I’d like to zoom out a bit and talk about the journey for a moment. There is no one size fits all approach to ditching the booze, but I think most of us can agree, there can by trying times. You often hear on the Recovery Elevator podcast from myself and interviewees how incredible a life without alcohol can be, which I can attest to. Still, the pathway can be complicated at times, and for reasons unknown, more challenging for some.
There is a comfort knowing you’re not alone. That you’re not the only person on the planet, who struggles with alcohol, which is how I felt when I first began my journey early last decade. There is also a comfort knowing that collectively, people find this pathway hard. The pains and painful moments are all part of it, and you’re not alone. Keep in mind, of the roughly 100,000 genes we inherit, not of them is the addiction gene, and you can reverse this progression.
Right now, since you’re reading this, it places you in the ring. You’re an active participant in the game of life. You’re in the center of the ring, and not up in the grandstands observing. And you’re an absolute badass, for purposefully placing yourself in this ring where there’s a good chance, almost certain chance, you’re going to get dirty. Smacked, kicked, punched, rolled over on, and a lot of other unpleasant things. This isn’t you saying, well, I’m open to failing, it’s you saying, I’m going to fail as many times as I need to be successful.
I admire each and every one of you for consciously choosing the enter the ring. Seriously. It’s impressive. I applaud all of you for continuing to listen to the podcast even if the message hasn’t quite “hit home” yet.
Now, to be fair, by electing to be here, living life on planet earth places you in the ring, so everyone is more or less in the ring. But your decision to move forward in life without alcohol, to address what’s holding you back in life, places you in the center of the ring and not way up in the upper decks as an observer. Your conscious decision to depart from the booze, from what provided relief, from what used to make your job, anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, winter, your neighbor Tom, and individual relationships bearable places you front and center of the ring.
You might be saying, “wait a second Paul, I haven’t told anyone about my decision to quit drinking.” Well, even if the only ship you’ve burnt is with yourself, which is where it starts, you’ve still taken the most essential step in your life. This is what makes you brave… courageous… valiant… daring… vulnerable… adventurous… and a bold leader.
Now you may have heard courageous and vulnerable in the same sentence, and that’s no coincidence because they are the same damn thing. And Deep down, you know, the only way out is through. And to go through, you get cracked open, in the most beautiful of ways. It’s almost like a vulnerable sandwich. First, we must be courageous enough to be vulnerable. Then we must be courageous again to address the vulnerable parts. The vulnerability sandwich. I like it, I will personally be adding some horseradish mayo or honey mustards. I’m a huge sauce guy.
Now let me describe what the ring looks like… Imagine a bull ring from Spain. One that Ernest Hemingway would write about in the “Sun Also Rises.” When you stop running, turn, and face your fears, you just made the conscious decision to place yourself in the center of the ring. Now, as I said before, everyone is in the ring, but you just came down from row 55, which is near the top and are now inside the ring. You can still get shoved around while sitting in the top row of the stands, and there’s a slim possibility you’ll to confront a bull, but by sitting way up there, you’re well in the comfort of your comfort zone.
Apart from the occasional shirt getting launched up there from a t-shirt cannon, not much happens. It’s a bunch of people who are living behind screens which have mighty thumbs and can type whatever they want. Up there, where you used to be, It’s called the sidelines of life. Where all you have is talk, inaction, and empty goals. How does that saying go? Talk is inexpensive? Talk is a bargain? Talk is of lesser quality… Talk is cheap. Got it.
So here you are, inside the ring. You look down to find your shoes are covered in dust. You suddenly feel smaller. Things don’t smell quite right. And you see large bulls running around. You see swords, bows, and arrows, spears, dinner parties where alcohol is flowing freely, your best friend Aaron is offering you a vodka cranberry. You don’t have things figured out. You recognize it’s only a matter of time before you get your ass kicked.
As I mentioned last episode, it’s not about avoiding these ass-kickings in life; it’s about getting up and back into the ring. I think I’ve done a fair job of accurately describing what this journey will be like. I cover this specifically in episode 250 titled “Is Sobriety all Unicorns and Rainbows.” Sure, after alcohol, a new life awaits, one without crushing hangovers and self-loathing, but when in the ring, there will be challenging days. Moments you don’t think, keyword think, you’ll be triumphant, but you are. You find the strength because it’s there. I know it’s there. It always has been.
Let me read one of my favorite quotes of all time for you. One that I had framed and hung up on my wall before the very FIRST episode of Recovery Elevator podcast dropped on February 25th, 2015. I remember looking up at the framed quote on the wall, them uploading episode 001 to iTunes and then said to myself, “Oh shit, here we go.”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt.
I think Teddy does a damn good job of summarizing just what level of Ninja status you’re at. You’re in the ring, which is all that matters. Now the thing you’re probably saying to yourself is this. “Teddy’s right. I don’t care what others think about me.” Say it to yourself, it sounds good. It feels good. But how come when we get criticism, it usually stirs up a whirlwind of emotions in some part of the body? You’re like hang on, I just told myself, I don’t care what others think about me, but how come there’s a knot the size of a grapefruit in my solar plexus? It’s because we’re wired as human beings to care.
