This is my first post, and I have waited years to write it. I've waited and waited to have the perfect, resonating thing to say. But the thing is, I may never have it. And I am pretty damn done fighting to be perfect at this point. There are bigger and better things to fight for. So, instead of trying to sound important or relatable, I will just start out by telling you some of my story.
My drinking story starts when I was very young, more than a decade before I would actually try alcohol, when I heard the term "alcoholic" for the first time. It was referring to my grandfather. He was long-estranged from my grandmother and his two grown children (one of which is my mother) and had spent his last years, I would later understand, surrounded by alcohol and the low-pulse of sad aloneness he lived in all his life. He had killed himself* on my grandmother's birthday, some ultimate gesture we'll never understand. I still don't know much about him, and his story would become this larger-than-life Hemingway drama in my imagination as I grew up. Throughout my teens and early twenties, when I'd hear people speak about mental illness and alcoholism running in families, I'd quickly change the subject and hope that no one noticed.
In my early teens I started sneaking the dregs of unfinished wine glasses off the table at family parties. Being drunk felt like floating, like I was free. Alcohol is tricky like that. My drinking escalated in high school. I was a smart girl, and in my tiny school, that didn't exactly make me cool. During my senior year, I noticed that when I drank, I could let loose. I could out-drink the boys, which made me desirable, and when you're 16, that is exactly what you want to be. I am now painfully aware that I was not reaching all that high. I was also fighting to deny that I also felt attracted to girls. To that point, I had never met a bisexual person, I didn't know that there was any name for what I was feeling. I didn't know anyone else had ever felt that way, and I thought if I ignored it enough, it would simply dim or go away, which if you don't know, is not at all how this works.
Drinking shoved all the hard things down and out of sight. I didn't have to come to terms with loss, with feeling so much that I felt my chest would explode. I didn't have to come to terms with the man who led me to his room when I was 12 and told me I was pretty. With the man who cornered me at 14 to tell me I'd be worth going to jail for, as if I was an object to be stolen. The ones who didn't stop when I said "no". The ones who still crawls up from the cracks of my nightmares at 3am all these years later.
I started to use alcohol as a coping tool. By the end of senior year I was drinking beer while I studied in my room. I made older friends and I drank with them. When my parents tried to stop me from going off the rails, I'd take a handful of Tylenol PM (I was working with VERY limited resources) and drink a few shots in my room. Then I'd concentrate on not passing out while they tried to scream some sense into me.
In the months leading up to graduation, I'd make myself a rum or Jack and coke, put it in a Poland Spring bottle with the label peeled off, and drive to school. I'd drink it during my first few periods, then sober up before going home. Eventually my best friend caught on and started dumping the bottles out. Rather than learn my lesson, I started keeping Robitussin in my locker, so I could keep a slight buzz. I'd also drink at the drugstore I worked in, sneaking beer and cigarettes with an employee discount but no ID. I was a pretty typical, self-indulgent teen and I hated where I was, I hated being too young to make my own decisions, and I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I craved escape in any form I could get it.
After graduation, I got what I wanted and I left Long Island for college. I had gotten into a small but prestigious school in Washington, D.C. A short summer of being "cool" at home had been a gateway drug. It taught me that if I straightened my hair and wore a lot of eyeliner I would be accepted. It worked. I was invited to every party, I hung out with fraternities and was asked to join sororities. People liked this fake me and I hated them for not seeing through it. So, I drank more, I hid myself more, I stopped attending class. I made a large group of male friends, who, for the first year and a half, kept me pretty safe. They had my back. If I drank too much, they took care of me. They made sure no one came near me when I wasn't myself. They were my angels.
But at home, things were breaking. My parents got divorced and my home life fell apart. We had been the picture-perfect family and now we couldn't even look at each other. The only house I'd ever lived in was emptied and sold. It all felt like some cruel hell.
During my sophmore year of college, the pills started. Xanax and Adderall and I'm sure other things I can't remember. There's a lot I can't remember from those years. I slept with people I didn't care about just to feel something. And then, as these things go, I met someone. I stopped hanging out with those protective male friends, because they were sure he was not right for me. I wouldn't listen.
In that relationship we soon became something else. Two normal, functioning people, morphed by need and insecurity into something twisted, dark, and manipulative. We had confused drama with love. When that broke, as things always did then, I met someone else. Someone who, when he graduated, told me he didn't trust me. He would not stay with me if I stayed in DC. I quit school because I couldn't bear to think of a life without him, a life where I felt increasingly alone. Those years blur into so many scenes of me crying on a bare, dirty mattress in his apartment, just wanting him to save me. I didn't know then that that wasn't a fair thing to ask.
