“I was 35 years old, single, at the height of my career making six figures, living in a gorgeous apartment in downtown Memphis, and projecting nothing but success outwardly. At that point, I had been drinking daily for nearly two years and with a couple of failed attempts of going a day without a drink, I accepted my fate – I would just be an alcoholic, but as long as I was successful and everything appeared ok, then it would be fine! I mean, there are lots of people in the world that drink daily or even in excess and manage perfectly fine lives, right?!?
Once my innermost being accepted the fact that I was, in fact, an alcoholic, then what was left of my spirit and soul began to cave in. Crumble. It’s like I had finally given myself full permission to hate myself the way I always knew I had. It was an excuse to treat myself like the worthless piece of garbage I had always thought I was. I grew up in a suburb of Memphis with my parents and two other loving siblings, went to great schools, was president of my class through high school, delivered a speech to thousands at my high school graduation commencement, was voted “most involved,” and outwardly had it all together. But for as long as I can remember, I never FELT a part of, like truly felt it deep in my soul, felt like I belonged. My head knew I was a part of it, but my heart always thought it was a lie, always felt that I didn’t deserve the good people and things in my life. I always felt like I was living someone else’s life and one day everyone would figure out what a weak, disgusting person I was and leave – they’d realize I was a sham, a shell of the person I pretended to be.
But by the time I was 35, no one else had realized it! Sure, I had done a few stupid things involving alcohol – I got arrested my senior year in high school for public intoxication and spent the night in jail after I spent hours in the lockdown portion of a public hospital with all the other criminals being treated for illness. I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed covered in my own vomit, dirt and mud caked in my ears and under my perfectly manicured acrylic nails (from passing out in the mud), having no idea where I was, how I got there, or what was next. Thank God it was a hospital where law enforcement had arrested me and not in some stranger’s basement. But those instances were few and far between. I successfully completed college at the University of Memphis and began a successful career in the Memphis area. I was the life of the party – or so I thought.
Over time, I actually became the friend who drank an unpredictable amount and acted erratically. Sometimes I was perfectly normal throughout the evening and carried on normal conversations and presented myself in a lovely way, other times I passed out in the bathroom by 8 p.m. because I had gone through the host or hostess’s medicine cabinet, helped myself to whatever mood- or mind-altering pill I could find, and drank all the booze I could get in my body. When that first drink my lips, all bets were off on predicting my behavior and I had zero control over my actions. It was like playing Russian Roulette.
Oddly enough, I kept a pretty great group of friends and the support of my family through my drinking career – they loved me and often reminded me of what an incredible, talented, successful person I was. Never once did I believe them. Ever. The voice within me told me that they would eventually figure out the real me – lazy, stupid, fake, ugly. As my outward success grew, so did my inner demons. In 2010, I finally fell in love. Real love. Big Love. At 29 years old, I finally thought my life would come together. I had the career, the paycheck, the car, the house, and finally the love. I thought I had finally discovered the missing puzzle piece for a complete and happy life. I just knew that being in love would be the solution to making my happy outside life overcome my dark inner thoughts. Love would make me happy.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It became another outward aspect of my life that appeared to be successful, and happy, and fun, that didn’t match the thoughts and feelings on the inside of me. I looked to him to love me enough for both of us because God knows I hated myself. As our love and relationship grew, once again, so did my inner demons. For all the goodness around me, I have always had an inner demon to outweigh it. After a few years in that relationship, when it was time to grow together, trust deeper, I did just the opposite. My reliance and trust on alcohol grew – alcohol became my best friend, my lover, my everything. Alcohol was the only thing that could quiet the constant negative chatter inside my head and for a few moments, alcohol could make me feel complete – it allowed me to accept my successes, it made me feel a part of my own life.
As my relationship ended, my love affair with alcohol heated up and I became a daily drinker which progressed to an isolated daily drinker. I lived to drink. I woke up each day and did what I had to do to get to that drink. I rushed through work, I chose my social activities by if and how much there would be to drink, I went to my Godson’s T-ball games with a 42 ounce cup of wine, I showed up to dinner with my parents drunk and rushed through it so I could get back home to my couch and my alcohol, I showed up to first dates so drunk that I can’t remember their names or what we ate, I answered work emails in full on black outs, I walked my dogs, went to the convenience store, grocery shopped, and anything else you can think of under the influence of alcohol. For me, the goal became blackout every time I drank. I just wanted to get to a place where I couldn’t feel. I stopped eating regularly, my kidneys became very infected, and I threw bile up in the kitchen sink on a daily basis. I had no desire to live, but didn’t have the courage to kill myself. I remember thinking, ‘what a joke – we work our whole lives to grow up, become successful, and none of it brings true happiness.’
