08 Jun How I Won My Freedom From Daily Drinking
I grew up in a small town in southeastern Massachusetts, the kind of small town where there was absolutely nothing to do. So when I drank my first sip of alcohol as a senior in high school, it was love at first sip. Not that I liked the taste, but almost instantly it seemed I was transformed from being a shy, self-conscious person into someone who could lose her inhibitions, loosen up and have fun.
The problem was that right away I would take a drink, and then the drink would take a drink. I couldn’t have just one. If a little made me feel good, more would surely make me feel even better. So right from the get go I drank to get drunk, and I did it frequently.
I went away to college in the northern part of the state and majored in partying. I was a daily drinker who relied on alcohol to take the edge off any kind of stress. The drinking age was 18 at the time, and I remember getting so drunk on my 18th birthday that I had to be carried out of the dorm for a fire drill. Unluckily for the guy who carried me, I lived on the eighth floor of the dorm.
I found it entertaining by then to get drunk at night and play games to be able to function with a hangover the next day when I went to class. Sometimes that required drinking in the morning to be able to silence the shakes.
Yes, Alcohol Is a Drug
It was my college tennis coach who first noticed that I was having some kind of problem. She asked me point blank one day if I was having a problem with drugs. I told her no. I didn’t know at the time that alcohol is a drug. But on some level I knew that there was something different about the way that I drank compared to the way that other people drank. Other people didn’t drink to get drunk on a daily basis. Other people didn’t drink in the morning. Other people didn’t need to have four or five beers before going to a party so that they would be relaxed enough to go.
By the beginning of my junior year in college, drinking mattered a lot more than my education. Anything that competed with alcohol had to go. That included friends, boyfriends and school, so I dropped out. I revolved my life around the local drink specials, and any spending money I had was spent at happy hours and at the liquor store. I was pretty much unemployable.
I realized that my life was falling apart so I decided to move back in with my parents. That lasted a month or two when I met the man who was to become my first husband. All that we had in common was that we were a couple of drunks. He was someone who drank like I did. So within a few weeks of meeting him, I moved in with him into a one-room cabin. Again our lives simply revolved around drinking. Nothing else was important.
When I was 25, I got pregnant with my first daughter. I was very ill during the pregnancy with asthma and pneumonia, and since I couldn’t work at all, we ended up on welfare. Neither one of us could hold a job long-term, but up to then I could hold a job for a month or two, so I blamed my husband for the disaster that life had become. After I had the baby, I encouraged him to go to AA. I had stopped drinking during the pregnancy, but once I’d had the baby, there was no way I was giving up drinking myself. From what I could see, my husband’s drinking was the real problem.
I was able to get out of the marriage when my daughter was 18 months old, and I struggled to support the two of us on minimum wage. I continued to revolve my life around my dependence on alcohol. I remember one year that there was a hurricane warning, and instead of worrying about stocking my house with food, I focused on making sure I had enough alcohol. I remember going from one liquor store to another so that no one knew how much I was really drinking. I also remember paying for liquor with the very last of my pocket change.
Finding Hope for a Better Life
When my daughter was 3, I met a man who had been sober for four months. I was amazed that anyone could stay away from alcohol for a whole four months, and I went with him to a couple of meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. At first I didn’t believe that the people who claimed to be sober for a year or more really were. It was all I could do to avoid picking up a drink for one day. Yet I saw something in the people at AA meetings that I had never seen before. In the halls of AA, I felt a glimmer of hope that life didn’t have to be a complete disaster, that maybe there was hope of inner peace and an ability to do life.
I quit drinking without going to a treatment center, which I don’t recommend. I will never forget the first two weeks I was sober. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was shaking, sweating and pacing. I was consumed with a sense of panic all the time. But I hung on.
I started going to meetings as often as I could. Although it was recommended that I go to 90 meetings in 90 days, that wasn’t possible for me because I was a single parent with little help from my family and none from my ex-husband. I spent a lot of time reading AA books and literature, working the 12 steps of AA and getting to know people in the program by calling them on the phone.
Gradually I found that it really was possible to stay away from a drink one day at a time. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months turned into years. As I write this, with the help of AA, I have been able to face my life without drinking one day at a time for 28 years. It doesn’t mean that I stopped drinking and lived happily ever after. During the early years of sobriety, I needed to learn not only how to stay away from a drink for a day, but also I needed to learn coping skills for life’s challenges. There were a lot of lessons and a lot of different people who taught them to me over the years.
Alcohol Won’t Make Anything Better
Some months and years in sobriety have been more challenging than others. At nine years sober, I married my second husband. A few years after we were married, he became physically ill. It turned out that he had liver disease, a direct result of the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs. He was sick off and on for 10 years, and then he developed end stage liver disease. Ultimately, he spent 15 months in hospice care before passing away. It was a long and arduous journey for both of us.
I haven’t had to drink during any of the challenging times I have faced, because I learned a long time ago that there was nothing that a drink was going to do to make things better. Alcohol gives you the sensation that it is numbing your pain, but really it is only postponing it.
If there were not a program called Alcoholics Anonymous, I have no doubt that I would have died of liver disease too. I would not have been able to stop drinking, or if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to stay stopped. Today AA is available not only in cities and towns all over the world, but meetings and speaker recordings are also available online. It’s a great time to be sober and to be able to live life without drinking one day at a time with the support of others who understand.