26 March 2017

Drinking to Escape

As an alcoholic mother of two young children, alcohol has been many things to me over the years. At first, like everyone, I drank for fun. Back then, I had few responsibilities and alcohol was a nice addition to a carefree lifestyle. It helped me feel alive, part of everything around me. Self-consciousness and awkwardness melted away. I felt powerful, superior and desirable.

This didn’t last long. By the age of sixteen I started to experience some serious consequences. I could never master the ability to just get pleasantly tipsy, but before long I was drinking to black out or complete loss of control almost every time I picked up a bottle. My social life changed to suit the drinking lifestyle, and my first serious relationship was with an alcoholic who had just been released from prison. I was drawn to the darker side of drinking, the violence, the theft, the danger. This was not how I was raised, yet I found myself feeling like I had found others who understood me.

Before I found alcohol I was a promising student and athlete, an obedient and loyal daughter, an honest and reliable friend. With alcohol inside of me, I was none of these things. Yet it gave me something I felt had been missing. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it was that elusive feeling I got when I drank that I craved continuously. I resented people and responsibilities when they got in the way. I would look at others with confusion as I saw them getting up, going to work, having families and paying bills.

I too had jobs, but I only worked to pay my way in the world so I could drink. That was the end game. Every evening on the way home from work I would stop to buy alcohol, and I would never make it home before getting through at least a couple of cans. I needed to feel at ease, I needed that illusive fuzziness and warmth that alcohol gave me. It was my lover, my master, my everything.

Jobs came and went; I nearly always left before I was pushed. My sick leave would build up to questionable levels as many days I was simply too drunk or hung-over to make it into work. When I did go in I would arrive disheveled and often fall asleep at my desk. Work parties always ended in acute embarrassment the next day. But still I didn’t see myself as an alcoholic; I simply didn’t fit what I perceived an alcoholic to be. Yes I drank too much and too often, and yes there were often consequences, but I didn’t drink in the morning and that, I thought, was what separated alcoholics from the rest of us. I was wrong, of course, this was just a way of keeping myself in denial. And for many years, it worked.

Over the years I tried many ways of controlling my drinking, but it never occurred to me to stop completely. Even as I lost jobs, relationships, friendships, and at times even my sanity, I still didn’t consider stopping. My drinking became more and more dangerous; I was drunk driving, going missing, waking up in strange places with strange people and combining alcohol with prescription drugs to intensify the effect. As the racing thoughts and shame became unbearable, the only thing that would quiet the noise within would be another drink, and another and another.

I first admitted I was an alcoholic at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. My relationship and marriage to the father of my two children was on the rocks. He was sick of me escaping into a bottle every evening, sick of me dry retching every morning and pitifully pleading with him not to go to work and stay with me instead. I despised myself, yet I felt powerless to change. But admitting I was an alcoholic was the first step. It meant I had to change, that I could no longer hide behind the denial of my ever worsening condition.

Once I admitted I was an alcoholic, I had only two choices left. The first was to carry on drinking to oblivion, drinking to blot out the consequences of my drinking. The other was far harder – to accept help and learn to live with me, alcohol free. For a while I opted for the first. I began drinking constantly and started to lose my grip on reality completely; everything external was moving away from me. My world became a bleak existence of hiding. But finally, alcohol brutally forced me to make a choice, life or death. By this time, I cared very little for my own life. I did, however, care very much for my children. These two innocents, who showed me love no matter what, penetrated the dark fog of alcohol. I could not leave them. I understood that losing a mother to alcoholism is something you never recover from. I had all but destroyed my own life, but had no right to destroy theirs. This purpose propelled me to face my demons. I decided that I had to give sobriety a go and do everything I could to achieve that.

Drinking daily and in large quantities meant I needed a detox to remove the alcohol from my body safely and in a controlled manner. For this, I had to hand over control to the professionals. But the elimination of the alcohol was only the beginning; it allowed my body to reset, but did little to change the way I felt and thought. I spent a month in rehab and, after that, I regularly attended AA and counseling sessions. There I learnt the tools of recovery; the years since have been an ongoing process of applying them.

Recovery has shown me how to live life without alcohol, it has shown me how to be a mother, a daughter, an employee, a lover and a friend. Today I no longer have to escape me; I have learned to live with me, and with others. Alcohol all but destroyed me, recovery has rebuilt me. I have a peace within that is infinitely better than the elusive effect that alcohol gave.

Today I would not swap my sober life for anything, even if I could return to those care free days of drinking that I initially experienced. Today I crave more of what I have found in sobriety.

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