On October 5, God willing, I will have been sober for 31 years. That’s just about half of my lifetime. And what a journey it has been.
People get sober for various reasons. I remember going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and standing near an open window sipping a cup of coffee. There was a commotion at the window and in tumbled a man. As I happened to be the closest person, he staggered a couple of feet to me, grabbed my arm for stability and said “my wife told me to get in here or I can’t come home.” At least that’s what I thought he said. It was garbled. I in turn signaled a man near me and said “he’s yours.” It’s encouraged to have a man help a man and a woman help a woman from the get-go.
I should mention that the window was about 4 feet from the door and had bushes in front of it, so it’s a statement about how drunk he was that he missed the door. He has been sober ever since.
A lot of people have horrible, yet funny from an insider’s point of view, stories about how they knew, or were pushed, to get help.
One of the first lessons one learns is that no one is unique. Our stories might have different twists and turns, but our lives have spun out of control from alcohol, drugs, or a combination.
But how many people get sober when their family is against that? I had the opposite experience from the man who fell in the window. I felt like the first person in the history of mankind whose family tried to stop them from getting sober. For real.
I didn’t think I knew anyone who didn’t drink a lot. In my family, people were categorized as drinkers (normal people) and non-drinkers (odd people). “They seem nice enough, but they aren’t drinkers.”
When I started going to AA meetings, I hid it from my family. So that my ex-husband didn’t catch on, I went during the day when my kids were in school and/or got a babysitter. I told my children I was going shopping so their father wouldn’t know. Can you imagine? The craziness of the disease.
My first Thanksgiving in sobriety was at my father’s house. By then everyone knew and I had to listen to comments like “you don’t drink that much, everyone drinks” and “what if people find out.” At my place setting, instead of the glass of wine I would have had in the past, there were two glasses of wine. I threw them out and my father was mad that I wasted the wine. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
But back to what brought me to AA. The signs were there. I started drinking in 7th or 8th grade, by sneaking whiskey into my coca-cola. I’m writing that out so as not to confuse people by saying coke. That should have been clue #1, but it was so normal in my house that I thought it was normal behavior in everyone’s home.
Then drinking “for real” in high school. Then almost out of control in college.
Funny story that shouldn’t have been funny but I still think it is: I went out drinking with a friend of mine from my sorority the night before a midterm. College midterms are a very big deal. We got an hour or two of sleep and went to take the midterm. I can’t remember how many students were there, but it was a fair number and my friend and I sat on opposite sides of the room. Each question seemed funny and it was one of those times where you know you can’t laugh, your shoulders start to shake, and then laughter explodes from your mouth. Which made her laugh on the other side of the room.
I was still drunk. Clue # 2.
I went to Ohio Wesleyan University which was at the time, and maybe still is, in a “dry” county. Appalling. My parents felt sorry for me. About the second week of school, my roommate and I got each got a care package from home. Yay!! She excitedly opened her large tin of homemade cookies. I excitedly opened my case of pint-size bottles of Seagrams 7.
Clue #3. On my 21st birthday, a bunch of us went into New York City to celebrate. At the time, the drinking age in NY was 18, but 21 is a banner year. My maiden name is Harvey, so even though I was only used to drinking whiskey straight (ice cubes are for sissies), I had a bunch of harvey wallbangers. Little girl drinks. I remember standing up from the table, and getting about half-way up and then nothing. I “came to” the next day in Rockland County with no idea how we got there. Lots of people that night must have had angels looking out for them. I know that I did.
Side note: I had blacked out before. I didn’t know at the time that is due to alcohol poisoning. Tell your friends.
Clue #4. When I married and was blessed with my first daughter, I wanted to be the best mother I could be. So I planned my day and her day around my drinking. Baths in the morning, not at night. Waaaaay less drinking (and none during pregnancy). I thought that made me a good mother.
Clue #5. My second daughter died on Christmas Eve, 1981. I had not drunk during the pregnancy at all. She was one day old and died of cardiac arrest during open heart surgery. My addiction exploded. Heavy morphine in the hospital and whiskey that my ex-husband brought into the hospital. No drugs upon release, nor again, but my drinking certainly increased but did not stop the pain.
Clue #6. I’m skipping a lot here but want to lighten it up. Not all of my story is icky.
One Sunday morning, all of the above and all that I’ve left out brought me to the point where I realized that I needed help. 1985 was back in the day. I had to look up the AA Hotline number. The deal was that you called, and the hotline people had someone call you right back.
For whatever reason, I opened my wallet and the AA Hotline number fell out. In my handwriting. I must have looked it up and written it down in a blackout. With my heart racing I harnessed every ounce of courage I had and called the number. A man answered and said he would have a woman call me right back. He sounded kind, happy and serene.
When the woman called me back, she asked me if I had any liquor in the house. Duh. She told me to put the phone down and empty it all down the sink. Was she crazy? I screamed at her I’M NOT A DRUNK. And then realized that I was the one who was acting crazy.
She told me that it was just for today. That the next day I could buy as much as I wanted. Just not that day. So I did. I couldn’t do it for myself; I did it for my children. And that was the last time I had to pour liquor down the drain and the first day that I didn’t drink.
When I was sober for 8 years, my son was 6 years old. At the dinner table I said to my kids that I hadn’t had a drink in 8 years. He turned to me and said “Aren’t you thirsty???”
October 5, 1985. Thank you, God.