Broken. That’s the word I used to describe myself at thirty years old. I realized this when I was shopping at a decorative home store with my Mom. I was walking from thing to thing realizing that I had no home to fill with the beautiful things for sale, no money to buy it anyway, no job and no family to share it with. I could hear other women shopping and making jokes about not telling their husband’s how much they were spending and it all came crashing down around me. I left the store and started to cry. All I kept thinking was, “I’m so broken. I’ve done everything wrong.”
It’s getting harder and harder for me to remember or relate to the girl I was in my twenties. I’m grateful for that. I lost my way during that time. In the beginning, everything was so new and exciting but life slowly began to turn on me as I became addicted to all the things that had initially made me so happy. Alcohol, drugs, attention and money.
I made a New Year’s resolution when I was 19, to start living in the now. I spent my high school years following everyone’s rules, my parents, the schools, my friends, and my boyfriends. I was in constant turmoil trying to please everyone. I felt uncomfortable in my skin so much of the time that I avoided a lot of social situations that all of my friends seemed to adore. I never went to parties and spent very little time at sporting events. I had friends and would have been considered popular during school hours but after school I went straight to work and then home. I had very little interest in doing anything with friends. I didn’t feel like I fit in and I was constantly on edge around others, worried that I would say or do something wrong.
When I discovered alcohol at 19 years old it miraculously tore down the walls I had built up during high school. Suddenly, I felt comfortable around others. Hence, the resolution to start living in the now. I had a lot of catching up to do!
Addiction snuck up on me. Between the ages of nineteen and twenty two it seemed I could do no wrong. Older adults seemed to revel in my youthful escapades. I’d roll into work, hungover if not still a little drunk from the night before and they would chuckle to themselves saying, “Oh to be young again.” Every birthday of mine was cause for larger and larger celebrations. My coworkers and friends would buy me alcohol related gifts: flasks, shot glasses and shirts or beer mugs with party references on them. I was a party girl and I loved the label.
Every weekend was a new party in beautiful homes, in gated communities with all of the amenities you can imagine. Parties on boats turned into parties on yachts. Each party, each house, each event seemed to get bigger and grander with every passing weekend. Everyone appeared young, healthy and successful. I was in awe of it all and determined to fit in. So much so that I lost touch with who I was. Everything was about looking good, outdoing others, and having fun no matter the cost to myself or others.
That’s the problem with a lifestyle run completely on self will; it’s empty. It catches your eye because it’s shiny and new but once you become a part of the lifestyle you begin to see the cracks. Everyone is out for themselves. There is no sincerity and everything is a lie so that reality becomes non-existent. I was conflicted because I loved the lifestyle at night but during the day I couldn’t help but see the cracks in everyone’s lives (including my own) and it scared me. I began to feel uncomfortable in my skin again. Just like in high school, I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t and it was catching up with me. The only time I could relax was when I was drinking but when I was drinking I was constantly searching; I wanted and needed more.
After a few friends confronted me about my drinking, I humbly checked myself into a rehab in hopes of learning to drink socially. Once there, I realized that it was a program of abstinence so I waited for the therapists to fix me and make me want to live a life without alcohol. Only I didn’t want to put in any of the effort. I wanted everything to be done for me and I wanted it done immediately. Recovery doesn’t work that way. Very little about life works that way.
Addiction is brutal. There’s a reason why there are waiting lists to get into rehabs, our jails are filled with repeat DUI’s and drug offenders and too many people are dying from alcohol and drug related deaths. If everyone that needed sobriety got it our world would be a much brighter and productive place. Unfortunately, in recovery, the only thing that seems to work is if the person truly wants to get sober and is willing to go to any lengths to get it. Only then do they have a chance.
I thought I was ready many times but the truth is I wasn’t. I would get a couple months of sobriety under my belt and then I would find a way to sneak a drink here and there until I was off and running time and time again. I lied to and took advantage of so many of my friends that my world became very small. I had to keep the few friends and family that I had left at a distance because I couldn’t let them see who I had become. Pretending to be one person at work, another person for my family, and the most frightening of all: the person I became when I was alone with my insecurities, fears and alcohol.
I’ll never forget what my counselor told me during a session in rehab when I bounced into the group for the first time, smiling and telling everyone that I felt great. She saw past my masks and bravado and told me that if I didn’t start taking recovery seriously that I would lose anything that I put in front of it. I thought she was being dramatic. She wasn’t. One year later, I was divorced, had lost my job, my house was going to foreclosure and I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt.
Finally beaten, I prayed that night, pleaded to a God that I hadn’t talked to in years to let me die. I couldn’t live life sober and I could no longer live life drunk. I didn’t have the strength or the courage to right my wrongs and I desperately wanted out. When I woke the next morning, very hungover but very much alive, I felt disappointed and then angry at God. What I didn’t see then was that God was doing for me what I could not do for myself. I had hit my bottom. I could no longer lie my way out of the mess I was in. I swallowed my pride and called home. My Mom answered, quietly I asked her if I could come home. She replied without hesitation, “Absolutely! I’ve been waiting for this call.” That weekend my parents arrived at my house and we packed everything we could fit in a Uhaul and truck, including my dog and three cats and they took me home.
Back to the small town where I had grown up, where everyone knew who I was. A blessing and a curse. Lord, what was I going to tell these people I had been up to for the last eleven years? Very little was socially acceptable. I practically remained in hiding for two years. Afraid to face the people I had grown up with. Grocery shopping was a stealthy operation of scanning for familiar faces and dodging them the best I could.
I spent a lot of time at home with my family, rebuilding relationships as well as the house I bought “as is.” Spending most nights and weekends working on it with my Dad. When I wasn’t at work or with my family I was working on me. Going to meetings regularly, working with a sponsor and figuring out why I drank in order to change the root of the problem, ultimately changing everything. At that time, all I wanted was to just quit drinking, move into my house and save face in front of the townspeople. Unbeknownst to me, I was learning how to be a friend, to be responsible and accountable, to live my life honestly and to forgive myself and others.
I learned that if I didn’t want to be jealous and suspicious of others than I needed to stop making others feel jealous or suspicious of me. I learned that if I wanted to trust someone then I needed to be trustworthy. If I wanted others to accept me without judgement then I needed to accept others without judgement. The most important thing I’ve learned is that I can’t control others, what they think or what they do but I can control who I am and how I treat others.
It took me five years to become an active alcoholic and another six years to finally put the drink down. It’s taken many years to rebuild my self-confidence, as well as many painful life’s lessons in sobriety in order to shape me into the person I am today. Still flawed but no longer empty.
I have a full life today. I met my husband, got married and had two beautiful children who will (God willing) never know me as an alcoholic. They will reap the benefits of a mother who has made many, many mistakes in her life. Who has been humbled by them but has grown from them as well. In sobriety I’ve been taught patience, humility and the importance of helping others. All tools that helped me cope when my first son and recently my second son were diagnosed with autism. Today I’m a wife, a mother and a friend. There are no skeletons in my closet. I’m not perfect but I no longer feel the need to be. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.