My mother arrived the day before Mother’s Day for a visit. Mother’s Day christened the start of my week-long fast from social media. Though we were doing many Instagram and Facebook-worthy postable activities, traveling all around the state and doing exciting things, I refrained from sharing.
Yeah, at first it was tough leaving my phone alone. I deleted all of my social media apps so I wouldn’t be tempted to check anything and I stayed off the computer for the majority of my mom’s visit. The feeling of having a private thought or epiphany or funny moment and simply enjoying it -not rushing to post it on social media- became wonderful. Social media had become an addiction that instead of bringing joy brought waves of anxiety. I have an addictive personality…
One of the adventures we had was going to the Texas Scottish Highland Festival & Games in Arlington, TX.
This has been an annual highlight for me several years running. Scotland has been a significant part of my life -from a trip in my tweens with my Dad and sister gallivanting across the highlands as we tread the land of our ancestors, to the year I lived there right after graduation working with two theater companies. I have loved ones there and my own heritage. So this annual gathering of Scots and enthusiasts, surrounded by highland dancers, bagpipes, fiddlers, the Scottish lager/stouts/ales and plaids of all shades, is a taste of home for me.
But this year was different, and not just because Mom got to join us.
This was the year I stopped drinking.
“What?! She’s pregnant -well, of course she’s not drinking,” you say.
True. But I stopped before we conceived, and not just because we decided to try again for a baby.
I haven’t yet talked about this; it never seemed like a good time to share. It’s not something to brag about, not something I really want to advertise, and it’s not something many people know about. And definitely something that brings great feelings of shame.
January 4th, 2016 I woke up and finally came to terms with the awful truth that I was an alcoholic. And it wasn’t because of an epic hangover, terrible accident, or anything regrettable -quite the opposite.
My heart’s desire was to improve myself. I knew I had roadblocks in my way -roadblocks I had placed there- and I wanted them cleared so I could live as fully as possible. The largest boulder in my way, I was SO scared to address. I knew I didn’t have control over it, that even after long periods of abstinence from it I would continue to fall time after time. Alcohol was the problem, and I wanted to be free of it.
The night before, my hubby and I had had a beautifully long conversation in the kitchen about all sorts of things. Through the evening our hearts connected and intimacy was delectable. When we woke in the morning and snuggled for a bit, all of a sudden it just clicked. Today I was brave enough to admit I had a problem and brave enough to do something about it.
I turned my head on the pillow towards him, “I’m going to an AA meeting today.”
He was shocked. We hadn’t talked about getting help or support or anything like that. But I was determined. If I wanted to make positive changes to my life, the first thing to do was get help.
I found a group not 5 minutes from my house and went to the noon meeting. Nearly peeing myself with fear and shame, I was about to admit aloud to a group of strangers that I was an alcoholic -a label I abhorred and had been running away from for years.
Had I ever been this scared to do something in my life? Uh…. nope. This took the cake.
Not many people would know I had a drinking problem. And I always thought it was just a terrible lack of self-control, that I was weak and irresponsible, that all I wanted was to escape the stress or just have a little fun. I was a high-functioning alcoholic, but the cost was devastating. And I was done.
No more apologizing for things I said or did (and often couldn’t remember.) No more hideous hangovers. No more messing up productivity or missing business opportunities. No more numbing out while missing my little ones’ childhoods. No more disrespect to myself, my body, my family, my husband through selfish self-medication.
I wanted my life back, goddammit. And I was grabbing it with both hands.
The Scottish Festival, like any event for me, was centered around the beer tents. Belhaven Brewery, a Scottish company, was served exclusively and I loved loved loved enjoying cup after cup of their various offerings. Beer, live music, the kids running around playing -it was always a good time. But this year… no beer. None for me or my husband (who I am SO thankful for his unfailing support in my sobriety.)
At first I didn’t want to go. How can the festival be any fun without beer? But then I thought about the music I love hearing, the comradery, the kilts. We marked the calendar and told the kids: we’re going!
Let me tell ya something: It’s pretty boring without the beer.
Still, we loved the adventure and the kids loved the hotel and pool. Jumping on the beds and Texas-shaped waffles for breakfast are their idea of heaven.
On January 4th as I sat at a stoplight on my way to my first AA meeting I felt myself crumble. All the walls, the facade I’d been desperately trying to hold up for years, fell like Jericho. I was a puddle of vulnerability and I knew that in being so I was at the first step of recovery.
Yep, the group was filled with plenty of people you’d be able to point out as lifelong alcoholics/addicts, but there were also several folks I’d never have pegged. As I sat in the hour long meeting I knew with all my knower that if I left without saying anything I would be hindering exactly what I came there for. So with five minutes remaining I desperately shot up my hand and for the first time in my life admitted aloud, I am an alcoholic.
And that was the beginning of freedom.
It sounds cliched, but it’s true. In the following days a fog lifted. I was engaging in life, I was living without a haze, I was living my life. Playing with my children and time with them was richer, the constant anxiety I had began to melt from my shoulders and my thoughts became quieter and clearer. The feeling of desperation dropped.
I hadn’t been drinking daily before that. In fact, I had recently had periods of weeks and months where I’d been completely dry. But a drink on one day would lead to two drinks next time and six drinks soon after, with ugly consequences.
My previous pregnancies were heaven-sent respites. I remember each time feeling a HUGE sense of relief when I found out I was pregnant because it meant I had to stop drinking. Pregnancies were my saving graces. But soon after giving birth, the easy progression from one drink to I-lost-track began and I was back to my old habits, no matter how hard I tried to slow down or stop.
Sometimes I feel a desperate catch in my stomach when I think of never drinking again. There’s a lie that those who struggle with alcohol abuse hear like a siren song in our heads, “one day I’ll be able to drink like a normal person.” I think about it. And then I realize what bullshit it is and that even if I could “enjoy” a glass of wine now and again, it won’t enhance my life. It literally is a poison to the body, no matter how small a dosage. And why would I want to harm myself again, even if I could in moderation?
I have several brave people who’s personal stories and living testimonies gave me the strength to address the biggest roadblock of my life. And I continue to be encouraged and strengthened by those I meet, virtually and in person. Most of all, I am grateful to my husband who hasn’t given up on me, despite the countless times he had a right to. And I am overwhelmingly grateful that I still have a family I can live my life fully with.
If you have been struggling with your relationship with alcohol (because that’s what it is for an alcoholic: a very bad relationship,) you are brave enough. You have the strength to overcome it. And the best way to overcome it is to surrender. “I know I can’t control this anymore and I let go.” When we let go and allow ourselves to seek support, that’s the beginning of a beautiful new lease on life -the life we were meant to live. A life of freedom and fullness.
And if you haven’t gone to the Texas Scottish Highland Festival & Games, it is pretty fun to do at least once. Even without the beer.
Public Figures who’ve helped me that I’d love to share (and there are private ones I honor and thank in my heart)
Along with an A-list line up of super-achievers, Rich’s podcast features quite a few interviews with recovering alcoholics/addicts and his personal story of recovery continues to be a source of inspiration and courage for me.
I was about to start Brené’s “Living Brave” semester featuring two of her best selling books when I began my recovery. Her book “Daring Greatly” was life-changing as I began working through shame and coming into vulnerability. I cannot more highly recommend her work.