Archive for February, 2011
This contributor’s name is Stephanie and when I read her story I saw that we had a lot more in common than just a name. P.S. you can find me as a guest on the Comedy Film Nerds podcast this week. It was really fun, the guys are hilarious and we talked all about Oscar picks. Okay, back to Stephanie.
“My father is a recovering alcoholic and joined AA when I was young, so I have been familiar with it for a long time. I didn’t drink in high school as I was aware of his disease and the risks to me. I was also a “good girl”, good student, etc. and I also was afraid of the calories as I was a chronic dieter and obsessed with weight. The addictive behavior was directed there – towards food.
During high school I went to a weight loss camp. Rather than take away the food/weight obsession it worsened. I went to an Ivy League college and was over my head academically and socially. I spent college struggling with binging and went to OA, but never got a sponsor or worked the steps. I did drink in college, but not often. However, when I did drink I would get drunk.
I believe the alcoholism has always been there, waiting for the right circumstances to be activated. It manifested as food addiction earlier because food was accessible to me. The regular drinking started after I met my husband, who is a social drinker. When we visited his family at their lakeside cottages we were drinking every day. I had never done that before. I read a journal from that trip – it said “I could get used to this drinking every day!”
After that trip we started drinking more regularly at home – usually 1-2 beers a night for me, probably one for my DH. We would buy cases, and I would be very aware of when we were running low. I started looking forward to parties where I could drink more.
My daughter was born in 2003, my son in 2007. I drank more than I should have a couple times during the second pregnancy. Once he was born I started drinking again right away – something about Guinness beer helping the milk come in? It wouldn’t have mattered what kind of alcohol it was, really.
By 2009 I was drinking a bottle of wine 4-5 nights a week, in secret. My husband works at night, so I was able to keep it from him. I got into a really bad nightly routine. I would buy bottles of wine with caps that twist off so I wouldn’t have to worry about a corkscrew. I would sneak the bottle and a mug into my bedroom and pour a coffee mug full, and start drinking while I cooked dinner. Most nights I started out promising myself I would NOT get drunk, not drink more than one glass (mug!). But it ALWAYS ended with me finishing or almost finishing the bottle. I was nursing my son, I would nurse him to sleep and then watch videos and drink. I knew it was terrible to be nursing him after drinking that much. I also slept in the same bed with him, which is only supposed to be dangerous if a person is intoxicated. I am so lucky nothing happened.
I would wake up with horrible hangovers and swear that I wouldn’t let it happen again. And then 9 times out of 10, I would repeat the same thing that very night. As night approached I just couldn’t envision getting through the night without wine. I regularly took 16 advil in the course of a day to deal with the headaches. And then there were the bottles – I would hide them in the back of my closet in a black garbage bag and then bring it to a dumpster at my office every couple of weeks. The shame every time I threw one of those bags out is indescribable.
Around that time I was often in a bad mood and losing my temper very easily with my kids and husband. I called a therapist I had seen before about my eating disorder and started seeing her again. I told her everything that was going on. But I was not ready to say that I was an alcoholic. I was not ready to say I would never drink again. I tried not drinking but generally couldn’t go more than a few weeks. The first time, I would have just a glass of wine at a restaurant, and I would be fine. I would say to myself “See, I’m not an alcoholic, I just need to moderate!” But within a couple a weeks I would be back to sneaking bottles.
Then a few things came together to help me know that I am an alcoholic and cannot drink in a moderate way. My therapist is AMAZING – I would not be where I am today without her. The main thing is the acceptance. She does not judge me. I have told her so many things I think are so awful and she is right there. She never looks away. I started reading more about the science of addiction – the genetic aspect, the brain changes, other stuff that convinced me I truly am powerless over alcohol. For some reason a more scientific approach helped take the shame away for me, because this is a condition my brain and my genetics created. But I have the ability to do something about it if I choose to. I was also lucky enough to read about Stefanie’s blog in the New York Times, and found Booze Free Brigade. I started reading BFB everyday. I felt part of a group of women just like me, who had decided we would stop drinking way before hitting rock bottom, because we could see where we were heading and we love our children more than anything and want to do better by them.
