My relationship with alcohol has always been a bit tumultuous. I can admit that I had some fun in my early days. The appeal, for me, was suddenly feeling confident and pretty, laughing a little harder with friends and finally feeling like I fit in; but I never drank like other people did. In retrospect, I knew I was different from the very start. From that first drink, I knew I wanted more. And it wasn’t the same “want” as my friends, who just looked forward to drinking again on the weekend. I wanted MORE! While my friends simply craved a good buzz and an exciting atmosphere, I was two drinks ahead of them, and already thinking about the next one.
The buzz was just foreplay for me – a brief moment in time where I could feel the sensation of warmth moving through my entire body, from my flushed cheeks to the tingle in my toes, but it was the apathy that I was really after. That moment when my mind stopped racing a million miles a second and that voice in my head, the one that told me I wasn’t good enough, was finally silenced. I just wanted everything to stop; to just pause for a moment. I never intended to end up like this. It was never my intention to become an alcoholic. It was never my intention, until the alcohol was all I had left.
Some days I still miss that apathy…
This type of black and white thinking transferred to a lot of different areas in my life. If I wasn’t good at something, what was the point in trying? If I couldn’t be the center of attention, what was the point of showing up? And if I wasn’t drunk, what was the point of drinking?
I mean, it’s not like I was drinking alcohol for the taste. I hated the taste of alcohol. I didn’t like the taste of any of it, and believe me, I tried it all. This realization later lead to drinking hard liquor straight from the bottle because that would get me from point A to point B that much faster. It was cheaper too, so I thought I was pretty economical about it. Not to mention, I never liked fruity drinks so I didn’t want to waste my time sipping something fancy. I could hide it just about anywhere, and even resorted to hiding mini bottles in my clothing. You would be amazed if I told you how many of those little bottles I could carry on me without so much as a second glance.
To me, alcohol had a single purpose, to transform me into someone entirely different. It started coming with me everywhere I went. To make the “me” I despised disappear, and the “me” I thought I liked emerge. It was my friend, my lover and my confidant.
It made me the me that didn’t have to think, or worry or care too much. I always cared a little too much, just not about the things a young girl should care about. I never even gave myself a chance, and that goes back to that faulty black and white thinking; if I have to work at liking myself, what’s the point of trying to like myself anyway?
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I would one day wake up and be the person who has to avoid the liquor aisle at the grocery store, or look away from billboards advertising my drink of choice, fast forward through beer commercials, or leave my friends weddings right after dinner. I didn’t realize that the one thing I loved so much, more than anything really, would be the cause for my demise; and like a bad breakup, it still hurts sometimes.
Here’s the thing about alcohol. It is accessible; acceptable even. Society almost encourages binge drinking, bar hopping and Happy Hour. I didn’t have to find a dealer, because mine was on almost every street corner within a 10 block radius of my house; the bar, the liquor store, the gas station, the grocery store. I didn’t have to sell my body or my things in order to obtain it. I never had to send discrete text messages or hide in a bathroom stall with my drug. I didn’t have to stick a needle in my arm, snort it or smoke it. I didn’t have to, but eventually, I would have. I would have, because at the end of my using days I was willing to go to any lengths to alter my state of existence…
It was like living in a nightmare I could never wake up from. I would pinch and scratch and slap myself across the face, but I would never wake up. And before I knew what was happening, the choice was no longer a choice, the want was no longer a want; it was a MUST and a NEED. And there was no turning back.
I identify as both an addict and an alcoholic, because both are part of my story. Alcohol was the relationship that nearly killed me, because what they don’t tell you in those commercials is that alcohol is one of the only drugs out there that can be fatal when you are withdrawing from it.
Alcohol was my drug of choice because it was easy; quite simply a relationship of convenience. But don’t let that fool you, because I had become a master manipulator by that time. If I couldn’t have alcohol, because my liver was failing me or I was on the verge of being kicked out of my house, I would convince my doctor to prescribe anxiety medication because “my problem” was never with pills. Coincidentally, a person can die while withdrawing from benzodiazepines as well. So, what was once given to me to help combat my alcohol withdrawals now became a habit…and what did I turn to when I needed to combat that habit? Alcohol, of course!
