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3.31.2017

My name is Anne and...

My one year medallion.
I marked one year sober in March. I posted this photo on Instagram and received many kind words of support. Privately a friend sent a message letting me know that she, too, is sober and is glad that I am not quiet about my milestone on social media, although she is herself. I guess I choose not to be quiet because it's a part of my story. I regret that it's part of my story, but I know it's only a part of it. I figure if someone can benefit from my sharing what I've been through, then it's not for nothing that I have struggled.

It was a struggle for me to realize I needed to stop drinking. I'm not talking about wanting to stop drinking because of convictions. Even now I don't believe there is anything wrong with having a drink. I struggled with coming to terms with the fact that I could no longer limit my drinking; that I needed to eliminate it entirely if I wanted to limit it at all.

I didn’t stop drinking after I got out of treatment. You might think that if I put myself in treatment for my concern over my excessive drinking that I would have stopped drinking. And that would make sense. But addiction doesn't make sense, does it?

I mean, I drank less for sure. I had some new rules to try to limit my drinking: I won’t drink at home. Okay, I can drink at home but I won’t drink alone. I will drink only one drink. Okay, two. But only two.

Most of the time my rules kept me from doing anything regrettable, yet when I found myself at my husband’s work event I was pulled to the open bar like a magnet. I had no control over myself. I watched myself walk up to the bar and order one more gin and tonic knowing even as I ordered it that it is never just one more.

“What’s the win in it?” That question was posed to me by a mentor afterwards as we were talking about the aftermath of my drinking too much that night. It was a valid question. She knew that while fueled by alcohol I had done some awful things. 

“The win is in numbing the feelings,” I said, then added “It isn’t really a win though because ultimately it’s caused me more pain.”

Another time we were talking about an argument I’d had with my husband in which I said some things I shouldn’t have said. “Had you had anything to drink before your argument?” she asked. “It seems like every time you tell me about a bad choice you made, it turns out that you had a drink beforehand.”

It was as if I had been living in a dimly lit room and, with that comment, she flipped on the light switch. I suddenly saw the mess I had made for myself with my drinking.

I could see that I didn’t make good decisions while drinking. Not that I always made good decisions anyways, but I wasn't helping myself out by drinking. I didn’t want to put myself in a position anymore where I would be impaired when troubles inevitably came. That’s when I decided to stop drinking. Or at least temporarily stop drinking until my life was less of a mess.

My mentor knew a lady in the church who attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and wanted to know if I’d like to meet her and attend a meeting with her. Although I knew I had a problem with alcohol, I wasn’t so sure I was an alcoholic. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to never drink ever again. Still, I was willing to meet her and consider going to a meeting to see if it would help my current resolve to not drink.

When we met, I told her my whole story -- from the first time I had a Guinness as a teenager living in Germany, to using alcohol to numb my emotions, to waking up in shame after a blackout, to putting myself into a 30 day in-patient treatment program. I was looking for her to tell me I wasn't an alcoholic. I didn't feel like an alcoholic. (How do alcoholics feel anyways?)  I wasn’t sure if I belonged in a group called Alcoholics Anonymous. She encouraged me to come with her to a meeting and see what it was like.

The best way I can describe an AA meeting is like going into the bar in Star Wars and realizing its church. There was so much love and acceptance of everyone, no matter what they looked like or what they’d done that it felt more like church than a lot of churches. I loved it, actually. "These are my people," I thought to myself. "They speak my language."

The only thing I had a hard time with was when before anyone spoke to the group, they identified themselves with first their name and then their addiction. "It's not just a thing from the movies, they really do this," I thought in alarm as I realized they were going around the circle and I would have to say it. When it was my turn to speak I fumbled over the phrase “and I’m an alcoholic” after stating my name. I could not get the last word out of my mouth. It was more like "and I'm an al-al-lollic."

Our family moved not long after that, and in our new city I sought out a Celebrate Recovery group because I knew that I would need a support system. I'd gone to a few Celebrate Recovery meetings while in treatment and I knew that at Celebrate Recovery I wouldn’t have to identify as an alcoholic if I didn't want to. On a Thursday night I showed up at the meeting only to find that I had mixed the days up. Celebrate Recovery met on Tuesdays, AA met on Thursdays. I was at the AA meeting.

Once again, I found myself at the bar in Star Wars. Once again, they were speaking a language of co-dependency and addiction that I could understand. Once again, I tripped over identifying myself as an alcoholic. Still I kept showing up at AA meetings. I identified myself as an alcoholic in the meetings, but in my heart I thought I only had a problem with alcohol (which is much more acceptable).

It was at a wedding I attended with my daughter last March when I realized I had more than just a problem. At the reception the wait staff came around to fill our champagne flutes for the toast after the meal. When they came to me I didn’t tell them not to fill my glass. Honestly, I was happy for the excuse to partake. I’d been abstaining from alcohol for several weeks now and my adrenaline rushed at the thought of tasting it. I couldn’t help but notice that my glass was empty much faster than the others at the table. When most had left their tables for the dance floor, I contemplated sitting down at a table with some forgotten glasses to make sure the champagne didn’t go to waste. (I didn’t.) Except for that half flute of champagne, I drank Diet Coke all night. But I yearned for the champagne.

At the next AA meeting they talked about the first step: “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” I thought back to the reception and how obsessed I was over the champagne; I certainly felt powerless over it, powerless over the pull of it. I thought about the consequences of what I did while drinking; I hadn't been able to manage my life very well.  

My counselor explained to me how alcohol affects brain chemistry. It alters levels of the neurotransmitters that the brain needs to control thought processes, behavior and emotions, acting as a depressant. It also initially causes dopamine levels to rise making you feel pretty good (which is why people drink to feel better). The more often you drink in excess, the more your brain chemicals are altered. It takes more alcohol to get the dopamine levels to rise. Eventually your neurotransmitters become so completely altered that the pleasure is non-existent because the dopamine does not kick in. By this time, however, you are hooked. As soon as the alcohol gets in your system, you think you need more. One drink is not enough.

Some people may be born with the predisposition towards alcoholism. Others drink too much, too often and develop the disease of alcoholism. I had to admit, finally, that my brain had changed because of the amount that I had drank. I’d been resisting the label of an alcoholic because I wasn’t a fall-down drunk.

Resisting calling myself an alcoholic was a matter of pride for me. It’s humbling to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and identify myself as an alcoholic. And yet, it’s not a bad thing to remember my weakness. It keeps me leaning on my Higher Power for strength.


"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" 
2 Corinthians 12:9

1 comment:

Diane Olson said...

Thanks for your authenticity and sharing your story.
I wish you'd blog more often....I miss you and love your writing.

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