When I first started back with the therapist I told my husband that I thought I drank too much. But I was too ashamed to tell him about the secret drinking. I hid the real problem drinking from him so he didn’t know how bad it was. But when I accepted that I am an alcoholic, I told my him the full truth. He was shocked. He likes beer and wine, but I have definitely never seen him have more than 3 drinks in one night. And three would be a lot for him. He really couldn’t believe I could consume a bottle of wine in a night.
He is very supportive and helps me find time to go to yoga, go on walks, and now go to AA. (Because I am a royal bitch when I don’t do those things!) The more days I go without a drink the better it gets. I have been in social situations with friends where everyone else is drinking, and I know I am having a much better time than I would if I were drinking. When I drink I get loud and I get paranoid, worried that no one likes me. I worry about that enough without alcohol. The best part is NO HANGOVERS. I fucking hate hangovers.
Whenever I get an inkling of a thought about drinking I just remember hauling all those empty wine bottles from the back of my closet to that dumpster. I never want to be in that place again. I also remind myself that I already tried the moderation experiment, it failed, I don’t need to try it again!
I am interested in all the different forms addiction can take – food, alcohol, cigarettes, work, exercise – and it is all the same. It is turning to these things to avoid life, to avoid what is. What is can be painful. It becomes easier to put ones energy into this thing – this drink, this cigarette, this binge – but it never gets anywhere. I end up where I started, only with more shame. Today, I am trying to face my addictive behaviors and lead a conscious life.”
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on February 25, 2011 7:15 am
• Don't Get Drunk Friday
This was sent to me anonymously and I can respect that. It helped me as I know it will help you too. -Stef
I never really gave drinking much thought at all, unless I was out at a bar in my early twenties with friends I would have a couple of drinks. Usually beer, nothing more. Sometimes it made me sick the next day and I would go months without drinking. I don’t remember ever buying drinks to have at home, unless I had friends over. After my second daughter was born, I found myself just generally unhappy and though most of it came from my marriage, I was generally a happy person and didn’t really have any major life issues. I loved being a mom and my kids were my world. One weekend I threw a shower for my cousin and I bought a few bottles of wine. I opened one early and ended up a little tipsy throughout the party. After everyone left I finished off the rest and got very sick and was hungover the next day.
A few days after that I was frustrated and uptight and remembered how good that “tipsy” felt the weekend before. I picked up a bottle that afternoon at the store and started drinking while cooking and listening to music. This was the beginning of my “ritual”. I drank this way every day, or every other day for about 2 more years until my divorce from my first husband. During (and after) my divorce I still drank, but I also started going to the gym and I was holding down a job I enjoyed. I would say I didn’t think my drinking was a problem. During this time I dated and was enjoying my kids. I even tried to get back together with my ex-husband. (what would the kids today say? epic fail?)
In 2007 I began dating my now husband. He is such a happy, outgoing, charming person. We loved the beach and gardening, and most importantly we both loved God. Meeting him and his family really helped me get back into my faith. He was the husband I had longed for, the partner I wanted to raise my kids with and have a future with. Our whirlwind romance led us to the courthouse for our simple vows only 6 months after we began dating. 6 months after that we got pregnant. I did drink during our courtship and early months of marriage, but still, It wasn’t so much that I (or he) thought it was a problem. 9 months of being pregnant and about 5 months after my baby was born I did not drink.
One day, I had that anxiety I used to feel. I was overwhelmed. The house was a mess, and the children were demanding. My husband was demanding…. I bought a bottle of wine and sipped it to calm down while cooking dinner and listening to music. Ahh, I missed this feeling. I was very careful to not drink too much as I was nursing. I did drink every few days but carefully monitored the timing and amount so I would not hurt my baby. After she weaned at 9 months, my drinking escalated. I began to think I may have a problem, but I could go 4 or 5 days and not care if I had any… so I would reward myself on that 6th day. Soon I would drink earlier and earlier and by the time my husband was home, I was just mad at him for everything. He never had a chance most days to be greeted by the loving, happy wife I really wanted to be. I would go to bed early, and wake up early, scared to death of the things I might have said to him. He would always forgive me. I would always vow to stop, but instead hid my drinking. I would say I “tried” to hide my drinking. He always knew, but most days didn’t say anything, unless I caused a fight.
