This is my 5th anniversary of saying good-bye to cocktails. I like to write about it on my anniversary; Cinco de Mayo. Rather than go on and on about the alcohol problem we face, I am going to discuss why I came to the decision to put down my favorite beverages and walk away.
Alcoholism can sneak up on us at any age. There’s a trigger inside most us and it doesn’t take much to set it off. I know exactly when my love affair with this luscious liquid started. I was 13. It was the same year I started smoking cigarettes—1974, the year of all years for jump starting my addictions. I remember my first drunk episode well. My girlfriends and I were going to meet up in the Town Forest, a park down the street from my house. We were all tasked with bringing an alcoholic beverage and cigarettes. I took a bottle of scotch from my parent’s liquor cabinet, and hid it. I also lifted 1-2 cigarettes a day from my mom’s cigarette pack, and had a healthy stash that would keep us for the night. My parents were away and we had a live-in au pair, this would be easy to pull off.
My sister joined me in this adventure, she was only 10. My friend also brought her sister, she was 9. (We did not allow them to drink) I am the oldest, so my sister joined me on many excursions. This is what you did in the 70s. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere, siblings in tow. As we each displayed that night’s poison, it was clear I brought the mother-load compared to their inventory. We drank and got drunk, we laughed and fell over, got chased by the cops through the woods all while our younger siblings were terrified, crying and responsible for getting us home.
The only thing I remembered was how funny and confident I had become while drinking. I loved the new me. That next morning however it was a different story. I woke up to being in a lot of trouble. While my sister had managed to get me home, I had a run in with the au pair, Angela, during my stealth-like maneuvers to my room. She was furious and scared. I was drunk and out of control before I passed out. I allegedly, mooned her as I headed for my bedroom door. I don’t remember any of it. I was certain I had made it there without an incident. This would be the beginning of many such forgetful nights.
Alcohol was easy to obtain in my house and my friends’ houses. There weren’t any Public Service Announcements or education about alcohol abuse or warnings for parents to keep their booze out of reach, of children. Yes, we were children.
After my first experience, I honed in on my skills, I only drank before school parties. My friends and I had become proficient drinkers, just getting drunk enough to enjoy the buzz, sober up and be home by our curfew. In high school, it became every weekend and sometimes a beer or two after school. I lived to party, we all did. Athletics programs were limited for girls, nothing like what they have now to occupy young women or educate them to stay off this stuff. It may not have worked anyway, we were pretty committed to the party scene. It was the 70s, everyone was high or tanked. No one paid attention. I can remember coming home high, confronted by my mother who thought I was sick. My parents, like most, were clueless and this worked in my favor, unfortunately.
I must say, I loved my partying years. I really did, they just didn’t like me, problems followed me. If you are reading this and nodding your head yes, you know what I mean. Taking inventory, the next morning, opening your eyes and hoping you had all the items you started out with. Then the fuzzy images and conversations would start to pop up on the memory banks. Those horrible flashbacks I questioned myself if they had really happened or not. (They all did.) I remember getting drunk and thumbing all over Boston, until that trip turned bad and I ended up jumping out of a moving van to get away. Risky behavior goes hand in hand with alcoholism.
My behavior did mellow as I got older. I got married, had children and now drank for different reasons. Drinking was now a way to escape the stress of living. Here I wanted to obtain these milestones and I couldn’t enjoy them. My life, stressed me out too much and my favorite pastime was wine. More importantly, I missed out on a lot of my kids growing up. I used to rush them through their dinners so I could be with my wine. I pushed them aside so I could drink. I had a house rule for myself, no drinking until after 5:30 and hammered by 7:30, except on Sunday Fun-day, drinks flowed by noon.
By the time I reached my 50s, there really wasn’t a choice here. As I have learned in the Rooms, alcoholics end up one of three ways: in treatment, in jail or dead. It really isn’t something we can live with or cut back on. It will catch us and drag us down. I write about this because it is a good reminder for me as to why I quit.
Towards the end of my drinking, my life revolved around when it was time to have cocktails. I wasn’t physically feeling well. I remember thinking I could feel pain in my liver and that can’t be a good sign. I started to pray, but I still couldn’t stop drinking. I couldn’t even give it up for a night unless I was hung over, but I had stopped getting hangovers at that point. I joked I was pickled, it may have been true.
The last 6 months of drinking were hard, because I didn’t want to drink, I had to drink. I really didn’t think I would be able to quit, I would wake up and pray that my addiction would go away. On the morning of May 6th, I was in the kitchen having coffee and nursing the dehydration from the night before, when my son just looked at me. It was a sad and concerned look, he was 17. He said I drank like a college girl and he was afraid it would kill me, then he just left the room. At that moment, something happened, my desire to drink ended. I felt something shift in me, this was the moment I walked away.
In AA, we call it a spiritual awakening, some call it hitting rock bottom. For me this was when my higher power heard my cries and that of my son’s, and delivered me from this affliction. This was just the beginning of the enlightenment and freedom that was ahead. Getting sober is wonderful, I cannot recommend it enough. I know a lot of people who can manage a few drinks here and there, I am not one of them. Everything I do, I jump in with both feet, fully committed.
The big lesson I have learned: I am enough. This is powerful because I drank thinking I wasn’t enough, I needed a substance to deliver me from my reality. And by the way, my reality was and is awesome. This realization came once the veil of addition was lifted, and I took a good look at it with the help of some amazing people. There are so many reasons why we drink, for me it started out to fit in, then quickly became a social crutch. Some people feel it is a deep-seated shame, a trauma, it can be all of this and more. But that doesn’t have to remain the reality. We have the power inside all of us to change, we have our higher power to lean on, and there are free resources with tons of support to help make that transition.
Was going sober hard? No harder than staying stuck where I was in the addiction cycle and not being present in my life.
Here are some local and national sources to explore:
- Help in Suffolk County 24-hours a day at the AA Hotline: 631-669-1124
- Nassau County website for AA: nassauny-aa.org lists all meetings and contact information.
- National AA website: aa.org contains easy to find listing of meetings nationwide.
- LICAD (Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) an amazing group of dedicated individuals ready to help 24-hours a day: 631-979-1700, visit their website at: licadd.org