“I knew I had a drinking problem from the very first time I drank. Even though that was more than 20 years ago, I can still recall exactly how I felt right before blacking out and how I couldn’t wait for the next drink as soon as I woke up the next morning—massive hangover and all. Up until the end of my drinking, I was a ‘functioning alcoholic’ if there ever was such a thing. I worked full-time and went to school while parenting my three young children, until we moved to Colorado from the Chicago suburbs about 4 and a half years ago. I am certain the move was an unintentional/intentional geographical move. By moving, my problems wouldn’t move too, would they? Obviously, that answer is—of course they did.
There are countless times during my drinking, of not coming home until early the next morning, not being able to explain where I’d been (because I frankly couldn’t remember), wondering how I’d driven home the night before and many times where I put my safety and those around me in danger. Many more times, especially toward the end, when I would convince myself I could just have one drink after I got the kids to bed (because I deserved it, right?) and I would wake up in the middle of the night profusely sweating, my heart racing and another two empty bottles of vodka next to me. I would spend half the night on our back porch throwing up, drinking more, throwing up more and drinking more, until I had nothing left. And then, I would wonder how I had gotten a fat lip and had blood all over my face, the night before team pictures for my 5-year-old’s soccer team.
I wasn’t hiding anything from anyone anymore, there were physical marks all over me as a result of my drinking. I couldn’t lie about not drinking, I couldn’t hide bottles all over the house anymore, it was all too much work.
I was confronted by a family member on the morning of April 10, 2015, with two large garbage bags full of empty vodka bottles. I was given the option of getting, and staying, sober, or having my children taken away from me. I remember that feeling as if it was almost a relief that I’d finally been caught. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. That day, I decided to reach out for help. The first couple months of sobriety, I was staying sober for everyone except myself. I was really white knuckling my way through every single day, thanking God that I was still sober at the end of the day. But, the reality is, I wasn’t getting to the ‘why’ of my drinking. Quitting was the easy part for me; staying stopped and working through life on life’s terms was really what I needed to focus on. Over the past years, my life had become so much more than unmanageable, and I truly didn’t think I’d stay sober for more than three months.
Then, something changed. I connected with a group of women who sounded like me. They had acted like me, drank like me and regardless of how far apart we were age-wise, I knew there were too many similarities to focus on the few differences. I began to listen to them, to do the work they suggested and little by little, day by day, life really did start to get better. I started to get better. The moment I realized I had to do this for myself, something clicked and I knew I could stay sober—just for today, one day at a time. I’ve held onto the analogy that there is a reason they tell you on an airplane to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. You cannot care very well for anyone else if you aren’t well first. Every day, I have to work on this. Every day, I have to spend time connecting first with myself, then with others in recovery. Every day, I have to take care of my physical, spiritual and mental health first so I can care for others well too.
If you had told me 1,480 days ago that I would still be sober, I would’ve laughed in your face. I began this journey of recovery, very angry, bitter and resentful at everything and everyone around me (heaven forbid I actually stop and look at who the common denominator was—ME). As soon as I began to peel back the layers, let my guard down and really get honest (with myself first) life really did start getting better. I didn’t have to carry around so much baggage. The solution of letting go was much simpler.
Working a journey of recovery and staying sober doesn’t give me an automatic ‘life will always be rainbows and unicorns’ card. In fact, through my first three years of sobriety, I went through more difficult life stuff than I ever had before. My Dad passed away 5 days before I had a year of sobriety. I remember calling someone to tell them and their response was, ‘Just don’t drink over it.’ It was funny though, that thought had not even crossed my mind. This was one of the first really hard life situations in which I realized I didn’t need a drink to make it through. I had a completely new toolbox to use and as long as I reached out, talked with others, shared what I was really feeling, everything would be okay. I would be okay.
Years two and three of sobriety handed me several of the most awful tests life could possibly contain—one after another. My oldest son had gotten into trouble; he was missing for several days and ultimately, taken into custody—time after time. There were countless sleepless nights, so many I wasn’t sure how I’d even make it until morning. But, I did. I did and I didn’t have to drink over it. I learned, from so many others in recovery, that as long as I continue to do the work, life WILL get better. And, as hard and tough as life may seem, there isn’t a single thing a drink will make better.
Today, I could never have imagined the life I’m now blessed to live. I get to suit up and show up—for my kids, my husband, my friends and my family. Most importantly though? I get to show up for myself. I get to feel feelings that I numbed for way too many years, I get to work through and walk through things that would have knocked me back down into the deep depths of my alcoholism in a heartbeat. Today, I get to walk this walk with many wonderful people who are on their own journey of recovery.
My hope by sharing my story is this; if only one person finds one small piece that gives them enough strength to keep going, enough faith to know that life can (and does!) get better—I want you to know that your life is worth living. Know that you are worth it. We all are. We’re in this together, one day at a time.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Seija Nelson. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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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‘Our daughter has been placed in protective custody,’ my husband said. ‘We will deal with that later,’ I remember replying. Because first, I needed to get high.’
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