I am not the world’s greatest fuck-up. I was getting there slowly though. Nobody starts an addiction by being destructive. It starts slowly and harmlessly and gradually escalates toward more risky behaviors.
I drank every day for two and half years. I drank through flus and timed it around breastfeeding. I drank on trips. I drank when nobody else was. I drank alone. I drank in bed. I drank when I didn’t want to drink. I justified every single drink and every one of my actions because I wasn’t a danger to anyone. I thought I had enough control because I didn’t drink during the day. It’s easy to justify your way out of uncomfortable truths when you aren’t ready to face them.
When I hit the rock bottom of my addiction, I felt it. I knew it. And that was the moment that I snapped into sobriety voluntarily but unwittingly. The morning of my rock bottom, my eyes didn’t gradually flutter open and closed, blocking out the light and then letting it back in. They sprang open like two shutters flapping against the side of a house in a windstorm. Bang! I shot up from my bed, punching my feet to the floor without enough hesitation to steady my head.
The room swirled around, so I tilted my head sideways to accommodate my crooked brain. I’m familiar with vertigo, but this wasn’t it. This was accompanied by nausea and regret. It was a sinister hangover. The alarm clock sitting above the television said it was 7:45 in the morning, and that was 15 minutes later than I had meant to sleep. My husband jolted up in bed, startled by my exaggerated movements.
“Camp, camp, camp.” I silently repeated over and over again. I hoped that thinking intently about getting my kid to camp would make it happen smoothly, and I wouldn’t trip over my feet and fall, vomiting up the expensive bottle of wine I had drunk the night before. “Was it one bottle or two, Chrissy? I don’t have time for this! Camp, camp, camp.” My head pounded, the floor came up to meet my face and pulled back away just as abruptly.
My husband thudded down the steps behind me, and I paid no attention. Without looking back, I dashed toward the bathroom knowing I had to beat everyone in my house to the shower if I was going to scrub the smell of wine, body odor, and bug spray off my body and change my clothes before my kids could notice that I was not okay.
The shower did not save me. I had to steady myself with my hands on the wall, just mustering the balance to wash my hair and face.
That frenetic and desperate morning was nothing like the pain I felt through the rest of the day. Handling nausea and head spins with two preschoolers at home wasn’t easy, and for some godawful, illogical reason, I let my kids talk me into taking them to Walmart for a new toy. I thought I was still drunk when I drove them to the store, but biologically speaking, I should have metabolized that alcohol and that should be impossible. It didn’t change the fact that the road was warping before my eyes, and I couldn’t tell if I was close to hitting parked cars or not. I had officially become a danger.
That very afternoon, I had a scheduled surgery, which was the likely culprit for my heavier-than-usual wine intake. I had to have some tissue removed from my back on the moderate chance it could turn cancerous. I thought about canceling, but I didn’t change my appointment because I would have only prolonged my anxiety and continued drinking heavily. So I followed through. I had arranged child care, and I had a friend come with me to hold my hand through the small surgery where I had many layers of my skin cut out and stitched up. I was sick and dazed and really disappointed in myself for walking into surgery with the hangover of an inexperienced frat boy.
In my husband’s retelling of the previous night’s events, I didn’t drink enough wine to be that excruciatingly hungover. We had split three bottles with four adults, and I was being talkative and friendly and charming with our neighbors all evening long. Not a slurring mess, not an embarrassment.
It’s a genuine relief to find out I was not an embarrassment. I cannot tell you how awful it is to wake up every morning dreading the notifications on your phone.
I would drink all night, bring a glass to my bedside, and my phone usually stayed glued to my hand until midnight. I almost never fully remembered what I said in emails or on Facebook. I don’t think I’ve done any permanent reputation damage besides being chatty and weird. It was getting dicey though, as I was taking more drinks to get to my light, happy feeling and staying up much later. I functioned on booze alone, sleeping maybe six hours a night, popping up in the morning to pack lunches and be happy-go-lucky. I went for a run every night, logging 4 miles a day, then coming home and having wine until I crashed at midnight again.
I have purchased so much shit on Amazon that my husband changed the account info and hid the credit cards. Boxes started showing up that I didn’t remember ordering.
So just how much did I drink anyway? Good question! I honestly do not know. I’ve always had a prepared answer for doctor’s visits and checkups. I always expected to be asked that question, and I always planned a response and an innocent, befuddled look. “Oh gosh, I have to think about it, but I am certain I have a glass of wine every night with dinner. I’d say 7 to 10 drinks a week.” And I’d make eye contact with the doctor at that point, and then look down at my shoes or at the posters on the wall. I didn’t care that they knew I drank, I just never wanted to have a conversation about my consumption. I didn’t want to talk about it or get help or hear speeches about health.
