True Story: I’m An Alcoholic

Could you stand in front of a group of strangers and say "I'm an alcoholic"? What triggers alcoholism? An interview with one woman who did. 
How do you know you’re an alcoholic? When do you know you need help? What factors contribute to alcoholism? One woman shares her story.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 29 and I live in a small town on the west coast where I’m attending grad school. I grew up here, but moved away to go to college and then traveled extensively through Europe, Thailand, and Latin America before coming back and living in Portland, OR for five years. I just moved back to get my Masters.
Growing up, what were your feelings about alcohol? Does anyone in your family have trouble with it?
My mother’s side of my family is British and so drinking at special events was always celebrated. My father drinks a beer or two with dinner and my mother has some wine occasionally. I saw alcohol as a part of adulthood and although it seemed like a fun thing to try, it didn’t play a big role in my life until college.
When did you start drinking?
I started drinking in college at dorm parties, frat parties, and my parents let me have wine when I came home for the holidays. I did get drunk often at these events — I thought that was the goal! — but it was always laughed off with my friends because it was a part of the college drinking culture. I was still very focused on my studies, did extremely well, and I don’t remember ever feeling worried about my drinking habits or feeling that I was drinking more than my peers.
When did you realize that your drinking was becoming problematic?My first serious relationship began during my junior year of college. When we started dating we would drink together often and every activity always seemed more exciting when some booze was involved. When we broke up, I was living in Portland and I became depressed and lonely.

I hadn’t ever drank alone before but I started to because it made me feel better. I would work all day — I was a waitress — and then I would come home and reward myself for getting through the day by opening a bottle of wine. Pretty soon I was drinking the whole bottle by the time I went to bed. I rationalized it since it was one glass before dinner, one with dinner, and then two afterwards before bed while I watched a movie or whatnot.

I realized my drinking was becoming problematic when I always seemed to NEED alcohol instead of just wanting it. I saw how my friends drank and I always drank more — I couldn’t stop at just one or two. We would go out to dinner and I couldn’t focus completely on our conversation because I was anticipating our ordered drinks.

I couldn’t handle any social activity without alcohol involved. Any time we didn’t plan for drinking, I mildly panicked and steadied myself by remembering the chilled wine I had waiting for me at home.

Was there a particular moment when you realized “this has to stop?”
My alcoholism went downhill like a sled gathering speed. I thought about my drinking habits all day; in the morning I awoke groggy and desperate with guilt and shame that I had drank so much the night before. However, in the afternoon I would rationalize it as my release and reward for getting through the day and I would pick up another bottle of wine on the way home.

I realized I had to stop when I got laid off from my job (for reasons non-related) and in a moment of panic, started drinking at lunch. I spent about two months starting to drink around 11 am after I had sent off resumes and done other necessary chores. I would drink until I was drunk, pass out in bed for the afternoon, and then wake up in time to go out and get drunk at night. One day my cousin confronted me and I broke down telling her how I couldn’t cope without drinking to blot out my life. I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I couldn’t manage without it.

What sort of treatment did you seek? Was is effective?
I looked into rehab centers but they were all too expensive so I started going to AA with a family friend who was in the program. I didn’t want to go to AA because I thought I wasn’t a real alcoholic — I wasn’t a bum in the streets! But when I started going to the meetings and listening to all the stories people shared, I realized that they had struggled with drinking just as I had. It was a relief to know that others couldn’t stop when they had a buzz from drinking but had to get drunk. They also felt a physical withdrawal when they weren’t able to keep drinking.

I was comforted by the fact that I had an addiction others were able to manage by not picking up the first drink and beginning the downward spiral. I was taught how to stay sober one day at a time and not panic about not drinking any farther into the future than 24 hours. I’m not going to drink today.

By staying sober and going to meetings to share my struggles and hear those of other alcoholics, days stretched into weeks, weeks into months, and now I have been sober for almost ten months. One day at a time. For me, being able to talk with other people and gain strength and motivation by seeing how they too have been able to stay sober has been most effective in helping me.

How do the people in your life feel about your alcoholism?
They are all relieved that I am confronting my addiction and getting help. I don’t think some of them realized that I am an alcoholic. Now that my life is better than it was, I still can’t start drinking again “normally” because I never did and never will. The way I drank, as if I could never get enough, is evidence to me that I need to put other positive things in my life to make me happy and not rely on a substance.

How do you cope with your alcoholism on a day-to-day basis?
I have started filling my life with other activities, people, and thoughts that make me content and hopeful about each day. I wake up feeling refreshed and alert (not hungover) and even this small gift makes sobriety worth it.

When I am craving alcohol or feeling sorry for myself because I can’t drink at a Superbowl party, I go to an AA meeting and get support from talking with people who have shared the same struggles. This connection is powerful and keeps me in a community of positive encouragement. By connecting with people who are happy in sobriety, I gain hope for my future.

What advice would you give to others struggling with alcohol addiction?
If you feel that you may have a problem with your drinking, don’t keep it to yourself and feel guilty and ashamed. Alcoholism is a condition that affects some and not others, it is not a problem you have brought upon yourself and you are not alone. However, this is not a mental problem that will just go away by your own self-will.

