I am a sober woman.
Fifteen years ago, I could not say that. Here on my anniversary date, I celebrate with two friends who can also call themselves sober, a pot of coffee and a plate of Double Chocolate- Chocolate Fudge- Divine- To Die For- Mostly Gone Already- Brownies. (With frosting.)
Alcoholics Anonymous is a Twelve Step program that suggests and recommends using those steps as a means to sobriety. Step one; We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. A decade and a half ago, my life was absolutely that, ‘unmanageable.’ I will honestly say that it was a living hell, an emotional and physical travesty in every sense of that word. Lying pathologically to my loved ones, hiding and sneaking, jobless and divorcing left me little to hope for. I could, however, pat myself on the back for being a poster-child for Alcoholism.
I had all the ‘ism’s.” My liver was functioning poorly, my ankles were the size of an elephant’s, my thinning hair was falling out and my skin was pale and blotchy. I tell you of those ailments as the others are too hard to stomach. Psychologically, I was diagnosable. When that poisonous elixir was leaving my system, I would experience panic, paranoia, depression and suicidal thoughts. Jokingly, although far from humorous, I would say, “I’m Tri- Polar.” I did what all reasonable addicts do; I reached for a bottle and gulped as if on an arid plain. Any bottle would do… I wasn’t fussy. In a pinch there was always cooking wine, mouthwash and vanilla extract.
At the age of twenty, while a college student, my psyche imploded. Anxiety and panic became my norm and the ensuing depression, common place. I did not, could not, attend classes. I ate very little, used any excuse to allay my friend’s concerns and I suffered. I feared I was losing my mind, yet told no one of my angst.
It seemed as if the devil had his evil hands about my throat and I chose, one day, to get drunk, plastered, wasted… inebriated. And, then, I felt wonderful. It seemed that I had found my medicine- a medicine that I could easily obtain, was inexpensive, socially acceptable and an anesthesia for my pain. I drank round the clock. I made up missed assignments, ate and became immensely popular. It seemed as if my traumatized existence had spun 180 degrees and I relished life.
The hospital Doctor told me that I had enough alcohol in my system to kill a horse. I had been drinking for a year and now had a case of alcohol poisoning after a particularly quantitative spell. He urged me to check myself into a rehab, but like a formidable addict, I explained that I could, and would stop on my own. Of course I had no intention of quitting. My goal on that day was to leave the hospital as soon as possible and head for the liquor store.
Another year passed. I could no longer pass my classes and my once dear friends knew me now as nothing but a wasted, loser. I went home to my parents.
I stopped drinking…sort of. I still drank enough to calm my anxiety, but not to the extreme that I had been. I will confess that I lived with alcohol for some 20 more years. A day came when I felt confident that I could get drunk again…without repercussions. And that intelligent move led me right back to a state where, again, I drank round the clock, could not function and even drove while intoxicated.
I cannot tell you why, but as they say in AA, “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Perhaps because I was looking as if I were 20 years older than my age, perhaps because I was feeling desperately lonely, perhaps realizing that this alcohol experiment was no longer working- perhaps because of all of the above—I checked into rehab.
Withdrawal was a nightmare. I had several seizures, could not control my bladder and felt as if I had been hit by a truck. I toyed with leaving and I fantasized about taking my life. The will to survive is a powerful force and I stayed. I embraced the program, attended daily AA meetings, asked a dynamic woman to be my sponsor and fought one hour at a time.
I listened and I learned. I heard the story of a Viet Nam veteran who while on tour had riffled through a bundle on the ground while drunk on Vodka. That bundle was not explosives. That bundle held an infant. I learned about this insidious disease and that prison, institutionalization and death could be the outcome if I chose to continue. I addressed my emotional struggles with a therapist, ate healthy fare, and exercised to relieve tension. I prayed… often and sincerely.
Almost an old lady now, I have had my fair share of heartache and trauma. Nothing however, compared to that fight to get sober.
And nothing, short of the birth of my son, compares to the wonder that is sobriety.
You’ve recognised a fundamental feature of an addict’s life. Maintaining your habit is so important you’ve no real interest in anything else.”
― Marian Keys