Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of sexual assault and substance abuse that may be triggering to some.
“You don’t start out drinking vodka every night. It happens over time, quietly, and sometimes without you even noticing. I was raised in a beautiful community on the Central Coast of California, where my dad was a fire captain and my mom stayed home to care for me and my sisters—one older, and one younger. Words to describe my childhood are all immensely positive and loving. It was uneventful in the best kind of way. From choir, basketball, track, cheerleading, and volunteering, we were always encouraged to pursue our passions and never doubt our abilities. For me, this instilled an insatiable need to succeed, and by the time I reached junior high, I’d come to develop not only an overwhelming desire to be liked and accepted, but also to be impressive.
Some areas I excelled in, others not so much, but the constant fear of fitting in made my shortcomings unbearable at times. In junior high, I had my first drink of alcohol, instantly falling in love—the perceived missing link to my many flaws. Over the years, I drank socially, mostly house parties with peers, but by junior year of high school, I was frequenting college parties as well. I felt better about virtually everything when I drank. In my mind, I was funnier, cooler, and more likable. In hindsight, I doubt many others would have agreed with that sentiment. I was desperate for acceptance and I found it in alcohol. By senior year, I was maintaining good grades, the captain of the cheerleading squad, and a member of our concert choir. Life was good.
It was around this same time we discovered my younger sister had a tumor growing on her spine—a terrifying diagnosis that required immediate spinal surgery, as well as jump-started what would be several years of my parents driving back and forth between UCLA and home. By this point, my older sister had moved out, and so I found myself home alone far more often than I previously had been. During one of those times, I had gone out drinking and drove home under the influence. I was pulled over, breathalyzed, and arrested, which subsequently led to me losing my license for a year. Despite the potential opportunity to learn from my mistake, I instead found freedom in never having to be the designated driver and continued drinking—business as usual, minus the drunk driving. Life was good.
After graduation, I attended our local junior college for 2 years, each of those filled with house parties, ‘memories’ that were never actually committed to memory because of too much alcohol, and occasionally showing up for my classes. Nothing about this seemed anything but normal to me at the time. Life was good. I eventually received my Associate of Arts degree and would be transferring to San Diego State University in the fall. During that summer, before my move, I traveled solo to Ghana, Africa, to volunteer as a kindergarten teacher.
I just knew I needed a reset, something of substance as I transitioned out of my hometown for the first time. Drinking wasn’t very socially acceptable in Ghana, so I spent most of my 3-month stay abstaining from alcohol. During this time, I befriended a local who was around the same age, and who lived a few doors down. When I was scheduled to return home, he accompanied me to the airport, at which point I was told there was a no-fly order and I could not leave the country. I was devastated. After 3 months away from family for the first time, all I wanted was to be back home. My friend got me a room in a hostel for the night, and then took me out with some of his friends to cheer me up. We drank heavily, and upon returning to my room I stumbled into bed. After 3 months of developing a trusting friendship with him, I was surprised when he started to kiss me, refusing to stop when I tried to push him away. I was intoxicated and lacked much strength to resist. After minutes of his sloppy fumbling, grabbing, and violating, I finally developed the energy needed to get away.
I don’t remember much after, but he did leave that night, returning the following day to take me to the airport in silence. I was ashamed and embarrassed, and I didn’t tell a soul. I eventually moved to San Diego that fall, a 6-hour drive from my parent’s house, and my first time ever having lived away from family on a permanent basis. I carried some pretty significant shame during these days, and the transition proved to be difficult. I felt lonely, isolated, and on a trajectory with drinking that showed no sign of slowing down. During this time, I found myself in another situation where I was sexually assaulted. I had blacked out, only coming to at the very end, but acutely aware of exactly what had happened. The self-disgust was overwhelming. This time I told people, but sadly and not surprisingly, nothing came of it. The drinking continued, further numbing the self-loathing that was piling on.
A few months into my first year, I met a guy and we quickly began a relationship, only to have him deploy a few months later. Once he returned, things picked up where they’d left off, and I became pregnant in my last year of school. Despite our awareness we had significant ideological differences, we chose to get engaged and began to plan our future together. At 22 and always wanting to be a young mom, I abstained from drinking throughout my pregnancy and graduated at 8 months pregnant with my bachelor’s degree. After graduation, we moved back to his hometown in the Midwest with our now 5-week-old newborn. I was excited to build a new life but again, felt lonely and isolated in a new place where I knew very few people. Despite this, I was excited to embrace the opportunity to settle down and focus on my family. After a year, our differences proved to be too great and we divorced. Despite overwhelming encouragement from family to move home I chose to stay, unwilling to take my child away from his father.
By this point, I continued to drink but didn’t experience much in the way of adverse consequences. I’d started a job as a substance abuse counselor, an opportunity which had unexpectedly fallen in my lap. No one ever said a thing about my drinking, even those closest to me. That’s the funny thing about alcohol. You can be silently dying inside but often the outside world has no idea. It’s so socially acceptable, it can go completely unnoticed to anyone other than the one suffering. But once I started in this position as a counselor, I thought to myself, ‘How can I deny that I have a problem? I am treating the very thing I myself am struggling with.’ It was at this time I met Tim, a fellow counselor, and one of the only people I had met outside of my ex’s family. We too had a whirlwind romance, getting married less than a year after meeting. We had a baby boy (an alcohol-free pregnancy), purchased a home, and settled into the simple life. Over the next several years, all was well in our world, despite my continued drinking. Tim drank as well, but for him, it was a take-it-or-leave-it relationship, while for me it was habitual and problematic.
