“First drink: 11-years-old. Nothing more than a sip of Jack Daniels mixed in a large glass of soda.
Second drink: 16-years-old. Straight tequila shots, and my first of many nights sleeping in a bathroom.
Next drink: 19-years-old. And I didn’t stop for 11 years.
First DUI: 23-years-old in 2007. Hit a light pole, knocking it down and nearly missing an oncoming car. My car flipped onto the driver’s side and I crawled out my sunroof unscathed. I was unharmed, only because of how insanely drunk I was. I blew a .215 that night, 2.5 times over the legal limit.
Second DUI: 26-years-old in 2010. On the same day, and almost the exact same time as the first. The cop said I didn’t change lanes appropriately. Whatever, dude. ‘Clearly it was the officer’s fault and not mine,’ I thought. Blew a .219 that time.
By 30-years-old, in the year 2013, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree that took me 12 years to finish.
I’ve started cutting back on how frequently I drink. Maybe once every weekend instead of 4-6 nights a week. I’ve lost touch with a lot of my friends from my early drinking days and started removing others from my current life. I’m finally ready to be an adult now. I’m 30-years-old, after all.
10 days after graduation, I went out with some friends. I remember nothing after midnight, until I saw flashing lights behind my car, and I burst into tears. I blew a .229 that night.
I woke up the next morning (or later that same morning, I should say) terrified of talking to my parents. They were going to murder me. How many times can two incredibly loving and supportive parents bail out their idiot child for the same damn mistakes? This was going to be their last straw; I knew it. So, as I tearfully told them what I’d done, I also told them I wanted to try to stop drinking. I wanted to see how hard it would be, and I would be sure to ask for help via AA meetings or rehab if I needed it.
I got very lucky. Aside from the court-ordered classes, I have never been to a meeting and never been in a rehab. At the time I decided to ‘try’ sobriety, I had a few very good friends already in recovery. I leaned on them heavily those first 6 months. Oddly enough, NOT drinking wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I desperately missed the flavors of alcohol, but quickly fell in love with not having a hangover. I’m sure that sounds stupid, but for me, not having a hangover was more than not feeling miserable. I started trying and doing all of these things I kept telling myself I didn’t have time for.
Before I knew it, I was celebrating 1 year free from alcohol. Yet, I was still struggling to find a job. You see, my new degree earned right before my last drink is in Human Resources. And in my state, a 3rd DUI is a felony. There. I said it. I picked up a felony that night. And this confession right now is me coming full circle. December 30th, 2013 was one of the worst nights of my life. I earned a felony. I lost the trust of my parents for the umpteenth time. I started down another 2-year journey with the legal system. And I ruined my career. It was also one of the best nights of my life because it triggered a massive reality check in myself, my choices, and the trajectory of my life. And I haven’t had a drink since.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve become increasingly vocal about my sobriety. It’s become the very core of who I am now. Alcohol is so overwhelmingly present in American culture that it actually saddens me on a regular basis. Have a good day? Cheers with beers! Stressful day? Wine, please! Getting married? Drinks on me! Someone died? Dang, man, let me buy you a beer. Relationship problems? Shots for all! Sunday Funday. Manic Monday. Tipsy Tuesday. Whiskey Wednesday. Thirsty Thursday. Finally/First Friday. Saturday doesn’t need a special theme…because it’s Saturday.
BUT if you get a DUI, you’re a drunk. If you have a felony DUI, you’re a loser who can’t control yourself. If you have a problem with alcohol, you’re weak. Countless times I have read the comments on stories of someone getting a DUI. I can’t seem to help myself, and the comments never disappoint. Lock em up! Throw away the key! You disgust me! Get a grip, man! How irresponsible can you be? Rarely any compassion for the fact that this person might have a true, diagnosable disease. And, yes, alcoholism is a disease. Addiction is a disease.
