Telling my story might help me heal and maybe help someone else in the process. We read other people’s stories all the time. This is just mine. I don’t like to tell my story because I don’t want it to be the Susanne show. I’d actually rather be invisible.
My parents were strangers and so ill equipped. – no parenting skills, no support except from other drunk people, no money, mom was mentally ill (they didn’t know how to treat it then) and they were both drunk, all the time. And she’d play pharmacist with different pill cocktails. She would get physically sick and just stay in bed and he just passed out – like every day.
We were feral children. If we didn’t feed ourselves, it didn’t happen. Neighbors took pity on us and fed us once in a while which only added to the shame. Everyone knew our household was a disaster. We were dirty, disappointed, ashamed, but mostly we were scared, all the time.
Here are some of the highlights. My parents separated 9 times from between first grade and seventh – fighting, we’d move out, new school, then back again. I was put in the berry fields at 6 years old picking berries because my mother couldn’t deal with her children – only to have them take what money we did earn. Didn’t have money for food but the whiskey and cigarettes were plentiful. Dad went to jail – drunk driving. Mom went to a mental hospital – got shock treatments – forgot who we were. My sister tried took my dad’s 357 magnum and pointed it at my dad friend – at 10 years old. There were two house fires – both the result of passed out drunk while smoking. The first one we put out as a family and my dad rebuilt the damage because he was a carpenter. The second one, dad was gone. Mom passed out smoking and woke up to her hair and the bed on fire. When we woke up to the fire trucks, we thought she was in there but there’s the added bonus of bullets flying everywhere because doesn’t everyone keep ammo in their bedroom? It was terrifying. As a result, the family split again only this time my sisters stayed with my dad. That left me to take care of my mom, daily vitamin b shots for her alcoholism, cooking, cleaning. I was 11.
The hits go on and on but the point is, that was never going to happen to me, not ever.
They eventually separated for good, both stopped drinking, and were incredibly wonderful people. They really did do the best they could but it took me years to understand that.
Fast forward to high school, my sisters drank but I never did. I would go to the keggers because anyone who was anyone was there then I’d stand in judgement of everyone that was drinking. The beginning of a long career of comparing – ranking people, myself included, on the scale of good or bad, better or worse. Where do I fit in on that spectrum?
College – had a sip or two. Didn’t like the taste, still full of fear about becoming alcoholic, and not drinking enough to feel the effects so no motivation to try.
First drunk – home for the weekend for a party. My step sister knew I didn’t drink but gave me a dare. She filled a red solo cup with red wine and said – bet you can’t drink that in 7 gulps? And, being the good future alcoholic that I was, WATCH me. That was the first and only time I threw up as a result of my drinking. I had one hangover in my life. No consequences to deter me.
Eventually I found a few cocktails that I could choke down and would have one from time to time but I was still ok.
Met my husband – what drew me to him was that he was serious, stable, successful, husband material. Did I love him? Probably. But he was better than the losers or shall I say “free spirits” I had dated before. And he was my ticket to the life I always wanted.
We dated, went out for dinner, he’d pick me up at work for lunch, we’d see live music, theater, golf, he’d take days off to be with me. Life was perfect. Then we got engaged and it all changed.
He began working 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, traveling, lying to me, manipulating me, controlling me. But I didn’t see it because I had faith in the fairytale and in him. And, I’d made a commitment.
Things were Ok until out of the blue, after 17 years of sobriety, my dad killed himself and drank the day he died. We were absolutely destroyed. He was the anchor in our family. That was truly the beginning of the end for me.
We began spending time with his brother. By now I was 29. My sisters had figured out they were alcoholic and stopped drinking but not me. I was just getting started. My aunt drank wine which I thought was very sophisticated. She would offer it and I would accept. Nothing wrong with that. And I began to change. I began to realize what alcohol did for me.