We are genetically hardwired to care what others think about us. The reason why is we need a tribe. We need a community to survive. Okay, so here’s where I can add comfort. Criticism is normal. In fact, it can be a barometer knowing you’re on the right path. How does it go? Haters gonna hate, hurt people hurt people… Blah to them. We’ve covered countless ways on this podcast to stay grounded, to no let others affect your energy, but let’s be honest, some of it still hurts. It always will, and that’s alright. Allow yourself to feel it, and I can promise you with a capital P, alcohol will only create another, more ferocious critic.
Now, who’s the critic? Who’s the person saying you’re not worth it, or you don’t deserve this, or don’t even try because you’ll never make it? It’s not who we think it is. Stick with me for a second here.
The spectator, or the critic we’re thinking about, the one we imagine sitting in the stands, heckling from above, in the comfort of their seat, is mostly quiet. Why? The spectator respects you, admires you, is almost envious of you… for your decision to be the most authentic version of yourself because deep down, they want the same. They want you to succeed. Sure, you may get the occasional cackle or low blow from above, but even they are saying, “go, go, get back up and get it, girl. DO it. Show us how. Lead the way.” They all want you to find traction on this journey.
The loudest critic
So who is the critic when you’re in the ring grappling with alcohol? Who is the one that places the most seemingly impenetrable walls on your path? Wait for it… It’s you. I’m 99.99% sure the worst critic is you. The constant voice hurling those vitriolic painful volleys and insults is coming from you, or the voice inside your head.
So this is good news. You can’t control disapproval from the outside, and well, you can’t really control the thinking on the inside either, but with awareness, you start to rewire this inner critic to be your inner cheerleader. Your biggest fan. A coach when you need it most.
The way you do this is becoming more conscious than ever of the unconscious self, and when thoughts come across the mind that says, “Michelle, let’s not even try, we won’t make it.” Say, “thank you for your input,” That’s it. That’s the equivalent of a tomahawk throw into an opponent in the ring. With awareness, and one departure from those unhealthy thoughts at a time, you begin to tune out this critic, you stand tall. You move forward in life without the poison called alcohol.
You can do this, I know you can. You’ve been doing the heavy lifting for quite some time now. You are up to this task, I know you are. Come on, we both know you are. Being in the ring is scary at first, terrifying, but with time, you’ll find comfort there. Even enjoy it. Welcome it. All of it.
Keep in mind, you’re the one with dust on your face, or for us, sometimes with puke in your hair. It’s you that’s in the ring, not the external critic. You’re the relevant one.
Keep trying, you’re so close
Check out this video of this you gal who can’t be more than 4,5 or 6 trying to jump up onto a block. She keeps trying and keeps failing. This block is hitting her in the chin, she’s falling over, but she keeps getting back up into the ring. And then, after heaps of jumps, she gets it. Just like you will.
I got the idea for this episode after I got a couple of emails from listeners who were ready to give up. To accept defeat and exit the ring entirely and surrender to a life of drinking and misery. HANG WITH ME. I’m going to ask the readers a question.
Was there ever a moment when you could have sent that same email when you were ready to quit? Hang on,,, okay, every single reader who has ditched the booze or is in the process just nodded their head. SO, if this is how you’re feeling at the moment, know it’s completely normal, some call it the dark night of the soul. Which means you’re so close. So promise me to stay in the ring, for as long as it takes. Do you know who else is in the ring with you? Me, and let me tell you, the other side… is much closer than you think.
I was in a bookstore at the airport the other day and noticed a trend while looking at the top twenty best sellers. There were several books with clear, unambiguous titles. Our society collectively is starting to wake up and is looking for ways to unfuck themselves. These are the book titles I saw that were all clumped right next to each other.
UnFu*ck yourself by Gary John Bishop
I used to be a miserable Fu*ck by John Kim
Calm the Fuck down – Sarah Knight
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck Mark Manson
After a quick Amazon search, I found several more books with similar titles such as
Unfuck your Brain by Faith Harper
Unfuck Yourself by Zoe Swain
I’m currently writing a book about alcohol addiction, and I’m not 100% sure of what my book title will be, but it may have the words unfu*ck yourself somewhere on the cover. I want to be clear, I had this written down on my list of potential book titles for a long time, not just because I saw a bunch of these titles in the airport:) The title at this moment is Alcohol is Shit | but it’s also the invitation. Below that title, it will say either, “control alcohol from the inside out” or “Unfuck yourself from the inside out.” Not sure yet. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
All these books, including mine, isn’t fulfilling a niche or a trend, they are representing a movement that can no longer be ignored. There’s a consciousness on this planet that is starting to say, hang on a second, this isn’t working. Those of us who struggle with addiction, sometimes think we’re the only ones who reach a rough spot on life. Not true, everyone does, and we’re reaching a critical mass, especially in America. On a global scale, people are starting to say, timeout, hold the phone, the formula that I was told to follow in life, isn’t yielding the fruits I was promised.
I recently read an article titled the Age of Anxiety in the New Republic that sheds light on this movement.
