Once Upon An Alcoholic

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.  omg-i-need-help-gif

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.dont-get-sober

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.seagrams-7-pint

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.  im-scared

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.

About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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292 Responses to Once Upon An Alcoholic

  1. It reminds me of my troubles giving both alcohol and cigarettes up. As both an alcoholic and a chain smoker smoking five to seven packs a day I had to overcome both of them at the same time. I accredit my riding these foul habits to my accepting the Lord as my guide. It was as yours was I’m sure a hard fought struggle. However I am so happy that I am no longer hooked on these bad habits. I am sure that you feel the same feelings. I want you to know that your story really touched my heart and I praise God that you were able to overcome.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I really love that you have shared this story. Thank you for being a role model, and for showing people my age that it can come to an addiction (even if it just seems like fun in college). My generation needs people like you!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. skinnyandsingle says:

    “Aren’t you thirsty?” I think that is so cute. The innocence of children. Loved this so much. Thank you.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Barb knowles thank you very much for sharing your experience,that’s really helpful for other people,I grow up whit a alcoholic on my family and was really sad growing up whit all the mistakes you can made from the alcohol,losing work,house,friends and the worse part loosing your family.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. tbymallano says:

    Very inspiring! Alcoholism is a very serious disease and it’s not considered as such. My congratulations to you for being cured! Have a great day 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thanks! But one is never “cured.” I’m still an alcoholic and always will be. I just don’t drink anymore because of the devastation it was causing physically and emotionally to me and my family. If I were to drink again I’d be back to square one. Thank you for your comments 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. iamemilyhill says:

    So inspiring. Thank you for writing this 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I am so inspired by this story. My father is an alcoholic he misses so much precious moments and we thought that we were not enough to get him to stop. After reading this I want to push him to become sober. Keep moving in a positive direction. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. J.Rockwell says:

    Great story. My life has been better since alcohol has been out of the equation for years.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. J.Rockwell says:

    That’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about fitness, entertainment and food. Those are my alternatives. Plus I spend great time with my family!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Its wonderful that u stopped drinking for your kids

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Cathy Boone says:

    Thanks for your story

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Very inspiring! You definitely have a lot of courage and strength.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Wonderful story. You have a lot of strength and courage. So happy for you!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Great story, and well done!! Your words about morning bath vs evening bath struck me as very similar ‘rules’ I would impose on myself for ‘drinking and mom-ing’ 🙂 Day 66 and counting!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Congratulations and keep going! Sobriety is so worth it! Yes, I was very rules oriented. I guess I was trying to control something that was out of control. Thank you for reading this and sharing.


  15. Dash dot says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Barb! My mother has been an alcoholic since I was a child. I have been trying desperately in the last few years to save her. Hearing stories like yours gives me the hope that maybe, just maybe one day things will get better 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my article! The alcoholic has to want to get help. I don’t believe it can be forced on them. And alcoholism is so destructive personally, and to a family. You have to wait h out for yourself. Have you gone to Al-Anon? That can be enormously helpful for you and your family.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. writeonthroughit says:

    You nailed it. Great.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Pingback: Once Upon An Alcoholic — saneteachers | Write On Through It

  18. manjiri28 says:

    Very touching…. You are a brave person really hats off to you.

    Liked by 2 people



    Liked by 2 people

  20. Dina says:

    Oh Barb, now I have read your heartwarming post and every comment and I feel deeply touched. So many destinies and different ways to deal with it. You are a role model and I feel so proud for you, you all out there. Congratulations on your sobriety and this narrative.
    Big hugs from Norway, Dina x

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      No it is I who is so touched by your comments, and that you not only read the article, but ALL of the comments! I know there were so many and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. We all have stories and it is cathartic to tell them. I don’t think I’m a role model….just someone who has been positively affected by many others and I hope I have been able to touch those people as well. Thank you so much for reading this and commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Great story, Barb. I have known a few people whose families were dead set against them being sober, generally for the same reason the alcoholic had for not doing it; namely, that they had seen it before and did not like the results. That’s because a drunk asshole who sobers up is a sobered up asshole, as they saying goes. I knew how to live drunk, but not how to live sober. It was my sole coping mechanism, and when I managed to stop (assuming, as many deep in the drunk do, that my problem was alcohol) I found my life so unbearable that I made a solid run at killing myself. Only when the sheriff came out to my house to intervene (called by a friend in another state to whom I had confided my plan) did I get a good look at myself and what I was doing. That was my bottom, telling that sheriff that of course my children weren’t home and what sort of man would do that to his kids. The awareness came upon me at that moment that I was exactly the sort of man who would do that, that even though my kids weren’t home at that moment the would be coming home to find my corpse in the garage with the engine running, music blaring, my face a dead blue and like as not with my pants full of shit. That was me. That was the bottom. When I walked into AA,a man told me he totally related to how shitty my life was. He laughed about it. Later, he told me that he had recovered from the seemingly hopeless state of alcoholism, that he was a recovered alcoholic.That was weird to me. How could you be recovered and still be an alcoholic? Wouldn’t that make you an ex-alcoholic? No, he assured me, introducing me to the whole series of ironic contradictions that lie at the foundation of Bill and Bob’s program of recovery. Surrender to win. One day at a time, forever. By going through the AA big book a line at a time, a series of amazing things happened in me, resorting and rearranging me in a new way so that I actually did understand how to live. I gave up, took a solid look at myself (as much as I could, and with help), made right what I could and dedicated myself to serving other people, most especially those who suffer from this bizarre and undignified affliction. I view the AA big book almost like a combination of an Algebra textbook and a magic spell that if you do it exactly as written will have miraculous effects. The only proof I have of this is, of course, myself. And my sponsor. And his sponsor. The chain goes all the way back to that Akron hotel phone booth and the call we celebrate every June. Thanks for passing it on, and keep on looking for the truth. I used to think it was a slippery devil, but then I saw I was the one who kept greasing up his hands.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The part missing from this is the above narrative is what I always save for last: namely, that the single purpose of all this self-improvement was to lose myself to a divine being and dedicate myself to divine will. I discovered that any lack of divinity in my life was my fault, for it had never turned away from me; all the loathing and misery had been exclusively crafted by me and my warped perception. I never lead with that, though. It’s the prize in the Crackerjacks and it’s made of solid gold. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Ellen Hawley says:

    I love your kid’s question.

    Liked by 2 people

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