Today’s post is from Ellie. She blogs, she writes, she makes jewelry which she also sells on her blog (I really like that ring, Ellie – just sayin’). She has been a voice of sanity and reason over on our message board.
Also, today I have been sober for 8 months.
“I’m a Good Girl. I don’t mean I’m prudish, or square; I just like to do the right thing. I like people to be happy with me. If you’re happy, I’m happy … that is how I always felt. From an early age, I could figure out who you wanted me to be, what you wanted from me, and I would shape-shift to be that person. The most important thing to me was to make other people like me. And, for the most part, I was really, really good at it.
I grew up in a stable, loving family in an upper middle class suburb of Boston. I played sports, did well in high school, graduated from a reputable college. In other words, I colored within the lines, did what I was told. I didn’t question much – from the outside everything seemed great. The outside was what mattered to me.
In my twenties I was that cool, fun party girl – you know, the one who could keep up with the guys? I lived for the weekends – skiing, bar hopping, hanging out with friends. I was rarely really drunk, but was always the one who was most disappointed when the bar lights flickered, indicating it was time to go home. Drinking was fun, and everyone was doing it. I was just, well, a little more in love with it than most.
I got married when I was thirty, after dating my husband for six years. At the time I was working for a high powered consulting firm, traveling the globe, making money and feeling pretty good that I was checking all the boxes: Go to a good college: check. Get a good job: check. Marry a stable, loving guy: check. Kids were next on the list. By now I was drinking on a daily basis – wine with dinner, more than that on weekends. When I look back, I realize there were distant alarm bells ringing in my head – very, very quietly. I knew, on some level, that I really loved alcohol, maybe more than other people. I wondered about that quick jolt of panic I felt when four of us were out to dinner and the waiter put one bottle of wine on the table – only one? – for all of us to drink. My pulse quickened with excitement at the thought of my end-of-the-day glass of wine. But all the boxes were checked, everything was going well, so I ignored those distant bells.
I had my first child, a girl, at thirty-three. I didn’t put much thought into my decision to quit my job and stay home full-time. I thought that if we were fortunate enough to be able to afford for me to stay home, then that was what I should do. I got into trouble quickly.
Motherhood completely overwhelmed me. I felt totally inadequate – she cried all the time, and I couldn’t figure out what she needed from me. I couldn’t shape-shift for her. I was angry, bored, and resentful. I felt overwhelming guilt at being angry, bored and resentful. How did everyone else make it look so easy? It never occurred to me to ask for help. I just did what I always did: I tried to make the outside look okay, and I fixed the inside with a glass of wine. Or two. Or five.
I don’t recall when I actually started hiding bottles around the house, and I think I know why: I couldn’t admit to myself that I was stuffing a half-full bottle of warm chardonnay into my laundry hamper so I could nip on it throughout the evening and my husband wouldn’t know. I chose not to acknowledge it, or I made justifications in my head (I only hide it because I like to drink two or three at night, and I don’t want my husband to judge me), and I believed the lies I told myself. I had to, otherwise I had to face my problem. That is how Denial works.
Over the course of the next four years my drinking got worse, so I just worked harder at keeping the outside looking as perfect as I could. I had another child, my son, when I was thirty-six. Sometimes I would scare myself: I wouldn’t remember something that happened from the night before, or I’d create an argument with my husband in a drunken stupor and not even know why the next day. So I’d back off a bit, drink less. But I never stopped. I was too scared to find out I couldn’t.
One night I woke up at 2am, shaking and sweating. I went downstairs, telling myself I was going to get a glass of milk. I went to the liquor cabinet and drank a shot of whiskey. The shaking and sweating stopped. “Well, that’s it, then,” I thought to myself. “I’m an alcoholic.”
Did I ask for help? Did I tell anyone? No. The shame of being an alcoholic – an alcoholic mother, no less – was way too great. I thought I was weak. I thought I was the only one who did the things I did, felt the way I felt. I went deep underground with my drinking. I would secretly drink before or after a party, or dinner, so I only had one or two around other people. I stashed bottles around the house. I went to the recycling bin every day to hide the evidence. I was totally miserable, but determined to keep the outside looking okay. I wasn’t scared that I was an alcoholic, not really. I was scared people would find out, that they would know my perfect veneer was built on a foundation of quicksand.
Eventually, of course, it caught up to me. I crossed that invisible line into physical addiction and couldn’t go more than an hour without drinking. My husband found a bottle of wine stashed under the wet clothes in the washing machine, and the jig was up. I began a long, painful road to recovery. I could put a few days of sobriety together, and then I would start feeling the overwhelming guilt and shame. And I would drink.
It took a stay in a 30 day rehab, and an ultimatum from my husband to get help or he’d leave and take the kids, for me to stop drinking. But it was a few months after I stopped that I wanted sobriety for myself. What changed? I finally went to a 12 step meeting, and a woman I had never met stood up and told my exact story. She was articulate, brave, beautiful and intelligent, and she did all the same things I did when she was drinking. And she was a mother. I realized I wasn’t alone, and I started to open up.
Eventually I told my darkest secrets, my biggest fears, to other women in recovery and they understood. And they accepted me, just as I am. It was the first time I had ever been really real with anyone, including myself.
It was the healing power of talking to other people in recovery, owning my fears and sharing my truth that saved my life. I was so consumed with being a Good Girl, with doing the right thing, with making everyone else happy, that I lost myself. I filled the void with alcohol, creating a false sense of normalcy, of contentment, of confidence. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I could reach out for help and not be rejected for being weak, being a bad mother, being a bad person. I drank for almost twenty years searching for even a fraction of the sense of belonging and comfort I get in recovery.
Now I’m two and a half years sober. I still want you to like me – of course I do – but I’ll be okay if you don’t, too. I’m a good Mom, because I’m not preoccupied with being perfect, or looking perfect. I am present for my kids. I feel my feelings. I am okay with just being okay.
I am open about my recovery because it keeps me real and it keeps me safe. I also feel strongly that we can’t battle addiction if we don’t talk openly and honestly about it. We can’t overcome something we can’t face. So if you’re struggling with addiction, wondering about your drinking, or if you’re suffering in silence – please know you are not alone. Talking about it takes the power away from the alcohol, the stigma, the fear and the isolation. With our hearts and our voices, we can heal”