For the record, even as I tell this story – my own story – I still can’t hardly believe it. This is the bizarre nature of addiction, of alcoholism. It was described to me as ‘having a disease that tells you you don’t have a disease.’ Which sounds insane to me. But when I tell my story it proves true. Which makes it quite challenging to live with because your head tells you one thing but your actions display another. And you only get one mind and one body to make sense of each other. I know that sounds confusing. Confounding, even. Welcome to my life. My name is Allison and I have no problem saying I am an alcoholic. For me, after 20+ years of wrestling with this monster inside me, it feels like a relief to name it. It helps me sort of contain it, study it. Over the past 9 months of my sobriety, I have been trying to put the pieces of my past together by looking at what has happened to me through a new lens. The lens of: I have an addiction and this is how I know, this is what addiction looks like.
I am someone who cannot have a lick of booze for the rest of my life. I know that much. For some people, that sounds scary to say or admit. For me just a year ago it was terrifying for me to even think about, hence why I didn’t get sober for over two decades. I started drinking at age 21 and immediately it was the thing I wanted more of as often as I could have it. And pretty much right away, I started having situations. Going home with strange men, having no judgment or discernment whatsoever. Blackouts where I would get kicked out of bars for passing out or I would pass out at dinner tables in restaurants, having no clue how to pace myself or moderate. Later on I’d start fights with my husband on vacations where I just drank as much as I felt like and didn’t stop. It was really very very bad and very very scary and stupid and sick.
But I would just try to ‘cut back next time.’ In hindsight that is plain insanity. I was never going to cut back. I was never going to be able to. Alcoholism was having a field day with me and I couldn’t even see it.
Ultimately, two things happened that led to my getting sober on January 1, 2022. The first breaks my heart to pieces and I will only tell it briefly because while the story involves me it involves me only as a sidebar character in someone else’s story. I don’t have any right to tell. In April of 2021, my uncle died from multiple complications, one of them was alcoholism. He was a beautiful, complicated, loving soul. He was only 59. He left behind my dear aunt and three beautiful amazing cousins. There is way more to the story, as there always is when telling the story of how your life intertwines in intimate and unique ways with ones you love so very much. Please do not think I tell this story to make my precious uncle and family seem like a one-dimensional plot point in the story of my life living with addiction and going through recovery. I have kept my uncle’s funeral prayer card with me in my journal since he passed. Something in me believes he’s looking out for me, even now. He knows what addiction is. And I bet he knew, too, how terrifying the thought of ever quitting was.
Every story of addiction and every story of every person’s life is for them to tell. I only share this story about my uncle because it was so deeply, deeply jarring to me to lose him that fast. Once it was revealed that he was gravely ill it was only about two months or so until he passed away. I guess in my mind, in my whole body, it was a flashing red light. Warning: you do not get infinite tries to get better. The thing that is secretly hurting you can absolutely silently kill you, too.
Whether or not you say it to yourself, admit it to yourself, whether or not you want to look at your darkness – your darkness is there.
So that was the first thing, in April of 2021, that truly shook me to my core, in a way I had never been shaken awake before. Suddenly my denial of my own disease was not so easy to deny anymore. I saw the pain, I felt the deep pain and sadness of what alcoholism does to its victim and to his whole family. It is not fair. But it is very, very real.
The second thing that happened was that I was on an overnight vacation get-away with my husband during which I proceeded to get very drunk on gin and tonics before, during, and after dinner. Somehow I annoyed him so much that he left me alone in the hotel room. Just walked out. I guess once it dawned on me he had left me, I ran after him out of the hotel and down a very dark deserted street. I ran so fast, fueled by so much alcohol and fury, that I tripped and fell and busted up my knee. I do not remember how I got myself back to the hotel room. I know I did it alone. The next morning I woke up hungover and livid, my knee throbbing for reasons not apparent to my foggy brain yet. I remember saying to him something like, ‘You cannot get me all liquored up and then just abandon me. It’s not fair. It’s not okay.’ and he apologized. How pathetic a display from both of us. So sick. That was August. 2021.
That incident scared me in a new way. I am still doing this shit. The sheer magnitude of of the weight of spending my whole adult life fucking around with booze until I was completely out of control. And telling myself that ‘next time will be different.’ Next time? What on earth? Why in the fucking fuck would should I ever get a next time? And why on earth would it ever be different after 20 years of the same nonsense?
Addiction is deadly. It may take decades or it might take a few years or months, but alcoholism is a disease that aims to kill. That is 100% the only goal. A thousand drinks is never enough, will never be enough. It’s the nature of the beast. It will kill its host. It will kill anyone around who gets in the way. It does not care. It will never go away.
So by the time the December holidays rolled around, the husband and I were set to go away for yet another few overnights. And as I was packing my suitcase, it downed on my that I could not be 100% sure that I would not pull some alcohol-infused stunt as I had in the past. That I could not promise I would not get drunk and do something stupid, dangerous, or destructive. And yet here we were going right back at it. Denial, denial, denial. But this time, I knew I was denying. And something in me was calling bullshit.
We did go away. I did drink. But I sipped slow, cut to water every other drink, calculated and and managed every drop. It was annoying and exhausting to think that hard through each drink. We had a fight anyway but ‘made up’ over shots of whiskey.
New Years Ever was set to be a boozefest, too, and it was. Many Manhattans, much wine and much champagne. It was a hectic night for other reasons which included a Covid scare and last minute cancellation, yadda ya. but we still managed to slug down much of the liquor intended for more than just the few of us who remained. The next morning’s hangover was brutal. I felt like death. We all laughed it off. I never drank again.
For a month or two, sobriety was very cringey. But I slid in with the Dry January crowd at first and the pink cloud of euphoria was very real, which helped me keep my momentum going. Waking up each day without a hangover felt like I could fly or do anything. Like I had my whole life back, all of me returned to myself. And I was more glorious a being to inhabit than I ever realized. I was amazed. Grateful. Stronger than I ever realized I was all along.
I think there were 2 major drivers for me to stay sober. Number one was myself, my health – my mental, physical, spiritual, and relationship health. Number two was that I felt (and still very much feel) deeply compelled to break the silent cycle of addiction. Because I really do want to do right by myself, my family, and the audience I have gathered to me through my writing over the past many years. I just want to finally be clean and come clean. Say, Look, here is what I have been up against. It’s been monstrous and I have been trying to hide it and hide from it. It’s been hell even though I ‘held it together’ all this time.
What gives me the courage to come forward? Self respect. And I know alcoholism isn’t my fault. I did not ask for this. I never wanted this. I did not even understand this. But it happened. As Laura McKowen, author of We Are the Luckiest, would say: This is my thing. Drinking. Drinking was my thing and alcoholism always will be. So. I do not drink anymore.
I do not fuck with alcohol. That is how this has to go. There is no more questioning the truth. It is real. It is honest. It’s just brutally, brutally honest. And the weird thing is, I now realize, you can be brutally honest about your addiction and still not hardly believe it. Not hardly believe you have it, not hardly believe how crippling your active struggle with it was, not hardly believe you actually carried yourself to safety. But maybe that is where my disbelief meets my new found faith. Faith that there is something inside that wants me well. And even though that thing was only a whisper, it was loud enough to deafen my silent killer. I have faith in that small knowing voice. And I do believe if I stay sober and stay close, it will guide me from here to much brighter, more spectacular times to come.
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