‘Mom, that’s enough beer.’ I just laughed it off. My ‘mommy juice’ made me the most confident woman.’: Woman shares sobriety journey, ‘You don’t have to hit rock bottom to quit’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains themes of domestic violence, suicide, and eating disorders that may be triggering to some.

“My dad’s alcoholism was part of the reason for my parents’ divorce when I was 5. My mom’s dad was an alcoholic and she didn’t want this for her children. My dad also physically abused my mom. I remember hiding in the bathroom as he hit her. That was the last straw for her, and she filed for divorce.

That had to be a hard decision for my mom to make. She had multiple sclerosis and had to raise two children on disability and food stamps. We lived with my grandmother. She helped raise us on her social security check. I remember being so embarrassed in the checkout line when my mom paid with food stamps.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose
Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

My anxiety began at around age 8. I grew up in the ’80s. I remember being worried the world was going to come to an end in a nuclear explosion. Growing up, there was rarely alcohol in the house. My mom never drank. She was worried the alcohol would interfere with her medication. She would say, ‘It isn’t fair that these people with perfectly healthy bodies will abuse their body with drugs and alcohol.’ She would only buy beer for the holidays for my uncles when they came over for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. When I was a teen, she would allow me to have a sip of beer. I would take a sip, but I never thought anything more of it.

In my middle school years, I began to gain weight. I remember the boys would call me ‘big butt.’ I became very self-conscious of my weight. I went to the 8th-grade dance and came home crying because no one wanted to dance with me. I had a talk with my mom that night. She encouraged me to go on a crash diet because it worked for her in the past.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

I went on a 500 calorie a day diet that summer and dropped from 180 pounds to 116 pounds. Everyone told me how good I looked on my first day as a freshman. Those compliments made me feel so good! It became so hard to continue starving myself. I began to binge and purge and did that all through high school.

I never partied or drank in high school, just kept to myself and tried to manage my feelings with bulimia. I was a loner and had a couple of friends. A girl bullied me in high school and called me horrible names. It was awful. There were days I thought about ending my life. I realize now in my 40’s that HURT people like to HURT people.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

Finally, in my senior years of high school, I had enough and checked into a 2-week in-patient treatment program and continued with therapy after. May 1995, I graduated high school and thought I had recovered… I had no desire to go to college and went straight to work to help support my disabled mother.

In March of 1997, I had a bad feeling something bad was about to happen. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt it coming.

I was invited to go to Disney Land with a friend and her family. I just knew something was going to stop me from going. In May of 1997, my brother committed suicide on the week I was supposed to go on my trip. He was only 18 at the time and I was 20. He was up late drinking and smoking pot the night before. My last words to him were, ‘Do not drink too much.’ My mom was too weak to plan his funeral and my dad was too distraught.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

At 20 years old, I planned my brother’s funeral. My mom called me her ‘rock.’ The summer of 1997 was a wild one for me. I numbed my feelings with alcohol. I put myself in some dangerous situations that could have ended my life. I believe my brother was my guardian angel and he kept me safe. The bulimia also returned, and I used food to cope. A few months later, I had a breakdown and did a 2-week outpatient treatment. I have not binged and purged since then.

In 2000, I met my husband. We were married in 2003. We relocated from Albuquerque to Dallas in 2004 for my husband’s job. I left all my friends and family. I had my wonderful husband, but I did feel quite lonely those years without my friends and family. I never turned to alcohol because we lived in a dry county where it was too much of a hassle to drive 15 miles to buy booze. However, my weight did go up and down with emotional eating.

In 2006, I lost my mom and became a mom. Being a parent now, I did forgive my dad for what he did to my mom and allowed him back in my life. I struggled with the anxiety of being a new mom. I would worry I would get sick just like my mom and would not be able to take care of my son. I still didn’t have many friends.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

We had our second son in 2010. I began to drink more at home and on the weekends. Wine was my drink of choice. I finally put myself out there and began to meet friends. I drank with them. I felt I needed my so-called ‘mommy juice’ to be social and manage my anxiety. But little did I know at the time, it made my anxiety much worse. When I drank, it gave me a false courage I could conquer anything. I felt like the most confident woman when I drank.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

