It has been almost a year and a half since I made the extremely difficult decision to leave my family in order to embark on the incredible journey to recovery. My name is Susie Ericksen and I am a grateful alcoholic in recovery. My sobriety date is April 14, 2014.
It was not that long ago that the mere idea of becoming sober was so daunting that I contemplated ending my life, leaving my family and friends here on this earth because I simply could not imagine how to live without alcohol. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I could not get control over this one thing in my life, no matter how hard I tried. And now when I look back, I cannot imagine that my addiction would lead to those thoughts that haunted me.
I was an equal opportunity drinker from the time I first tasted wine with my family at Christmas dinner when I was only 12 years old. I loved the feeling that first glass gave me. I felt as though I suddenly had become an adult and with that came this feeling of importance and self worth. And that’s where my addiction began.
I grew up in Norcross, Georgia with three siblings; an older sister and brother and a younger brother. My mom and dad both worked full time. Life as a young child was simple and uncomplicated. My younger brother and I were inseparable. We were outside most days from sun up to sun down. But as we got older, we developed different interests and suddenly I found myself feeling as though I didn’t know where I belonged. I didn't have a healthy relationship with my older sister or brother. Meanwhile, the relationship with my younger brother was diminishing.
I began to feel as though I didn’t fit in to any particular group, whether I was at school or at home. My parents divorced when I was in my early teens. My mom soon moved out of town and I found myself living with people who didn’t understand me. I desperately wanted to fit in and to feel as though I belonged somewhere. I began drinking more and more frequently and loved the confidence I thought it gave me. It was also a way to escape the realities of life when my parents’ divorced. But, I always hated the way I felt the next day because the realization hit me that my life was in shambles (or so I thought) and I still didn’t fit in. I was just an awkward teen with a bad hangover and a ton of regrets.
That cycle continued for years. My drinking became heavier and the blackouts were more frequent. Oddly enough, it never occurred to me I was an alcoholic or that my drinking was not “normal”. All of the people I hung out with seemed to drink at least as much as I did. I wasn’t the one getting into too much trouble. I mean, I didn’t get a DUI or arrested for underage drinking or illegal activities. Those were the criteria that I used as my basis for determining whether I was an alcoholic.
There was one thing I couldn’t get a handle on and that was the ability to drink less when I promised myself I would. Every morning I woke up feeling terrible and hung-over. I would say to myself, “Tonight, I won’t drink as much or I absolutely will not mix different kinds of alcohol.” Every first drink led to more and that would lead to regret, embarrassment and feelings of failure because I could not control this one area of my life. I would not understand the reason for this until I entered rehab some 30 years later.
As time passed, the consequences became more severe. It was not necessarily in the form of legal consequences and so I continued, despite the warnings from my parents to be cautious because alcoholism runs in our family on both sides. My consequences came in the form of fights with loved ones, saying terrible things to the people I cared about most, embarrassing drunken rants, and encounters that I don’t remember. It was behavior that I could never take back.
In the last six years of my drinking, I would begin at 3:30 or 4:00pm almost daily while my beautiful boys played their video games, worked on homework or watched TV upstairs. I was present in their lives but not really participating at home. I was the type of mom who gave discipline with a lot of love, I showed up for all of their soccer games and sporting events, and volunteered at their private, Christian school. I tried to appear confident and secure on the outside, but on the inside I felt so vulnerable, depressed and unqualified to deal with life’s many ups and downs. I felt like a fraud to everyone. It was a facade that slowly came crumbling down.
My marriage was tanking, my house was literally falling apart and I felt as though I didn’t have anyone I could be myself with. I knew who I could drink with and not worry about how it may appear. Because I wanted and needed to keep up that facade of the great wife, mother and school volunteer, I couldn’t drink like I wanted to with most of the people I knew from our area. So I drank alone or mostly alone. I drank when I was happy, sad, disappointed, or depressed.
There never seemed a reason unworthy of several cocktails and so the cycle continued until it got so bad that my kids were noticing my behavior and remembering the terrible things I would say while drunk. Eventually, they became fearful my husband and I were on the brink of divorce. At that point, I really thought I wanted to be divorced. At 10 and 11 years old, my boys also noticed my odd behavior and the times when I was passed out by 7pm. They wondered why I always felt sick during the day, but they never seemed to say anything. So I figured I must be very convincing with all of my excuses on why I couldn’t participate in family outings. I thought that my marriage, the house we lived in and the city we resided in were the problems.
It wasn't until I tried to stop in January of 2014 that I realized my drinking was the biggest problem I faced. I was at a crossroads. Continue to drink and die or humble myself and reach out for help. Thankfully, with the help of friends who were so open about their addiction, I reached out. In April I went to a treatment facility and it was, hands down, the best decision I could have made for myself. Don’t get me wrong, making that decision to leave my family, especially my two young boys for thirty to forty-five days wasn’t easy. But I wanted to learn how to live a life without alcohol. I was broken and desperate to feel better and live a happier and healthier life. I needed to figure out the real me and to feel comfortable with that person. And slowly it began to happen. I look back on my days in treatment as the greatest gift I gave myself. I had time to work through the issues that kept me searching for answers in the bottle.
When I came home from treatment, the work continued. I focused on myself and found that when I took care of me first, I was able to take care of others with my best self. Now, I am able to repair relationships with those that I love. I look in the mirror and see a woman who has confidence, incredible strength and finally sense of self worth. I know that I am worthy of a life that is full of joy, true love, great friendships and wonderful memories. I know I can handle the many ups and downs in life that will surely come my way. I know I am more than my past, the mistakes I made and the people I hurt, including myself. Every day in recovery, life is brighter and full of possibilities. Recovery is the greatest gift a person can give themselves. Now, I am actively participating in my life and in the lives of the ones I love the most. I know I am more than the disease that tries to take me down in shame and silence. I am honored to share my story and speak openly because I know that silence is the worst enabler of this terrible disease. I am growing stronger and gaining confidence everyday. But mostly, I am rising above the person I was while in the throws of addiction.