“There are two ways you can become an alcoholic. You’re either born that way or, you simply need to drink enough alcohol to become one.
I believe I was born an alcoholic.
I’ve always felt ‘different.’ My earliest memories are of feeling ‘odd,’ and ‘uncomfortable in my own skin.’ I felt like I was looking out at the world through a glass screen, I was on one side, and everyone else was on the other.
I felt separate, alone, unconnected. It didn’t seem to matter what I did; I never felt like I truly ‘fit in’ or ‘belonged’ anywhere. These feelings began long before I ever tried alcohol.
When I finally tried alcohol at around 15, it felt like a light bulb went on. All of a sudden, I felt complete; I felt ‘right,’ and I had confidence and self-belief.
Drinking did something to me; it made me feel normal.
I never drank ‘normally,’ whatever that is. I drank alcoholically from the word go. I could never get enough of this substance that made me feel so good.
Initially, I was just your regular teenage binge drinker. I could get into bars and clubs when I was underage, and the whole point was to get as drunk as possible. At the time, it was what my entire peer group was doing too. I certainly wasn’t doing anything that different to most teenagers, but whenever I compared myself to them, I knew I was different. I could tell they didn’t have the same feelings of desperation or discontentedness that lived within me. As we grew up, they naturally moderated their drinking and drank less, whereas I found that inconceivable.
At 15, I also experimented with marijuana. I’m never quite sure what happened with my drug education. I must have missed that bit at school, as it never once occurred to me to ‘just say no to drugs,’ or even question what they would do to me. I so desperately wanted to be liked and to feel normal that I said ‘yes’ to any substance offered to me.
I met my first serious boyfriend when I was 16, and shortly after, I left home. He was a recreational drug user, and through him, I tried LSD, Magic Mushrooms, and Amphetamines.
I loved them; I used drugs regularly and partied every weekend. I was struggling through college, and I barely passed my exams. But I didn’t care because I thought I’d found this group of people I belonged too and a lifestyle I enjoyed. I felt like I was living life on the edge; it felt glamorous and sophisticated.
For two years, I really, really enjoyed taking drugs and getting drunk.
I had a great time, and then at 17 everything went horribly wrong.
I had taken some LSD and had a ‘bad trip.’ This had never happened before, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt panicky and scared. I was seeing and hearing things and got very paranoid. The feeling of terror grew, and even when I began to ‘come down’ the fear and panic didn’t leave, they got worse. I now know I went into drug-induced psychosis, but at the time I had no idea what was happening to me. The worse thing was I couldn’t tell anyone around me how I felt, I put on a ‘mask’ and pretended everything was ok. I was terrified of anyone finding out what was happening. I became imprisoned by my fear.
My whole life was shattered. I was terrified and paranoid all the time and having at least a dozen panic attacks a day. I couldn’t get on a bus, go into a supermarket or sit in my living room without having a panic attack and making some kind of excuse to leave. I could barely go to college; I couldn’t cope; I was having a breakdown and was most definitely suicidal. I used to stand at the bus stop waiting for a bus I was too scared to get on trying to summon the courage to jump in front of it.
Every day of living was agony for me, and I didn’t know how to carry on.
This went on for months; I was too terrified to tell anyone what was happening. I didn’t have the words to express what was happening. I couldn’t even begin to articulate what I was experiencing. I was too scared to say it out loud because if I did, it meant what was happening to me was real. I was still clinging on to the hope that one day I would I wake up and be normal again.
Close to a breakdown, I eventually went to the doctor and told him everything. He wrote me a prescription for Valium and recommended some counseling. I never went to counseling, but I did like the idea of being prescribed drugs to make me feel better, which was the worst possible thing to do. It started a 10-year prescription drug habit. For years I visited different doctors explaining my symptoms of fear and paranoia, and they would write me prescriptions for Valium, Xanax, anti-depressants. They always worked for a bit, papered over the cracks, but they never dealt with the root of the problem.
The next 10 years of my life from 17 to 27 were a living hell. I was never, ever free from fear; it was the overwhelming emotion I woke up to every morning. Some days I felt like I could hardly breathe through the terror of having to get through the day and pretend to be normal.
After the incident with LSD, I had stopped using illegal drugs completely and only drank alcohol. My drinking increased very quickly because it was the only thing that took away the fear. It took the edge off of my anxiety, and I had a few hours of reprieve from the madness in my head, and I could pretend to be ‘normal.’
At 17, my drinking shifted from ‘having fun’ to using it to cope with how I felt. I knew there was something very wrong with me; I didn’t know what. I did try and get help; I looked everywhere, I went to doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, churches anywhere that offered some kind of hope. I was treated for anxiety or depression but never my alcoholism. The truth is, I either lied about how much I drank or, I was never asked. No one ever picked up on my drinking as being the real problem. Whatever treatment I was offered only ever gave me a reprieve, and inevitably, I would revert to familiar feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair, and discontent. Drinking always gave me temporary relief from these feelings.