The cycle was endless; a hamster wheel of constant substitution and disappointment. And all the while, my body was slowly deteriorating from all of the poison I was consuming. It didn’t matter anymore, I HAD to have something, and once I had something I wanted more of that something. And this story brought me to exactly where they told me it would; jails, institutions and (near) death.
I was blessed with something a lot of alcoholics and addicts pray for, a family that refused to give up on me no matter how shitty my actions were. Yes, they were often angry and, more often than not, didn’t want me around, but it wasn’t me they didn’t want around, it was the alcoholic. They didn’t want to be around the one who would show up and drink all of the wine, slur her words, pick fights and pass out on the couch. Somehow they were gifted with this amazing ability of separating the healthy me from the sick one; separating Vanessa from the addict.
A real life Jekyll and Hyde.
My mom is this fierce, courageous, Superwoman. I am not sure I have ever met anyone quite like her, so I can only imagine God sent me to her because he knew she would be ok in the end, whether I was still walking this earth or not. He knew she would love me through it, even when she found it too difficult to even look at me.
Along with watching me self-destruct, my mom was fighting her own battle. While I was slowly deteriorating, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, went through chemotherapy and radiation, and survived! She survived cancer!
Guess who wasn’t there eating popsicles with her at those treatments? Or talking to her at night about her fears? Or helping her wrap scarves around her balding head? Me! And that still hurts me today, and it had to have hurt her too, but if it did she never let it show.
At the same time, my dad had a stroke that left him with a traumatic brain injury and limited mobility. He lost the ability to play his guitar; his baby. It was one of my fondest memories growing up; the sound of my father’s guitar coming from the basement. Stairway to Heaven is #1 on the soundtrack to my life. After his stroke, I could only pull myself together long enough to visit the hospital for one night out of the many nights he stayed there. And as the story goes, one night he could still talk, and the next night a second stroke stole his voice and right hand forever.
Guess who wasn’t there to hear his voice one last time? Me! And that still hurts me today, and it had to have hurt him too, but if it did he never let it show.
While my parents were conquering one crisis after another, they were constantly losing sleep over me. My mother has told me that the only time she could ever find peace, was when I was in the hospital, at one of my multiple residential treatments or jail. And I will never know what that did to her. I will never know her pain, because all I could think of at the time was my own.
My heart breaks for the family members of addicts. We never intended to hurt you in this way. It was never my intention to cause my mother so much pain, but I did and I can’t take it back. She detached with love when she needed to, and she stepped in when she couldn’t bear it anymore.
There are some situations where an apology just isn’t good enough, no matter how sorry you are. And quite frankly, the words “I’m sorry” lose all of their power when the behaviors that made the apology necessary are repeated. In these situations, I’ve learned to make amends in other ways. I am dependable, I honor my commitments and I tell the truth today. I don’t make promises I cannot keep, and I don’t say I am sorry if I have no intention of changing my behavior. This is what recovery has taught me, and recovery hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
I am often told how lucky I am to have found recovery. How recovery is so much better than the alternative. And although I cannot disagree with this and I would never trade any day in recovery for a day using, coming face to face with the wreckage of my past has been the most painful experience of my life.
You see, we can numb the pain for a while, years even, but we can’t make it go away forever. If we are lucky, and the day comes that we find recovery, all of that despair, regret, embarrassment and shame hits us all at once. For me, it was like being pushed in front of a train or being knocked out by Floyd Mayweather.
Recovery is the road less travelled for many reasons, mainly because it is a brain disorder that is hugely misunderstood, but also because it is work. I get that today. Had I truly understood just how difficult recovery would be, I don’t know if I would have had the strength within me to commit to my recovery the way that I have.
What I can tell you though, is that because I honored my commitment to my recovery, to simply avoiding that first drink or drug no matter what, my life has been transformed in ways that I still find difficult to put into words.
To the newcomer, should you stumble upon this story and you have found yourself at a crossroads, keep coming back, just put one foot in front of the other. Try for one more day, and then wake up and try again for the next. Sooner or later the TRY will become a DO and the pain will subside. Have patience with yourself and others. Vigilance is the key, I can assure you that walking through your pain will someday become one of the most profound experiences of your life. And all you have to do is just stay.
Vanessa Day –
Vanessa Day bio: Woman in long-term recovery. Recovery Advocate, blogger and writer on all things related to addiction and recovery. Sober Mom! Free To Be V blog