Looking back, I like to think I always knew I would one day have to stop drinking. I don’t know this is true, but it would explain why I drank hungrily, greedily from the time I was 13 until I was 37. Maybe I feared for that inevitable moment when I knew I’d have to cut myself off. More likely I was born with faulty wiring and that’s just how I drink. I don’t have much alcoholism in my family, but one close relative drank himself to death in his 50s. We make the choices, but our genes and environment limit a lot of the choices we have to make.

One weekend night two summers ago I said to my husband, “I’m going to quit drinking on Monday and I want you to leave me alone until then.” I wanted to drink without concerned looks or disapproving words, which is probably every alcoholic’s favorite dream.

Why was that weekend different from a thousand before? What was the proverbial straw that broke me? I wish I knew but I kind of like that I don’t. It feels like divine intervention and I do believe there is something larger at play in all of us. Maybe I just said that to get my husband off my back and it stuck. Who knows.

I wrote about Saturday night of that last (lost?) weekend here, and I don’t remember much about Sunday, but Monday came and I was not physically ready to quit. I woke up with that familiar nausea and shakiness. The antidote to the poison was a little more poison, slowly administered through sips like an IV drip. The point wasn’t to get drunk again but to feel a little less like I might die. I remember the days when I woke up after a night of heavy drinking and the thought of drinking more made me feel worse. Those days were long gone.

The Monday I was supposed to quit drinking but did not was a strange day. That morning I passed a main road that was blocked off by a police car with flashing lights. Then I read a story online that Ryan Dunn had driven off that road and exploded his Porsche into a tree, killing himself and a passenger. His tumblr account showed a picture of himself with friends at a local bar just before the crash. He was holding a beer and some silly drunk pose that no one would have thought much of if the night hadn’t ended in death. Second-hand reports poured in of just how much he’d had to drink. A test showed his blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

This crash and death of people I didn’t know isn’t why I quit drinking. It happened to be a powerful backdrop on the day I weaned myself off of alcohol* so I could quit for good.  I thought “Drinking did that and it can never be undone.” The crash drove home that my own drinking was headed to some dark point of no return.

I didn’t have any car wrecks or outward consequences from my drinking, but I was something of a hot mess at the end anyway. Because it was important I save face, I drank secretively. I gulped drinks in private so I could drink at a more normal pace in front of others. I’d say I did this on and off for about the last six months to a year of my drinking. I avoided eye contact and even talking if I’d had too much to drink. I was not a blackout or reckless, wild drinker. I just drank more and more and earlier and earlier and kept on drinking until I “went to sleep”. Some nights I even read in bed (with one eye open and never remembering what I read, but still).

The first drink of the day had become more medicinal than recreational. I waited for it to kick in and the shame and guilt to leave. The normal I was seeking then was a lot like how I feel every day now without alcohol. I just wanted to escape feeling bad about myself. It wasn’t always that way, but it helps to know we all wind up in approximately the same spot if we’re alcoholics and we continue to drink. Some of us get their faster or more spectacularly, but none of us are spared.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It only gets worse over time, never better.

I think if and when we make the decision to stop boils down to how much we are disturbed by our own drinking. I could lie to myself and hide in the safety of comparing myself to other heavy drinkers, but never convincingly. My drinking always bothered me. The way I obsessed and worried over when and how much. The way I hid the amounts and how slurry it made me. I even had to hide the hangover the next morning because who gets a hangover from the two glasses of wine I was supposedly drinking? And oh the stupid things I did when I was drinking!

I drive by the Ryan Dunn crash site so often I usually don’t notice it. For awhile fans came in steady streams and left makeshift memorials with handwritten signs and teddy bears and once a bottle of bourbon that was probably later taken by another fan. But almost two years have  passed, and people have moved on. The other day I was driving past the point in the road that still shows where he missed an exit and skid into the woods. It was a disturbing moment because I felt how it might have felt for him to lose control.  One night of drinking and errors in judgement, never to be undone. I was able to shift back into my happy little world with my kids in the backseat and a life I’m grateful to wake up to every morning. I am so very grateful for all of this.

*I was only beginning to show signs of physical dependence, but no one should attempt to wean themselves off of alcohol without medical supervision. Talk to your doctor if you want to stop. Seriously. They aren’t going to throw you in rehab without your consent (my fear, apparently). 

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28 thoughts on “Quitting time

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  1. I remember that day well. Maybe Ryan’s death will always be an iconic day in the life of alcoholics or alcohol abusers–I’m tempted to say like Kennedy’s assassination or The Challenger explosion to others, but I’m sure some would find that offensive, but there, I said it anyway. Ryan’s death got me, as did Amy’s and Anna Nicole’s, and even MJ’s and Whitney’s to a degree. Another life lost to the grim reaper of addiction.