According to studies by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20 percent of Americans experience an anxiety disorder in a given year; over 30 percent experience an anxiety disorder over the course of their lifetimes. And the rate is rising: The American Psychiatric Association, in a May study drawing from a survey of 1,000 American adults, diagnosed a statistically significant increase in national anxiety since 2017.
Please read carefully. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you. Right now, at this moment, there’s nothing wrong with you. Never has been and never will be. Take a deep breath; we are okay. This anxiety is a good thing and shouldn’t be labeled in some diagnostical statistical manual as bad because this collective state of unrest will eventually show us the way.
According to the article in the New Republic, this jittery national mood has given rise to what Rebecca Jennings at Vox has dubbed “anxiety consumerism”—the rise of a plethora of products, from fidget spinners to essential-oil sprays, to weighted blankets. These weighted blankets were initially developed for people with autism and PTSD as self-administered hugs, to give the sensation of an embrace, but sales for these blankets have gone through the roof, and everyone is buying them. Perhaps the most well-known product to fall into this anxiety consumerism category is alcohol. Just about everyone on the planet right now needs a big hug.
Who is going to initiate this hug?
Those who struggle with addiction are the trailblazers in the collective unf*ck yourself movement that desperately needs to happen. Not just for those who grapple with addiction to alcohol, but for everyone. As a global community, we’re starting to see what’s not working and alcoholics were the first to see it. We are leading this movement and will eventually be the ones who hold the door open for the rest of society. Let that last sentence sink in for a second. You and me. We will be leading the global unfu*ck yourself movement for everyone. Not just those who struggle with addiction.
I drank a lot of alcohol. Alcohol caused a lot of damage in my life. Was any of it good? Was I able to at least get some nutritional value from $14 beer night? Well, let’s take a look.
Alcoholic beverages primarily consist of water, pure alcohol (chemically known as ethanol), and variable amounts of sugars and carbohydrates; their content of other nutrients, proteins, vitamins, or minerals is usually insignificant. Because they provide almost no nutrients, alcoholic beverages are considered “empty calories.” It’s safe to say a Twinkie has more nutritional value than any alcoholic drink, and it’s common knowledge that Twinkies are terrible for us. The good news is none of us lack any dietary components by not drinking. Alcohol is still shit.
Let’s talk calories for a second. 1 gram of alcohol contains 7 calories compared to 4 calories per gram of proteins and carbs, and 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. Again, those are 7 hollow calories because the body never uses them.
Let’s find out what these calories are doing to us over the long haul.
1 12 oz. can of beer = 154 calories. 1 glass of wine around 125 calories and 1 whiskey coke has 180. Let’s average the three and use 153 calories per drink. Let’s say we average 5 daily drinks which equates to 765 meaningless calories per day. 5,355 per week and 278,460 per year. 1 pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories, so this is close to 80 pounds of excess garbage the body must deal with.
Another snippet to drive this point home, 1 pint of beer contains roughly the same number of calories as a slice of pizza. But it’s not even apples to apples, because even though the slice of pizza isn’t the healthiest option, the pizza still contains some vitamins, minerals, and calories the body can use for energy. A pint of beer, not so much. If we average 4 pints a day, this is 1,460 slices of pizza per year, and I hope there’s at least pineapple on that pizza. I know I just lost some readers with that pineapple comment.
The human body is impressive, but it does not digest the calories from alcohol efficiently. What does efficiently burn alcohol? That would-be machines, cars, airplanes, motorcycles, generators, you get the point. The metabolism of alcohol is a complex, multi-stage process that takes place mostly in the liver and kidneys, not in the intestines, where normal digestion occurs. More significant to the current discussion, alcohol is almost never fully metabolized, but instead excreted as acetic acid, because it’s a toxin that the body wants to get rid of. When we binge drink, some of this is permanently deposited in the brain and stored as acetaldehyde.
Let’s talk about timing and when these calories are burned.
Alcohol temporarily keeps your body from burning fat, explains Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of the book “The Hunger Fix.” The reason is that your body can’t store calories from alcohol for later use, the way it does with food calories. For example, when we consume something high in calories like a hamburger, the body will way say, whoa, this is a lot of calories, this is more than I can handle at this moment, I’ll save some of this for later. The body can’t do this with alcohol. So when you drink, your metabolic system must stop what it’s doing (like, say, burning off calories from your last meal) to get rid of the booze. “Drinking presses ‘pause’ on your metabolism, shoves away the other calories, and says, ‘Break me down first!'” Peeke explains. The result is that whatever you recently ate gets stored as fat. What’s worse: “Research has uncovered that alcohol especially decreases fat burn in the belly,” Peeke adds. “That’s why you never hear about ‘beer hips’ — you hear about a ‘beer belly.'”
Why do we get uncontrollable hunger when we drink?
Alcohol impairs inhibitory control, which leads people to eat more. There is evidence that alcohol can influence hormones tied to feeling full. For example, alcohol may inhibit the effects of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and other hormones that inhibit food intake. According to one study, neurons in the brain that are generally activated by actual starvation, causing an intense feeling of hunger, can be stimulated by alcohol. Bring it on 2 am Taco Bell run.
