Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of sexual assault that may be triggering to some.
“Never, in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a teetotaler. Wine, cocktails, beer – they had all become an integral part of my identity. I served in fine dining establishments all of my adulthood, and I worked da*n hard at curating a sophisticated palate. I grew to like Chopin shaken hard and just a little bit dirty, Red Blends bold and rich with tannins, and how the smokiness of Laphroaig coated my mouth and balanced the sugary sweetness of whatever dessert it accompanied. I also just liked to get hammered.
The restaurant industry is ripe with heavy drinkers, and I came of age among them. More than the status symbolism of the quality of alcohol I came to imbibe, was a sense of pride in being able to handle my booze. The story of the five martinis (or was it six? We couldn’t remember) night, standing at 5’2” and weighing in at 123 pounds and never tossing my cookies went round the restaurant for months. The way we laughed when I sent a picture in our group text message chain of a dirty wine glass discovered in my living room the morning after a rowdy night out, captioned with, ‘must have had a nightcap’ normalized drinking into oblivion. I had come a long way from the Midori Sours of yesteryear, the sweet syrupy concoction that masked the taste of ethanol enough for me to slurp a couple down and loosen up among the crew.
I had been drinking off and on since I was 13, but I didn’t like it much. I had an experience that led to sexual assault when I was 17. I dated an alcoholic for a year and it left a bad taste in my mouth about drinkers. I much preferred drugs. Mostly THC, but had my stints with various others, cocaine coming in as the second favorite to my beloved Mary Jane. It was well after my 21st birthday that I started to frequent the bars with the crew, and I found something worthwhile in the after-hours connection we made.
The kinship and camaraderie filled a hole I had felt much of my life. I was a second-marriage-early-divorce baby, significantly younger than my siblings, and raised by a single mother with a lot of chaos in our home. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt like I was always in the way, I wasn’t suited for the content matter of family discussions, and I was just plain annoying to everyone. My early childhood memories are minimal, but I do recall a lot of living in my own head and retreating to the sanctuary of my bedroom.
Finding family and belonging in restaurants became especially important in my early 20’s when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was just us by then, and only in hindsight do I see how hard I had tried to create an external family. In my natural state, I am incredibly introverted. It takes me a long time to open up and feel comfortable around other people. I love deep introspective dialogue and am often described as being intense, cerebral, and maybe just a little bit too much. After sucking down a drink or two, that all changed. I felt as though I transformed into someone who could be light, funny, charismatic, and charming. I could make friends with anyone, anywhere. I could engage in small talk, deep talk, all of the talk. I could debate, share my secrets, and make people feel seen and heard. I learned a new way of being that made me feel wanted. I felt like I had finally found my place and I was hooked.
Two years after my mother died, I was married and pregnant with our first child. My partying days were behind me, so I thought. We had our second child two years later, and in that postpartum year, I had lost a lot of weight. I turned 30, felt the best I had ever felt, looked the best I had ever looked, had a beautiful family we were raising in a lovely little suburban town and all was well. I was working for a new restaurant part-time, a landmark dining establishment and I had refined my skills in providing a warm and hospitable dining experience for our patrons. I received attention and accolades everywhere I turned and it was never enough. Nothing was ever enough. Inside I felt so deeply that I could never be enough.
On the exterior, my life was incredibly rich. I made a full-time income working 20-25 hours a week and I was able to raise my littles by day, while my husband took the reins for my night shifts. I had monthly happy hour dates with my friends, took girls trips to Las Vegas, and family vacations to the mountains or lake. I had fallen in love with running and became a half marathoner not long after my first 5k. I started going out a little more often with my work crew and made wonderful new friends and we made many memories none of us can really remember. I would periodically take a month off of drinking here and there with what became ritualistic Whole 30’s to bring balance to and beat the bloat of my binge drinking. All was about as perfect as it could be… until it wasn’t.
