This is me today. While I look somewhat put together, don’t be fooled. I am a good ole’ alcoholic of the garden variety. The only difference between me and the “drunkies” swigging brown baggies under a bridge is… well, none. Perhaps just that I have gotten plugged into a solution, and recovered. And they haven’t. Hopefully, one day they will. And hopefully, I will won’t join them under the bridge one of these days.
So yeah. There is not a real difference.
I have an illness named alcoholism; as do millions of people in this world – 10% of the population, to be more precise.
I don’t have a behavioral problem, or lack of willpower. I have an illness of mind and body. I have a body that processes alcohol differently. Once I start drinking, I set off a craving for more and more. I also have a mind which tells me that this won’t happen every time. Except it does. So its a pretty messed up cycle of insanity, as you can imagine.
My story is one of falling down, and getting up. Over and over again.
My knees hit the ground in 2009 for the first time, when my drinking had finally taken over my life. I was 35 years old, a single parent to a beautiful 9 year old son, living in a foreign country, and self-employed. After yet another night of blacking out and rampant behavior, I laid on the floor of my bathroom floor and bawled like a 4 year old, lost and hopeless. How had I become a slave to booze? How had “a glass of red wine with dinner” turned into 2 bottles of wine a night? How did I get here? Something had to change. Something. I was dying. I was certain of that. Hopeless and emotionally devastated, I took my shaky-self to my first meeting the very next day.
I soon learned all about alcoholism and found hope and relief in a sponsor and in the fellowship of my 12-step program. I had found my Tribe, and my life changed. Fast. New concepts were introduced to me – and, while I scoffed at the beginning, I was too demoralized to do anything other than follow guidance from a sponsor. I was given directions that I didn’t really understand – but I followed them anyway. While that sounds weird, I had to stop operating out of a broken brain for a change to happen.
A spiritual transformation started to take place as I worked my 12-step program and connected with people who “got” me.
The obsession to drink was miraculously lifted, and my life started to make sense again. Soon, I was helping other drunks get plugged in to the solution, visiting jails and treatment centers – bringing a message of recovery to those who wanted it. Giving back, helping others recover just like someone had helped me. It was beautiful, how my Higher Power (for me, this is God) took over my broken life and made it whole again. Just freaking beautiful.
Within my first year of sobriety, I broke up with the guy I had been dating, and met the man who would become my second husband. Because I am also a relationship addict and wildly co-dependent, soon we were planning a wedding, moving into a larger house and leading what felt like a “grown up life”. I kept working my program, sponsoring people, giving back to others in recovery. And in return, Grace kept happening all over my life.
The pink Hollywood script continued for a while. In 2013, 4 years into my recovery, I had a “dream life”. A beautiful wedding was followed by a great honeymoon. I had a thriving 15-year old son, 2 stepchildren – which officially made me a “Mom of 3 boys”- and a cool husband who was in sobriety, too. I landed a rocking job as a Video Producer in a large corporation, as well as a contract with a local voiceover talent agency. I was kicking ass and taking names.
Life got busy. I got busy. Too busy. So busy that I petulantly started questioning the time I was investing in my recovery, in helping others, in “doing the work”. If my husband could remain sober without going to meetings and doing all the commitments in my recovery program… why could I not do the same? Did I really need to keep giving my time to others, when I had so many important things to do with my own life..?
I secretly felt that I had “all the knowledge I needed” about alcoholism to stay sober for good. Arrogant and defiant, I stated “I would never drink again, no matter what.” I felt fully in control of my life and the universe around me.
Hand on hip, I decided I would stop doing the program. No more meetings, speaking at recovery places, or sponsoring women. It was too much stress, and demanded too much of my time. I was overwhelmed, and had 20 excuses that landed me in the same place. “I am just pruning my life so I can thrive as a wife, mom and producer. I just don’t have time anymore. I need to focus on my own life and family.”
I basically high-fived God – “Thank you, God. I’ve got it from here.”
And, well…This set the perfect stage for the storm that would take over very soon.
Life happened. All of it. Work stuff, friends stuff, family stuff. My marriage had started to become real – and it was not pretty. The man I married, charming and magic in his child-like curiosity – turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I expected. I am sure he would say the same about me. As compatible as we were when we were alone, we could not function as a unit in the real world. I was focused on adulting, finally. He was focused on playing, perpetually. We were not a team – His world and my world grew apart quickly. The more I needed him, the more he pushed me away. My co-dependence, which I could not recognize, grew exponentially. I could not achieve serenity and peace. I was in a constant state of fight and flight; resentful, anxious, scared. A huge hole of fear and darkness grew in the pit of my stomach, unbearable. By disconnecting from my program, I had inadvertently become a “dry drunk”. I had no spiritual relief to help me cope with life any more.
Before long, I was sitting in my car in a pharmacy parking lot, drinking lukewarm Chardonnay out of little plastic bottles. A mindless decision, I purchased the four-pack at the register, throwing in some chewing-gum for good measure. I cracked open one bottle after another, chugging the warm wine with the desperation of an animal, begging for chemical relief.
Tragically relapsing after 5 years of sobriety – just like that. Suddenly. With no warning. Without a thought-process behind it. The GPS in my broken brain had re-routed me to the fastest solution out of fear, pain, doubt.
For the next year, I drank in secret. As expected, wine took off the scary edge out of everything, and made life easier to navigate. There is no denying that alcohol always “works” for me, making the world less overwhelming. But…needless to say the more I drank, the more I fell apart inside. My soul started getting dimmer and dimmer. I was in full-blown insanity mode, hiding bottles in my laundry bin, and drinking out of coffee mugs in the morning…brushing my teeth furiously, avoiding kisses and hugs – Telling myself “I was in control” and that I was not really hurting anyone. That I deserved a little break, because I did SO much for everyone. Dishonesty spread its tentacles around my life. My marriage started feeling hopeless. My parenting was detached and empty. My job was done on auto-pilot, always laced with fear and shame.
