Reservations, Relapse & Recovery
My childhood didn't foreshadow what would eventually happen in my life. I grew up in a loving home, the middle child and only girl, in the suburbs of Southern California. My dad went to work every day while my mom stayed home with my brothers and me ... we ate dinner together, did our homework, my dad read us bedtime stories when we were little, we took family vacations, told each other "I love you" ... it was actually pretty idyllic.
My parents didn't drink, so there wasn't alcohol in the house. However there was a lot of alcoholism on my mother's side of the family and I believe genetics plays a big part in my addiction. My maternal grandmother (a classic co-dependent) married a second alcoholic after divorcing my alcoholic grandfather. My step-grandpa's drink of choice was Scotch and 7-up, and even as a grade-schooler I loved the way it smelled and the "tinkly" sound the ice cubes made in the glass when he poured his cocktail. When I'd spend the night at their house he would make me my own "cocktail" -- a rocks glass with soda and a cap-full of Scotch. It wasn't enough alcohol to have any effect on me, but it had the sound and the smell and there was something special and different about "having a drink" as opposed to just having a drink.
I don't think I'm different from a lot of people -- alcoholic/addict or not -- in that I began to feel somewhat insecure and self-conscious in my teens. For some it might be because they have to get glasses or braces, they hit puberty too soon or too late, they're too tall, too short, too heavy, too thin ... I could increase the list ad infinitum :). My reason was that I knew I was a lesbian and I was scared to death that other people would figure it out, too. This was back before girls made-out with their friends to entertain boys, and I knew it could make me a target for some very negative and unwanted attention.
I don't remember the first time I got drunk. I don't think I ever drank for any reason other than to get drunk. Aside from those mini-me cocktails with my Papa, alcohol had a purpose: to change or numb what I was feeling. I was sleeping around, being far sluttier than probably necessary, to keep anyone from guessing that I was gay; and at the same time I was falling in love with my friends and having those same intense high-school crushes as everyone else, but there was no one I could talk to about any of it. I didn't drink because I was gay, I drank because I couldn't be gay.
And that's how it started. Of course, when I graduated and moved away from my little home town to a bigger city where I could be openly gay, I didn't magically transform into a responsible social drinker. The beast had been unleashed and things only got worse. The bars in my new neighborhood weren't too concerned with whether or not I had an ID (or if it said I was 21) and the drugs I'd dabbled in in high school were much more plentiful and available. Also, there were fun, new things to try, like crack! Yay!
Without going into all the gory details, suffice to say that the good times didn't last long. I lost my decent job and cool little studio apartment, and ended up working at a crappy diner and sharing a room in a house with a bunch of other losers. Luckily, I got to eat for free at the diner, so I only had to decide if I should buy cigarettes and food or cigarettes and booze on the days I didn't work. And let's be honest, it wasn't all that hard of a decision ...
Through it all my parents remained awesome. And although they'd tough-loved me and said I couldn't come around anymore while I was drinking and using, when I went crawling back to them and said I needed help, they got me into a rehab.
So in June of 1987, when I was 22 years old, I got clean and sober. And I stayed that way for about 18 years, and it was great! I went to college and got my B.A., I bought a condo, I had excellent jobs, I got a new car, I made great money, I fell in love, we bought a house ... It was like all the stuff from The Promises came true. Plus more!
But I got cocky.
I only went to meetings for the first 10 or so years of my sobriety. I decided that alcoholism wasn't a disease because diseases aren't "self-inflicted." I labeled peopled who went to meetings everyday, or for the rest of their life, as "weak." I called A.A. a cult. I reasoned that I'd just been young and partying, that what I'd been doing was no different than what anyone my age did at that time ... it was the '80s! That's just the way we were!
Basically, I stopped going to meetings, I forgot what it was like out there, and I gave myself permission to drink. It wasn't a ceremonious thing, I didn't set a date or buy some Scotch and 7-up. I was just at dinner with some friends, one of whom was drinking something pink and delicious-looking, and I picked up her glass and drank it. Simple as that. I walked into the restaurant with about 18 years sober and with hardly even a thought, it was gone. Poof.