As I continued as a drug and alcohol counselor, I couldn’t help but internalize the awareness of my professional hypocrisy. Each day I discussed cravings, environmental cues, and coping skills, and each evening, I would stop at the liquor store on my way home where I would consume more and more and more. I had started to connect the dots of how problematic my drinking had become, but I hadn’t experienced any rock bottom. No drunk driving, no relationship issues, no work problems. My marriage was thriving and my children were happy and healthy. I suppose that’s what you would call ‘functional.’ After 5 years, and at 9 months pregnant with my third child, the agency we worked for lost government funding and was shut down, forcing us both out of work. Tim quickly found another counseling position while I stayed home for several months with our new baby, a girl (another alcohol-free pregnancy, although it was admittedly harder by this point). The next year was more of the same. A charmed life by day, with quiet self-sabotage each night. Never driving, never endangering my children, never breaking the law, I was simply the lush. I was ‘normal.’ Life was good.
In 2017, my older sister, 32 at the time, unexpectedly passed away due to alcohol. She was never as good at hiding it as me. My husband called me in the middle of a workday. The words, ‘She’s gone’ fell out of his mouth and I knew immediately what he meant. I may not have known when or how it had happened at that point, but I knew instinctively alcohol was involved. A theater lover at heart, she never shied away from going all in. While her story is a part of my story, it is not my own to tell. What I will say is it was soul-crushing, the type of pain you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It was a heavy wake-up call I never wanted, and I will be eternally grateful for it. Because, at 30, you don’t think you can really die from drinking in your 30’s. That is reserved for lifelong alcoholics, people who are never not drunk, who can’t keep a job, and who are not your own sister. I stopped drinking for 6 months. Alcohol had killed her and stolen her from me, and I refused to have anything to do with it.
Eventually, something strange happened, and I started to question why I had stopped, as well as justifying why I could drink again. I told myself the reason I’d removed it was unhealthy, the motivation was born of grief, and moderation was the obvious solution. It was a subtle justification, one I hadn’t paid much attention to, until one night at a wedding out of town. I thought to myself, ‘Normal people drink in moderation.’ It seemed so anti-climactic, and it was for a time. I drank a bit that night and had an uneventful evening. I was a successful, healthy, happy young woman who was completely capable of drinking socially (said the girl who knew deep down she was lying to herself all along). At that point, nobody thought much about me not drinking. It was a choice most, if not everyone, thought was solely because of my sister’s passing. Nobody questioned it, I didn’t even question it. It seemed okay, and it was for several months until I was right back to where I’d been before.
I was right back to drinking every night and hating myself every morning. The hangovers became increasingly problematic, along with constant headaches, nausea, and a completely foggy brain. Every morning, I would promise not to drink that evening, and every night, I would down shot after shot of vodka. Still, nobody questioned it. I fulfilled my responsibilities and beyond with a head full of anxiety, depression, and bouts of suicidal ideation. I hated who I was, but still, alcohol had its claws around me. I carried on like this for another year-and-a-half, though with no more disillusions about what it was or wasn’t—I was not okay. It was not okay. Life was not good for me, and regardless of an apparent lack of adverse consequences to the outside world, something had to change.
On the morning of my 32nd birthday, I woke up hungover, per usual. I was ashamed of myself and felt physically awful. I can’t recall why, but that day, I headed out to take a hike, something I’d never done on my own before. I went to a family favorite of ours and laid down on the ground, staring up at the sky. I knew at that moment I was going to stop. I was unwavering in my gift to myself would be removing alcohol, for good. I don’t know what changed that day, but something did. So the next day, and the day after that, I did not drink. I didn’t stop at the liquor store, I didn’t take another shot. I couldn’t do it anymore. Over the next several months, the self-hatred, the shame, the guilt, it all started to melt away. Without the myth alcohol made me better, I finally realized how much I actually liked myself without it.
Don’t get me wrong, there were areas of difficulty. Not being able to numb or escape at the end of a difficult day, not having liquid courage in social situations, being forced to sit with uncomfortable feelings, these were and are my new reality. The difference is I GET to work through it all with presence and clarity. I get to have a rough day and feel it, frustration and all and then move past it without sacrificing a thing—without feeling like a bad mom, without the hangover. I also found growth in unexpected areas of my life. I lost 50 pounds, my skin became clearer, and my never-ending laundry pile became a daily activity I found comfort in. The previously mundane now a beautiful daily ritual.
Because my drinking was considered fairly normal by outward appearances, many people asked me, ‘Why did you quit?’ Some of this skepticism worked as a motivator for my own change. I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t need to hit proverbial rock bottom to change. I can want a better life for myself on my own terms.’ It also drove me to want to share my story and shed light on these sorts of struggles. Last month, I celebrated 2 years without consuming alcohol, my 34th birthday. I have since started my own floral business and now approach each day with a completely different outlook. I thought I would be missing out when I removed alcohol, but have instead found abundance I never knew was possible. Life is good.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsay Stockhecke. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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