In February 2010 I was pregnant again. We were happy and I was thankful and I stopped drinking. I didn’t even have a craving and I thanked God everyday and was just certain this baby was sent to save my life and my marriage. On Feb. 13th 2010 I came home from running a 5k, and started bleeding. After a week of not knowing if there was indeed a baby, my Dr. confirmed it was a molar pregnancy. This was the second time I had a molar pregnancy.
After my surgery and a round of chemo (molar pregnancy has a small percent chance of becoming cancerous), I picked my ritual right back up full force. My drinking became out of control. I would hide it, lie about it, regret it, promise to not do it and then do it again. The longest I could go was 3-4 days. On weekends I drank the most, usually wine, sometimes rum, sometimes beer. I was such a sad person and I had no idea why. My husband was wonderfully supportive every time I told him I wanted to stop, but this was my problem, how could he fix it for me? I felt like I was ruining my marriage, and indeed I was. I loved my husband so much, I had no idea why I kept hurting us by drinking. We had a great life. It was just bliss – when I was sober.
That whole spring and summer I drank. That whole spring and summer he asked me to get help, and he also started to lean on another woman for his joy in life. It wasn’t me anymore that gave him happiness, it was her. When I found out about the affair, I was 9 days sober. My question to him was “what is it about her that makes her so much better than me?” His answer: “She’s not an alcoholic”. Wow! I wanted to punch him in the face, (and her) and I wanted to leave him right then and there. I wanted to die. I wanted the truth to disappear. Surprisingly I did not want to drink. Somehow, that is all I had at the moment. I did not want to run to the store and drink to forget it, I wanted to overcome it. I wanted to stay sober. If not for my marriage, for my 3 beautiful kids.
Today I am 127 days sober. I am in reconciliation with my husband and it is not easy, but it is a start. I am pregnant again. I found out I was pregnant a few weeks after I found out about the affair. Some days I feel the baby was sent to protect me. I never did crave alcohol while pregnant. My doctor and midwife both suggested I may have had postpartum depression after my last baby and the molar pregnancy. (and after my second daughter as well, when I explained the feelings leading up to my drinking) After the pregnancy I will take special care to try to handle these feelings right away, without turning to alcohol. I am nervous, and I am still hurt from the affair, but I am trying to learn not to dwell on those things and just take care of my family and this new baby.
I hang on to this verse John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on February 19, 2011 7:20 am
• Don't Get Drunk Friday
Amy Hatvany is the author of the novel Best Kept Secret which comes out June 7th (just like my book!). I read the book and went crazy for it, basically made it my business to befriend Amy and then strong armed her into writing her personal story for this site. If you check out her website you can get all the pertinent info on her book. I also plan to do an interview with Amy in the next week or so. P.S. if you relate to Amy or any of the stories you read here, and are looking for support come join our online group, The Booze Free Brigade.
“I’m not a drunk who can tell you about her first drink. I didn’t get smashed the first time alcohol hit my system, nor did I party in high school or in my twenties. I was the consummate good girl – class president, homecoming princess – recipient of English scholarships and letters of recommendation from my professors. (Yeah, I’d hate the girl I was back then, too.)