I managed to keep things together for a while and thought I'd been right -- perhaps I wasn't an alcoholic after all. Then the slide started; and once that happened, my life went downhill faster than I could have imagined.
In the summer of 2010, I got my first DUI when I totaled my car in an accident that was, thankfully, a single-car wreck and resulted in injuries only to myself. Following that incident I started going back to meetings, but I was only doing it because my lawyer said it would look good when I went to court, then because the judge said I had to and to keep my family happy. I had no real desire to get clean or sober and except for a few short periods of abstinence, I continued to drink and use. And things continued to get worse.
I'd always been a blackout drinker, and the blackouts were happening with greater frequency and it took less and less alcohol to trigger them. Right around the time I'd gotten my DUI my longtime girlfriend and I had split-up (due, in part, to my drug and alcohol use). So on top of the fact that the effect alcohol would have on me was becoming less predictable, I had an excuse (and to a degree, permission - or at least, understanding - from many of my friends) for my out-of-control behavior.
But the excuses began to wear thin when my actions became obnoxious and dangerous, and friends had to kick me out of their homes or call the EMTs on me because they were afraid I'd hurt myself or someone else. I went from being the life of the party to the person no one wanted at the party, from "Oh good! She's coming?" to "Oh shit! She's coming?"
To shorten a story that could go on and on, I got my second DUI on April 15, 2012 and that was the last time I drank or used. Before my relapse I had a job, money in the bank, a girlfriend of almost 17 years, I owned a home and two cars, I was independent and my family and friends trusted and were proud of me. As of this writing, I've been sober for almost 14 months and, while my friends and family are proud and happy that I've made it this far, I lost everything else. What took me almost two decades to accomplish and acquire, I drank away in about a tenth of that time.
I've heard some people say that if you relapse you start drinking again right where you left off, and others say that it's as though you'd never stopped; and for me the latter seemed to be true. Although I'd been sober for 18 years, I feel like it didn't take me long to start drinking as hard and as fast as though I'd actually been drinking that entire time. And I think that because my disease continued to progress and because I lost so much and left so much destruction in my wake, that may be why it's been more of a struggle for me now than it was my first time in recovery . While I'm determined to stay sober, the obsession has not yet completely been lifted and I look forward to a time when thoughts of drinking become fewer and farther between.
Despite all that I lost, I also learned a lot and hope others can learn something from my story. I think one of the main reasons behind my relapse was that I had reservations - somewhere in the back of my mind there was always the thought that "there's no way that I'm going to die without ever having another drink." It wasn't a plan, it wasn't something I talked about or even thought about on a regular basis. It was just kind of there and I very subtly did things so that I could eventually allow myself to have that drink.
The most dangerous thing I did was separating myself from the program and the people in it, and that's the one thing I know I can't allow to happen this time. Being a little older, a little wiser and a lot less cocky than I was before, I find it easier not to be so judgmental or have such rigid expectations that the program and the people in it be perfect.
Perhaps the best example of this is that I'm an atheist, which at one time presented a huge roadblock for me in the program and was the basis for all my "A.A. is a religion/cult" arguments. Today, it doesn't matter. I don't feel the need to justify or explain myself, nor do I feel that the 12 steps can't work for me just because they include the words "God" and "Higher Power." I'm not the first atheist to get sober, I won't be the last and I don't expect that a program that's worked for so long and for so many needs to change to suit my beliefs (or lack thereof).
With just over a year sober, I'm still in the early stages of recovery, but if there are any words of wisdom I feel like I can pass along at this point, it would be these, 1) no matter how much time you've had and lost, you can return from a relapse, 2) a little humility never hurts and 3) the only reservations you should have are the ones you make for dinner.
- Allison H., 6/5/2013