Let’s talk about a decreased appetite malnutrition.
Stay with me for a second. Over time, chronic alcohol abuse and alcoholism can take a severe toll on a person’s appetite and nutrition levels. Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules by decreasing secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Alcohol impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestines, and disabling transport of some nutrients into the blood. Also, nutritional deficiencies themselves may lead to further absorption problems. For example, folate deficiency alters the cells lining the small intestine, which in turn impairs absorption of water and nutrients, including glucose and sodium.
The NIAAA reports, “Even if nutrients are digested and absorbed, alcohol can prevent them from being fully utilized by altering their transport, storage, and excretion.”
After a while, the body, instead of working overdrive to properly digest what we consume, it hits the off switch on the appetite. I experienced this after about 10 months into owning my bar in Spain. At first, I would make a late-night stop at the pizza shop, but eventually, I found myself forcing calories into my body. I had entered the malnutrition phase of the addiction cycle. I found that it took about a week for my appetite to return once I quit drinking.
We all hear the stories of alcoholics who almost completely ruin their lives before getting sober. They are secretly chugging bottles of vodka, crashing cars, getting arrested, and continuously putting themselves into incredibly dangerous situations. I have addicts like this in my family, and I greatly sympathize with them. I am so proud of them when they finally do hit bottom and get sober. But do we have to experience such acute pain? Is there such a thing as a high bottom drunk?
But what about the alcoholics who have “high bottoms”? These are the people who, from an external view, seem to have a relatively healthy relationship with alcohol. Rather than continuing to speak in general terms, let me touch on my own relationship with alcohol and having a high bottom. I was a binge drinker from the age 17 until I was about 21. The first time I ever got drunk, I fell in love with what alcohol did to me. I went from being the shy and uncomfortable girl to being the witty and charismatic life of the party. Whenever I got drunk I fell in love with the people around me and kept the night going until I was the last person standing. Around age 21 I got my sh*t together, so to speak. I hit a rock bottom at this age, and it became apparent that I had to cut down on my drinking (if you are interested, I speak about some of my bottoms around this age on episode 99 of Recovery Elevator). I quit drinking for a month, and completely reevaluated my relationship with alcohol. Although at the time, I knew I was an addict, I convinced myself that I could continue drinking if I could implement moderation. I valued drinking so much that I forced myself to do this.
Surprisingly enough, I got really good at moderating alcohol. I credit a lot of this to the hangovers. I get incredibly bad hangovers after having only 3 or 4 drinks. The hangovers have become so bad, that as much as I love getting buzzed, even when I am 3 drinks in I often can’t justify having a fourth because I know too well how I will feel the next day. The bad hangovers have been enough to keep me in check with my drinking over the past few years.
I am 24 and although I spent two months at the start of this year sober, I have been continuously drinking for the past 3 years, until recently. During this time I have consistently worked, traveled around the world, paid all of my bills on time, and built and maintained some amazing friendships. I have been able to appear like your typical young adult. A lot of my friends have been in the advertising industry and we worked long hours during the week and spent our weekends partying on rooftops, often ending up at someone’s apartment where we would talk until 3 am about life! (you know the alcohol infused conversations that can miraculously jump from global warming to the illuminati to art, then to the Kardashians, and end up all the way back at the meaning of life?).
Even though everything seemed “fine”, I have continued to return back to this idea of sobriety. I don’t know how to describe it other than by saying there is a part of me that I keep deep inside that just knows I will live a better life sober. I am reminded of this come Sunday morning when I spend the day doing absolutely nothing other than nursing a hangover. I am reminded of this when I look in the mirror and see that my eyes have been drained of any spark they may have. I am reminded by this when I spend a few weeks sober, and notice that my body just starts to glow when I am not making it process alcohol. I am reminded of this when I wake up at 3 am and feel the dread and anxiety that comes after my wine buzz has faded. I am reminded of this when after a night out I awake and feel deeply unlovable. I am reminded of this when I realize I rely on alcohol to make me feel worthy of great relationships. I am reminded of this by all the subtle ways alcohol makes my life a bit darker.
Just as the ways drinking negatively affected my life were somewhat subtle, the ways sobriety impacts my life are also subtle. So far sobriety has not made me lose 20 pounds or get an amazing job or find an amazing life partner. For me sobriety looks like me spending 15 minutes every night stretching while listening to music I love. It’s being able to make plans on both weekend days because I no longer have to have one reserved for nursing a hangover. It’s allowing myself to sit with feelings like loneliness or sadness, without immediately trying to cover them up with a drunken night out. It’s finding the time to exercise 4-5 times a week, something I never had the energy to maintain while drinking. It’s money I’m saving. It’s going to bed knowing I will wake up and be myself, not the exhausted zombie alcohol makes me become.
As my days of sobriety tick by I start to flirt with the idea of drinking again. I justify this by reminding myself that I wasn’t an “out of control drunk”. I have a feeling that other people with high bottoms may do the same. All I can say is that in these moments, you must let these feelings come and go without acting on them. And then in the moments when you do feel good, really let yourself feel that and it will remind you why you are staying sober.
