See if you can guess how my first day of sobriety started. With a horrible hangover, of course! I’m still not sure what was so different this time. There was nothing remarkable about the night before. I stopped and got a bottle of wine on the way home after a stressful workday. I kissed everyone hello, said I wasn’t hungry, and had a couple glasses out on the patio while my husband and the kids ate dinner. I remember how good it felt, sitting there with the warm sun on my face, sipping my Pinot Grigio, how the stress of the day melted away. Only for part of me, though–the other part knew this was bad news. I was breaking my own moderation rules (again) and not caring. I was checking out on my family after not seeing them all day. I knew my husband would be upset with me, and I won’t say I didn’t care about that, but clearly the desire to drink trumped that concern. I hung out in my own little world for a while, then came in to do the kids’ bedtime routine. After they were asleep, I drank the rest, except for that little bit just to be able to put the bottle back in the fridge. I remember being vaguely annoyed about forcing myself to stop there since I would have much preferred to finish the bottle and open another one.
The next morning, as I sat on the couch with my coffee waiting for the worst of the hangover to pass, I thought, this is ridiculous and such a waste. It’s a beautiful summer day, nobody has to go to work, and I am going to be completely unable to enjoy the day with my family because I have made myself sick. This wasn’t supposed to be happening anymore, ever. This was not an acceptable scenario in any of my moderation plans.
So the jig was up, and I knew it in my bones. Still, I thought, let’s see if I’m still thinking this way later today or tomorrow when the hangover is gone. I had been through the short-lived “never again” reaction to the hangover enough times. But for whatever reason, this time felt different. I spent much of that weekend researching alcoholism online. I am a person who researches everything, especially health related things. Despite that, do you think I had ever allowed myself to delve into this particular health topic before? Nope. But I was ready now. I took all the quizzes. Check, check, check! Oh, boy. I found some sober blogs and recognized myself, big time. But there was one, nagging question left. If this was a predictably progressive condition, why didn’t my story seem to reflect that? I had been a problem drinker for 30 years and my life was still under control, at least outwardly. If I were really an alcoholic, wouldn’t I be in the gutter by now? I wanted to resolve that question in my mind, so I googled specifically “progression of alcoholism” and came up with this list. Something about seeing the behaviors in the timeline format made it all click. I could check off almost all the things in the early stage category (all except blackouts—I never had those). Worse, I could check off many of the things in the middle stage category. I looked at those things and realized they had not been true a few years ago. My problem WAS progressing, slowly but surely. I looked at the things on the bottom of that list. I realized in that moment that I could quit now, while I was still in the early-to-middle stage, or I could quit in the late stage, after some really bad stuff happens. So by that Sunday night, I had my decision. It would be now.
So what next? I needed to talk to a real, live person I could trust who understood this problem. The first person I thought of was an old friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years whom I knew had been sober for longer than that. Let’s call him Joe. We had kept in touch via Facebook only, so I messaged him that night, my second day of sobriety. I told him I had decided I needed to quit drinking and I was a little excited and a lot afraid, mostly of taking on the “A” word as part of my identity. I asked him to please tell me that the sober life is great. He responded immediately, with simplicity and kindness. It was perfect–absolutely the exact words I needed in that moment. “Don’t worry, there is a solution. You can have a fun, happy life without drinking if that’s what you want. Usually, if you think you have a drinking problem, you probably do. Let’s get together ASAP. Call me.” I did, and we had a long talk. I said “I don’t want to go to any meetings. I have 2 kids and a job—I don’t have time for that. I can barely get to one yoga class a week and I’m going to need THAT if I’m going to quit drinking. Plus, I don’t want to adopt AA as a lifestyle the way people do. I just want to quit drinking and move on with my life.” He said, “That’s OK, you don’t HAVE to go to meetings. Just keep an open mind.” We met for coffee and he told me his story about being a “low bottom” drunk, cocaine and heroin addict and going into detox, then rehab, then a halfway house at age 25. He never looked back and never relapsed. He had 30 years of sobriety when he realized he was sober but miserable. It was then that he went through the AA steps formally with a sponsor for the first time, and it was life changing for him. I had a lot of reservations about going that route, and thankfully he honored that and didn’t pressure me or try to scare me into thinking that was the only possible way. He encouraged me to keep an open mind and keep in touch.
Those first couple of weeks, I was fragile and raw and weepy. I grieved hard for the loss of my beloved booze. I was either crying or on the verge of tears just about all the time. I can tell you that I cried real tears triggered by break-up songs on the car radio, thinking of my wine in place of the lost lover. As cracked up and cheesy as that sounds, it’s the truth. Thankfully, here was a bright spot amidst the pain. I felt immediate relief from the agony of debating each day what I was going to do about this stupid fucking thing when 5:00 rolled around. And I knew that as hard as this felt and how much I would miss my wine sometimes, a sober life was going to be better. I felt excited about the blessings I knew I would soon discover.
At first, though, it was all so disorienting! I felt the proverbial rug had been pulled right out from under me. I had become so attached to my way of thinking about my relationship with alcohol—that it was an issue, but one that I was going to be able to manage without quitting. Now I felt like I had dropped into some kind of parallel universe, which I suppose I had.
And then came the flood of memories. I kept remembering things that happened in the past related to my drinking, some recent, some from decades ago that I hadn’t thought about in years. Seeing those events through this strange new lens, I felt so incredibly stupid. How could I not have known a long time ago?
I beat myself up about that for a while, but I decided that won’t serve my recovery, so I stopped. Now I give myself a break about how long it took me to see the truth. I started drinking at age 13. From the get-go and all through the years, I had plenty of people around me doing the same and more, so it was easy to think all was normal. When I started to realize something was amiss, moderation was a worthwhile effort. I had no way of knowing at the outset that I would fail so splendidly. For all I knew, I could have found out that I just had some bad habits, and I could learn, through some trial and error, to have a normal relationship with alcohol. It would have been nice to discover that I could change my habits and have a drink or two a couple times a week and be satisfied with that. It would have been nice to discover that I would, in fact, have the luxury of celebrating special occasions with the same rituals most people happily and safely enjoy. In my three decades of drinking, I had never undertaken any moderation efforts in earnest until the last couple years. I had to try. I had to try a bunch of different ways and fail a bunch of times. I had to prove to myself many times over that moderation is not a happening thing for me. So now I don’t ever need to try it again.
I waited almost a week to tell my husband I was quitting. I had to be sure I really meant it. “I’m done” was a brand new story. The “I’m working on it” story was the old and tired one, and that one left plenty of room for fuck-ups. “I’m done” has no margin of error, so it was scary to say it. He was cautiously relieved, and a bit confused by what was suddenly different. Because there was no dramatic event or story–just me flunking the last chance I gave myself to drink like a normal person, and finally getting that I can’t do it. He had told me months before that he was so done discussing it with me. But he was willing and able to talk with me about it now, I guess because I was finally seeing and telling the truth.
A couple weeks in, I was talking with my friend Joe again and he said the most awesome thing to me. He said, “You know what? Your drinking is RUINED.” I literally gasped and thought, oh my God, that’s exactly right, it IS ruined. How awful. How terribly, horribly sad and tragic. And also, thank God! Because that means there’s really no point in wondering if I could ever go back. If I did, it would never be the same anyway. Because now I know.
© soberfire, 2015