I didn’t seek help for a long time because of the stigma surrounding alcoholism in our society. However, when I did, I felt great relief and support by reaching out to others for help. If you can, go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting near you — you can find a list of meetings at www.aa.org . If the thought of stopping scares you, just take small steps. One day at a time.

Thanks so much for sharing, Rachel.  Do any of you struggle with alcohol?  Any questions for Rachel?

P.S. How to get serious about your health

photo by Varshesh Joshi // cc

18 Comments

Anonymous

How can one best support a friend going through this? I have a friend who quit drinking 4 years ago but is just now going to AA. She struggles every day with not drinking and often finds holidays or social situations where drinking on any level is hard for her and she takes it personally. This could be a wine bottle on a table at a home dinner party or cocktail hour at a restaurant – various levels of drinking. She gets very upset and feels unsupported if anyone drinks around her. She also gets depressed around major and minor holidays – and feels like Cinco de Mayo or St. Patricks Day (as a group we don't celebrate these, I think she just senses a major media bombardment) are just about drinking and she requests that holiday parties like Thanksgiving or Christmas are alcohol free if she's invited. I want to support and accommodate her, but at the same time, I want to be free to be myself and host a gathering in the way I want to host it. How can I make her feel seen and supported and still go about my own social activities in the way I like best?

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Rosie

Don’t worry, the longer she is in AA, the more she will be able to handle being in drinking situations. The tools she needs to cope with living sober are all offered in AA. Its a pity she didn’t go sooner! In the meantime, for the first year, just spend time with her doing non-drinking activities. For the first two years I didn’t attend my wider family Christmas – but I sure didn’t ask people not to drink. I went to the movies a helluva lot and had lot of early nights 🙂 There are plenty of Friday and Saturday night AA meetings.

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Anonymous

Great article, I could have written it except sub vodka for wine and I did go to rehab. I was laid off from work and would not drink until five BUT then would stay up until 3-4am and get up around 1 or 2. That sped up the addiction pretty quickly… It helps so much to know we are not alone… Congrats on your 10 months!
Anonymous – that is great that she is going to AA, I would encourage her to keep going. I could not have stayed sober without the program. It is not your responsibility to provide an alcohol-free environment for her. If she is having a hard time around holidays, etc., 12-step groups always have meetings and she will find others who are feeling the same. There is a ton of healing and hope in talking with people who have truly – physically, mentally, spiritually – been in your place. I am sure you can and have offered things to do without drinking, that is all that you can do! There is also al-anon – support for family and friends of alcoholics. They are a great source if you are getting frustrated.

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Lauren

"I didn’t want to go to AA because I thought I wasn’t a real alcoholic — I wasn’t a bum in the streets!"

I'm so glad that you shared your story, Rachel. So often, I think of things like alcoholism as "something that happens to other people" instead of just college kids or young adults not knowing how to deal with hard issues in their lives. Thank you for the reminder that it has a face and it isn't a "celebrity" problem or "problem for 'bums'".

Another question: do you confront a friend that you think is an alcoholic? If so, how?

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Alicia Jay

Thanks to Rachel for your bravery in sharing your experience and thanks to Sarah for publishing it. Alcoholism is more common than most people realize, and especially among my peer group, it seems like something that is often trivialized. Several people I love are in AA, and some of the wisdom from that group informs my own life: one day at a time, "it works if you work it", etc. There are some beautiful lessons to be learned from the recovery community that can benefit people regardless of substance addiction. Rachel, honest stories like yours go a long way to breaking down the stigma associated with addiction.

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Anonymous

Rachel, thanks for sharing your story. I have a close friend who I think is an alcoholic. She gets extremely drunk pretty much every time I see her, and we never get together without alcohol being part of the deal. Others have talked to her about her drinking, but she says, "They're just projecting because they can't deal with their own lives so they need to judge mine." I'm afraid if I confront her about her drinking, she'll feel defensive and shut me out, but as her friend, I don't like seeing her go through this. What did your loved ones do that made you feel supported and allowed you to seek help? I don't want to force my own judgements on her, but I am sincerely concerned for her wellbeing.

Reply
Gene

"Anonymous3/25/13, 7:54 AM

How can one best support a friend going through this? I have a friend who quit drinking 4 years ago but is just now going to AA."

As someone who is an alcoholic and has been in AA, I can tell you that if you really do want to support your friend, you can ask her what kind of support is best for her. Ultimately, she's the only one responsible for her own sobriety and it's up to her to determine her comfort level around alcohol. It can be very hard at first. As she gets further along in AA, she'll be able to find other alcoholics to whom she can relate, or a sponsor to help her when she's feeling overwhelmed.

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Antoine Lockhart

Rachel must be a great and a strong person. I see how she was lovingly brought up by her parents. She has a great sense of responsibility as well, as shown by the fact that she was able to recover from addiction to alcohol and choose to go back to sobriety.

Reply
Nimfa Collins

Alcohol dependence is a substance related disorder in which an individual is addicted to alcohol either physically or mentally, and continues to use alcohol despite significant areas of dysfunction, evidence of physical dependence, and/or related hardship.
alcohol intervention

Reply
Laura

An alcoholic is not solely physically OR mentally addicted. The disease centers in the mind first. The body develops an allergic reaction after the alcoholic ingests the alcohol. Read the doctor’s opinion in the big book.