I am 24 days sober, and the reason why I stopped drinking this time is not because I hit a low. It’s because I am sick and tired of living a mediocre life. I am tired of being a “functional” alcoholic. I don’t want to go through life just simply functioning through it all- barely squeaking by. I want a life that is good, or possibly, maybe, even great. And I am fully aware that when I am drinking, I’m just not going to push for that. When I am drinking, I am fine settling for mediocre, as long as it means I can order another round.
I’ve been journaling a lot lately, and I recently wrote a love letter to my high bottom. I thanked it for allowing me to have to take responsibility for my sobriety. I am not choosing sobriety because things got so bad they couldn’t get any worse. I am not choosing sobriety to make a partner or my parents feel relieved. I am choosing sobriety because I believe it will lead to a better life. When you get sober at a high bottom, it means you are truly listening to yourself. You aren’t getting sober because the world is telling you to, it’s because you want to, and that is the fuel that will keep going.
June 28, 2017
In an effort to get my story down on paper this is my attempt. This burning desire has stirred inside me for quite some time. I think more ever over the past 6 months as I have been listening to others on the recovery elevator podcasts. Also with my own year of sobriety this week. Where to start is so difficult so I will try my best not to jump around too terribly much.
I am 41 years old, live in Hewitt, TX, have been married for 10 years and have 2 children that are 6 & 9. I was born in New Orleans and lived there for 25 years. I do not have to tell anyone that in this particular culture alcohol is the norm of the day complete with .25 martini lunch specials.
I grew up with 2 teetotaler parents. Mom never was quiet about letting me know that she grew up with an alcoholic father (her reason for not drinking) who has passed before I was born. She often recounted how wonderful he was without alcohol and what a tyrant he turned into when he drank. She also used to talk about how grateful she was during lent as he would abstain from it for those 40 days and how peaceful and happy her house was during that time. My dad on the other hand did not touch the stuff probably it is my opinion because he was such a control freak. He was your stereo typical military man and mom was the enabler of his controlling personality.
My only sibling is 9 years older than me, so essentially though a brother was more of my ‘partner in crime’. He was a very late bloomer. But boy, when he bloomed he was out of the gate and off to the races. More on that later. But back to me. With the brief description of my home life above I think the recipe was there for me to be the rebellious child that I turned out to be. I don’t remember my first drink but remember getting drunk at 12 with the Wild Turkey in my parents’, barely, if ever touched liquor cabinet. I came of age in the time of hair bands and fell in love with the whole image portrayed in all the music videos. II fell for the image hook, line and sinker as I was very impressionable by way of lyrics and video- very deep like that lol…. The NKOTB and boy band girls, well in my mind, they were just the goody-goodies in my all girls Catholic school. From that time on, my ‘drinking career’ began and my school days were filled with planning the weekend escapades always centered on the need to get drunk. While there was some pot and acid during the high school years, later a bit of cocaine, alcohol was always my drug of choice. I was the one who always drank unto complete obliteration and was sloppy from the beginning. During that time my brother was also involved with a woman who worked at a ‘dance club’ in the French Quarter. I remember it being so cool to go see her in these clubs, drinking at the bar getting men to buy drinks and getting to know the dancer’s, I mean what other 15 year olds get to do that? For some reason I romanticized their life choices, so different from my typical upper middle class suburbia life. I also recall going to Lollapalooza at the UNO Lakefront being passed out before it started due to my gatorade/vodka concoction. I mean that gets you drunk super fast right? I remember even now the ‘far off’ voices as people passed pointing me out while I was passed out on the grass. There were many, many times of episodes like these which eventually led to my mom telling my dad that I needed counseling. He was not super keen on this idea as his ‘ship’ was absolutely fine in his mind, after all I went to an upstanding school and my grades were good so what else could matter. The counseling was most likely a good move as we (my mom included) learned a lot about our family. The counselor characterized my dad as a ‘dry alcoholic’, which explained his propensity to fly off the handle and be emotionally abusive without the need of substance fuel. It explained how my mom just went from one dysfunctional alcoholic home and just so easily walked into a similar life with my dad. The counselor did at that time put me on an anti depressant at around 16. I think this is important to mention because I am not sure, but think this may have to do with why mostly all of my drinking was ‘black out’ drinking and/or a contributing factor. As I write this, I am pained because I realize more and more that every important event during my ‘formative years’ were in an alcohol induced haze. This is so fundamentally opposite from everything I hope and pray for my own children. I will also mention just I never did go to a high school- school dance, was never asked, nor did I ask anyone. Looking back I see was due to a non existent self esteem and never feeling liked/loved by my father. The male in the family who is typically the one who molds a girls view of herself and relationship with the opposite sex. With my dad being gone now, that is hard to say but I really felt that way. He did a great job as being the ‘family provider’ and I do believe he did the best he know how to do, but was emotionally absent as a father. More of the same continued with my senior year presenting some more poor life choices and lessons. One being on the day before of my senior year reflection ‘retreat’, I snuck out and took my parents car. It was closing night of a popular local bar and I just couldn’t miss. I proceeded to get drunk, drive and receive my first DUI at 17. (those charges were reduced as I was a minor and never did follow me) Hence, I was in a holding cell while my peers were at the retreat and my parents could not get me out. My dad’s pride got in the way as going to get his own daughter out of jail would be an epic failure. So my brother’s lady friend came to get me out later that day. There were also some other life changing poor choices I made that year which were the indirect results of alcohol. For the sake of not setting out to write a book, I am just trying to highlight some of the things that are really painful to think about and for the most part I like to leave in the recesses of my mind.
