As a child I thought I was the center of the world.
I was, at least, the center of our household. My mom was seriously mentally ill so, for most of my childhood, we lived with my grandparents. My mother had delusions, was demanding, and at times physically abusive to my grandmother (though very, very infrequently to me). My grandparents made it clear that they only allowed her to stay because they loved me and wanted me to be safe. My mother made it clear that she purposefully had me at 15 so someone in the world would love and understand her.
Yet, while I was the center of the world in some ways, I was fairly neglected in others. My grandparents both worked A LOT. My mom was often in a drugged sleep for most of the day and up ranting and pacing all night (which was scary.) My grandmother and mother were each jealous of the other’s relationship with me which led to both of them keeping their distance from me to prevent conflict. There was little physical affection shown in my house. I spent hours outside alone.
I never really had social behavior modeled and was told I needed to lie about what things were like at home. Still, growing up in a small town even when I didn’t share, people understood my mother was crazy and, even if they started to forget, there were incidents that reminded them (like when she bought the whole class popsicles but sat outside the window talking to herself and gesturing while waiting for us to get out of class). I was teased a lot.
At the same time I hated her in some ways, I also loved her. The abandonment I felt by my alcoholic father who opted not to see me because he couldn’t handle her behavior, was compounded by the fact that she was in and out of institutions. My uncle was my best friend and hero as a child but he too left when I was 9 to join the service. Both my mother and grandmother spoiled me with material things and were overly permissive because they felt guilt about what my life was like.
I grew up feeling uniquely broken and flawed, and a deep, deep sense of shame about who I was.
I didn’t have many friends, and I always felt that those that were nice to me at all were doing it out of pity. I didn’t drink when I was a teen because I didn’t get invited to things where there would have been alcohol. I skipped lunch most days because I didn’t have anyone to sit with. I was deeply lonely.
At 17 I moved to and started working in an economically depressed nearby town. I desperately wanted to fit in and I had no real clue of how to interact socially in a healthy way. I was accommodating to the extreme. If people wanted to drink, I’d drink. If they wanted me to do drugs, I did drugs. If they wanted to have sex, I’d have sex. If they wanted to commit crimes, I’d help. That year after I graduated was horrific. It was filled with binge substance use, sex, and crime. It culminated in an arrest for grand larceny, a nighttime B&E and a serious suicide attempt.
One would think this might turn into the story of a hardened criminal at this point, but I was more confused than “bad.” I’d never really developed my own taste or morals. I ran away to Florida for a year. During that time I wasted a lot of my grandparents’ money (I let them give me money constantly often squandering it,) but I also drank less, drugged less, and had fewer partners.
When I moved back I was ready to settle down and go to college. While there were wild moments with binge drinking, vomiting, sex with strangers, blackouts, etc. on and off, I actually did a lot to straighten out my life (and became adept at hiding my mistakes) and to all outward appearances my self-esteem had increased and I became successful.
I eventually got married (for the 3rd time but those are other stories) and while I never was good at monogamy, I did get better at not getting caught and found someone who loved me enough to forgive me for mistakes. (My husband does understand I have cheated and has been very hurt by it.) I got a very good high level corporate job. Theft became something I wouldn’t consider doing. My husband and I bought a house. I have a 401K and money in the bank. We’ve traveled. I’ve run 5Ks and taken yoga. I volunteered extensively in my community and donated to charity and did all the other things that I thought I needed to do to prove I was “healthy” and “normal” and okay.
Still, I don’t really believe I am a good person. I’m full of shame and self-loathing that I’m still learning how to process. Alcohol numbed it. It was easy to feel okay while continuing to drink. The problems of my youth were able to be blamed on other things. I was doing what in my mind most healthy, white, middle class people do, having some wine and cocktails to relive some stress.
My “some wine” grew into regularly having a bottle at night.
I still had occasional binge drinking moments with friends. I almost drowned three times during one (I kept going back in the water). I was overheard begging a male friend to have sex with me in another (who thankfully was sober enough to not think it was a good idea and had to confess it to my husband,) hurt my ankle badly when I didn’t notice a 4-foot drop, drove drunk multiple times, and crashed a car when drunk.
As odd as it sounds, despite all those things a growing tolerance and multiple black outs, it took a long time for me to realize that my drinking wasn’t normal. Post car crash, which involved hitting a guard rail but still being able to drive home terrified of arrest with part of my car dragging behind me, I did stop drinking for 32 days. I even went to meetings. At that point I hadn’t embraced not drinking again though. I was “proving I could stop” and, while I did, part of me understood I was just delaying drinking. I didn’t have to really give up trying new wonderful spirits, or miss the drinking at the holidays.
It took another year-and-a-half before I really got sober. I started out drinking to feel included, and to ease my social anxiety—I ended up having my insecurities flare up more and more when I drank. If I wasn’t the center of attention I felt unloved. I threw tantrums and manufactured crises to get attention. I threatened suicide. I threatened running away. I left parties and bars angry. I ran off in the rain in Dublin, Ireland not knowing where I was going. I ran off from a party and ended up in a car with a stranger driving me around at 4am. I ran off and got lost in Middle-of-Nowhere, Connecticut. I terrified people who loved me. My reaction to feeling unloved led to the people who cared about me not feeling good about being around me. A few times I became violent with people.
Still that was only when I binge drank (about once every four-to-six weeks). The rest of the time I’d have wine or beer regularly. My tolerance reached the point where I’d have to have a couple mixed drinks or shots after a bottle of wine. I hid my empties. I drank when I was sick. I drank early on weekend mornings. I blacked out watching TV and movies and didn’t remember them. I had to look at my chat log the next morning to see what I’d said to people the night before. I would try to stop. I would set rules. I knew at that point I was an alcoholic but was saying I didn’t want to deal with it. The truth was I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to.
Finally after a drunken episode of running away followed by an all-night fight with my husband I realized that while I was still high-functioning, my life was hanging on a thread and if I kept drinking I was going to destroy it.
I went to a meeting hung over. It was scary and I didn’t feel comfortable and left early. I kept trying meetings till I found ones I like and have been going about 3 times a week. I set up a small support system of friends. I made an anonymous twitter and blog. I read lots of other blogs and books. I exercised and meditated. My emotions went up and down. I felt raw and out of control. I ate too much sugar. I cried every day. I kept not drinking anyways. I got a sponsor. I’m starting to work the steps.
I went to a wedding, family party, big party, and smaller party. I watched people drinking with new eyes. I am starting to see the myths I believed about drinking. I’m starting to choose sobriety because I want to rather than because I have to.
I’m terrified this will be the last time I can stop on my own and that if I lapse I’ll need rehab. It helps the days I wish I could drink. I’m taking a low dose of Zoloft. It seems to be helping as well. I was very resistant to it at first and still have mixed feelings but I’m not drinking and I’m not crying every day anymore.
Sobriety isn’t easy.
You have to learn new ways of interacting at the same time your body and emotions feel out of control. You have to deal with real or perceived stigma. You have to deal with your own shame. You need to learn to feel strong and proud you are dealing with your problems rather than full of guilt because you have them. You have to forgive yourself for what you’ve done while accepting responsibility. You have to stay humble and not judge others but keep your focus on yourself. For me to stay sober I truly believe I have to look at the roots of my insecurities and learn how to love myself.
Today is my 38th day of sobriety, and I’m feeling optimistic I’ll make it.
Please visit Angela's blog SassySober1 for more of her courageous journey into recovery.