I looked down for the mark on my hand, searching for the “X” I had written on my palm at 7:30 that morning. The mark that was supposed to remind me that today was a new day. It would be different than the weeks and months that sprawled in a fog behind me. It had to be.
When I located it, the “x” was faded. Faded, just like my resolve. “There’s always tomorrow,” I sighed under my breath. Like a reflex, I pulled the bottle from the shelf and poured a strong drink.
They say that alcohol is a problem when it becomes a problem. Looking back, I can’t really pinpoint the time when it became my problem. Sure, I’d never shied away from drinking events, and yes, I was definitely one to overdo it, but the college days of late nights and thrilling reckless behavior were far behind me now. My drinking had become way more, shall I say, “sophisticated.” Mixed drinks had long replaced cheap beer, and nights of loud music and bar hopping had become happy hours, mimosa brunches, backyard barbecues and swanky receptions.
Inviting Booze home
But at some point I had invited Booze home from the bar, and he decided to move in. Our casual relationship slowly morphed into a five o’clock ritual in sweatpants and a hoodie. The bar was my messy kitchen sink and, rather than whooping it up and clever banter, my night was full of doing the dishes, monitoring homework, breaking up fights and anticipating my husband’s moody arrival.
At first it was thrilling. We’d laugh at inside jokes, plow through my endless to-do list, reach out to old friends and create magically zany activities for my children. “This is making me a better mother, a better wife,” I thought, as I blasted ’90s music and invited my kids to dance around the kitchen. In those moments, my crippling anxiety disappeared, the grief from past wounds evaporated, and my head was quiet, finally, from the relentless chatter of my brain telling me what mistakes I’d made to end up here.
The evenings provided me respite from the nagging reminder that I was a failure, a true loser, at balancing work, chores, exercise, finances and my ever-demanding and increasing schedule. With Booze, I was a midlife superstar. I could handle anything and everything, and my goodness, wasn’t I killing it!
Something was wrong
But it didn’t last. Like when storm clouds gather above while you aren’t looking, the wind changed direction. The relaxing breeze slowly, ever so slowly, brought a relentless hailstorm. What once was a diversion and sweet buffer from the chaos of my life began to bother me. I saw it transform into a habit, then to a necessity, until it showed itself as a full-fledged compulsion. Booze went from keeping me company on the weekends to being permanently attached to my back, cheekily taking his place at the head of the table, demanding my time and attention and isolating me from the sweet moments that blessed my mundane life.
I was captured, and I was obsessed. I started turning down invitations so that we could rendezvous, manipulating my schedule to meet in secret and anxiously waiting for his arrival each night, with skin crawling, knowing I’d only feel relief when he arrived for his inevitable visit.
By all accounts, my drinking was normal. No one had told me differently, there was no intervention, and I hadn’t suffered any real or lasting consequences. But something was wrong, and once I knew it, I couldn’t shake it. Like an injury that you ignore during the day but that throbs at night, I’d wake up in a panic, questions swirling in my foggy head. “How much did I drink?” “Why did I do that?” “Did I say anything stupid?” “Who did I call and text?” “What was my bill going to be on Amazon, and what did I order?” “What did my kids think … my husband?” “What apologies would I have to make?”
Yes, 3 a.m. became my time of reckoning, as Booze took every intimate detail I’d shared with him and flung it against me to obliterate my self-worth. He was cunning and powerful. He was jealous and aggressive. He was too strong an opponent for me. Worst of all, he wrapped me tightly in his arms and whispered reminders of my worthlessness as he breathed heavily on my sweaty face.
Again and again, this cycle of shame tossed me like a rag doll until I became bruised and weary. I was exhausted. I was clawing up the steep cliffs of hopelessness, wondering and waiting for when I would inevitably lose my footing and hurl myself backwards into the great abyss of despair.