Then one Saturday morning I headed to the store (I had run out of booze and I had run out of prescription sleeping pills – because I took way too many the week before), so a box (that equals 4 bottles) of wine, a pint of whiskey, and a bottle of Tylenol PM were on my list. That should get me through Saturday and Sunday. I can remember walking in the liquor store, I remember driving through a fast food restaurant, and my next memory from that Saturday is of me sitting on the floor in the lobby of the building where I was living – half dressed, my dogs were running everywhere, and one of my dearest friends was standing in front of me begging me to stand up. I wanted to stand up, but my legs wouldn’t do what my brain was telling them to. I wanted to get it together, but my body just wouldn’t cooperate.
Eventually she was able to get me up, in the elevator, and up to my apartment. When I walked in my front door, I turned sharply to the right, in doing so I lost my footing and fell. I fell face first into a solid wood door frame and eventually to the concrete floor. I can remember every second of this fall. I can feel the force of my head slamming into the corner of the wood door frame and eventually into the concrete, I can still hear the sound of my scull popping when impact was made, I remember that my arms and legs felt like Jell-O – they were twisted and just wouldn’t work. I can remember picking my head up to look at Alexis as she was standing behind me and scrambling and scaping to help me, and all I could see out of my right eye was flesh. Swollen flesh. The impact on my head had created a hematoma so large on my forehead that it covered my right eye. Immediately, my next thoughts were to get it together so that Alexis would leave my apartment and I could get a drink.
I immediately put ice on my eye to hide it and somehow convinced her that I was fine and would check in with her the next day. So, there I was – beat up with a tremendous head injury, alone in my gorgeous apartment sicker than I had ever been. I poured a glass of pinot grigio, took 8 or 10 sleep aids, kissed my dogs (who were laying on the floor beside my bed) and went to sleep – praying that I would not wake.
At 7 a.m. the next morning, I awoke to realize I had no vision out of my right eye and was in tremendous pain. I got to the bathroom and saw myself in the mirror. For the first time in my 35 years, the outside of my body matched exactly what I was feeling on the inside. All the shame, guilt, disappointment, and pure hatred that I had always had for myself was right there on my face, literally. What I saw in the mirror matched exactly what I felt deep in my soul. It was that moment I knew I had a choice. Life or death. If I continued drinking, then I would die. If I didn’t drink, I might live. But I had NO idea how to live without alcohol. Alcohol had been the one constant in my life and I couldn’t imagine going on without it.
Fortunately, my mom is in recovery, so I made a phone call that no mom ever wants to get. Within an hour, my mom was at my apartment and I will never forget the look of absolute terror on her face when I removed the ice from my right eye. All at once, she could see the immense amount of pain I was in physically, emotionally and mentally. With the support of my family, I was able to enter an Intensive Outpatient Rehab program in Memphis. Along with an incredibly strong rehab program and 12 step recovery program, I am currently 599 days sober.
Though my days of alcohol abuse far outnumber my sober days, I have grown more in the last year and a half spiritually and emotionally than I could’ve ever imagined. Each day of my life – good, bad, happy, and sad – have been worth living. I have managed to learn how to stop, and breathe in my experiences and the world around me – rather than rush to escape them. I live each day rather than just survive each day.
I would tell you there is nothing really extraordinary about my life – I am 37, single, living in Houston with my sister, and working as an assistant manager in the industry I’ve always worked in. I go to 2-3 AA meetings each week, to church on Sunday, I am usually asleep by 10 p.m., I have a pretty vanilla, predictable life. But what recovery has taught me is that ‘predictable’ and ‘vanilla’ mean I show up when I say I am going to show up, I answer my phone when people call and if I miss your call then I return it. If you invite me to your dinner party, then I come with sparkling water, enjoy dinner, and leave – not erratic unpredictable behavior. I listen.
Recovery gives me the strength and courage to be on the outside exactly who I am on the inside, and it allows me capacity to believe someone when they tell me I am good enough, and smart enough. I am enough. Being enough is actually the most extraordinary thing in my life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley Childress, 37, of Houston, Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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