Today marks sixteen months that I have not had a drink of alcohol.
On December 27, 2012, I became an automaton. Dissociated from feeling and thought, I got in my car and drove myself to a recovery meeting. I drove back home and drank all the wine left in the house, about three-fourths of a bottle. On December 28, 2012, I drove myself back to the recovery meeting. On that day, I didn’t have one glass, many glasses, or a bottle of wine. I had none. I have had none since.
An occasional social drinker, I became a daily drinker of a glass or two of wine in 2007. By December of 2012, I was drinking a bottle of white wine every night.
The Centers for Disease Control define heavy drinking for women as 8 or more drinks per week. The CDC calls a standard glass of wine 5 ounces. I spent a lot of time measuring wine in those last months, attempting to fill the glass measuring pitcher to just 1 cup, to 8 ounces. And to limit myself to two glasses of 1 cup each. That was still beyond the CDC’s limit.
But not beyond mine. I could not limit myself. I could not stop.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, I have a substance use disorder of moderate severity.
How in the world did a nice girl from Blacksburg, Virginia, a member of the upper middle class, well-educated and professionally successful – with a master’s degree in counseling with a specialty in addictions?! – become addicted to alcohol?
Why did I start drinking more than I used to? I do know the answer to that question. I can share that story another time.
But why did I not know better, see the signs, stop before I developed a problem? Able to formulate a plan and execute it through sheer force of will, smart and knowledgeable about addictions – why, why could I not stop myself? When was that moment I still had a choice, that point just before drinking turned from something I did to something that did me? I do not know.
What I do know is that I wanted to stop drinking and I tried every method my bright mind could derive. But I could not stop on my own. I needed help.
In our area, we have a wait list for a limited number of substance abuse services, primarily for those who receive aid and are in the legal justice system. We do not have, however, treatment programs or treatment centers for executives or professionals. All that’s available for people like I am who realize they have a substance problem is recovery support groups. So that’s where I went. And I have been sober since.
I have told my father and sister, my closest women friends, my two business partners, my doctor, my hairdresser, and a very few colleagues. I have not told my aunts and uncles, my cousins, the members of my professional women’s group, or anyone else in my network.
Why haven’t I? Shame. Even though I know that a substance use disorder is a condition of both nature and nurture, so complex with regard to causation, diagnosis and treatment that it borders on mystery, I believed what our culture believes: “What is the matter with you?! What kind of moral or character flaw do you have? What, you can’t handle a few drinks? You could stop if you really wanted to, Anne. This is all in your mind.”
What was in my mind was ugly, cruel, relentless, damning self-talk.
Why else did I not tell? Stigma. I ask in this post, Why Addicts Don’t Tell, “If the head of the Chamber of Commerce came out as a recovering alcoholic or addict, the PR spin might term the person ‘heroic,’ but would the board reappoint their local recovering ‘hero’ to the position?” I’m a member of our local Chamber of Commerce. Will doing business with a recovering alcoholic be perceived as tainting the business deal? We shall see…
I also didn’t tell because I was in no shape to talk. You’ve heard little from me because I was sick with anguish when I began drinking too much, alcohol made me sick, getting off it made me sick, and then there was the sick anguish again. Those first 30 days of sobriety, I was in a writhing hell. The next six months, hell. The first twelve months, hell. I have only begun to feel some sense of peace, some relief, some hope in the past four months. And I was only getting off alcohol, rated a mere #6 on this list as one of the hardest addictions from which to recover. How and why I don’t take a drink is also a story I can tell another time. But even sixteen months sober, pretty much every day I have feelings that make me think I want a drink. Addiction is a heinous disorder.
So why have I decided to tell?
Not telling the truth is becoming another sickness. I value honesty, openness, and candor. And I have not been those. I have withheld the hardest struggle of my life from the people closest to me. I was recently hired as an addictions counselor and shared with colleagues and clients, complete strangers, that I was in recovery. Yet I haven’t told my own family members, my own friends? I treasure speaking and writing openly with others about my life – all of it.
The risks of telling seem weighty. Although my father and sister know that I am sharing my story publicly, I am most sorry if it brings shame to them. The same for my business partners. They know. If this openness compromises them in any way, oh, I regret that. And then if my story brings shame to my family members, my friends, my former students, my colleagues, my clients – I am very, very sorry about that, too.
And practically speaking, my business could lose business. Who wants to risk doing business with an alcoholic? What if she relapses? What happens then?
But. Integrity, wholeness, values – they call me to tell the truth.
Acknowledging the truth is a political act as well. I probably knew when I listened to Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, that I would need to tell sooner rather than later. She says alcoholics and addicts are killing people with their silence. Okay. For the sake of those who think they’re all alone, I share my story. But it is not a unique one. I am but one of an increasing number of women who are turning to drink.
So, now that’s out. Come what may, I can live an open life again.