    Your story dredged up many of my own past memories. The sneaking of greedy hidden sips, vodka in the closet and purse, wine in the fridge. The “don’t say anything, don’t look ’em in the eyes” and, dear lord, the “just leave me the hell alone” toward the end. It’s sad, but it brought us here today, and I like to think we’re helping others in our own little ways.

    Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the message that alcoholism progresses–even if we’re not drinking. Outstanding post, K.

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    1. Oh I don’t think I stressed that last part like I should have, though absolutely feel it in my bones. There is no going back unless I want to keep going down. No thanks.

      Those deaths are all tragic and I feel morbid with the attention they take up in my head, but I don’t feel they’re in vain. We learn from them, remember what can happen, etc.

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  2. This really resonates with me. I was always bothered by my drinking too, even when it was fun. I really enjoyed drinking for a long time and was blind to the negative consequences. I explained them all away. I’ve thought often about why it suddenly became unbearable and I can’t pinpoint an exact moment, only a progression from fun to miserable. I’m SO grateful that I became miserable and that I finally realized that the misery was because of my drinking. I was sick for days after I stopped and knew nothing about physical dependence. It’s really good that you’re pointing this out.

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  3. Wonderful post. The “how much we are disturbed by our own drinking” part really resonates with me. I hadn’t gone as far down the spiral in terms of amounts, regularity and consequences as some, so sometimes reading these stories those dangerous “maybe I’m not so bad – I”m not as bad as X” voices plague me. Yet, I know how fearful and worried my drinking made me – how out of control it felt – how horrible I would feel afterwards. And that’s what matters.

    I also wanted to say that I spent quite a bit of time last night reading back through old entries on your blog and found so much to relate to and much inspiration. You write wonderfully and it’s great to be able to read your journey from the start to now. Different life circumstances yet I relate to so much you say.

    So thank you for being here sharing your story 🙂

    Lilly x

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  4. Seems we give up so much for so little. Yet we horde that little until we do not.
    I’m not sure who is changing: me, you, (both), but your writing has been incredible for me lately. (Maybe I’m just listening better.)

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      1. Happy Anniversary. Two years. I just love you (can I say that?) You are such an incredible writer and I feel blessed to be sober alongside you. You may never know how much you being a sober mom has helped me be a sober mom. Many blessings for this day and the beginning of year three. xox Lisa

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      2. The love is mutual! As much as we don’t write about our kids or being a parent, it is such a huge part of our lives. I keep thinking of you serving up a glass of green juice or extra serving of vegetables at dinner and hope you know what a good influence you are on me.

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  5. It’s after nine and I’m tired. Had to read your post three times before it clicked. Day two in Chi Town. Did not plan it this way but there’s an old hang out of mine just a couple of blocks down from the hotel. Small dark dive with a good juke box. Sure wanted to go in there earlier. Ended up beating back the devil with coffee, candy, and tonic water. Ah, the devil. For many years I have felt he must have been very pleased that I took myself out of the game so easily. I was a non factor, a spectator. neutralized. That’s big reason I quite. It is time to live again, contribute. Thanks for writing.

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  6. Hungrily – yes. Greedily – yes. Slurp slurp slurp.. get buzzed! That was all I wanted to do. What absolute madness. I totally agree with you it comes down to how bothered we are about our own drinking. A close loved-one of mine gulps wine like it’s going out of fashion but seems to have no concern about that whatsoever. Must be bliss! But nah.. that’s bollocks. Even though I adored gulping wine and feeling it’s effects, I far far far prefer the fascinating shift sobriety has bought to my life. And the removal of all that worry and angst and guilt. I am so thankful that the side of my brain that was going ‘this is a problem this is a problem this is a problem’ overrode the side of my brain that was going ‘mmmmm yummy’.

    xxxxx

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  7. What i took away from this beautiful post was that 2 years after the fact, even those that liked Ryan (he didn’t exist in Yeaman) have forgotten about him, while you are still here, kicking ass and making names for yourself. i am so glad you made it this far!

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  8. Beautifully written. I came here from Running On Sober’s post about your two-year milestone. I’m glad I did. My brother is in rehab right now, after many years of heavy drinking. When he gets out I am going to send him here and to Running’s blog. I think it will help him. I’m happy and grateful that at long last he has chosen life.

    Congratulations and thank you for sharing your journey.

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  9. 2 years is awesome. Your story is amazing. I almost said journey but remembered the heads up from ROS. This sober community is wonderful and I can see some deep connections that have made a huge differences to people’s lives. Big respect for you!
    Carrie

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