Recovery Is Possible

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.

 

Artwork

The images for this article were created by Kathryn F.

 

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  1. Joe C. November 19, 2017 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Storytelling-the heart of AA. Without Steps or Traditions AA was born of sharing our experience of addiction and recovery. This is a fine example of a beautifully told story; thanks for sharing.

  2. Pat N. November 19, 2017 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your story, Martha. Your little girl now has the Mom you always wanted for her, and you never have to go back.

  3. life-j November 19, 2017 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Martha, thank you for this. and all the more well written for only being a year sober. I was so much of a mess at one year  I didn’t even know how bad it was. And it took at least a couple of more years for the worst of it to wear off, and another couple of years before i could even start being honest with myself.

  4. Gary O. November 19, 2017 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    “Most people … learn their limits when ….” But most people are not addicts. We have the ‘cracked chromosome’ or whatever and must find a way to deal with that. Also, many of us are drinking or drugging AT something or someone and need to address the underlying causes. There is much work to be done to achieve “… the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism …” and the recovery is worth every bit of the blood, sweat and tears invested in that work, not by yourself but with your sisters and brothers in the fellowship who want nothing more than for you to recover and stay recovered. Best wishes for a long and fruitful journey in the fellowship, Martha.

  5. Gerald November 19, 2017 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Indeed, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know that I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that I didn’t know 🙂

    In very early sobriety, the message that set me free was this: “Don’t kill yourself now because you’ll be killing the wrong person; you’re not the person you were meant to be. You have to find out who you are, but AA cannot tell you who that is.” And he said the same thing about God, and he said one more thing, which took me the longest time to come to understand, “And all those things that were done to you [in childhood], you’ll have to figure out how you’ve been hurting yourself with what was done to you.”

    Nowadays I know that he was talking about shame. He was talking beyond AA’s simple program of action. At least, he was talking beyond early recovery and the “sin & redemption” model of recovery.

    These are the kinds of old timers I’ve always listened to. These are the ones who know that the recovery journey is the journey to self-love. And self-discovery 🙂

    And the spirit of the Big Book, and the Twelve Traditions spell it out: Do not turn this AA movement into a religion. Do not make the mistake of trying to tell newcomers what they have to do; instead, tell them what you had to do that in order to meet with a spiritual awakening, as described & defined in appendix II of the AA Big Book.

    And you know what? By definition, God is neither a prerequisite to the spiritual awakening nor necessarily bestowed upon the recipient of the spiritual awakening. Check it out for yourself in appendix II 🙂 I just loooove thumpin’ that part of the BB 🙂

    And “love & service” means just that. And new people to AA are, unfortunately, instead going to encounter a lot of conformity & control in the various AA fellowships out there.

    Just don’t volunteer for it 🙂 There are no victims anymore in our relationships, only volunteers now! 🙂 Don’t volunteer for those sponsor-sponsee & group-individual relationships that are the codependent kind.

    … When I talk to newer people in recovery, I’m always thinking about who this person is going to be twenty years from now. Am I giving this person all of his freedom – that he doesn’t even know he has – or am I (unconsciously) taking away his freedoms today? and is that going to develop into some kind of big resentment twenty years from now, losing our AA movement another valuable old timer who just doesn’t feel free enough – anywhere- in the various AA fellowships?

    Thanks,

    Gerald

  6. Thomas B. November 19, 2017 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Thanks Martha for your story of recovery. I’ve been fortunate to attend your home group & I am so grateful you have that meeting to continue your day at a time recovery.

  7. RonB November 19, 2017 at 6:17 am - Reply

    To sing is a wonderful experience, the dork sits at a computer writing on social media or tap tap tapping on the addicted cellphone. Time only has meaning when it is usefully spent. Alcohol is not evil, it is one of many substances open to  overuse and addiction in the small time we have in this material life. In fact our bodies naturally produce Alcohol, is nature wrong? Discipline is the missing ingredient, if we lack disciplinary strength we fall into the abyss. Getting out requires discipline, the twelve steps are one form. In a society of co providers, the nurturer/carer gone, children are dumped in care at an early age. Anxiety and depression becomes apparent as the child becomes an adult. Alcohol is a solution, albeit not a healthy one for mind or soul. Yet the pursuit of pleasure often leads to risky undertakings, I have had my share. Martha, you have sown your seeds, perhaps without the guidance you needed, but you have to take responsibility for your own actions as an adult. You are merely a combination of atoms from nature, here for a short time before returning to nature. The religious or agnostic believes in something else, the essence of life, ‘soul’ is as good a group of symbols as any other for decribing this. Soul gives us purpose, a reason for existence, developing it is our task. For individuals such as you and I, excess alcohol is a barrier to development and must be defeated. Find that strength and discipline yourself, do not harm yourself in this way. Take the good help offered by many in AA, but be wary of the lonely, the indoctrinated and the power seekers, for they are not thinking of you.

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