I proceeded to get thru college doing the bare minimum and skated on by with a Bachelor in Business. These days I wonder what I could have/would have done if I had applied myself. I think I would have pursued veterinary science which is my passion. During these years I worked in the restaurant industry in New Orleans and like every good server, had a great shift, proceeded on to the bar down the street and close it down always tipping extraordinarily well. And as was my MO I was extremely generous, buying everyone in the bar and bartenders shots even helping them clean up at daybreak as this is New Orleans as there is no 2 am closing time. Not sure how I ever made rent during this time as I am pretty sure I circulated every penny back into the local economy by way of my bar tab. I cannot say how many ‘next day’ visits I had to go back to the bar and retrieve my lost credit cards. Also I can recount how my hand would shake while serving guests for their work lunch and how I would profusely sweat out the alcohol. I am not sure how people did not complain and I was not fired from smelling like liquor, though many of my motley crew at the restaurant probably gave off the same aroma. Now I realize also that I was most likely still drunk during those lunch shifts. That was pretty ‘par for the course’ for me. A time during this period I think is worth high lighting that was a ‘I could have been dead’ is an evening I had been drinking with my roommates and decided to go off by myself. I went to a French Quarter dive and drank until they closed. I then went to my car and passed out. I was awakened by a thug in the passenger’s seat. He said he had a knife and told me to drive. In my dazed state I did as he said and only remember I kept pointing to the fraternal order of police sticker I had on my front window. I kept telling him my dad was a cop (not true) and he would not get away with anything. While I had to stop at a light he must have been spooked by my ramblings as he took my keys out of the ignition and ran. At this time a transvestite (I kid you not) came to me as I screamed and went after him under the bridge. A short time later he/she (an angel to me) came back with my keys! Wow….. He/she asked me for a ride. So shaken up I agreed. I took them a short distance and because they saw how traumatized I was, they got out and asked the car in front of me to lead me to the interstate so I could get home! Just writing this gives me chills and I have never waned on my gratitude for this angel nor lost the knowledge I could have easily have been dead during that whole ordeal.
When I was 25, a job opportunity sent me to Austin, TX. The only thing that changed in my ‘drinking career’ was I became a bit more ‘refined’ in way of what I drank. Good red wines, Bombay gin, and Grey Goose were the name of my game. I was a young ‘professional’ now. So my life would consist of working and stopping on the way home for a bottle of wine. My golden retriever Teddy and I would sit and listen to music and I would pretend to learn to play my Takamine guitar on the balcony. Then I would finish that bottle and head to the store nice and buzzed with my loyal Teddy to get another bottle. So essentially 2 BIG bottles of wine were essentially normal during these days along with many drunk calls to family and friends. I would also, always ‘clean up’ my apartment really well in a blackout before I stumbled in bed. This was mainly because I did not want to awake in the mornings and see or feel the ‘shame’ of my behavior. If the wine bottles and glasses were gone I could ‘pretend’ it never happened. Never mind the sometime urine soaked sheets or sickening and agonizing headaches.! Gosh I hate to think about all this, but this was my life for so long. My first ‘official’ adult DUI came during this time at age 29 in 2004 on one of my ‘second runs’ to the store for wine and a drunken stop to Jack in the Box. Thankfully Teddy did not come along on that ride. I had over negotiated a turn and ran off the road thankfully only wrecking my car. Here is one of the many insanity stories. I was so drunk, I went into a bar less than a block away. I told the bartender I needed one more drink as I knew the police would be looking for me and I would be going to jail. Smart guy or gal did not give me a drink, the cops did come in, and I went to jail- in my pajamas……
I hate to ‘skip around’, but I did not mention a couple of important things. First I haven’t said much about it, but throughout this journey there were several failed relationships. Kind of a no brainer they would not succeed as either the counterparts were also alcoholics or if they weren’t the alcohol would cause its demise. I also did ‘know’ in the back of my head I had a problem, doing all of the you may be an alcoholic if quizzes etc.. I also read books written about recovery, mostly while I was drunk! One in particular I recommend to this day as it resonated on so many levels with me, it is Drinking: A Love Story by Carolyn Knapp. I loved that book and read it multiple times. I would call my mom drunk and read it to her. She was my confidant and always knew I needed help and reminded me it was ‘in our genes’. I also was managing a restaurant where a lovely man named Patrick Wilson Blue worked. I knew Patrick went to AA and got sober with Stevie Ray Vaughan. They would have been about the same age. I asked him about AA and he took me to my first meeting off of S. Congress in Austin. I remember feeling at home and thinking wow, cool sober people who would’ve thought it?….. I did hang around those rooms and go to daily meetings, eventually stringing together 6 months I know for sure and it could have been some change too, I cannot exactly remember. I worked all of my steps, making amends and met with my sponsor regulary. I was agnostic for the most part, but eventually came to accept some sort of HP had been keeping me alive for some reason (today a complete 360 on that topic). I did stop going to meetings and ‘thought I could now handle it’. This specifically thinking back had to do with when I started dating a normie, and thought I could drink like him. At first I did ok, but obviously not for long as on I went to the DUI.
