‘She put her drink in my face. ‘Have a sip!’ I was risking my life.’: Woman recounts alcohol recovery journey, ‘It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done’

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Disclaimer: This story includes mentions of suicidal thoughts and may be triggering to some.

“My problematic drinking was present the very first time I really drank at 22. I had absolutely no control, I couldn’t stop once I started, and I had no understanding of how much alcohol was too much. The first time I really drank was at a party in a bar. I drank every shot handed to me without any hesitation. I ended the night by throwing up for hours in the parking garage. This type of evening would unfortunately become a routine.

By 23, I was a daily drinker and living with my fiancé, now husband. At 24, my tolerance had noticeably increased and I was drinking double the amount I was before. I got drunk more nights than I didn’t. This is when I really recognized there was something going on, so I began trying to moderate my drinking. I was able to do it sometimes, but most of the time I couldn’t. I continued to pursue moderation though, convinced I could learn and everything would be alright.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

I tried every moderation strategy I could think of. I made up drinking rules, I had my husband pour my drinks, I kept rubber bands on my wrist to represent the number of drinks I could have, I kept track in an app, I wrote down my drinks and tried to set a limit of 20 a week (which isn’t moderation at all), I tried to implement skip days, I tried to drink stronger wine so I needed less, I tried to drink very weak wine, I stopped being social, and my last strategy was to not drink at parties. Nothing worked. I continued to pursue moderation for five years.

My marriage started to fall apart when I was 27-28. This was a turning point for my drinking. I started getting drunk most nights to deal with this new pain I was experiencing. During this time, my drinking escalated to a scary place. I developed severe anxiety, which kept me up all night several nights a week. Anxiety was something I had never struggled with before. I had the same routine: drink all the wine with no control until I was tired, pass out in bed, jolt awake with a racing heart, and begin panicking. The room would zoom out and I felt very far away from everything.  My heart raced and I’d breathe in quick, shallow breaths. I stayed awake for hours panicking and looking around the room, observing how far away I was.

Despite this, I was unable to back off on the drinking. My depression evolved into suicidal thoughts. I kept the same routine as before, but now in addition to suffering with anxiety for hours, I added in some very scary thoughts. I told myself I should just end it and set my husband free; he deserves better than to deal with my drinking. I had never really liked myself, but at this point in my life I deeply hated who I was. Every morning when I sat down to do my makeup for work I’d look in the mirror and say, ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you…’ until I cried. This self-loathing only made me pursue moderation harder, and consequently have more mess ups.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

My husband lost sleep because he would stay up and try to console me. He never shamed me or was mean to me about my drinking, but he also never expressed any concern even when it had escalated to this point. Sometimes he would become frustrated with me when I kept him up all night with my misery. He’d say things like, ‘That’s it! You can’t drink anymore.’ His words made the panic worse because I thought he would really try to force me to not drink. Each time this happened, he took it back the next day.

I continued this way for months until one Saturday night in March 2019, I had a particularly bad night and became afraid I would get drunk and kill myself. When I wasn’t drunk, I knew I didn’t actually want anything to happen. I had been awake from midnight on, struggling with panic because I was so far away and thinking about how I need to end things. At 5:30 a.m., while we were watching the sun come up after a night of basically no sleep, I told my husband, ‘I can’t drink for 90 days.’ I was desperate. I was convinced this would ‘cure’ me, reset my tolerance, and make it so I could become a moderate drinker.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

As a daily drinker, I had probably skipped no more than 5 days of drinking in the past 5 years. I even drank when I was sick. The only times I didn’t drink were when my hangover was so intense any more alcohol would make me sick. I was this hungover on day one. My only goal was to survive the day. When I woke up on day two, I felt a lot better. I didn’t hate myself as much anymore, and I didn’t have suicidal thoughts.

I was challenged a few times during the 90 days. There was some push back from many of my family and friends. People were annoyed with this challenge because it inconvenienced them by changing how we socialized. A couple of weeks into my sobriety, I was out for lunch and ran into a friend. She put her drink right in my face and offered me a sip, knowing how much I had been struggling and I was attempting to do 90-days alcohol free. I had another friend say, ‘I’ll only order a drink if you will’ when I was 29 days sober, after I had just explained I was so proud I was about to achieve an entire month of sobriety. People stopped inviting me to things, and every time I saw posts about parties I wasn’t invited to it just further strengthened my commitment to learning to moderate. I just wanted to be normal.

