I was not one of those people who had their first sip of alcohol and thought, “Where have you been all my life!”. My transformation–from a woman who drank wine to have fun, enhance the moment, relax, and take the edge off, to a woman who drank warm vodka alone behind closed doors–happened slowly over time. I do not remember exactly when alcohol captured me–it was a hostile takeover that I did not see coming and had no defenses against.
My biological dad and both of my stepfathers suffered from alcohol use disorders. Alcohol was how my family weathered everything, good and bad. I grew up in New York City. As a child, I suffered from anxiety, fear of abandonment and the core belief that I simply was not good enough. The writing was on the wall, but I didn’t see it. I was sure I would never marry someone with an alcohol use disorder. The possibility that I could develop one myself was inconceivable to me at the time.
I married my college sweetheart, we moved to Darien, CT and had 5 beautiful children. I felt like I had to be a cross between Martha Stewart and Mother of the Year. I believed I had to effortlessly raise 5 children, be an amazing wife and fit in to suburban life. However, my inside voice was always telling me:” I’m not good enough, I’m not good enough.” I was consumed with fear.
I learned I could quiet that inner voice and critic with a glass of wine in the evening. Over time that glass of wine became two, then three, then a bottle. I’d lose count. Then I decided I should switch to vodka. Fewer calories! If I was going to be that Martha Stewart/Mother of the Year…it wouldn’t mean anything if I wasn’t skinny as well!
What I thought was my solution, my beloved drink, turned on me. I started to experience blackouts and raging hangovers. My children begged me to stop drinking. I did the only thing I could think of: I hid it, lied about it, and protected it. I did not know how to show up on this earth—to be all the things I thought I should be–without it.
My relationships began to fall apart, I made impulsive decisions, I let the people I loved down. I lied, I cheated, and I was unable to be present. I became the worst version of myself. I was depressed, disconnected and swimming in fear and anxiety. Everything alcohol used to ease had become exponentially worse. I knew there was something very wrong. I knew I needed help.
That was 12 years ago this October. I checked myself into detox and my recovery journey began. Sobriety did not come easily. I threw myself into AA, going to 3 meetings a day. For me it was not the big book, but the community, the understanding and meeting women like me that drew me up and helped me feel a bit safer. I stopped drinking literally one minute at a time.
As I got some time and space away from the alcohol, I began to develop a sense of clarity. I started seeing an amazing therapist. However, even with all my budding wellness my inner critic was still very loud. I was my own worst enemy. I had held onto my shame and guilt; I was swimming in it. I had to find a way to work with and let go of these very uncomfortable feelings. Otherwise, I could end up drinking them away again.
I discovered the practice of self-compassion. I began to understand that I had always been doing the best I could to protect and take care of myself. The problem was that I had no tools, no skills. I had to learn to let go of the idea that I could do anything perfectly and just do the very best I could in the moment. When fear rose inside me, I discovered I could approach it mindfully, with gentleness and curiosity. I began offering myself the same kindness and compassion I would offer anyone else that was struggling and/or hurting. I began to change. I was not only sober, but I was also getting well in ways I could have never imagined.
My relationships with my children began to heal. I followed my passion, found my purpose, and went back to school. I embarked on a new career: counseling, recovery coaching and now building out a continuum of recovery services at The Lighthouse. I fell in love. My children now trust me with their most precious children. All these things became possible with my foundation of sobriety. I had a knowing: alcohol had never been a solution in my past and would never be one in my future.
Sobriety does not promise all rainbows and cartwheeling down the beach. Life is both joy and loss. Sobriety promises you can be present for all of it. What an amazing gift! In sobriety, I have lost a child and become a grandmother of 4. I fell in love and lost my beloved John, just a year ago.
I may not like all the feelings that come up for me. Some are very painful. However, today I do
not fear them. I know my feelings cannot harm me. I don’t have to drown them away. I can
hold joy and grief, pain, and hope in my heart at the same time. I show up for it
all—imperfectly–just doing the best I can. Today, I know that is good enough. I am good