Thirteen years ago this month, I was in charge of planning the holiday party for the company where I was working at the time. It was a small group, just under twenty employees with the usual festivities: drinks and small talk before a four-course meal in a dimly lit restaurant with white table clothes. There was a gift exchange during desserts and more drinks followed by a short trek to a nearby jazz club where I had reserved a row of tables in the back to keep the party going after dinner.
I remember it was cold, but the only coat I was wearing was a pale pink faux leather jacket I bought for the occasion and not for warmth. I remember the jazz club being dark and our group filling up the entire back of the room. I remember my CEO and a few colleagues sitting at a round high-top table that was covered in empty beer bottles and cocktail glasses. At one point, I stumbled walking toward the table, catching myself on the edge of it, sending a few bottles to the floor, some in my coworkers’ laps. I don’t remember being embarrassed. Everyone was drunk, laughing. That’s how I remember it.
My husband, who was sitting nearby, saw something else. He saw his wife, drunk again, falling into a table during a work event, a work event I had planned and bought a new outfit for.
The next morning, hungover, I woke up to an ultimatum. I either had to stop drinking, or I had to leave. Leave our house, our ten year marriage. Our two-year-old daughter.
It has been thirteen years now and I still remember how my husband’s voice sounded that morning when he said, “Our daughter is not being raised by an alcoholic. I won’t let it happen.” He wasn’t yelling or angry. He wasn’t threatening me. He wasn’t begging me to stop. He was protecting his daughter — our daughter — and I finally heard him.
My drinking had always been an issue in our marriage. Less so early on because he was only three weeks out of the Marine Corps when we first met. I thought I had found a drinking buddy for life. But as we grew into our relationship, and then parenthood, my drinking was the thing we were constantly battling. I never wanted to leave the party. There was always another bar to go to or a friend’s house where the fun could continue. When we finally did go home, I wanted to keep drinking by myself. I was stuck on the backside of “One is too many, a thousand never enough.”
It was that morning, after my work party, I finally heard my husband even though we had been having the same conversation, the same battle, for nearly a decade. I didn’t want my daughter to be raised by an alcoholic either. The problem, or at least one of the problems, was that I wasn’t ready to admit I was an alcoholic. So I made a deal.
Two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, I agreed to stop drinking for three months. And I did it, no alcohol, no pills, no getting high for three straight months, but those three months were not the beginning of my sobriety.
I drank again after March 24, 2007, but not without knowing my life was significantly different during the three months I spent on the wagon. I walked in the mornings before work. I wrote more. I started yoga. I spent time reading at night and journaling as soon as I woke up. I went back to therapy. It sounds like the back cover of every self help book ever written. But that’s what happened. I stopped drinking and a door to somewhere I knew I wanted to go opened just enough for me to peek inside.
By June of that year, I was maintaining weekly appointments with my therapist. She never forced the issue of whether or not I was an alcoholic. We talked about my attachment to alcohol: Was it causing problems in other areas of my life? Did I regularly lie about how much I drank? Did I make deals with myself about my drinking? How often did I blackout? Was it worth looking at what I was willing to lose (my marriage) in order to keep drinking?
I picked a date, July 29, to stop. It was my 34th birthday. That was twelve years, four months and a couple days ago and I’ve been sober ever since. I’m also able to tell the truth now. I am an alcoholic. I’m an alcoholic in recovery with more than 12 years sobriety. I still face new questions everyday: Why am I so anxious? Why do I put off the big stuff? Why can’t I keep my closet from turning into one giant heap of clothes? Why do I internalize every conversation I have? Am I depressed or just drinking too much coffee? Why haven’t I mediated this week? Why did I stop exercising?
Some days I do the work and dig for answers. Some days I just drink more coffee. And when the shit really hits the fan, I see my therapist.
In the twelve years I have been sober, much has changed in my life. I have a daughter and son now. Planning holiday parties is not part of my job, I’m a writer, full-time — something I’ve wanted to be all my life. And my drinking is no longer “that thing” between my husband and me. I still have struggles. The “work” of being sober will never be complete for me. It’s like going to the page as a writer —I just have to keep showing up.