So the cycle continued, I knew where to go this time as I had to do something. I went back to AA and made it a year sober. You see I am the epitome of the having an obsession I can one day drink like a normal person. I managed this time to gain a year and get my chip. Life was always so good in sobriety that looking back I don’t remember anything specifically that ‘triggered’ the drinking again. Rather it was just that obsession. Because this time again it was ‘oh I think I am ok’, went on dating a normie and then thinking I could drink with/like that person. In late 2005 I was ‘out’ again and met my husband. I had been keeping my drinking ‘in check’ during this time. He knew the bare bones minimum in terms of my drinking problem. He is a normie, but I had/have never seen him drunk. He is not one of those people that get drunk every now and then, but rather really enjoys beer. And I mean like in a way I could never understand. He really just drinks 1 or 2 beers a couple of times a week. How crazy is that. We dated for a year, got engaged and married 7 months later. He helped ‘keep me in check’ that entire time which I mean not allow me to drink much when the occasions arose which were not often. In fact, the only time we did argue in our relationship was when I had 1 or 2 and wanted MORE. It would make me soooo very angry, ‘how dare he tell me I can’t’. Well thankfully I didn’t and that worked for a time. Then 3 months after our wedding I was pregnant. We were in a hurry being over 30 and all. Well I was thrilled! My husband was on his 24 hour shift so I called a girlfriend for dinner. I knew I could only be 2 or 3 weeks and rationalized in my head that most people wouldn’t even know at this point. So this was the start of my alcoholic thinking…… I remember thinking about another friend of mine who was in Ireland not realizing she was pregnant and drinking like a fish. Well I knew that baby was fine, and certainly no harm could be done so early in the pregnancy. So onward with the celebration! I drank that evening, trying to drink as I always had, though it had been a long time since those days. I remember my friend having to go home and me wanting to continue on. That was also my ‘MO’ in earlier days, never wanting the party to end. But it did and I drove home. I drove home and proceeded to rear end a car. Again, thankful not to hurt anyone. There was no damage to my vehicle, no air bag pop, so I did what every good drunk would do and continued on until there were sirens in my rearview. I blew a .24 that evening. I just remember being in the holding cell just so utterly disgusted with myself and knowing how disgusted and disappointed my husband would be with me. I remember meeting with the bail bond lady that morning and asking how upset my husband was?, and her response to me was it was the first time anyone had ever asked about how someone else was feeling….. He did forgive me, we moved through all the motions of outpatient therapy, back to AA, classes etc. etc.. The most embarrassing thing was that my in laws drove and picked me up from work every day and when I could drive I had to use the interlock. As a bank manager this was as you can imagine was a very humbling experience on many levels. Nobody would ever during this time think I had a problem as this particular circle of people including my in laws never knew all of my previous struggles. It wasn’t until I was 7 months pregnant that the case finally went to court. The DA somehow managed to find my minor record from LA during this time too, which put this as technically my 3rd DUI though legally 2nd. The woman I hit got up on the stand, not knowing anything about me, and said how ‘unfit’ of a mother I would be. I cannot find a word for how deeply that cut to the core. It ended with the judge in Williamson county, a notoriously tough county for drunk drivers, saying I deserved jail time but due to me in ‘my state’ (7 months pregnant and huge) he would not sentence me, but give me probation. Wow! This is the specific reason 2 months later we named our daughter Grace. My life was forever changed when I became a mom at 32. My son came along 2 ½ years later. My life was more fulfilling than ever and happier then it ever had been as well.
I wish I could say that I didn’t drink at all during that time, but I can’t. There was maybe 2 times in a period of 8 years I did and did get drunk. They were both when I rode in Mardi Gras parades and didn’t try to control it, and I guess got a ‘pass’ from my husband because it was a rare experience. Then one year ago is when for me it was my ‘bottom’. Though to many reading this, they may read and say what? , you weren’t low enough before?…. Well here it is, my in laws rented a beach house in Galveston for us to spend the week. We went shopping for groceries and my husband asked if I wanted anything to drink. I thought sure bloody mary’s sound good. Well later that evening while the rest of the family went out, I went to town with the entire bottle of grey goose. I enjoyed shooting pool, listening to music etc.. Then when everyone got back I was a blabbering heap of mess. I let out all of my ‘deep dark secrets’ to my sister in law, talking old days to my niece and nephew. All and all they had never seen or known me to be like that so they were I’m sure taken quite aback, and my husband none to happy. I woke up just disgusted and with a hang over I still a year this week fresh in my mind as it was that crushing of a blow. It blew my ego, pride, and everything else. I made a fool of myself in front of a group of people that did not ‘know’ that side of me. My in laws had thought the one DUI they knew about, was just a fluke. Even today they don’t know ‘my story’. My kids until this point had never seen me drink (I don’t really think they knew the difference, but I did). This was THE MOST disturbing thing to me. II was ashamed, but this time I have so much more to live for, so much more ‘on the line’ (2 little ones to be exact) and just surrendered it all- I am absolutely an alcoholic- one is too many and 100 is not enough…..
