“I’ve got a bad disease. Up from my brain is where I bleed. Insanity it seems. It’s got me by my soul to squeeze.”
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote that lyric in one of my favorite songs called “Soul to Squeeze.”
I thought he was so cool growing up. I also thought it was cool that I could drink more than any of my girlfriends in college, that my body had the ability to take in alcohol and drugs and that I could still carry on a conversation as if I had never reached that “tipping point.” No one thinks like this. But I did.
I grew up around alcohol. I mean I’m a New Orleans girl, so I guess you could say drinking was considered a rite of passage.
A Love Affair With Drinking
Drinking was a love affair for me. A ritual. I loved not so much the taste of alcohol but the effect it produced within me. If I felt anxious, I’d drink. If I was angry, I’d drink. If I was in fear about anything, I’d drink. Drinking numbed those feelings. Drinking made me feel invincible; liquid courage, I’d call it.
The trickiest part of alcoholism is that it tells you that you don’t have a disease. After all, I never ended up under a bridge. Quite the contrary; in my last few years of drinking, I trained for and completed my first marathon, got promoted and gave birth to the most beautiful little boy.
If you looked at my life on Facebook or on paper, you would never think I had a drinking problem. I never thought I did because I didn’t drink every day, and every time I drank, I didn’t get drunk.
Alcohol was like I said, my lover, my friend. It got me through scary times in my life. It anesthetized me so that I could move through life. It was a survival tool for me. I never learned how to handle negative emotions like pain, fear, sadness, envy or anxiousness. Maybe I was taught at some point in my life, but my brain never made the connection. It was kind of like geography. Sometimes I still can’t find Peru on a globe and figure I must have missed the class where we discussed parts of the world.
Then I Became a Mom
It’s a scary feeling when you feel like everyone in your life got a manual on how to deal with life on life’s terms except for you. That’s how I felt, especially after my first son, Jackson, was born.
Bringing him into this world was the most amazing experience of my life. It was also the scariest. I suffered from postpartum depression, and the guilt of having these feelings after God had given me a healthy baby was just too much for me to process.
Some of my girlfriends were spending money on fertility treatments because they couldn’t get pregnant, and here I was with a healthy baby boy, but I couldn’t get off my kitchen floor because I was stricken with fear and anxiety.
How dare I open up about this? I mean I had already opted to not breastfeed because I truly didn’t like the feeling. I remember getting reprimanded by the nursing specialist at the hospital where Jackson was born because I wanted to feed him a bottle.
I felt like I was doing everything wrong. Shame was an everyday emotion I’d wake up with and fall asleep with. I felt guilty and not worthy to be his mother. So I did what I knew how to do. I drank.
Drinking Got Me Through The Day
Where most new moms wait for their babies to wake up from naps so they can talk and play with them, I would count down the hours to his next nap so I could drink to help numb all my guilt and anxiousness I felt about being his mom.
Drinking worked. Then one day, it stopped working. I would find that I would have to drink more to numb out my negative emotions. The pain was still there no matter how much I drank.
I can still remember dropping Jackson off at daycare and speeding home so I could drink tequila on an empty stomach. It became the only way I could get the temporary relief of my pain. It was short lived relief, but it’s all I knew. Again, it was survival for me.
I never understood people who drank a beer with a burger. I never understood why people would want to eat while they drank. Didn’t they realize that the best buzzes were on an empty stomach? This thought alone is a testament to the fact that I have an alcoholic brain and I am truly an alcoholic, through and through.
I remember watching Meg Ryan in a movie called When A Man Loves A Woman. I was this woman. I watched that movie probably a hundred times because I GOT her. Where most girls relate to Carrie from Sex and the City or Rachel from Friends, Alice from When A Man Loves A Woman was my true heroine. It’s the story about a mother who gets sober. It’s a beautiful film, and I know every line by heart because it reminds me so deeply of my life. I remember a lot about the longing and the wanting to get sober, even when I couldn’t stop drinking. It’s a sad place to be for an alcoholic like me.
I remember this gut wrenching cry on my kitchen floor one morning. It’s a cry that only an alcoholic knows. My kitchen floor was my haven. It wasn’t soft or inviting, but it was familiar. It was punishing. It was cold. It comforted me on my darkest days.
Alcohol had turned from being my friend to my master and shame, its weapon. I needed it to feel normal, whatever that means. I couldn’t go on this way, so I reached out to my friends and family for help.
It’s a scary moment when you are caught in the feeling of not being able to live with it or without it. Regardless of the fear I endured of not knowing how I’d get through life without alcohol, the fear and consequences of continuing to drink scared me much more. I wasn’t living; I was slowly dying.
I walked into an AA meeting in Chicago where I was living at the time and just listened to the men and women share their stories. For the first time ever in my life, I didn’t feel alone. You see, I could be in a room full of people, drink in hand and feel completely and utterly alone, isolated as if I was on an island. Alcoholism does that to you.
These men and women had the ability to share thoughts that only I thought I had. These men and women had a solution to this disease of alcoholism. These men and women carried my soul when I thought I couldn’t get sober. They taught me how to live my life one day at a time without taking a drink or a drug.
I’m eternally grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous because it gave me a life beyond my wildest dreams. My sobriety date is 4/23/2012. I’m coming up on 4 years of continuous sobriety. I still feel anxiety, envy, anger, guilt, shame and sadness. After all, I’m human. The difference today is I know how to handle these emotions today without picking up.
Two Lives in One Lifetime
I am grateful for my journey. You see, I’ve been given the opportunity to live two lives in one lifetime. The one that didn’t work and the one that does.
I’m not the best mother. I still find myself yelling at my kids and wondering what I’m doing. Sometimes they miss their baths or they will forget to brush their teeth. I’ll give them chicken nuggets and fries after a long day because they are picky eaters and I have no energy to fight them.
I know in my heart I’m doing the best I can. AA has taught me to be kind to myself and put the bat down. I’m my own worst critic. Staying sober and present even when I feel like I want to scream or cry or revert back to that kitchen floor because, let’s face it, motherhood can bring me to my knees in a heartbeat, I remember that God gave these beautiful souls to me. He’s entrusted me to care for and love them.
I can do that today. Without tequila. Without a hangover. It’s a funny thing, this life. The rock icon I always thought was the coolest, Anthony Kiedis, is sober as well. He’s got an amazing story. I’ve read his memoir Scar Tissue 6 or 7 times, and he’s living proof that this is a true disease and you can recover from it if you are willing to do the work. I now think the coolest people on the planet are people in recovery. My, how things change.