So I moved home, back to a place I hated. A string of deadbeat jobs that I mostly skipped, and a turbulent relationship with the same boy. He started to find his footing and I resented him for it. I would break us apart so I could date someone who made me feel less complicated. Then I'd come back. He always took me back. Years later when family would say they were glad I finally left for good, I'd say he did save me. As much as anyone can save another person. He gave me the tools that I would eventually use, many years later, to bring myself back to life. I will forever be grateful to him for that.
Time goes by, we break up for good. I am 21. No one comes to my 21st birthday party. I, the party girl who would attend any party with a bottle at it, had burned so many bridges that no one would attend mine. I drink multiple bottles of wine and cry myself to sleep, hoping I wouldn't wake up. I do.
A year passes and I work out now. I am careful about what I eat, but I am still drinking at work. I can't seem to stop this and I think it's just a part of me now. I can't imagine a life without drinking any more than a life without oxygen.
I start dating a man. He is a good man and he doesn’t play games with me. I don't know what to think about this. But I find his patience and understanding suspicious. This man would become my husband. Back then, we continued to party and I drove to work so hungover I couldn't see straight most days of the week. I drink at home now too. We buy a bar for our apartment.
On a late winter day in Central Park, he proposes. I say yes. We drink our way through the city to celebrate. He loves me, the parts of me that I let him see, through all of my drinking mishaps. Through the years where we practically lived at the Irish pub down the street that would give you rail gin if you tried to order water. Through the time I peed in a kitchen drawer because I was too drunk to know it was not a toilet. Through the nights I was cruel and hurtful for no reason.
One night I locked myself in a closet, my foot bloody and full of glass. I had broken a bottle given to him by his grandfather. He broke down the door and took care of my foot, took care of me. There the time I spent a whole day on vacation throwing up. And through all of those horrible, hazy hangover days after. Through the times I tried to quit and white-knuckled it, lashing out at him every chance I got, so damn jealous that he could drink like a "normal person". And through the times when my resolve broke and I drank myself sick. Through the nights when I would get so drunk at home I didn't remember going to bed or why I brought wine with me to my bedside table. Through my hiding bottles and emptying bottles alone.
But each of these times made me hate myself a little more. I was, in my eyes a hateful, sad person with no talents and no drive. This was my grandfather's legacy, this deep, aching sadness. I thought my life would go on like this forever. That everyone would leave me and I'd die alone with a bottle and my self-hatred.
Time passes, we get married, and we move to Florida. I make new friends. I drink more, though a little more controlled this time, always knowing I would quit. That I would have to. But I put it off until after weddings and trips and birthdays and countless other excuses.
Then, this past year, a hurricane hit where we live, and the power was out for a whole week. Everyone was off from work, and I was drunk every night. On September 25th 2017, nine days from my 29th birthday, I had a single glass of wine. It was all that was left in the house…a Portuguese Vino Verde, the kind I drank at holidays at my grandmother's house. I had left one small glass in the bottle the night before so that I didn’t have to acknowledge that I had drank two whole bottles by myself. It would be my last drink, though I didn't know it then.
I would do a lot of things in the time since. I would listen to every episode of Home podcast through my first 100 days. I would start meditating. I would pay for Hip Sobriety School, which I had always said I could never afford. I would make sober friends online and in person. I would read memoirs, and just so many books. I would tell the Internet I am sober. I would write. I would buy this domain name even though it scares the shit out of me. I would post here.
I am 229 days sober and I know who I am. Right now. For the first time since I was very small, I know what and who brings me joy. I know how to sit with pain. I can stand up for myself. I can recognize that all of these things are REALLY hard and I can keep trying them anyway. I can be brave and vulnerable. My body is healing, my soul is healing. I have space to show up and love now.
I am aware that I never hit the bottom that many others have. I think of my grandfather, and I think that he died in the way that he did so that I would know just how very bad it could get. So I could see the ending and choose a different one. My story doesn't have a DUI or rehab or anything like that, because I never got caught. Mine is a story of hiding while I slowly died inside. Of not matching my actions and my values. But not anymore. I know, now, who I want to be.
The woman I want to be is strong enough to be kind. She is learning always and she makes mistakes. She lets no person, no institution, and no opinion keep her back, or down, or scared. She begrudges no one their success, their pants size, or their deadlift max, because she knows that we all rise together. She doesn't look the other way when conversations get difficult, and she apologizes for her fuck ups. She reads good books and she questions everything. She finds good teachers and she listens when they speak and observes when they act. She takes care of herself unapologetically. She does not hold her feelings in and she asks for more when she needs it. She sends flowers to friends when they get the diploma, the job, or the home, and not just the spouse. She admits it when she's sad or petrified or disappointed. She asks little girls what they're reading instead of where they got their dress. She doesn't feel the need to live up to all of these things all of the time but just tries to do the next right thing. The woman I want to be is a work in progress.
Thank you for listening. X