Sometimes I sit down to write and my typing fingers can barely keep up with my brain.
That is not quite the case this time, however. This time, my stomach is a ball of nerves, my fingers are a bit shaky and it feels a little as though I’m turning my soul inside out with each word I type.
I’d say that’s hyperbolic, but in many ways it isn’t, as what I’m preparing to share are things I lied to myself about for a long time, so maybe you can imagine that sharing them with you – like this – is a vulnerable in a way I haven’t ever been before. Because friends, I’m here to tell you, when you become skilled at lying to yourself each day….when you can look at yourself in the mirror – wide-eyed and serious and calmly convince YOU that you don’t have a problem, exposing yourself to the world like this feels like turning yourself inside out.
I’ve been struggling with how to phrase it, how to explain it, how to softly put my truth out there in the world. But, honestly, it isn’t soft or kind, though it also isn’t easy to explain….which is why it took me years to get here.
I have a problem with alcohol.
A big one.
While some people do struggle with the label, ‘alcoholic’, I don’t – it is how I identify myself.
My name is Danielle, and I’m an extremely grateful Alcoholic. One with six months of sobriety. And counting.
And that label – and all that we, as a society, often incorrectly associate with it, is, in fact, one of the primary reasons I could look in the mirror each and every day and say, I AM NOT AN ALCOHOLIC.
I was not homeless. I did not need to drink at 7am. I did not carry a bottle in a brown paper sack around. I never had a DUI. I did not get fired for showing up to work drunk or failing to work. I could go days (at least in the beginning of my disease) without drinking.
My problem is NOT that I couldn’t NOT drink….my problem is that once I start, I DO NOT STOP.
In many ways, I was a ‘high-functioning alcoholic’. Some of you many have seen me have too much on occasion. But that would have been just a fraction of what I was doing, how I was living.
I wasn’t always this way. In fact, I come from an alcoholic family – so I was positive….in fact, I was DETERMINED, alcoholism was not my destiny. Yet another reason for living the past few years in denial.
I made it through my 30’s as a ‘normal drinker’……someone who could have a glass or two of wine on the weekend and stop. But in my early 40’s – it all changed. It was gradual at first.
I was a trauma drinker. I drank to numb how I felt, to avoid hurt and pain. “Oh my god, I just need a glass of wine to deal with this….” Words that began to fall from my lips more and more frequently as life piled on. The walks from my office to the wine fridge became more frequent. The pours more generous. That ‘one glass’ was actually two – but I only poured one, so that is what counted, yes? The lies we tell ourselves….
Word to the wise, when you hide your drinking, you are guaranteed to drink more. I promise. You are living a scarcity mentality. Since you are constantly afraid someone is going to catch you or take it away from you, you pour more in your glass, drink more (quantity), drink more (frequency), and drink before events so that it doesn’t appear that you are ordering more than everyone else. You start to pay more attention to how much you are drinking vs. everyone else around you. Your thoughts turn to alcohol more and more often.
I am also a blackout drinker. At first, it happened once or twice – but nearing the time I finally stopped, it was happening more often than it wasn’t. The scariest thing about the blackout? It isn’t like passing out. I don’t fall asleep – I lose time. For the most part, I continue to function as normal – carry on conversations, get on and off airplanes, order ubers, pay tabs, go to bed, put on my pjs. I just don’t remember any of it. I wake up – typically between 3-3:30am in a panic – trying to put the impossible pieces of time back together. If you’re a normal drinker – this sounds horrifying. Don’t misunderstand. IT IS. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t stop drinking after the very first time it happened. I wish I knew. If you have a problem with alcohol, in additional to sounding frightening, this may also sound…..familiar.
Your thought process is compulsive. Drinking is no longer something you do to socialize, it is how you cope with every day, every situation and every emotion – pain, sadness, anger.
It became an obsession.
I was no longer me.
There were signs along the way. That time I Googled, “why can’t I stop…..” and drinking was the first word to pop up…. For a moment, I felt a little bit less alone, knowing other people, many other people, had the very same question. I wish I’d seen that for the sign it was. If I’m thinking I might have a problem, I probably do. Normal drinkers don’t ever think about it.
I started buying wine from different grocery stores because I didn’t want them to notice how much I was buying (as if they actually notice or care). I bought only screw top bottles – easier to open and open quickly so my family might not hear. I moved to cheaper wine and started drinking out of any kind of glass or cup to hide what was inside. And finally, I moved to tiny bottles – YUCK – because they were easier to hide.
I am not a bad person or a bad mom…..I was a good person, a good mom, a wounded and hurting person who was making bad decisions. I was lying to my family and they knew it. I was disappointing my kids and it was breaking my heart.
This – this battle with alcohol – this addiction to wine – to numbing and avoiding who I was, how I felt, to hiding in my own skin – it was eating me alive and ruining my chances of being the person I had always believed I could be.
In early July, I woke in the 3am hour as I always did – disoriented, filled with guilt, and once again positive I had been a disappointment. My promise not to drink was one I had broken. Again. I could feel my will to fight, to lie, to ANYTHING slip away…. Jeff suggested a treatment center in Florida that fit what he knew I needed – a place that wouldn’t cut me off from the world, prevent me from keeping in touch with Delaney and Cooper, while at the same time treating my mind, body and soul with meditation, time on the beach and a wholistic approach to recovery.
A week later, on July 8th, terrified and overwhelmed, having told only a small handful of people – some of them friends brought to me through the gift of the internet, I surrendered to the idea that I had a problem, but, with help, I could recover.
I was positive saying ‘never again’ to wine was impossible, so I have learned to say ‘one day at a time’.
I was positive there was nothing in life I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it, but alcohol proved me wrong – so I asked for help, and I have been given the gift of a renewed and beautiful relationship with my babies – who never stopped loving me, but have learned to trust me again.
I was positive, without wine, I wouldn’t be any fun, that whatever ‘sparkle’ I possessed was fueled by a few glasses of champagne and a ‘Rosé all Day’ motto, but so many of you proved me wrong by first noticing a light returning to my eyes that I didn’t know was missing….without ever knowing the alcohol had been removed. I have been given the gift of hope, the gift of friendship, the gift of watching the impossible unfold.
I was positive my ability to have faith in any form of God had been destroyed, but I am seeing beauty in my faith as it carries me.
It could be finally feeling more like myself than I have in years or being comfortable in this skin and life I’ve been given. It could be having a connection to my children that I seemed to have lost briefly or it could be the gifts that come with vulnerability and being able to let people know that I see them in a way that way that they don’t think they will ever be seen – a feeling I know well as I had started to feel invisible and as though it would be impossible for anyone to ever truly see me again.
It could be feeling normal – FINALLY – but in the most beautifully abnormal way because I am surrounded by people who understand what it’s like to think and feel as I do.
It could be that people I haven’t spoken to in years are reaching out and sharing their own stories – some to support, some to ask for help as they are seeing some tiny reflection of themselves – some small slice of hope in something I have shared.
This happened FOR me. I am where I am supposed to be…and the Danielle who turns 47 in two weeks? Well, not only will she be doing that sober, but she knows how to sparkle and celebrate without wine and champagne and she’s good with that.