“Why do you drink? What is it that alcohol does for you,” asked my counselor in our very first meeting.
“It’s the only way I can slow down and come up for air,” I replied. “Everything’s moving so fast all the time and I have to make it stop. It’s how I breathe.”
Even speaking those words, I didn’t truly believe I was addicted to alcohol. I just thought I needed to modify my behavior. Little did I know.
More than three years have passed since that conversation, and I am nearly two and a half years sober.
At the height of my addiction, I was putting away at least a six pack of beer and two bottles of red wine each day. Most days, I started drinking by 9 a.m. I finished when I passed out on the living room sofa, glass in hand.
I still don’t know exactly how it got that bad. I knew I despised the way my mother drank. I knew alcoholism ran in my family. I knew. I knew. And, yet …
The longer I’ve been sober, the more I can pinpoint the specific facets of my life that all collided in my early forties to create the perfect storm. I rode it out for several years, getting tossed around by the waves, disappearing below the surface then gasping for air.
Throughout my childhood and into my early adult years, I received more criticism than praise. Considerably more. So much more that I lacked even the tiniest shred of self-confidence. I never failed to meet someone else’s expectations because I set my own so darn high they were unreachable.
In my teens, before I’d experienced the beautiful numbing of alcohol, I turned to food. I used it to punish myself for all my perceived failures and imperfections – either depriving myself altogether or bingeing and overdosing on laxatives. I even failed at being bulimic because I couldn’t bring myself to stick my finger down my throat. In high school, my mother taught me to skip breakfast, that deprivation is the answer when we are less than perfect. She’d been a fashion model and was thin and gorgeous, so I believed her.
In college, I worked hard during the week and played even harder on the weekends when I was either drinking on an empty stomach or capping off a night of pizza and beer with a box of laxatives.
After college, I started exercising regularly for the first time since attempting to play competitive sports back in junior high school. I networked, moved on from seasonal employment and waiting tables to career focused employment, and met – at a cocktail party – the man who would later become my husband. We usually had a few drinks when we went out, but there was never booze in my apartment. After a colon cancer scare, I swore off laxatives.
I don’t remember the first time my then-boyfriend now-husband saw me drunk. But, I do know it opened a floodgate. He never took me home sober again.
There were hangovers and embarrassing memories, but I thought that’s how your twenties were supposed to be. I never drank during the week. When I did drink, it was to excess.
Eventually, my husband began commenting on my drinking. He quickly learned if he mentioned it while I was drunk, I was only going to drink more. He began trying to get me to agree to a two drink limit prior to attending a wedding or other party. “OK, great plan,” I’d say with a smile. But, it never worked. I always talked him into three or four and usually snuck even more behind his back.
My drinking quieted down once we decided to start a family – but only because we didn’t go out as much. I was 32 when our first kiddo was born. I had a lot of trouble breast feeding and, within a few weeks, was sucking back a beer or two after his final feeding of the day because a lactation consultant said it would help with milk production.
I had my second child just before my 35th birthday. Nine days after I gave birth, I exacerbated a five-year-old back injury in a car accident. It was my fault. The other driver, who could have been found guilty of insurance fraud for setting up the accident, feigned a devastating injury and we almost lost everything. Thank God for lawyers and private investigators.
Regardless, I started drinking more regularly – to alleviate my physical pain and numb the guilt of putting my family at risk as well as the emotional distress of dealing with the lawsuit, starting my own business, and trying to be the perfect mom.
My drinking yo-yoed for the next several years. I would quit completely to adhere to a fad diet. I would drink heavily only to pull back on the reigns when my husband commented about the number of empty wine bottles in the recycle bin. I would stay dry during the week to justify excessive weekend drinking. I would buy a bottle of wine to split with my husband knowing he would only have one glass (or less).
By the time the kids were in school full time, my world had become a constant state of overwhelm and paralysis. As a mom and a struggling business owner, I was constantly faced with failure and rejection. I just wasn’t good enough. For anyone. As someone who’d been driven toward perfection her whole life, accepting nothing short of excellence, this was incomprehensible. I was so afraid to fail, I began seeking liquid courage just to do my work, believing it would slow my racing mind enough to expose the creativity and brilliance surely hiding somewhere deep inside.
At first, I limited my drinking to the late afternoons and evenings, staying up late to work (and drink more wine). It didn’t take long for the withdrawal and hangovers to become so bad I needed to drink in the morning just to stop the shaking and nausea.
I stopped trying to get the kids out the door in time for the school bus in the morning. Not because I was too hungover (sometimes I was), but because if I drove them to school I could then go straight to the liquor store and purchase my provisions for the day.
As I drank, I would stash empty wine and beer bottles – behind the washer and dryer, at the bottom of the clothes hamper, at the back of the deepest cupboards, in the vacuum cleaner bag, behind couch cushions. It became the greatest scavenger hunt the next day as I tried to find them all so I could wrap them in newspaper to prevent clinking when I put them in a garbage bag and tossed them into the trash bin.
I started driving under the influence. Forgetting things. Canceling nonessential meetings. Strategically planning my drinking around scheduled encounters with others. Sipping wine during conference calls.
I started living in fear. Of getting found out. Of crashing my car. Of getting fired. Of losing my family.
I was so broken. So lost. After deciding everyone would be better off without me but not having the guts to end my life, I teetered on the edge of self-annihilation for another six months.
My moment of clarity came the morning after one of the drunkest nights I have ever had. I was at a client event celebrating someone in whose success I played a huge role, partying with people who didn’t believe in me, didn’t value me, and had used me for years attempting to derive personal gain through my expertise. I fell from grace in front of leeches whose behavior affirmed my lack of self-respect and feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. It was ugly, embarrassing, with a hangover so severe that drinking three beers before driving four hours home the next morning seemed like the most viable solution. It was on that drive that I reached out for help, calling a wellness coach I had met years prior through business networking.
My first big breakup with booze was basically a pre-spine surgery attempt to detox and rid my body of inflammation caused by sugar, dairy, and other dietary indiscretions. Always believing if I stopped drinking long enough I could eventually start again and drink more normally, I broke a nearly seven-month sobriety six weeks after my surgery. Within a matter of weeks, I was drinking exactly the way I had just eight months prior. Alcohol didn’t help me breathe; it sucked the life right out of me.
Back in counseling with my wellness coach, I became dedicated to loving and valuing myself vs. self-sabotaging with alcohol. I make time every day for self-care – taking a walk or reading a book or meditating or writing a gratitude list or sitting with my thoughts or writing my story.
I understand and accept alcohol doesn’t serve me. I have learned to love who I am and how good booze-free clarity and focus feel every single day. I stay sober by prioritizing myself – things that make me stronger instead of weaker, things that fuel me instead of deflate me, and people who value and respect me for who I am. I stay sober because my parents didn’t, and still don’t. I stay sober because I need to provide a healthy example for my own children and educate them to be defensive and vigilant in an alcohol-worshipping society. I stay sober so that others may see they, too, can recover.
Author Laura Ward is a mother of two, a wife, and a successful business owner. On February 4, 2017, Laura celebrated her second year of sobriety. She blogs about her recovery at www.QuitWining.com.