“A tragic love story is how I describe my relationship with alcohol. In the beginning: anxiety and self-hate drove my drinking.
In ninth grade, I really started developing troubling thought processes that disturbed my self-confidence and love. My first drink was tequila straight out of the bottle at age 14. My best friend and I were just taking shots while nobody else was home and the feeling I got from the experience was warmth, confidence, acceptance, and comfort. It was the first time I felt like I may actually like myself. I thought, ‘This is how I can be myself. This numbs my anxiety, depression, and negative body image and thoughts.’ In reality and in the long run, it was the fuel to the fire that burned my pancreas and liver right into sobriety.
At age 21, I knew my drinking was out of hand and I wasn’t going to live much longer if I kept drinking the way I was. This age was also the first time I admitted I had a problem out loud to anyone. It happened while I was on a family vacation and we were biking home from the bar. I had just fallen over off of my bike and crawled to the curb. My body, for the first time publicly, just gave out and couldn’t work anymore because of how much drinking and damage I had done to it.
My stepfather sat next to me on the curb of the road as I bawled my eyes out and it just blurted out of my mouth, ‘I have a problem! This is serious and I can’t stop.’ His reaction was everything to me, he just said, ‘Don’t worry, we will get you all of the help that we can.’ Because my body started giving out, I knew my time was coming. I started mentally preparing myself and I planned how I would quit. I planned what I would do, where, and how. At the time of mentally getting myself ready, I had started running, meditating, and journaling. These tactics are part of the 12 steps, but I had no idea at the time. I was really just focused on trying to understand and dismantle my anxiety that came with sobering up.
I drank for 2 more years and during this time, I was diagnosed with pancreatitis twice and I was on my way to a swollen liver. I remember feeling like I was filled with gas and rocks, my organs literally felt like heavy rocks in my body. Yet, after being diagnosed with a pancreatitis attack for the first time, I was sneaking beers into my system 2 hours after leaving the hospital.
I picked up, and I always picked up because any time I started sobering up, my body and mind went into high anxiety, racing mind, and heart, sweating, dizzy withdrawal. This withdrawal is what scared me back into drinking every single day. When my muscles started losing mass and my liver had hit a wall where I had to stop drinking or die, that’s when I sobered up for the first time. I weaned myself into sobriety with boxed red wine. I literally measured out water bottles and decreased their amounts until I hit nothing and when I hit nothing, I checked myself into the ER (with an emergency bottle of wine in my bag of course).
I have to stop and interject here because as all of this is happening, I had also met a sober man I worked with. Meeting him changed my life in so many ways; seeing him go through life, having a job, and being sober was beyond powerful to me. I had heard his story, his pain, and his way to getting sober and he gave me the hope and strength I needed to really take the first steps of my own sobriety. I had connected with him so intensely because of that sober connection and at the time, I thought I was madly in love with him, that unconditional, don’t care about anything else in the world kind of love. When it all blew up and we ended (1 month into my sobriety), I felt more obliterated than I had ever felt before. I describe that emotional pain as powerful and painful as my alcohol withdrawal was, physically. I can’t, and never have been, able to put those emotions into words.
I was newly sober and just starting to scratch the surface of my emotional and physical sobriety, but I stayed sober through that pain. To this day, I use that pain as a reminder to keep me sober through the difficult times. I tell myself if I could go through that much pain in early sobriety and stay sober, I can stay sober through any craving, anxiety, bad day, addiction thought, or impulse I have today or in the future. I share this part of my story because it highlights the strength of using journaling and reflecting back as a tool for sobriety. It shows how useful and motivational it can be to write every day in a sober journal, reflect and remember those bad days, times, and pain and use that to keep you sober in the present.
When I left the hospital at 30 hours sober, I was told, ‘Go to a detox center.’ At the time, I was confused yet relieved. I had already detoxed physically but I was still terrified of going into a seizure. When I got there, I met this woman that just sat with me, listened, and then she printed out a ton of information for me to use going forward. I remember feeling so relieved and new. I was in such physical pain because I was still going through withdrawal symptoms and jaundice, but I remember feeling hopeful for a new way of life. It was the first time I had been sober for more than a day in 12 years.
I slowly drove myself home and stopped at the store that was under my apartment to stock up on flavored water and candy. That night was the most painful, disgusting, and humiliating thing I have ever been through. People ask me, ‘Why didn’t you go through medical detox? That’s so scary and dangerous to do it alone.’ It absolutely is ridiculously dangerous, which is why I don’t suggest it to anyone, and also the reason why I checked myself in for the first 24 hours, but I didn’t want to do a medicated detox. I knew myself. I knew my alcoholic mind and I knew I needed to feel the upcoming pain, sickness, suffering, and humility I knew I was in for if I was going to have a chance at long term sobriety.