My husband finally noticed what was going on and confronted me. I was back in 2009, broken and bawling hopelessly on my bathroom floor. Over the next few months, I tried getting back on sobriety, and managed to string a few weeks here and there, but kept relapsing. Over. And over. And over. And over. Again.
My husband tried to help, but at the end I was left on my own to fight. Alcoholism is a very lonely illness. And a very dark one, too. I had started drinking to escape the loneliness of my marriage. Now my drinking was killing the hope of keeping my marriage at all. I was villain and victim in the same body. I wanted desperately to stop, but could not sting but a few sober days at a time.
For the next two years I was knee-deep in chronic relapsing. And it looked ok from the outside, because I am a high-functioning drunk who can still “do life” pretty damn well. I successfully ran a house, paid bills, was a devoted mom, landed a new job as a studio Executive – I wore chic dresses, a solid smile and high heels. Yet, nobody knew what was going inside my head and soul. The anguish of another failure. The fear that owned me 24/7. The desperate trip to the bar between work and home, even if I didn’t want to go there. The terror of my hand raising a drink to my mouth, even if my mind knew it was a bad a idea. The loneliness of a chug of Scope to hide the scent. Doing life either hurting or craving, my mental GPS always re-routing me back to the bar. It was exhausting. It was killing me every morning as I peeled myself out of bed, my body in pieces. It was killing me at night, when I drank away my soul “one last time”.
I tasted hopelessness soon enough. My husband jumped ship, packing a suitcase and leaving our marriage at 3 a.m., after another drunken argument. Our home was heavy with blame and pain. My heart broke as my marriage crumbled. My weight ballooned. My brain stopped working…and my 16-year old son observed in frustration.
This last one was the real tragedy for me – this one was the one thing that gutted me, my son watching me.
Ready to quit for good, I ran back to what had worked once: My recovery Tribe, my meetings and my Big Book. But my head, my fear and my shame kept getting in the way. What had been easy the first time, was not easy this time around. I was blocked — my knowledge availed me nothing. And even more tragic – the connection with myself had been severed so deeply that I did not have faith in me anymore.
I had to get down to the basics. For starters, I had to open my head to embrace that there is no RIGHT way to get sober. I had to be willing to consider new ideas and un-learn some old ideas that were holding me back. I had to be willing to surrender 100% to a new process.
Without knowing what I was doing, I started a process of getting connected to myself in the midst of chaos. With a God-given instinct of survival, I started focusing on breathing, pausing, meditating. I would go through my first sober days honoring my emotions (lots of crying), and being present to what was happening inside me. Some days, all I wanted to do was curl up, cry and sleep. Other days, I had to do a lot of yoga and sweating and screaming in the shower (I know, its a weird visual, but true). The process of re-connecting to MY BODY was KEY in the process. Because addiction is disconnection. So I had to re-connect to my physical being, which resulted in a pathway down to a spiritual connection with my heart. In this space, in this clearing, I found a new ground on which to build.
Soon, the 12-steps and everything else started to work their magic in me once more. I had cleared enough space for God to come in and do His thing.
Because make no mistake, I did not sober up alone, He did it for me. I just had to “prep” the ground for this to happen. Now, I could anchor my old tools into a bit of a new framework. I was still broken, but I was doing stuff on the side to tend to ME. I was giving myself huge doses of self-compassion and self-forgiveness. I was recovering through the 12-steps, but I was also dowsing myself in shameless self-love.
Sobriety and Recovery finally feel like a safe place again.
I now approach life and recovery more holistically, more compassionately, using the F-word multiple times a day. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Starting with my own, and extending it to everyone out there. My sobriety looks and feels different than the last time.
Because of the years of chronic relapsing, I am intimately woven with the illness, we are best friends. We cohabit in the same body, but have come to a peaceful agreement to co-exist with boundaries. I know how to keep “her” (my illness) at bay, and how to cope with “her” when she screams. I now know that I am never going to be able to get rid of her – or master her. I just have to keep working on my recovery, every day – and so long as I do, she respectfully keeps her distance. “She” has also agreed (begrudgingly) to be a study subject for me, so I can try to better understand her, and hopefully help others do the same. I am grateful at how “she” sits in a corner, watching silently as my life gets filled back with fabulous colors and dashes of light, one day at a time.
This is my truth: I am an alcoholic and always will be. I will not ever be cured of this disease, so I need to prioritize my recovery daily in order to continue sober. In order for me to keep my sobriety, I have to give it away to others. It is in passing the light that I get to keep it.
Sober Mami is an effort to share my journey of recovery, especially the lessons learned through years of re-lapsing and finding hope in recovery once more.
I will be so honored if you jump on board with me, so you can be part of a recovery community which we get to call our Sober Tribe, and help others – including me. Our Tribe of support. Our Tribe of drunks, alkies, wino’s, “crazies”… Us recovery warriors. Us, proudly. Us, daily. Us, connected. Us, recovering. Us, recovered.
Will you join me, please?
All my love – ::Sober Mami
Pamela is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach & Educator. She has been in a recovery journey since 2009, and is a passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding addiction. Follow her unfiltered adventures on IG @sober_mami and Twitter @LaSoberMami. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are struggling.
Pass on this page to anyone who could use a little Recovery zsa-zsa-su + hope.