I won’t ever forget the last day I woke up hungover. It was a Sunday in April. I opened my blurry, watery eyes and looked around the room, trying to reconcile myself with where I was. I was in my bed, in my own room, but as always, I didn’t remember how I got there. I remembered turning on the TV to watch a movie, but the rest was fuzzy. Apparently, at some point, I emptied the wine bottle and climbed into bed, but the details were gone. My mouth was dry and my throat scratchy, my heart was thumping out of my chest and my head pounded. I told myself, “No more!” I vowed for the millionth time to never, ever drink again.
Sunday came and went, and I kept my promise to myself. I felt so awful that it wasn’t a hard promise to keep. All I wanted was water and rest, but real life doesn’t wait for the hungover. My daughter and I had tickets to a play, and her little face begged me not to let her down. So I dragged myself out of the house and into the sunshine.
The sunshine. The sun is the enemy of the addict. In the dark, we can hide. The shadows conceal our imperfections and mistakes, but the bright sunlight doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. It’s like the universe is teasing us with all its light and beauty, letting us know we don’t belong. The sunshine was my kryptonite.
I escaped the drink that day, but the following day the bad memories started to fade and I found myself once again with an open bottle of wine. I deserved it, you see. My uncle had just died, and I spent the day at his funeral. I got home and turned on the TV to learn about a bombing at the Boston Marathon. The images were graphic and horrifying. I was sad, depressed, and desperately needing to numb myself. I was on my second glass when I heard it. The voice. God? My conscience? Maybe I was going crazy and hearing phantom voices? Anything was possible, but who or what the voice was didn’t matter as much to me as what it said.
“This isn’t helping. This won’t bring your uncle back. This won’t stop the pain in Boston. This won’t make anything go away, but it is making you disappear. Come back.”
For a short moment, the fog lifted and I saw myself for what I was becoming. I was a successful career woman, a mother to two incredible young children, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. But all of that was slipping away. I started using alcohol to relax or to celebrate, but now there was no reason needed. All I wanted was to not feel. I kept myself together during the day, but once night fell I didn’t know how to find an off-switch to my scrambled and totally overworked brain. Alcohol was the off-switch.
But the problem is when you turn yourself off, you miss things. When you don’t allow yourself to feel the good and the bad, you lose the ability to truly live. I was missing-in-action, even when I was in the room. I felt like I was constantly running, with no finish line in sight. No matter how hard I worked or how much I loved my family, I felt like I could never get my head above water. I was drowning.
I felt so alone, like this huge problem was sitting on my shoulders and I had to carry it all by myself. I was ashamed and afraid. How did I let it get so bad? What if people found out? What would the other moms say? Or my boss? Or my family? I knew I couldn’t go on like I had been, but I didn’t know how to stop. I had no coping skills without wine. Wine was how I celebrated, how I cried, how I relaxed. But I knew it had to stop, or it would only get worse. For me, there was no way up as long as I kept drinking.
The day I stopped drinking, I never felt more alone. I thought I was the only woman in the universe who had failed so much at the act of life. I didn’t know then what I know now—the opposite of addiction is connection. The only reason I was able to get the help I so desperately needed was because other women spoke out and I listened. I think there is real power and strength in showing the world that this issue can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, education, race. It does not discriminate. But recovery is possible. It really is. And it’s an amazing way to live.
In the last few years, my world has changed in immeasurable ways. It isn’t easy rewiring your brain and learning a new way to deal with life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But as long as I keep at it, my journey gets more and more fulfilling. Today I am thriving. My depression lifted. I lost 30 pounds. I started my own business, and now my passion is my work. My body is healthier than it’s ever been. I’m a happier mother, wife, and friend. My life is so much better.
On my very worst day in recovery, I still feel a million times better than I ever did when I was drinking. I thought that when I put down the wine glass, my life would be over. I’d be boring and everyone would think I was crazy. But when I threw away that last bottle, that’s when my life really began. Now I can be the mother and woman I always wanted to be. I may not be perfect, or anywhere close, but I’m doing my best. Some days are still hard, but I know that every time I choose to deal with my life head-on instead of numbing out with a bottle of red, the road gets more beautiful. It may not be easy, but it’s always worth it.