I didn’t start drinking for a purpose until after my divorce, when I had just turned 30. I drank because I couldn’t sleep – I used alcohol to escape the wildly firing synapses in my brain and the intense stress of having two very high demand toddlers and working full-time outside the home for no money at all. My thoughts whirled in my head like tornadoes – other women do this; other women are single mothers and work and don’t feel like they’re off their fucking rocker – what the hell was wrong with me? On a friend’s recommendation that it might help me “relax,” I poured myself a glass of Merlot and tried not to think about the fact that the third novel I’d written didn’t sell, and I had walked away from my marriage with nothing financially – no part of the house, no settlement – because I’d counted on the advance from the book to get me through. And then…there was no advance, and I was falling deeper and deeper into financial and emotional turmoil. I was making $10/hr and trying to support my children, desperately trying to maintain that “image” of happy, successful single mother – a woman who had her shit together. But I was dying inside – extremely depressed, barely holding on by a thread each day. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize my reflection – my cold, sad eyes. I kept waiting for things to get better – to find the right man, the right job, the right positive attitude. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking for external circumstances to heal what was broken inside me.
My drinking increased very, very gradually. At first, it was one glass a night – when that didn’t quite “relax” me enough, I’d pour a splash more. It took more and more to get me to sleep, a.k.a., pass out. But it snuck up on me so insidiously, I didn’t realize I was spiraling out of control. After about a year, when I couldn’t go a day without drinking, I knew I had a problem – that I “needed” the glasses of wine instead of just wanting them. But I made jokes about it with my friends, “oh, the WHINE with dinner hour” with my kids. How my wine was just “mommy’s little helper.” They all laughed, they all told me they needed their occasional glass of wine, too. The secret I kept was how my wine was far from occasional – it was the only way I made it through my days.
I kept trying to think my way out of the problem – if I only drink after the kids go to bed, then I’m not doing anything wrong. If I only drink three nights a week instead of five, then I’m managing it. But I wasn’t managing it. Despite all my “rules” around drinking, I found myself finishing off at least a bottle a night – sometimes two, and sometimes I needed a drink in the morning to settle the shakes so I could function. If I stopped, if I tried to go a couple of days without it, I ached like I’d been beaten with a bag of stones. I was nauseous, my head pounded – I was in withdrawal and didn’t know it. I just thought I was weak for needing to drink to feel “normal” again.
Every day, I felt trapped, terrified and honestly? I was pretty pissed off I couldn’t find the will power to stop. I’d had some measurable success in my life before the divorce – I set a goal, and I reached it. So when I failed in my career as a novelist and failed to figure out how to stop drinking when it was so obviously screwing up my life, my self-esteem vanished. I hated myself more and more. And the drinking got worse.
Then came the night after a three-day drinking binge when I teetered on a precipice, unsure if my children wouldn’t just be better off without me. I was filled with such self-loathing, such disgust at what I’d become. I had a stare down with a bottle of pills and a glass of Spanish Merlot, and came terrifyingly close to leaping off that edge. As I counted those pills, it was a moment of grace that saved me – a friend who called and asked what I was doing, and for whatever reason, I told her the truth.
Detox and out-patient treatment followed, where they irritated the crap out of me by saying I had to attend at least three 12-step meetings a week. Were they kidding? I am not a joiner. And yet, faced with the very real possibility of losing custody of my children as a result of my drinking, I went. In meetings I found acceptance and other women who had gone through the same things as I had. Despite my bristly, emotionally raw exterior and the fuck-you look on my face, they welcomed me. A few months in, just enough willingness slipped in through the cracks of my denial and rationalizations for me to get a sponsor and begin to work the steps.
Five years later, my life has transformed. I practice the steps not just for me, but for my children, who don’t remember much of my drinking, thank god, but if it is etched somewhere on their beautiful souls, I hope seeing me get and stay sober – physically and emotionally – will have a longer lasting, more permanent effect. I have more friends than I know what to do with, an amazing husband (upgraded, version 2.0), and a writing career that has once again caught fire. Ironically enough, it is my experiences as a mother and alcoholic that lit the match.
I don’t think about the fact that I can “never drink again” like I did in the beginning. I think that today, I choose not to drink, because I don’t fucking need to. I’ve equipped myself with better coping mechanisms for when shit falls down around me – which it still does. Asking for help when I need it is still my biggest issue. Luckily, some of the most kick-ass people I’ve ever met are in those rooms. Smart-mouthed, wounded people like me who have taught me that I don’t have to do anything in my life alone. And I certainly don’t have to drink over any of it ever again.”