Realistically, I could drink two boxes of wine a week. They don’t put health information labels on those, so it’s guesswork. I estimate that I was drinking over a bottle of wine a day and consuming a thousand calories. I started to prefer boxes of wine a couple of years ago after my daughter was born — I got cheaper and my standards got lower. Around the time that I quit, I had a box of low-end schwill on the counter that I was forcing myself to drink because I didn’t want to waste it.
“I’ll quit when this box is gone, I don’t want to waste it” was always my reasoning. Also, I never actually ran out of boxes or stopped buying wine.
“I’ll quit when it’s not an anniversary/holiday/birthday, etc.” And there’s always a reason to celebrate, so there’s never a reason to quit.
The absurdity of my addiction is that I know better. I was raised in an alcoholic home, and I make choices every single day to be healthy. I run, and I run a lot. I lift weights at the gym too. I’m so proud of my body and what it accomplishes, but I treat it like a dumping ground for ferment and repressed feelings.
I started investigating my feelings of guilt and curiosity about quitting by Googling symptoms of addiction. I found the DSM-5 has changed what constitutes problem drinking. There were things that I identified with — almost eight things. Here is the link if you are curious about the DSM-5.
Part of alcoholism is ritual. I loved to wait until the kids were fast asleep and drink without the shame of them seeing their mother bubbly on wine, then stumbly on wine, then passed out on wine. By the time I was emptying wine into my fifth glass, I’d be heading up to bed with it in my hand. I regularly had a collection of three glasses on my nightstand that smelled sour in the morning. Twice I spilled on our mattress and soaked my husband because I literally fell asleep with the wine in my hand.
The kicker symptom: Wanting to quit but you can’t. Yes, I wanted to quit all the time. I wanted to quit when I wasn’t even drinking. I would be actively running on the treadmill at the gym, knowing that I was out of wine at home and would tell myself, “Don’t stop and buy wine on the way home.” But I would always stop and buy wine on the way home. That’s addiction by its most condensed definition.
I struggled to identify what addiction really was and whether I actually had an addiction. I tried to justify it away. I made excuses. I found some recommendations that drinking under three drinks per day is not problem drinking. I convinced myself that that was my category. I fell into that group, the sort of “at-risk, but not really a problem” group. I essentially scoured the internet trying to find information that would reinforce my denial.
Denial is easy. We live in a culture built for drinkers, and drinks are sexy, and drinks are masculine or feminine or professional, however they market it, which I notice much more now that I am sober. Beer makes up a huge percentage of advertising space featuring people doing fitness. You can be athletic and an alcoholic. Just look at me, having it all.
Additionally, I am a mom, and so I need wine. It’s a coping mechanism for something that is endlessly stressful. Have you met children? Have you met my children? They are loud, messy, gross little things who tell me they hate me but still need me to wipe their asses. I have three kids, which gives me three reasons to drink.
Consequently, I have had three pregnancies, and I have no skin elasticity left to speak of. I do not want to get naked. Not under any circumstance. Drinking is a nice companion to the harsh feeling of my skin being looked at by another human. The last three years of my marriage are intact because of wine. My husband didn’t even know I had a problem with alcohol.
He’s confused about why I’m quitting. He thinks it’s me being on a cute health kick or making a temporary change to cleanse. It’s not his fault — I hide stuff from him. I hide my buzz. I hide my urge to drink. I hide the unbidden thoughts that I have about drinking all day long, and the ones that I have about quitting when I start to feel regret. He doesn’t know how dangerously close I came to collapsing during my runs. Booze was fueling me, propping me up, but I lacked the stamina of a genuinely healthy person.
Hiding isn’t an option once you expose every raw nerve. I am done drinking to escape from dealing with ugliness about myself, about choices, about losses, grief, and the terror of coming so close to experiencing the cancer that claimed my brother’s life a few months ago — something I have refused to let myself feel, process, and move on from.
I walked out of surgery and returned to a house stocked with alcohol in preparation to hide from the pain. I didn’t touch any of it. I couldn’t bring myself to do it again after I had drunk myself sick, drove my children while in some state of impairment, and gone under a knife. There’s nothing temporary about being an alcoholic. Everyone in my life is going to go through this with me.
10 days sober.