The court system is broken. But not in the way most non-recovering-addicts would think or believe. It focuses entirely on the laws broken and not at all on the broken human who broke the law. Sure, you may be forced to attend some type of treatment. You may be given an ignition interlock in your vehicle. And you’re undoubtedly headed for a victim impact panel. Let’s talk about those for a second. The ones where families tell you of losing their loved ones to a drunk driver. Or the emergency personnel telling you of the tragic and deadly DUI accidents they’ve worked.
What are sorely lacking in these panels are stories like mine. The ones where an addict stands up and says, ‘Hey, you first timers. I was once you, swearing I would NEVER do this again. But I did. And I did it again. And here’s how refusing to look myself in the mirror led to the destruction of my life. And here’s how I fixed it.’ It’s all doom and gloom in those panels. It should be, yes. It should also be about recovering from mistakes enough so we don’t repeat them. It should be about more than just attempting to scare people into reality. Because when you’re using, reality and awareness go out the window.
The biggest thing I’ve learned in these last 5+ years is that addiction, alcoholism in particular, is not a pissing contest. It’s not ‘I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink as soon as I get up’ or ‘I only drink on the weekends and with friends so I’m fine.’ There are different levels, ranging from mild-uncomplicated to severe dependence. I am somewhere in between. I never craved alcohol in any way that wouldn’t equal the way most of you who drink ‘crave’ it. But I didn’t HAVE to have one. I didn’t need a drink in the mornings to stave off the shakes. I didn’t enjoy day drinking (though I would), and I never hid my drinking. I was always wide open about it. I was, however, a binge drinker. I knew exactly when I’d reached my safe limit. Sometimes I’d stop, and often I wouldn’t. Sometimes I had a sober (or ‘less drunk’) driver or would call a cab. Often, I wouldn’t. I didn’t think I had a problem and refused to listen to anyone who said I did because I was literally doing exactly what so many of my ‘friends’ were doing, and just as often.
Last year, just 6 months before my 5-year sober birthday, I accidently fell into a new job by way of mutual connections and discovered my true passion in life. I work for an outpatient treatment facility, and my job is to help folks with significant employment barriers to find jobs. A lot of my clients have Substance Use Disorder and legal issues because of their usage. My job is to advocate for them in front of hiring managers. This HR graduate gets to talk to HR managers about giving second chances to people who desperately want and need a chance. It’s incredibly hard work, but I absolutely love it! I get to take my two favorite things (recovery and Human Resources) and mesh them together to help people.
If you’re reading this and questioning your relationship with alcohol, I would encourage you to talk to a licensed addiction counselor or attend an AA meeting. An addiction counselor is not going to diagnose you as an alcoholic if you aren’t. They will, however, possibly help you catch yourself before you get too far down the path of full-blown dependent addiction. Be raw and honest with them. Ask questions. And listen to their advice. If they recommend addiction counseling, listen to them and do it!
And if you love someone who drinks, and you are concerned about their habits, talk to them. And then go to an Al-Anon meeting. And then call a treatment facility and ask to talk to a license addiction counselor. You might learn that you are enabling them in small enough ways to encourage their continued use. I say this so your loved ones will hear me loud and clear: Let your addict suffer and struggle. If someone you love consistently can’t afford the bills, needs money for food or rent, asks for help doing ‘adult’ things they should be capable of doing, let them go without. Don’t give money for food or smokes because you don’t want them to suffer. Don’t replace the car they just wrecked. Don’t pay the light bill because it got shut off. And, for the love of God, do NOT bail them out of jail again and again! Leave them there. It might save their life.
I’ve come a long way in 5 years, 3 months, and 14 days. A clear frame of mind has allowed me to be fully present in some pretty awful situations. It’s allowed me to step up and show up when I say I will. It’s allowed me to become the person drunk me desperately wanted to be. I’m not proud of how I lived my life in my twenties. I’m not proud of the mistakes I made and the people I disappointed. But I’m insanely proud of who I’ve become, mostly because I fought to become her.
My name is Mary, and I’m an alcoholic.”
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