‘Lord, make me sober’
There was only one thing that could take down my adversary. Every week, I crawled to the Blessed Sacrament. Again and again, I asked Jesus to heal me, with one desperate, nonnegotiable, caveat. I wanted to be free from my relationship with alcohol but not sever ties completely. My prayer became that of St. Augustine: Rather than, “Lord, make me pure, but not yet,” mine was “Lord, make me sober, but not forever.”
It was just too painful to think about a future without Booze. We’d started out as such good friends, and we’d been through so much together. The good times certainly outweighed the bad, and I couldn’t stand the thought of walking away from our relationship altogether. He was part of me, knew me better than anyone else, and hadn’t our meeting been truly serendipitous? In the early days, he’d been so very good to me. He was my sidekick, partner in crime and my biggest cheerleader. He filled me with confidence and made me feel unstoppable. “Please,” I’d beg, “just return us to how we used to be. I’ve given you so much, Lord, please don’t take Booze, too.”
But I knew it didn’t work like that. God doesn’t desire for you to be partly free. He wants you to be fully free. He doesn’t lead you out of the dark, terrifying forest only to leave you tethered to the beast that resides inside it. In that moment, I saw myself as what I was: overwhelmed and powerless. But mostly, I was afraid — afraid of facing my life without the buffer of alcohol, terrified of having to feel everything at all times. I was a child lost in a sea of people at an amusement park. “When that happens,” my mother would say, “stand still and I will find you.” My only option was to stand still and trust that the Lord, my loving Father, would find me and lead me out of the madness and into safety.
And he did.
Saying yes to joy
As I sit writing this, I am more than two years sober. What astounds me is that in the marathon that is my life, it was a blip, barely a child’s street race — and yet how much it defines me. Truly, it was the most transformative event in my life. Never had I been so humbled by my insufficiencies. Never had I been so lost and lonely. Never have I had to rely so much on God. I had backed myself into a corner, and my only way out was to stop fighting and surrender my will; over and over again, every moment of every day. I started that day and I haven’t stopped since.
A wise and successful businessman said to me once, “Always remember, when you say no to something, you are saying yes to something else.” This succinct and simple reminder remains one of the most useful tools I’ve used in sobriety. In saying no to Booze, and its lame and predictable endings, I said yes to a myriad of joyful and unexpected blessings. I said yes to early, clear-headed, guilt-free mornings. Yes, to productive and pleasant evenings. Yes, to being present and available to my children. Yes, to remembering conversations, not missing moments, and participating in all the beautiful, simple and magical moments of my life.
I’ve been to weddings, funerals, concerts, tailgates, amusement parks, vacations, birthdays and reunions, all without drinking, and, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve survived. Even more astounding, I didn’t undergo the anticipated mutation to mousy little uptight awkward girl, blending into the background, mute and ever dour. Much to my surprise, I’m still me, and, perhaps, even a much better version of my drinking self. I’m still precocious, the master of short, yet meaningful, conversation, and, if I do say so myself, absolutely hilarious.
A pathway to rediscovery
Am I an alcoholic? It doesn’t really matter. Will I drink again? Maybe. All I know is this is what is being asked of me right now, and God’s not done with me yet.
It’s been a journey of self discovery. A pathway to feeling. I’m not in recovery; I’m in rediscovery. Rediscovering who God made me to be. An awareness of my uniqueness and that my life, my very existence, has a particular purpose in God’s divine plan. Allowing God to restore me and to bless me with a profound and lucid awareness of the gifts and talents he gave me, while being overcome with gratitude by how freely they were given to me. A redirection from self-mediation to self-motivation, to serve God and to serve others. Reinvigorated by a deep desire to return everything I am to him.
I was trapped in a sloshing gallon jug of pure alcohol, while you may be ensnared by shopping, working, eating, lusting or a myriad of other outlets that numb you from the pain of feeling deeply and that let you escape the ever-constant mayhem of life. You may feel overwhelmed and self-destructive. Do not despair. The miracle is possible. God wants it for you, too. Be still, let him find you, surrender, and he will ever so gently lead you to the other side, to freedom.