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.
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.
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.
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?