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on February 11, 2011 3:34 pm
• Don't Get Drunk Friday
This is a kick-ass story from a friend of mine. If you see yourself in any of her words, ask for help. You can always come here to find like-minded women who want to help.
The first time I realized I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable, I was thirty two years old and on stage at Peanuts, a strip club in Tijuana, wearing a camouflage g-string that I’d bought at Target. I didn’t travel to Tijuana with the intention of taking off my clothes, but as many alcoholics know, once we take that first drink, things don’t always go as planned.
I’d taken the train from San Diego to Mexico on a Sunday morning with my boyfriend, who I could hardly wait to start a family with. Although he had no job or car, I liked that he could drink as much as I could. Plus, I loved looking at him, so I figured we were a good match.
Tijuana was the perfect spot for our “hair of the dog” Sunday tradition, which mandated beer with breakfast to nurse our hangovers. Like many of our dates (including our first), we hit every bar in our path, ending up at the strip club.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved strip clubs and often suggested we go. In my twenties, I loved being the center of attention and considered stripping as a profession. I loved being naked, and I was good at staying up all night. Unfortunately, I have cellulite, I only wear a bra for the padding, and eight-inch stripper shoes make me six-foot-six. There might be a niche market in the world of stripping for thick-thighed, flat-chested, amazons, but I never had the guts to find out.
We arrived at Peanuts after I had consumed more than enough alcohol to alleviate my hangover. In fact, I could barely walk. It was early, just after noon, and the table at the front of the stage was available, so we took it. I soon spent the rest of my money on beer. With a Budweiser costing a dollar, I’d had least four. But who was counting?
A guy who might have been the manager asked if I’d get on stage and strip with the dancer. I assessed if I was wearing the right undergarments, and if I’d shaved. It was yes to both, so I agreed, but only on the condition that he play Marilyn Manson and give us ten beers.
This last-minute decision left me without a cute outfit to slip out of, and I wasn’t wearing cellulite-reducing heels. My boots were dirty from walking the streets of Tijuana, looking for a pharmacy that offered the best deal on Ritalin, a drug I heard referred to as “legal cocaine”. Also, I’d just eaten a burrito, so my stomach wasn’t flat.
I don’t remember how I got on stage. I imagine it was like that scene where Winnie the Pooh visits Rabbit, eats all the honey, and gets stuck in the rabbit hole as he’s trying to leave. With all his might, Rabbit pushes Winnie’s butt, while Christopher Robin pulls his outstretched arms. My boyfriend was Rabbit and the stripper was Christopher Robin. This was probably not a sexy move.
The details of how I disrobed remain vague. Is it possible to remove jeans, boots, and socks sensually? At least there was no booing, as far as I can remember, and I recall a couple of people cheering wildly. (Okay, maybe that was my boyfriend: one of the upsides of being a rolling-black-out drinker is that our minds create a better reality.)
Within the first few beats of The Beautiful People, I realized that while I had seen many women strip, I didn’t actually know how to do it. Since my clothes were already off, there was, technically speaking, no stripping involved. What was I supposed to do with the remaining three minutes of my song? I did my best to dance around in my underwear and look cute.
I looked to the stripper for help, hoping she would dance with me, but she was balancing her butt on her heels, knees spread wide open as a guy inserted folded dollar bills into the string of her underwear. I thought of doing some floor moves, but I couldn’t figure out how to get down there without squatting and creating multiple fat rolls around my midriff. Instead, I headed for the pole. Big mistake.
I had hoped to climb the pole, perform an acrobatic trick while tossing my hair, then slide into a stunning dismount, landing in the splits. The only thing I could manage was to spin around it like an amateur.