My spiral started in 2016. I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. I cannot articulate this accurately enough, but it was a dizzying sensation to look at myself and not feel like the reflection was actually me. There wasn’t anything wrong with the reflection, in fact, I thought that I looked the best I had ever looked. I had become so lost in this curated image, that I no longer knew where she stopped and I began. I wouldn’t leave the house without a full face of makeup, hair curled, and outfit pre-planned. If there was a social engagement, I wouldn’t leave the house without having a ‘pre-funk’ cocktail or two. I could not stand doing anything, anywhere, without becoming this alternate version of myself.
The drinking had gotten increasingly excessive that winter, and my marriage was in trouble. We had become so disconnected in the work/parenting shuffle of life that there wasn’t much ‘us’ left. We hadn’t realized that we were living separate lives. We were constantly scheduling our various hobbies and social engagements around each other’s schedules and who would take care of the kids. We had been together for 15 years, but we were hardly ever together anymore. In the alcohol-fueled daze, I couldn’t see a way through and we had temporarily separated, though remained living together. The drinking only increased in my desperation, fear of the future, and grief of losing the man who always felt like home. One morning, after a drunken stupor where he picked me up off of the floor and carried me to bed, I heard a voice that could only be described as Good Orderly Direction tell me that we needed to move.
We had been living in my mother’s home, the same home where I cared for her and where she took her last breath in my presence. The seasonal reminders triggered me every winter, the way the sun shined in that room where her hospice bed had once been brought me right back to those dark and devastating days. I developed debilitating physical anxiety symptoms after we came to a sales agreement on the house that caused my upper body to twitch and spasm while I would gasp for air. I felt like I would fall into a seizure at any moment. Even though it was breaking me, that home had been the hardest thing I have ever had to let go of in my entire life. I would medicate the episodes with benzodiazepines and alcohol until we were in our new home, 1600 miles away, at which point I stopped using Xanax, but would still reach for alcohol to suppress my nervous system whenever I felt the discomfort begin to brew inside my body. I continued this cycle for the next two and a half years. This geographical cure and hail Mary of all hail Mary’s managed to save our marriage, but it did not change my drinking habits.
I drank most nights of the week unless I had an especially bad hangover. 5 o’clock ‘happy hour’ quickly became 4 o’clock and then, 3:30. I couldn’t wait for the kids to get home from school, not because I had missed them, but because it was a mark of transition from day to evening. I had convinced myself that this was perfectly acceptable behavior, I wasn’t ‘day drinking,’ missing work, or facing any external consequences. I could no longer tolerate being in my own body, and this was my time of relief from the perils of my own humanity.
At the end of 2019, I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I still couldn’t see that the alcohol was causing occasional night sweats, desperate middle-of-the-night thirst, and the dreaded next day ‘hangxiety.’ I decided to quit the day job I had been working while my children were in school and would devote that time to healing and reintegrating the practices that I knew helped me feel well: meditating, running, yoga, and a low inflammatory diet. I didn’t have the bandwidth for all of the cooking involved in a whole30, so I opted to at least ditch the drink for a month and committed to participating in Dry January. I drank my last bottle of Christmas Wine on New Year’s Eve and woke up to Day One with my last terrible hangover. I wrote a letter to read at the end of the month, gently encouraging myself to keep it going into February. I reminded myself just how terrible the hangover had felt, assured future-me that hangover-me knew better, and hoped with blind desperation that future-me would come to rescue myself from living this way forever.
Even still, I could not imagine that this would lead to a life centered in recovery. I would occasionally fantasize that maybe I could make it to six months, but I didn’t actually believe I would go that far. I still didn’t think that alcohol was a real problem for me. I could stop for my pregnancies. I could stop for whole30’s. I didn’t think I had obvious DT’s. I had stopped using THC and cocaine without issue. I had just stopped liking them, so I stopped using them. I clearly wasn’t an addict! I have seen so many ‘real’ addicts in my life, I definitely wasn’t one of ‘them.’ I was just going too hard, surely I just needed a little time off, and soon I could be back on that patio somewhere, laughing and drinking with friends.