That morning became day one of the rest of my life and I prayed to my higher power that this insanity must stop. So as today and each day I take it one day at a time, being diligent about doing an inventory at the end of each day. Today biggest thing I do differently is that rather than put it in the ‘back of my mind’ I put it at the forefront. What I mean by that, I think from reading above you can tell there is A LOT I do not want to or care to think about, but alcohol is not one of them. I wake up every day and thank the good Lord for my sobriety, I run every day and it serves as my me time keeping me sane in the world of being mom, I listen regularly to Recovery Elevator/ SHAIR podcasts. . I have read the Big Book so much in my life that it sticks with me. Something that I always think about is the guy that had many years of sobriety and I think it say something to the effect that once he retired ‘his slippers and bottle’ came out. I think about that and know that- that is me. I can pick up right where I left off as I have proved that. Today I choose not to drink. I am under no illusions that I can one day drink like a ‘normie’. This is what has put me in and out of sobriety each time- insanity. I have never understood anyone that would want just one or two, that will always boggle my mind. My prayer has been that I can be of service to others. I am not sure where that will put me, but it has been on my heart to put this story on paper, and this is my beginning. While I do not go to AA today the thought of returning has been on my mind, not so much for what it can do for me. Rather when I walked into those rooms, I was looking for ‘that person’ meaning the one I am today and that just maybe can help another woman that just needed to ‘see’ the face of hope..
Life has not been all roses as I am still held accountable and reminded of consequences even now. The most vivid heartbreaking event was when I went to drive for my daughter’s kindergarten field trip and the principal pulled me aside. She informed me I could drive my child, but not any of the others. It seems my driving record results came back and I would not allow for that and she was ‘very sorry’. Wow talk about my pride and motherhood taking a massive assault! Embarrassment and tears filled my face as I ran out to call my husband and come drive as my daughter was confused as to why we couldn’t bring her friends who were anxiously standing next to her. My secret was out and I felt so much shame. This was a group of people that never would have dreamed I had an alcohol problem. My alcoholic reaction was to say the heck with it and drink, but I did not! Funny that wasn’t when I did drink again, rather it was the sneaky, everything is ok and maybe I can drink normally ‘obsession’ that got me. So this along with not being able to be a substitute teacher because of my ‘driving record’, these are things that are in my life today and I handle them on life’s terms. I think this is the first year where I will legally be able to drive my kids and their friends at school as it will be 10 years after the DUI, hence things can get better.
I am approaching three years of sobriety. Recently, I have been distracted enough to not consider the convoluted emotions which typically accompany my sobriety date.
Not a day goes by when I am not authentically grateful for the disease of alcoholism; along with the unexpected gifts in recovery.
Lately my world has been in a constant state of cerebral dysfunction, with the long overdue separation of my youngest daughter and the societal expectation of public school.
Meanwhile, I feel I cannot possibly take on another role, yet find myself with three new sponsees. What in THE hell is my HP thinking? Does the universe not SEE that I am falling on my ass on a daily basis? My OWN ass. How do I have the mental capacity to guide three adult-type people through the early stages of recovery?
One night, while lonesome, I found myself momentarily missing a remarkably unhealthy relationship, for the mere fact that it offered companionship. Lost in thought, I found myself romanticizing that toxic union just as I would a glass of merlot; the familiar allure of poison.
A newcomer calling for guidance. I had just met her at her very first AA meeting.
The triumphant laughter of the universe, cloaked in a shout, when a suggestive whisper didn’t resonate. Jolting me back to reality and out of the very unnecessary abyss of that maladjusted union.
I recently also offered to sponsor another young woman. She shared some thoughts with me that made our short time together completely worthwhile.
We were reading the big book together, accompanied by a few pages of dreaded, yet reliable, homework. I suggested that she try to settle on a task and with humble willingness, she would start to feel better.
She concurred with insight of a different view, as she woefully spoke:
“I feel fear better.
I feel anger better.
I feel anxiety better.
I feel sadness better.
I feel everything fucking better.”
Truth. This is reality of sobriety.
I shared with this newcomer some of my ongoing struggles, and the recent ebb and flow of grief. Recounted the moment I was crying to my doctor, hoping for some Xanax, admitting to my new naturopath, “I don’t want to feel this…” Prior to hitting my bottom, I had been over-medicated in the care of an over-zealous practitioner with Xanax, Klonopin, and Celexa.
What was my new doctor’s remedy, instead of firing off a cryptic prescription or two?
She alerted me to my words that day, ” I don’t want to feel…” and reminded me that I haven’t allowed myself to feel anything except detachment for the past 20 years.
She recommended I sit through these damned emotions, wallow through the despair, allow the waves of grief to flow, until I could…
Written by Kellie Ideson from Pure Life Recovery