My name is Renee, and I am an alcoholic. A recovering one at this point, but never recovered. Always recovering.
How it Started: Sparkly Golden Chardonnay
I took my first drink at age 14. At that time, I worked for a catering company, and the owners were my neighbors. They paid me $5/hour under the table, and when you’re 14, and it’s 1996, that’s really good money.
As a young teenager, I helped cater weddings, parties, and special events and learned early that there’s no party without alcohol.
I remember standing behind a champagne fountain, filling plastic cups full of the sparkly gold liquid for the guests, and when no one was looking, I filled my own cup and hid it under the table.
I took one sip. Warmth and hope and goodness filled my veins and seemed to touch my soul, and I drank more and more until the glass was empty, and then I filled another glass. Then another.
The chase was on.
I chased that feeling my whole life until alcohol didn’t work anymore.
As a kid, I felt different–like I didn’t belong in this world. Depression and anxiety plagued me early, and alcohol was the only thing that could help me feel normal for a few hours.
Any anxiety I felt was covered by alcohol’s false assurance. It felt so good for hours. In fact, it felt so good that I would end up blacking out and never remembering what exactly happened.
In my mid 20’s, I started drinking every day. If I went one or two days without drinking, I was proud of myself. Every morning, overcome with guilt and shame, I promised myself it would be the last time. This promise would be broken around noon. I didn’t know how to stop.
I knew I was out of control but didn’t know how to get help. I was a slave to alcohol. Every waking moment the question “When can I drink again?” would plague me. I drank at all hours of the day, starting in the morning, although my goal would be to wait until noon. The deadly cycle of guilt, shame, alcohol, bad behavior, and blacking out continued.
I did so many awful things while under the influence of alcohol. Driving was one of them, and I am actually surprised it took as long as it did to get caught. Statistics show that prior to a DWI, the driver drove drunk 80 plus times. I am ashamed to admit that this statistic is pretty much accurate in my case.
In April 2012, I got a DWI around 4 PM. I remember the cop just shaking his head in dismay. After all, I was driving home from work that day.
I had severe consequences from that DWI, but it didn’t change my drinking. Instead, I pushed everyone away even further than they already were and continued chasing that feeling of freedom that alcohol brought. Freedom so short lived, but freedom nonetheless. I didn’t realize that it was actually bondage until much later.
I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop drinking. I felt so bad, so ashamed, but I still clung to alcohol. In my warped mind, I thought if I could just relieve the pain for a few hours, it was worth it. Even if it meant the next day I would be feeling worse than ever. I was stuck.
I knew deep down that alcohol would kill me eventually. “I am your closest friend; I have always been there for you,” it told me, yet in the same breath that it said, “Trust me, you will lose everything.”
Hundreds of Failed Attempts to Quit
Alcoholism has been declared a disease by the American Medical Association. To be honest, I didn’t buy it for a long time. I thought something was deeply wrong with me. Something that could never be fixed.
A few years ago, a counselor I was seeing for alcoholism looked at me and said:
“I don’t understand, Renee. You’re a smart person. You have so much going for you. Why can’t you get a handle on this? How about, when you feel the urge to drink, you look at a picture of your boys?”
Oh, wow. How profound. I had never thought of that. I just nodded like, indeed, this was something that had never crossed my mind, and I agreed to try it (*eye roll*).
Even though I felt my counselor didn’t understand addiction, her comment made me realize that I am a perfectly competent person most days, that is, until alcohol enters my body. Then I lose control. After that first drink, I will do anything, and I do mean, anything, to drink more and more and more until I am completely drunk.
In AA we say, “One is too many and 100 is never enough.” No truer words.
I have had stretches of sobriety—3 years and 6 months through 2014-2017. Then another ten straight months. Then another six. And here I am, at three years and two months.
I believe my sobriety today will stick, and here’s why.
How Everything Changed
I got out of yet another rehab in June 2019. Like all the previous relapses, I had everything going for me and could never answer the question, “So why did you drink this time? You were doing so well.”
I don’t know. I just did. I did because I am an alcoholic and if I don’t use my recovery tools—AA, connection, exercise, to name a few—I will drink. It’s inevitable.
At this point, I had spent seven years in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous and could recite the steps, traditions, and promises by heart. However, I didn’t care. They were only words to me.
Rehab was superficial, and I went through the motions, as I always did. I said the right things, acted the right way, and pretended to just “get it,” like, I had suddenly miraculously been transformed.
Until something miraculous did happen that changed everything.
