…We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others…..Excerpt from the 9th Step Promises, Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 83-84
I’ve never sat down and written out my recovery story. I’ve shared bits at meetings and told most of it on the SHAIR Recovery podcast and Podcast Recovery, but I’ve never sat down and tried to tell my story from start to finish. I’ve never told my whole story because I couldn’t face parts of my story and I thought if I hid them from everyone (including myself) that they couldn’t hurt me. But I was wrong and hiding my truth has only held me back. I’ve also learned that my experience CAN benefit others and, for that reason, I will do my best to tell it here. I will tell it in parts because well….there’s a lot to tell.
A few caveats before I begin:
- Please know, all of this is told to the best of my recollection. Depending on how you look at it, blackout drinking comes with either the benefit or the drawback of not remembering.
- I’ve been sober for a few days now…so I have the benefit of having done a lot of work in recovery and that has changed some of my perspective.
- I come from a long line of alcoholics, survived a traumatic childhood, and was sexually molested as a child. I don’t blame these things for my alcoholism. I may not have been dealt the best hand, but I chose how to play it.
- I have a hard time selecting the appropriate terminology for some of the things that happened in my childhood, so bear with me.
The Early Years
Trying to pinpoint my first drink is a little complicated. I grew up in the 1970s and parenting was different then. My pediatrician advised my parents to put a little whiskey in tea when I had a bad cold and they took that up another level as I got older, giving me a shot of homemade coffee brandy so I’d sleep better. Still, I remember asking my father for a sip of beer when I was about 7 – I remember because I liked it.
My parents are the definition of misery loves company coupled with smoke and mirrors. My father was an explosive man and life with him required being adept at reading moods. There wasn’t a ton of physical punishment in my life, but when there was it was rough. My mother gave the appearance of Mary Poppins but was more like Mommy Dearest with sarcasm instead of a wire hanger. They clearly had their own baggage that they needed to deal with, but they didn’t; instead they merged it together in holy matrimony. They just didn’t know any better.
Don’t get me wrong, I have some happy memories and it wasn’t all bad. My parents made sure we went to church every week, took annual family vacations and so much more – because that’s what they thought you were supposed to do and it looked good. We went to lots of parties and picnics too – I just didn’t know that everyone elese’s family didn’t see drinking as an extreme sport. I didn’t have a childhood that fostered trust in others, healthy coping mechanisms, or even happiness for that matter. I had one that prepared me for gold medals in sarcasm, drinking, and unhealthy behaviors.
Sometime between the ages of 10 and 12, there were three events in my life that I never know whether to call sexual experiences, molestation or sexual abuse. What I know now in hindsight is that for one, a girl my own age did to me at a sleepover what should never be done and maybe that’s because it was being done to her by someeone else. I also had two other experiences with boys who were 4 -5 years older than me and close family friends/relatives. I know now as a parent that a child of 10-12 years of age is not capable of understanding and giving consent for anything sexual.
I started drinking my own drinks somewhere around the age 12 and, at that time, the drinks of choice were peppermint schnapps and beer. Age 12 was also the year that my grandmother died and it would be years before I would truly come to terms with that loss.
To say my adolescent years were turbulent would be a bit like saying it rains a bit during a hurricane.
I started smoking pot and drinking more regularly. I lost my virginity early and, in my mother’s words, I was promiscuous. I was certainly known as a girl who was easy and was heartbroken the first time I was called a slut. I thought sex would lead to love and, let’s face it, I had already had boys who I thought loved me introduce me to sexual things. I was an emotional wreck.
At the age of 14, I played a card game with a group of my guy friends where drinking a shot of Bacardi 151 was the penalty for losing. I remember starting the game and the next thing I remember was my parents arriving me to take me home in my very groggy condition. I remember nothing else from the evening, but I still remember the awful hangover with which I went to school the next day. I started skipping classes here and there. I was failing a class or two. I was lying so often I didn’t even know the truth. I wasn’t getting along with my friends and things at home were even worse.
One day in March it all came to a head. After a fight with my best friend, followed by yet another with my mother, something in me snapped. So, I packed a bag, stole some money from my parents, and called a cab. I took that cab to the bus station and hopped on a bus to New York City. I lasted a week somehow by making “friends” with Tony, a 25 year old man who presented himself as a night in shining armor but was not. I ran away from his house and eventually, someone realized that I was a runaway and called the cops, who called my parents to come get me. There is so much more to this story, but I’ll save that for another time.
I returned home because an incredibly nice police officer in Jersey City, New Jersey convinced me that I should. He convinced me that it would be better to go home, do the work, and have a life than to find myself in the juvenile detention system. He was probably right but life at my house was never a bed of roses. The unrest with my parents continued and I responded like a real pain in the ass rebellious teenager. I ran away two more times, but kept it local. I continued my promiscuity until I didn’t and decided to stop sleeping with boys. I stopped skipping classes and finished out the school year strong. My sophomore year was fairly uneventful (to the best of my recollection).
During my junior year of high school, I met the boy who will always be my first love. I felt safe and secure with him – and that was something I craved. He was a year older than me and would be graduating from high school. He was enlisting in the Air Force and would be leaving. One day I stopped taking the birth control pills my mother had put me on. My periods stopped. I continued to pretend to use the products that were on hand for my periods. I knew I was likely pregnant but told no one. I avoided the realization like the plague until I went to the doctor for a pre-op visit for a surgery scheduled to repair my deviated septum. As you might guess, I wasn’t cleared for surgery because I was pregnant. My boyfriend wanted me to have that baby and so did I. His mother was angry but I think she would have helped us. My parents? They lost their minds in ways I didn’t even think possible and threatened to drive themselves off a bridge to kill themselves if I did not have an abortion. When you are 16 and your parents tell you that they will commit suicide unless you have an abortion, you have the abortion. I will never forget that day, when the nurse held my hand and said “I know you’re just a kid, but right now you have to be a grown up.” I was shattered. Whatever parts of me had not been broken by then, broke that day.
The time following that day was filled with so much hurt and anguish in a way that I still can’t describe. I had and continued to hurt my boyfriend so much and it would affect him for years to come. He forgave me later – years later – but I live with knowing that I broke parts of him too. My rocky relationship with my parents continued to be rocky and I became a person intent on success. You see, I deluded myself into thinking that good grades, success in college and a good job someday were going to help me atone for that abortion and fill the giant hole in me. I was wrong, but I wouldn’t know that for years.
It was during this time that I developed a new talent and, as an adult, I know that it’s not a great one. I learned how to unfocus my eyes so that when my father started in on one of his many tirades, I couldn’t even see him. These tirades fcould begin with an innocuous topic like my failure to empty the dishwasher and lead to a 30-minute dissertation on my failing as a human being. I know now it was my only defense – to withdraw so far inside of myself to a place where he could not reach me. What I didn’t know is that I was withdrawing myself from truly engaging with anyone. I hadn’t a clue how to be in relationship with anyone.
Through all of this, I managed to graduate high school in the top 10% of my class and earn enough scholarships to pay my first year’s college tuition. I stayed close to home for college because apparently I didn’t know how to leave the misery of my childhood. Remember it wasn’t all bad and no one had taught me the word codependent yet.
That’s it for now….stay tuned for part 2 coming soon