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Anonymous

The is a book out there called Born Broken by Steve R., it is a book of inspiration and hope. If you are struggling with addiction, it is a must read. You can down load ebooks for free.

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Anonymous

I can completely relate. When I was 13, I had my taste of marijuana. About two years later I tried Vicodin. I fell in love with it and become addicted by the time I was 18. I used opiates until the age of 32 with very very brief intervals of sobriety in between. Now I'm 8 years sober and I've helped other people get sober too. I really can help. I've been there myself. I know how hard it is. Feel free to call me or text me and I'd be happy to talk to you for a while and offer some support. Here's my number (561)-706-6236. My (real) name is Saul.

Reply
lost

Hello Sarah,

My name is Robert and I was just wondering of you could take some time out of your day to give me some advice. My mother has been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember and I really want to help her more than anything.
Over the past 2 years this problem has grown extreme. I have a little sister who lives with her; I myself am 23 and have started my own life. Child services gave me a call to inform me that my sister would be going into foster care due to my mother’s alcohol problem. My aunt and I worked together to get my sister and help my mom get into rehab. She attended rehab for 3months and then got out with nowhere to go.
She ended up moving to north Florida in her mother’s house who recently passed away with my sister and abusive step father. They had no power and use a generator to keep things going. Needless to say she fell back into alcohol. About 2 days ago I received word from my aunt that my mother has no lost custody of my sister and my aunt will be a foster parent for the next year, and if my mom does not get better this will be finalized.
The rest of my family has given up on her and told me to continue my life and let this happen she needs to learn on her own. I want to give her a call and ask her if she has a problem and to open up to me. I want her to know she has my support. I was thinking about allowing her to get an apartment with me where she would still be responsible for ½ of the bills and maintaining a job. I don’t see her being able to quit in the environment she is. I know she is unhappy with her life and choices and I know losing my sister will take a huge toll on her. I also know she is a great person and that SHE CAN overcome this.
So I am writing you to ask for advice. I do listen to how other people handle the situation but I’d rather hear it from someone who had the problem over someone who is in my situation. If you could take the time to get back to me it would be much appreciated.
-Robert

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Anonymous

Robert so sorry to hear about what is going on in your family, unfortunately your story is very common among family members of alcoholics. Iam a alcoholic, and have been sober for the past 5 1/2 years after battling drugs and alcohol most of my life. I will spare you all the gory details as I deem them as war stories, but I use my story when helping other alcoholics, such as when I speak at treatment centers and sponsor others. The only reason I bring that up is to let you know that I have lived the life that your mother is living now. First and most importantly please know that you are not at fault or responsible for your mother, or her addiction, that being said we as alcoholics could never have gotten or stayed sober without the help of others. Your mother has to want to quit, if she does not, you are going to be wasting your time, and putting a lot of heartache in your own life. If she does want to quit, you can be of great help, I agree about getting her out of the of the living situation that she is in, but remember she has to want to do this, if so the best advice I could give you is to get her back into treatment, just because it didn't work the first time does not mean you are doomed to the same result, plus if nothing else, treatment is a safe sober place to get her health and head somewhat together, we often have more problems then just the alcohol or drugs, in fact those are but symtoms of what the real problem is, but nothing can be done about anything unless we quit completely. I would make sure, after leaving treatment she has a sober place to go and live, and not with you. She will learn at treatment what a good aftercare program for her would and could be. Make sure she wants this to happen, if so there are plenty of those places available. Once she is living their and attending meetings on a regular basis as far as you are concerned, she is and always will be responsible for her own recovery. You can be their for her in many ways, someone to tell her how much she is loved and cared about, etc…but you cannot hide her from her addiction, it is everywhere, especially within her own mind and body, always remember this is a disease and needs to be treated as such. From just reading your letter I can tell you care and love your mother very deeply, that is the most important thing you can do for her and yourself, I would definetly recommend Al-Anon for you, will help you tremendously and your mother. That will keep you from loving her to death as the saying goes. Like I said you can be a tremendous asset to her, but do not let her rely on you for her sobriety that is her job, and people like myself and others in the rooms of AA we cannot get her sober, but if she truly wants to change her life, we will always be there, to help her in anyway possible to stay sober, and live sober. My best wishes to you and your family. I sincerely wish you all the best, and hope some of this may help. Take good care of yourself.

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CatholicConvert

Robert, sorry that your mom and family are going through this. Help your little sister and share love and feelings. Let your mom know that you love her and that for you, it is not loving to help her drink. Do not let her move in with you. Your mom carries her "environment" around inside of her. Something needs to change, but only your mom can decide and do it. Find Al-Anon and work on the residue from being raised in an alcoholic environment. Wishing you and your family peace as you work towards wholeness.

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Trisha Felvus

Iam amazed,at the honesty,of these people’s stories,IAM AN ALCOHOLIC,went to my first meeting on Saturday, I am sober today and that is what iam focusing on one day at a time .

Reply

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