I immediately changed into crappy clothes when I got home, an outfit I could throw away. For the next 5 hours, home alone I continuously got sick, leaning over the tub until I passed out on my bathroom floor for 20 minutes. I woke up dizzy, soaking wet in sweat, and then crawled to my bedroom. I then just gave up on caring about trying to make anything okay that night. I told myself you just have to remember how d*mn awful this is, and then I just let myself vomit leaning off of my bed all night long, shaking, sweating, and puking.
The following 2 weeks were a whirlwind. I just remember trying not to puke on everything, having dots and flashing lines in my vision, yellow eyes, yellow skin, dropping everything, couldn’t write a word because my hands were shaking constantly, sweating and freezing.
These points of pain and suffering are where I go back to and where I tell other people to go back to when we start seeing our red flags as addicts pop up. Remember that pain and that mindset – remember how powerful that alcohol was over you. I had zero control over my life. I wasn’t the one making the decisions for myself. I literally drank myself to the point of drink or die, and that is not life. That’s not a way to live. I stayed sober for almost 2 years solely because I was terrified of dying. It’s important to say I was okay with dying because of alcohol, I genuinely didn’t think I could live without alcohol in my system and I really didn’t care to either.
The game-changer for me was I am an only child and was an only grandchild, and I couldn’t imagine what my family would do if I died that way. I really didn’t think my mother or grandmother would ever be happy again if I died because of alcohol. The control and power alcohol had over me becomes even more evident as my time in sobriety continues. I walked into my first AA meeting at almost 2 years sober. This surprises a lot of people but in those 2 years, I never took a break. I worked constantly, I was running 6 to 7 miles every single day before working 12-14 hour shifts, and I really worked on dismantling my anxiety. I was also terrified I would have organ failure if I picked up and that guilt of killing myself kept me from picking up.
Looking back, if I could tell myself anything it would be to get into AA sooner. I was a miserable, heartbroken, dry drunk for 2 years and I hadn’t dealt with the major stuff behind my using. Yes, I did the anti-anxiety work, but I didn’t get into the roots of my problems until I got into meetings.
The first meeting I went to was on Valentine’s day and I remember feeling like someone lifted 100 pounds off of my shoulders when I sat in that room and called myself an alcoholic to a bunch of strangers that just smiled back and said, ‘Welcome home.’ The power of AA is indescribable, even just sitting in meetings before you get to the big book work. There’s something so peaceful about sitting with people that struggle like you, think like you, feel like you, and just get it without you going into detail about anything.
When I started step work, I really had to look into the breakup that destroyed me. When I say it destroyed me, I mean I had lost 35 pounds, wasn’t eating, bulimia acting up again, addiction behaviors were happening, and I had zero emotional control over myself. I didn’t have to look back at this breakup because it was the most recent thing since getting sober, but because that breakup brought up so many issues within myself and my past. I knew if I wanted to get better and move forward, I needed to deal with it all.
What’s ironic about healing and step work is at the beginning, looking at it all before you go into it, you feel like it’s going to be so much work and feel so heavy all of the time. In actuality, when you start doing your work, you start to feel lighter, you start to pull off all the drunk behaviors and consequences you’ve piled on to yourself during your drinking. You begin to feel more authentic and you start to accept yourself and start learning how to trust yourself again. Sobering up and step work has shown me how much distrust I had internalized and built against myself while as I drank: choosing inappropriate partners to be loyal to for wrong reasons, checking five times if I have my keys after leaving the house, or checking my alarm clock three times before falling asleep making sure I have the right time and am/pm setting.
These seemingly non-meaningful behaviors will actually reveal huge truths about yourself. Your step work will show you why and how you created the mess you’re in and it will also teach you how to get yourself out of it and create a better life. As you start trusting yourself again, you start liking yourself again, and these new positive behaviors continue as you work the steps and build relationships within the rooms of AA and your sobriety.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexandra Barr from New York, NY. You can follow their journey on Instagram, website, and podcast. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories about sobriety:
‘I could’ve killed myself, or my precious son. I’m riddled with guilt. I’m so ashamed of things I’ve done in front of my child.’: Mother in the throes of addiction, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore. I want my son to have a sober mom’
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