I don’t remember the exact day. It was mid-June 2019, and I had been out of rehab for a few days. I was tired. So tired of pretending. I said screw it and hopped in my car to the gas station five minutes down the road with one goal: alcohol.
I step through the glass door and turn to the left, that familiar place that I can find in my sleep. The place where all the glossy bottles stand side-by-side, just waiting. I touch my go-to bottle and hold it in my hand.
Then, something happens.
The next thing I know I’m driving and almost home. I look over at the passenger seat and see nothing. There’s nothing there. I check under the seat. Nothing other than a few French fry crumbs.
As I sit in my running car in my driveway, I realize that the last thing I remember is picking up the alcohol bottle in the convenience store. I had touched it. It was in my hands. Then I was driving home, empty-handed.
What had happened?
I analyzed that afternoon over and over. Was it a trick of the mind? Was it a dissociation of some sort where I lost touch with reality? It had to be. It felt almost like a blackout experience. Later the thought appeared: Was it…perhaps a higher power doing for me what I could not do for myself?
I realize today that this experience was a supernatural incident. Prior to that day, I had never ever gone to a store for alcohol and come out without it. I was not capable of such things. In fact, I couldn’t even fathom how not buying alcohol once I was in the store would even work.
Even though I had tried to believe in a higher power before that day, deep down, I did not. That day in June 2019, my higher power, who I call God, swooped in and took over. I did not drink that day, and I haven’t consumed alcohol since May 26, 2019.
How Recovery Promises Came True
After that miraculous experience, I saw a power that I did not know actually existed. Sure, in AA, I heard story after story of miracles where similar things had happened, but until it happened to me, I was skeptical.
AA’s third step reads:
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The “made a decision” part hit me—hard. It was a decision. It was not a feeling. It was an “I am deciding to do this, and I will decide to do this daily” decision. It was an “I know I don’t have any sort of power to stay sober on my own, so I need help” decision.
It was the best decision I have ever made in my life. And continues to be the best decision I make every single day.
With newfound awe, I dove into my recovery head first. I attended meetings, I got a sponsor, and I went through the 12 steps. I let go of shame and guilt and emotional trauma and let in peace, and joy, and contentment.
For the first time in my life, I had peace. I didn’t even understand what it was at first. I remember thinking, No matter what, as long as I don’t drink and put God and my sobriety first, I will be fine.
And I have. I have not always been OK since. Life can be messy and painful. But you know what? Deep down, I have been fine since that day in June.
How it’s Going: Alcohol Recovery on a Daily Basis
At the beginning of this article, I said I am not recovered, and I’m not. I will never be recovered.
But I am recovering.
Each day this means saying yes to sobriety and removing anything that threatens my recovery.
This means that no matter what happens, I choose not to drink.
This means that in exchange for addiction, I get something that I never want to let go:
Now, let’s talk real life.
I have had a pretty bad year as far as circumstances go.
My son had a major shoulder injury, which ended his senior wrestling season and began a heart wrenching season of surgery, depression, and slow (very slow) progress.
The same son is moving away to college next month. (This is bittersweet, of course).
My precious dog Bailey passed away last month, and her loss has left a deep gut-wrenching hole in my life.
A family member has cut me out of their life, which hurts tremendously.
This is on top of a worldwide pandemic and all the trauma I read daily about in the news daily.
I was talking with someone the other day who said:
“You’ve had a rough year. If there was a year to drink, this would be it. How have you stayed sober?”
I thought about it for just a minute, but didn’t have to ponder long because I knew the answer.
The same higher power that removed the alcohol bottle from my hand in June 2019 and sent me on my way home is the one who gives me strength each day. I don’t even think about drinking these days because my entire mindset has changed. Each morning I wake up extremely grateful for my life.
My motto for the past few years is “Just Show Up.” Even when I don’t feel like it, I show up for my life today. This means being physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually present for everything.
Each day I have that unexplainable peace that I would have never known had I not gotten sober. It outweighs everything else, and I never ever want to lose it.
I believe that if I can live sober, anyone can. I was a hard-headed-this-doesn’t-apply-to-me-you-don’t-understand type of person. I went through the motions. I lied. Mostly, I lied to myself.
As you can see, the answer to what alcohol recovery means to me is multi-multifaceted. First, recovery has given me my family, friends, career, hobbies, and relationships. More importantly, it’s given me a strong spiritual connection and my true self. I live each day and don’t have to pretend. I can just be me.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world.
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