I used to think that my drinking habits were a sign of weakness, of a flawed character. I used to think that when I chose a sober weekend, I was punishing myself – like a kid in time out because I didn’t follow the rules. I quit drinking alcohol for one year, between 2014 and 2015, and when I chose to drink again on my sober anniversary, I thought I would be smarter than the last time. I thought I was smarter than the part of my brain that so easily talked me into just one glass … and one glass more…I thought I was smarter than addiction.
I was wrong. I found new levels of “low” when I went back to drinking after my year of sobriety. I’d manipulate my travel days to allow me to have full on benders during the work week, surrounded by other travelers but truly by myself… senseless drinking, but I felt that I wanted it, and that I deserved it. The anxiety on those work trips was quietly suffocating me, and it wasn’t until I spent a week with my 22 year old son, who doesn’t drink alcohol, that I rembered my former non-drinking self. I finally wanted that version of me back. I didn’t want to turn into my alcoholic Mom, who hid mason jars of vodka around the house for the last 15 years of her life so that my Dad wouldn’t know how much she drank (he knew, but neither of them wanted to confront this demon). I didn’t want to be addicted.
Now, at 55, I have to simply understand that my reaction to alcohol is not about me. It’s genetic. It something that I cannot change anymore than I can change any of my other genetic links to my mom. I look like my mom; people say that I laugh like her, and that I have the quick wittiness like her. I know that she struggled with alcohol her entire life and even after a severe fall, she couldn’t quit it. I know that she loved me, but that alcohol had a clamp around her soul that she could not relinquish. When I was younger, I thought she loved booze more than me, but now I understand this addiction. Now that I’ve been addicted to alcohol I understand how it takes over.
It is this knowledge that the addiction is somehow bigger than me, that keeps me strong today. I understand the grip that this poison has in my body. I know it’s not a personality flaw, but a genetic disposition. Sometimes I think of it as an allergy; if you were allergic to penicillin and knew it would kill you, would you still take it? Would you consider that allergy a character flaw? Something to be ashamed of? I’m allergic to alcohol, and the simple but effective answer is to not drink it.
When the cravings come, and the alcohol genie wants to get out of the bottle, I play the tape backwards and forwards. I rewind to the negative parts of my drinking history; while the genie tries to coax me to remember the “fun campfires”, or the happy drinking at the summertime concert fest. I don’t pause the memory there and pretend that everything was sunshine and flowers. Even those “fun” memories have snippets of pain that involved alcohol. Maybe it was me being totally irresponsible and expecting my 17 year old child to be the designated driver (what a great memory for him, eh? “Remember when you got so drunk you couldn’t drive home, Mom, so I had to?”)…. or a foggy memory of a campfire fight where people retreated to their tents because we were all taking stands about …. what, what, what was it?…. OH no, did I really tell my sister’s dark secret to the rest of the family?
The genie in the bottle doesn’t want us to remember those negative times.
And when I play the tape forward – even only to tonight – If I drink tonight, what happens tomorrow? Do I wake up anxious at 4 am and wonder WTF did I just do? Or do I drink so much that I blow off work in the morning, neglect required conference calls, and then apologize at 1 pm, blaming it on “technical difficulties with my internet”? If that happens… what would tomorrow afternoon hold for me? After half-assing it from 1 pm to 5 pm, would I dive back into the next bottle of red? Or would I try to not drink tomorrow night, and tell myself I would “moderate” and that I would buy only 3 bottles of wine for the week, and when they were gone, I would be done drinking for the week? And yet, I know even as I type this that the 3 bottle rule would be broken immediately upon entering the liquor store, because they offer a 10% discount on 4 or more bottles…. so the genie in the bottle would logically tell me to break the 3 bottle rule because 4 is where the savings starts…. SHOOT. Even writing about this potential failure brings anxiety upon my mind, and everything I’ve written above is about ME and MY reaction.
What about my kids? My husband? My grandkids? They’ve been my cheerleaders for the last 11 months that I’ve stayed alcohol-free. How would they react if I returned to the bottle? They know that I can’t moderate my drinking. Is it fair to them, for me to return to that spot?
So if I can’t stay sober for me, I must do it for them.
Remember those false promises you made, the morning after? When you slip, when you chose to drink again, those falsehoods are haunting the minds of the ones you hurt.
“Honey, you promised you wouldn’t drink again”…. or worse yet, the disappointment, hurt, and resentment that you see in their eyes, if you are bold enough to look.
Because at the end of the day, it’s not all about ME and MY relationship with Alcohol.
It’s about THEM… my familial team…. my closest friends. THEY are the reason that I made it to day 8, and to day 14, and to day 21, and to day 30 sober. THEY are the reason, when I could not do this for ME, that I stayed the course. I could Protect my Quit, for them, during those early days alcohol-free.
I’ve heard it said that the opposite of addiction is connection and that is true. Sobriety is not about ME it’s about Us .
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