I tried every method known to alcoholics to try and ‘fix’ my life. It is amusing to me now, to see how unoriginal I was in my attempts to try and make things ‘better’. Every alcoholic or addict I’ve known has tried the same methods.
At 19, I went to America to travel. I did this a lot in my twenties, spending time traveling around the world trying to escape myself, but always ending up in the same place again (alone, confused, scared and a failure). What I was doing was running away from myself.
I’ve been to some incredible glamorous places, and I hated all of them because of how I felt.
Somehow I always managed to hold down a job and got through university, but I was just ‘holding on.’ I tried to ‘lose myself’ in relationships, I almost got married to a man I didn’t love because I thought that marriage would ‘save me,’ and everything would then be ‘fixed.’ However, all my romantic relationships were based on dishonesty, fear, and neediness. I couldn’t believe anyone would want to be with me when they found out how disgusting I was. I felt so unworthy of love that it was beyond my comprehension that anyone could love me. So like a lot of alcoholics, I just took ‘hostages’ because being alone scared me so much.
I was always searching, looking for answers.
I have a massive thirst for life, and this is what saved me. Because I remained curious, I eventually stumbled across the solution to my problem. When I was drinking I always felt discontented; I knew I wasn’t reaching my full potential, I knew I wasn’t the person I knew I could be and I drank on these feelings because they were too painful to acknowledge to myself.
I moved jobs, countries, relationships, friendships, believing each time that this would be the thing that would make me feel ‘ok.’ I blamed outside circumstances for how I felt and thought if I changed these circumstances (which I often did), I would be happy.
Throughout my twenties, I drank heavily; more than I knew was good for me. I always sought a peer group who drank as much as I did. I drank before any social situation because I was too scared to face people; I drank before parties because I was scared there wouldn’t be enough booze for me to get the ‘buzz’ I needed. I drank anytime I felt scared and couldn’t cope. Towards the end of my drinking, I began to sneak drinks and drink on my own; I preferred that to sharing my booze.
In my mid-twenties, I started using cocaine whenever I drank because it enabled me to drink more. However, cocaine gave me the worst ‘come down’s’ ever. I was suicidal. I would wake up the next day and felt like my soul had been scraped out and was lying on the floor next to me. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed, let alone make it through the rest of my life. My feelings of loneliness and despair intensified.
Without a doubt, there were moments of happiness, peace, and calm throughout this period. I would have moments when I felt everything was going to be ok, but they were always fleeting, I could never hold on to them, the same inevitable dark feelings would return. I was slowly dying on the inside; it wasn’t the alcohol that was necessarily killing me; it was the lies that I was telling myself. I had to tell lies to myself as it was the only way I could deal with the fear inside of me. I believe fear is the defining characteristic of alcoholism; no one understands the fear the way alcoholics do.
I never became physically dependent on alcohol. I could always go for some time without it. Usually, I would switch to something else, prescription drugs, pot, anything that helped me get through the day. I’ve known the shame and degradation of being a female alcoholic and sleeping with men I don’t like just to feel wanted. I’ve never been arrested, bankrupt, or fired, or any of the terrible things that have happened to alcoholics. At first I thought I couldn’t be an alcoholic because I wasn’t ‘qualified,’ however, I learned it isn’t the drinking and consequences that make you an alcoholic; it’s the thoughts and feelings that drive alcoholism. It was then that I finally understood what my problem was.
As soon as I understood the problem, I could then embark on the solution.
I got help from experts who understood alcoholism and joined a self-help group. For the first time in my life, I realized I wasn’t alone.
Getting clean and sober was the hardest thing I have ever done, but there was no choice for me, I couldn’t go back to how I was living. I so wanted to live, to make my life count, to see what I was capable of. When I got sober, these things, at last, became possible.
I always knew something was very, very wrong with me, but I thought it was a rare mental health condition, not alcoholism. Alcoholism can’t be measured by how much you drink; it is much more a condition of thinking and feelings.
Finally, I became free of the prison I had made for myself; the only thing that had ever limited me was my thinking. Recovery gave me a new perspective on life; it gave me back my self-belief and confidence. I am finally engaging in the process of reaching my full potential and becoming the woman I was meant to be. I no longer have a 50% life of just getting by, just coping. I am no longer scared; I am just the opposite; I am fearless in everything I do. I no longer worry whether you like me or not, because I love who I am. I wake up every day and find something to be joyful about. Yes, my life has challenges in it, but none of them threaten to capsize me the way they used to, I relish challenges so I can learn and grow and become the best version of myself I’m capable of being.
Life is a beautiful adventure now instead of a scary, threatening place. I live a life now beyond anything I could have dreamed off before. I am on fire with the possibilities that are in front of me.
I have now been sober for more than 19 years. I became a wife and mother and found a career as a psychotherapist and wrote two books on how to recover from an alcohol problem. The best thing of all is I get to help other people recover and live their best life, too.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Veronica Valli, 46, of Long Island, New York. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her website and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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