While I had yet to fully grasp the nature of alcohol and its effects on my brain and body, I did have the wherewithal to know that dry January wasn’t the best plan. With a date on the calendar expressing permission to drink again, I knew I would ‘celebrate’ my accomplishment on the first of February, just as I did on every day 31 of each whole30 I had ever completed, so I took another Melissa Urban inspired challenge of saying, ‘I’m not drinking right now.’ I trusted that I would know when I was ready to try again.
In the meantime, I started reading quit-lit. Laura McKowen’s We Are The Luckiest was my first, followed immediately by Holly Whitaker’s Quit Like a Woman. I had heard of Holly from Melissa Urban’s podcast and was on the email list for her sobriety school, Tempest. Laura was by happenstance, and I only chose this book first because I liked the title. I had no idea who she was, or how much she (and the serendipitous title) would come to change my life. Untamed had also been released, which I gobbled up on audible on my morning runs. It might not be quit-lit per se, but Glennon’s experience with recovery and the task of uncovering our authenticity as women spoke straight to the heart of me. I was writing little bits of this journey on my instagram and slowly started finding the magical underworld of sobriety circles on the platform.
When COVID-19 hit, I felt strong where I was at the time, and decided that if I could make it through a global pandemic sober, I could do anything. Little did I know, it would be more than a few weeks to ‘flatten the curve.’ I kept reading, kept running, and kept posting. The game-changer of my perspective came in May when I listened to This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. With a few months of a clear mind, I was able to fully take in the insidious nature of ingesting a highly-addictive neurotoxic carcinogen on a regular basis, and how it affected me, especially in the quantities I was consuming. I knew then that I was never going back. I knew then that if I did go back, I would pick up exactly where I had left off.
What I had yet to embrace until December that year, was the majestic principles of living a life centered in recovery. I had abstinence down, but something was missing. My husband was back to work, my kids were still learning virtually, the pandemic was still raging, and I was bored and lonely. I asked a friend about The Luckiest Club, of which she was a member. Laura McKowen had started offering sobriety support meetings at the beginning of the pandemic and it had exploded into the incredible community that it is today. TLC’s mission is: to respect all paths to recovery, they don’t do dogma, they lead with compassion and they welcome you exactly as you are.
Contrary to what my imagination had suggested, sobriety meetings are not a group of sad sacks white-knuckling their way through another abstinent night.
This was where people came to tell ‘the whole truth,’ as Glennon Doyle describes. They share with full transparency what it’s like to walk this earth as a human in a way I have never heard others discuss before. They aspire to live with honesty, integrity and pursue their most beautifully raw and meaning-driven lives. They seek to heal the wounded places of their souls and they wish to spread the healing outward. They offer the one thing I have always so desperately wanted: belonging. Real, true, honest, exactly-as-you-are belonging. Only then did I understand the title of her book; We Are The Luckiest.
I don’t regret my drinking. I don’t feel ashamed of my past behavior. I did exactly what I had to do to feel ok in my own existence, my own body, and my own life with what I had available to me at the time. When my body told me that it wasn’t working anymore, miraculously I had listened and began to look elsewhere. I followed each breadcrumb before me and they led me exactly where I needed to go. I am so incredibly lucky that this was my path. Recovery is not just treatment for addiction. It is a deliberate and conscious recovery of self, meaning, hope, and love. I am finally learning to feel comfortable showing up as exactly myself, wherever it is I must go.
I know it can be impossible to imagine putting down the drink for good. I have lived that. I also couldn’t imagine going on as I had been. I was stuck between the rock and the hard place. If that resonates, I want you to know that’s okay. Sometimes we have to feel stuck just long enough for the answers to reveal themselves, otherwise, we would miss them. Only in the quiet and stillness have I been given Good Orderly Direction. Can you be still, just for a moment? Can you resist the numb, just for today? One Day At A Time isn’t just a kitschy slogan and it doesn’t imply that it will feel this hard forever. It’s a principle rooted in presence. All we ever have is right now. What can you do right now that will make your next right now a little better? This has been the question I have asked myself each day for the last 18 months and my life has blossomed in the most unfathomable ways. I know this can be true for you.
Listen, trust, and then go where you must go, exactly as you are. That will be perfectly enough.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kimberley Lambert from Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. 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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