By Martha M.
When I was 14 my mom’s friends would tease me for being a goody-two-shoes and not drinking with them. My mom tended to run with a younger crowd so, while they were closer to her age than mine, it wasn’t by much. I looked up to them. They were pretty and thin and had men doting on them. I was a freshman; I still went to church, sang in the choir, even the show choir. In other words, I was a dork. I got invited to homecoming my freshman year by a junior who was on the soccer team. He was gorgeous. It turned out he thought I’d be an easy mark. He asked me to go to a kegger after the dance and I turned him down. I saw him at a party years later and he said to my friend who was with me, “I knew she’d be cool someday!”
I had had drinks before then, but hadn’t started drinking much or been drunk. The summer after I turned 16, my mom, those same friends, and I went for a week-long camping trip and trail ride in Eminence, MO. That was the first time I got so drunk I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. Being 16 and having newly started drinking, I was bragging to the friends about never having been hungover. They made it their mission on this trip to fix that. We went on a float trip and I finished off the better part of a cooler of Boone’s Farm wine and Bud Light all by myself. To this day, the thought of Sun-Peak Peach and Strawberry Hill still gives me a twinge in the back of my throat that feels as though vomiting is imminent.
After that, my drinking became habitual. My mom always had booze in the house so I always had access. The liquor stores in Charleston weren’t picky, so my friends and I could usually buy what we wanted. We also had access to my mom’s friends, who had no problem supplying teenagers with a 12-pack every day or so. While I wasn’t allowed to drink at my dad’s and he and my step-mom didn’t keep alcohol in the house, I easily managed to sneak it in and drink in my room there. I drank after school and on weekends. I went booze-cruising with my friends as our main form of entertainment. My mom threw me a kegger for my 18th birthday a few weeks before I graduated from high school.
In our senior year, my friends and I went to a party at our friend’s brother’s apartment. He and his friends had been seniors when we were freshman; I had even dated the brother for a little while. They gave us screwdrivers all night and, before the end of the night, he sexually assaulted me and another one of our friends. He was our friend’s brother, the son of two of our teachers, and he went to church with us. At the time, we felt as though it was entirely our fault. Looking back, I can see that we made the decision to drink, but that his actions are on him.
Then came college, which included a sorority, lots of partying, and an alcohol-fueled suicide attempt that had more to do with years of undiagnosed/untreated depression than it did with a recent relationship break-up, followed by an abusive marriage, a divorce, and more partying.
I assumed I would outgrow my drinking after college because I would then be an adult and would have matured past that stage in my life. Shockingly, this was not the case. I distinctly remember the first time I tried to stop. I decided to take a month off from drinking; I didn’t make it a week. My mom, boyfriend at the time, and I were hanging out on the dock by her pond and before I fully realized what I was doing I started loading beers into the cooler. When I caught myself, I got upset and pointed out to the others that this seemed like a problem. However, I was easily cajoled into believing it wasn’t a big deal and that I didn’t have a problem. I felt better after a few beers.
I met my husband Eric a few years later. Our lifestyle was that of single, working people in their mid-twenties. Our group of friends was into theatre and we were almost always working on shows. Our schedule was work, rehearse (while drinking), continue drinking at a local bar, close down the bar, pass out, and repeat. We had fun, we played pranks, we were young and carefree. Every once in a while, we would say, “Maybe we should take a break,” and we would. Then we’d start drinking again a month later, having proven ourselves able to control our drinking.
Eric and I bought our house and got a dog. Then I got pregnant. I immediately quit smoking and drinking. I’ve never had another cigarette. I would like to say that the drinking took a while to pick back up but it didn’t. I tried to start small and to drink like a normal person. I breastfed my daughter Alba, so at first, I would “pump and dump” my milk. Then I read a couple articles that said alcohol didn’t transfer to breast milk and that was all the permission I needed. I nursed my daughter for nearly three years and I drank almost the whole time. I would usually try to save my heaviest drinking for after she had gone to bed but that doesn’t make it better.
Things started getting bad. Alba was around two when I started hiding wine; I’d make excuses to buy extra for a recipe or an event; I couldn’t keep it to just weekends. For years we tried different ways to control my drinking; I gave Eric my credit cards so I couldn’t buy any wine, I didn’t go to the store by myself, and Eric would hide it when I wasn’t supposed to be drinking. But nothing worked.
Eventually, I couldn’t make it through the day. I drank as soon as I woke up, I drank at work, I drank after work, I hid in the kitchen and drank, I tried to hide the boxes and bottles from my kindergartener so she wouldn’t tell on me to her dad. I would be late to pick her up from school because I’d stopped between work and school to get more wine. I stole booze. I was a mid-thirties, middle class, white lady; I felt invisible. I could walk into a Walgreens or CVS or Meijer and walk out loaded with small, medium, and large boxes of wine and no one ever said a thing.
When the school year ended at the end of May, 2016, I knew I was going to have a harder time secreting alcohol. One night, Eric was out and Alba had gone to bed. I got in my car and drove to the nearest liquor store to stock up while my five-year-old slept in our house by herself. Leaving Alba alone like this to get wine was the last line that I’d drawn for myself that I’d never crossed.
The next day, Alba was having friends over for a slumber party. I drank all day. Because of an incoherent text message I sent him, Eric could tell I was drunk before he even got back. He was finally done. He told me he was taking Alba and they were going to my parents’ house at the end of the weekend. He had a work trip planned and he wouldn’t trust me to be at home with her by myself anymore. I cried, begged, and bargained, but he didn’t give in. I had to get help or they were gone.
The next week, while Eric was out of town and Alba was with my parents, I shopped for treatment programs. I signed up with our local hospital’s IOP. I couldn’t get in for almost a month but I didn’t care. I was sober and I was going to stay that way. Losing my baby was the most unimaginable horror I could imagine. That was my rock bottom.
Since getting sober I’ve had to begin the very difficult task of figuring out who I am. Most people do this when they’re younger. Most people decide on careers, do self-exploration, and learn their limits when they finish high school, start working, or go to college. Instead, I drank. I drank from before I was an adult, through my young adulthood, until I was destroying myself physically and emotionally. I am now 36 and I’m lost. I’ve spent my life doing things for other people. I’ve been the person people go to when they have problems. I listen, I counsel, I problem-solve, I act as a sounding board or shoulder to cry on. Then I put my own needs, concerns, feelings, and problems in the proverbial bottle and look to escape the world in the contents of a literal one.
It’s a really hard climb out of that dark pit. I am immensely lucky to have supportive family and friends, and an amazing AA home group. I am lucky to know that recovery is possible. I will steal a line from a friend that has become one of my recent favorites and say, “deep breath/next step,” and another from my boyfriend Guthrie, to “control the controllables.” If I can remember these sayings when I start to drown, I’ll be okay for that moment. I just have to remember to breathe, take one more step forward, and take care of the things I can while not worrying about the rest. It’s easier said than done on some days but I’m going to keep doing it.
About the Author
Martha celebrated her first year of sobriety on June 10, 2017. Her home group is Many Paths in Urbana, IL. She lives with her partners, her daughter, and their various dogs & cats. She loves gardening, exercise, and her newfound LaCroix habit.
The images for this article were created by Kathryn F.