My husband surprised me with balloons, flowers, and a very special card on my 30th day of sobriety. In the card he wrote:

Dear,

I am so proud of you for transforming your life. This change affects you and everyone around you in a positive way. If you ever feel weak and powerless, you can always look back and remember this accomplishment. I love you so much and our lives will always improve overall, even if there are a few thunderstorms scattered about.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

About two months in, I realized day 90 would be on June 14th, and my 29th birthday was the following day. I thought it was a sign from the universe I was doing the right thing and my challenge would work. I planned to drink on my birthday, just share a bottle of wine with my husband. He toasted me with tears in his eyes, telling me how proud he was of me for changing my life. Then, we drank. I woke up the next day feeling shameful.

After my birthday I was able to moderate. I only drank two glasses of wine on Saturday nights and didn’t want any more than that. I was cured! I was a moderate drinker! This lasted for a couple months, until I was tested for the first time. We went on a cruise and I immediately went back to my old ways. I drank all day and all night, getting trashed basically every night. We were cruising around Europe, and my drinking really took away from the days. I even had to climb up Mount Vesuvius with a massive hangover. That was hard. The Italian sun is no joke, and Mount Vesuvius is much steeper than you would expect. Looking back on this trip, it was the vacation I always dreamed of, but I missed out on so much because of my drinking. We plan to do this exact same cruise again in the next few years and make better memories.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz
Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

I couldn’t moderate anymore after we got home and went right back to daily, heavy drinking. The anxiety and suicidal thoughts came right back, too. On November 9, 2019, after a very bad night similar to the one in March, I realized it was life or death. I accepted I am not someone who can ever drink, because I will always drink the same way. I realized no amount of time will ever change this. I’ve never had a drink since. The suicidal thoughts were gone by day 2 of sobriety, and my anxiety has also disappeared. I know if I drink again, I am literally risking my life. That is enough to stay sober.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

The first month of sobriety was hard. I felt like a loser. I was tested at company parties and happy hours, and coworkers challenged me publicly for not drinking saying very loudly, ‘You’re still not drinking?! Why not?!’ There was a lot of criticism from my friends and family when I quit. I kept being told, ‘I don’t understand why you have to quit. Why can’t you just have one?’ What I’ve found in sobriety is most people don’t really understand. They don’t understand one drink is a complete waste of time for me, and how the amount I drank wasn’t a choice or something that was in my control. Someone else close to me asked, ‘Why did you have to drink so much? Why couldn’t you just have drank less?’ These comments were all extremely hurtful and made me feel rejected, isolated, and judged.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

What kept my momentum going in the beginning was all the positive changes I was experiencing. My marriage continued to improve, I finally lost weight, I didn’t hate myself, and I was starting to feel body confidence for the first time in my life. Around month 6 though, the positive changes evened out and my life was stable, but I still couldn’t drink. This is when it became more challenging. Going out to dinner has been my biggest challenge because I see everyone else drinking and feel jealous and nostalgic. This is still a challenge, but in months 10 and 11 of sobriety I have started to feel more comfortable with it. Before, I felt sad I could never drink again, but now I recognize this is my life and it’s actually pretty amazing.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

I am a few weeks away from celebrating an entire year of sobriety. I think this will be the most important day of my life. In the past 11 months I have partied sober, celebrated holidays sober, went to dinner sober, celebrated my birthday sober, and I’ve been on a few weekend getaways sober. Every single thing I’ve done sober is at least a million times better than it was drunk. The difference is shocking. I couldn’t appreciate this during my 90-day challenge because I was only focused on the outcome — becoming a moderate drinker. I don’t get invited to parties anymore and my old friends stopped wanting to go to dinner with me, but I’ve learned those are not my people.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

I’ll never forget the feeling when I connected my suicidal thoughts to alcohol. I had just believed I was a miserable, suicidal person. After I stopped drinking, the suicidal thoughts disappeared and didn’t return. I made this connection about 2 months in to my 90-day challenge, which likely helped me embrace quitting forever. I got a tattoo on my chest to represent my struggle with suicidal thoughts and learning how to free myself from them.

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

I have learned two very important things in the past year. First, if you think you have a problem, you do. Normal, moderate drinkers don’t think about moderation — they just do it. They don’t wonder if they have a problem or shame themselves for the amount they drink. The second is, you will never drink another way than you drink now. Once you cross the line into abusing alcohol, you can’t uncross it. You can either hang out there, but what is more likely is your drinking will continue to escalate. I never would have stopped unless something really bad happened to me, like the realization I could actually kill myself. I was in so deep and I was so obsessed with moderation I couldn’t see reality. Life is better in every way without drinking, and I finally like who I am. I’m extremely proud of my accomplishment. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”

Courtesy of Gillian Tietz
Courtesy of Gillian Tietz

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Gillian Tietz of Boston, MA. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her 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.

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‘Come out tonight! Drink!’ Next thing I remember was a police car coming my way. I hung my head.’: Woman overcomes alcoholism, ‘drinking will not help your depression, put the glass down’

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