Then, through the thick smoke and strobe lights, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. While Marilyn Manson’s lyrics pumped through the speakers—You can’t see the forest for the trees / you can’t smell your own shit on your knees— I was blindsided by the brutal truth: my life was not going as planned. I did see the forest for the trees and I was an alcoholic. For nearly twenty years, I had used the details of my life to justify my excessive alcohol and drug use. I did well in school, got the job I wanted, had never shot heroine, and had never been in jail. But glimpsing that woman in the mirror, I knew that even my camouflage panties could no longer hide me from myself.
I kept my part of the bargain and danced for the remainder of the song. The free beer took the edge off of my painful introspection, but I needed to go home. After two hours of waiting in line to cross the border, the train ride to San Diego, and a Ritalin-fueled drive back to Los Angeles, I finally got there. It was five o’clock, Monday morning, and I had to be up at six. Coming from a family plagued with alcoholism and drug addiction, my mom often soliloquized, “No matter how drunk you get, in this family, we always go to work the next day. We’re like the Kennedys.” I was too young to know who the Kennedys were, but going to work the next day sounded serious. So that morning, after a brief nap, I did my best to scrub off the smell of beer and stripper, and headed off to my job as a high school teacher.
I didn’t stop drinking after my Tijuana experience, but I tried. I made to-do lists like:
1. Quit drinking.
2. Figure out communication problem in relationship.
3. Water plants on balcony.
I didn’t know how to do any of these, so I made up rules that I thought might help. First, I tried limiting myself to two drinks per night. I only succeeded at this once. Next, I decided to drink only beer, thinking it was the hard liquor that was the problem. When this didn’t work, I attempted to quit drinking by just using drugs. But my willpower failed and within a couple of days I was back to drinking and drugging as usual. The plants on my balcony died. How did I assuage my shame? I drank even more.
Like Winnie in the rabbit hole, I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t escape. I was stuck, and only death or asking for help would un-stick me. So I decided to kill myself.
In my late teens, I had been hospitalized (institutionalized) for a drug overdose (suicide attempt) and was forced to take Prozac. When the drug kicked in, I felt hopeful and promised myself that I’d never try this again. When I was thirty-one, my stepmother took her own life by overdosing on Morphine, so I knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of such a selfish act. My aspirations for suicide were thwarted by these experiences, so I decided to forgo suicide and get clean.
I began flirting with Alcoholics Anonymous on-line. I took the quiz Is A.A. For You? and learned that four yeses might mean I was an alcoholic. I answered “yes” to all twelve questions. Despite both my psyche and AA telling me I had a problem, I didn’t ask for help, but the seed had been planted: there might be a solution other than ending my life.
After many failed attempts to control my drinking, I found myself in another early-morning, post-cocaine crash, riddled with shame and despair. Before I could talk myself out of it, I called AA. The guy who answered the phone told me there was a women’s meeting that night, and it was being held across the street from my house. The voice in my head told me not to go; my feet took me to the meeting.
I haven’t had a drink in seven years. My first year of sobriety was unpleasant. I recall the third day, reaching for the Vicodin and realizing I had to flush the pills down the toilet. On the twenty-seventh day, my fiancé (yes, after endless nagging, he proposed…without a ring) broke up with me. I had to give him a dollar so he could take the subway to a friend’s house, yet I believed I was losing my only chance at real happiness. By this time, however, I had a sponsor, and she promised that if I stayed sober, my life would get better. She was right.
I worked the steps, and I have been transformed. I no longer lead a double life. My sponsor often reminds me that my alcoholism wants me dead, but it will settle for me miserable, so I’ve learned to ask for help. More important, I’ve learned to offer it. Five years ago, I married a man who can drink just one drink and not crave another, and I’m now the mother of two-year-old twins. Even in my dark moments—like when I’m watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, resenting Camille Grammer and the rest the world because I don’t have the four nannies I deserve—I easily slip back into gratitude, remembering that I’m living on borrowed time, and every minute I get to spend with my children is a gift. Today, when I look in the mirror, I often don’t recognize the person looking back. But instead of shrinking with shame, I can look myself in the eye and smile. I’m no longer trying to hide.
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on February 4, 2011 12:30 pm
• Don't Get Drunk Friday