook about quitting drinking. I was shocked by his honesty about his physical and emotional struggle, as he told the world about withdrawals and how desperate he had become. I immediately sent him a message. I told him I needed to quit too. I told him to keep up the good work. I cried. It was not long after this, as we continued to talk, that something amazing happened to me. I began to see a life on the other side. I had no idea how I would get there, but the grass was definitely greener. I knew that I would feel good there. Maybe better than alcohol had ever made me feel. This vision was a gift.
In late May, I visited the Cape with my siblings. After one night, I knew that I needed to tell them what was happening. I was scared to tell them, knowing that I could not take it back later, but at the same time did not care what they thought, or what they would say. They just needed to know what I was about to do. To my surprise, they were quietly supportive. This was the first time I had ever admitted my problem to someone who truly did not know about it. They had suspicions, I am sure, but they had not seen me stumbling around the house every night or being sick every morning. They did not know I could not stop.
In person, I told each of them individually about my plan to seek help. I brought my sister outside, away from everyone else. I did not use the word alcoholic. I did not want her to say “Are you sure?” or “It’s probably not that bad.” I told her as concisely as possible that I had a “strong physical dependency on alcohol” and that I was going to get medical help. She merely said, “Ok. What do you need me to do?” It was easier to tell my brother afterwards, and a lot of emotions came out. A huge weight was lifted.
Telling my doctor was next, and I was incredibly scared. I had made an appointment because I had a lump in my armpit. In a test of my fortitude, the lump disappeared that day, but I kept the appointment and told her I needed help. She was honest and compassionate. She was proud of me for being brave enough to tell her. She told me not to quit without assistance, and gave me some numbers to call. She gave me a high five.
I started planning for the final day, but I also ramped up my drinking out of fear. Over the next week or two, I was being pulled in two directions by my hope and my addiction. I was becoming very sick, and could barely eat. I could not hold down water. My personal hygiene was terrible. I was drinking at least a liter of vodka a day.
I took a vacation from work in June in order to go to detox. I was in a panic the night before I went, crying and yelling about having to quit. The next afternoon, I drove an hour to get to the facility, and I surrendered myself to their care. I could feel my body healing within a couple of days, and it was a relief to be around others who were going through similar problems. I was there for five days.
When I returned home, I slept long hours. I returned to work, and tried an outpatient program. I continued to isolate myself socially, not knowing how to handle the real world. The obsession continued. I remained sober for about a week, and was back to my liter a day habit within a week after that. I became even more physically ill than before. I returned to the detox facility seven weeks later.
I was truly ready the second time. It was not easy staying away from alcohol when I left there, but it was much easier the second time than the first. I started to feel amazing. The sky was beautiful, the wind was comforting, sleep was divine. My mind began to heal, and I started to do better at work. My memory started to improve. I was motivated and my interest in the world was renewed.
When things started to plateau, I made some changes in my life, and I made a point of meeting other people in recovery. I started to dream about my future in a way that I had never done. I was no longer afraid of making mistakes, but I was afraid of not trying to succeed. I stopped fearing the unknown, and I started to venture out of my comfort zone.
At 11 months sober, I moved home to help my mother in caring for my father, who was newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Five months later, I quit my job in order to keep Dad out of nursing home care. I returned to college to finish the degree that I began twenty years earlier, and spent the rest of my time with Dad. I was almost 26 months sober when Dad died at home, in his own bed, surrounded by family. Caring for him was the most rewarding and difficult thing I have ever done, and I was only able to do it because of my recovery.
Since I quit drinking, I have learned that I am not merely capable of keeping my head above the water. I am capable of amazing things. I now understand the phrase “spending your life.” I am spending my life, bit by bit, on things that matter. I am growing, learning, teaching, giving, and loving like I have never done before. This is my life, and it is wonderful.