Drinking allowed me to approach people I normally would have never talked to. I am a shy and reserved person. I would drink and do Facebook lives. I cringe now when I see that pop up on my Facebook memories. I felt drinking helped cure my boredom. I remember going to a Stars Hockey game with my family. I had a few beers that night. My oldest son told me that was enough beer for me. I just laughed it off…

In July of 2019, I attended a women’s empowerment conference. It was all about owning my past and future. I cried a lot the weekend of the conference. It was a big step for me to put myself out there like that. I met up with a few ladies that attended for dinner after the first day of the conference. I only knew these ladies from a Facebook group, so I was extremely nervous. I, of course, could not wait to get my hands on a drink to calm my nerves.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

At dinner, I sat near a lady named April. That evening, as I was sipping on my margarita, I got into a conversation with April about her sobriety. I observed her that evening on how she was confident and engaging in a conversation without liquid courage. I thought to myself as I sipped on my drink, ‘I want to be like April.’

2 days later after the conference, I had an epiphany – I would live a sober lifestyle. I texted two of my close friends and told them my decision. I told my husband that evening. Everyone was supportive. I decided to post about my sobriety on social medial. I did receive a text from a family member she was concerned my post might make people think I was an ‘alcoholic.’ This gave me even more drive to be open with my sobriety. It is accountability for me and there are so many different sober journeys. I did not have to hit rock bottom, go to rehab, or get a DWI to quit drinking. I quit drinking because it’s not good for my mental health. I wanted to drop the liquid courage. One of my favorite quotes is by Carrie Fisher – ‘Stay afraid but do it anyway. What is important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident.’

A few months into my sobriety, my family and I attended a family wedding. This wedding was going to have an open wine and beer bar. I prepared myself mentally for weeks prior to the wedding. The last wedding I attended had an open wine and beer bar. I had taken advantage of it and got really drunk in front of that part of the family. My kids were going to be present at the wedding, so I wanted to stay sober for them.

I took my own bubbly (sparkling water), handed it to the bartender, and instructed the bartender to only serve me the bubbly. Being prepared helped me stay sober that night. I also came up with my own mantra, ‘I would rather be BLISSFUL than BUZZED,’ to help me not want to drink. The next day, I was able to get up early and workout at the hotel gym. I was so proud of myself!

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

My drinking always increased during the holidays. I avoided situations that triggered me. For example, I didn’t make any cookies last Christmas. It reminded me too much of my days when I would drink wine and bake. I did have a little breakdown around my friends at our annual Christmas gift exchange. I thought I could handle them drinking wine in front of me. I was only 5 months into sobriety and it turned out, I could not. I broke down in front of them. They put away the wine and said, ‘Our friendship is more important than a glass of wine.’

I kept my hands busy during the holidays. Being sober brought out the creative side of my brain. A friend donated some mason jars to me. I hand-painted those jars with an inspirational message on each jar. I donated about 200 hand-painted jars as gifts to a Holiday Senior Citizen’s Party.

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

In July 2020, my friends had a Sober Anniversary party for me. The three of us celebrated, keeping the celebration small because of the pandemic. That was one of the most thoughtful things anyone has done for me. If you want to know who your true friends are, get sober!

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

I am not against alcohol. My husband still drinks. He can drink without having days of anxiety. I am okay with it, just no wine is allowed in the house. I just know alcohol does not serve my mental health and my life is much better without it. Sobriety has taught me to set boundaries and say no to things I do not want to do.

Now, almost 500 days sober during a pandemic, I have not been able to practice my sober confidence by trying to be outgoing in social situations, but I have been able to stay sober. I think if I had never made the decision to quit drinking, my drinking would have increased this year.

My son said to me, ‘Mom, you drink a lot of hot tea!’ I would rather have him see me drink tea than bottles of wine. Our kids are watching us and observing how we are coping these days. My advice if you are struggling with alcohol is to seek help, listen to sober podcasts, read sober books, and go to AA. Find what works for you. I never went to AA, but I did listen to books and podcasts. I also joined sober Facebook groups. Find what works for you. You do not have to hit rock bottom to quit.”

Courtesy of Joanna DeRose

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Joanna DeRose from Dallas, Texas. You can follow her journey on InstagramDo 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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