In the midst of my grief, I thought it would be a great time to have a baby. So we did. I gave up my business to be a stay home mom – again fulfilling my dream or so I thought. But my husband was absent. It worked while I had a job and social interaction but by now, I was alone. He had alienated all my friends and family. I had no one. He was gone and I had this baby. And I wanted to die. I couldn’t get a divorce because that would ruin the dream and I’d made a commitment, I couldn’t kill myself because my sisters and I made an agreement that we never would, and I couldn’t live like this for the next 50 years. I felt trapped and crazy. I had everything I ever thought I wanted, everything that most people want. I had a beautiful new home, a house on Mt. Hood, new furniture, new cars, loving husband that made a ton of money, healthy baby but yet I wanted to die.
Then this amazing thing called the internet came along and ignited my addiction. I became obsessively involved with chat rooms and landed in a local chat room. These people got together Saturday nights to drink, dance, etc. Emphasis on the etc. I decided to go one time, to put names to faces, and I was the belle of the ball. But in order to be the belle of the ball, I had to have liquid courage. They thought I was smart, funny, beautiful, and after a few drinks, I believed them. And better yet, they had flexible values and morals and made my increasingly awful behavior Ok. And I’d wake up Sunday morning, back to being Martha Stewart, not hung over, I got away with it. I got the attention I needed and wasn’t getting at home and that worked for a while.
I started having some consequences as a result of my drinking and at one point, I decided that all my problems in my marriage were because I drank and AA was going to fix everything. I went to a meeting or two, got a sponsor for a minute, then despite couples therapy and effort, we separated and ultimately divorced. I had no child care for meetings so I stopped and that was that.
But, I didn’t drink for 8 months. And being away from the marriage, I felt relief and I felt free. But as one does, I figured I’ve gone all this time, surely I can drink like a lady now. Spoiler alert. Didn’t happen.
Eventually I got away from the internet crowd and replaced them with a poker playing crowd. We’d sit in bars and play Texas hold em every night. I thought because I was sitting between a pastor and a cop who eventually became my boyfriend, this was a wholesome activity. And I never considered that I might have a problem. I seldom drank around my daughter. I only drank when she was with her dad – which was half the time. She saw me drunk one time when we were on vacation. I had a big, important job, owned my house, had a few nickels to rub together, and didn’t drink like my parents so I was good.
Over time, I kind of figured out that I didn’t really like my boyfriend but he encouraged my drinking and because he was a cop, always drove me home. Well, he dumped me because I treated him horribly and would get mean when I was drunk. Over the course of 3 days, he dumped me, I got laid off, and I was being sued for rear ending someone. So, I drank. Except now I didn’t have a driver so I got arrested. I was .24 – should not have been conscious. And the crazy thing is I’d been way more drunk and driven home before.
So I spent a night in jail and went to an AA meeting the next day – not because I wanted to quit drinking but I figured my sister wouldn’t kill me if I did SOMETHING cuz she was good and pissed.
So I went to meetings – a lot of them – because I had nothing else to do. No job. Couldn’t drink. Couldn’t drive. And it was the only place I could shut my head up. So I’d get my daughter off to school, go back to bed, go to a noon meeting, go back to bed, get her from school, be a mom, go to an evening meeting, lather, rinse repeat. I got a sponsor. I worked the steps, and over time came to believe that you were my people. You made my horrible behavior Ok but not in a way that allowed me to continue and do worse, but in a way that allowed me to forgive myself and heal, because it’s just what we do when we are in our disease. You helped me realize that I’m not a horrible person. I’ve just done horrible things. It’s not who I am but what I’ve done. And, I spend my life now living with intention and making amends. When my grandma died, I could barely run in and say goodbye because I had someone in the car waiting for me so we could go drinking. When my mother died two years ago, I was able to comfort her and hold her hand when she took her last breath. I am changed.
I wish I could say that my life in sobriety is unicorns, rainbows, and that everyday is a ticker tape parade so I could inspire the newcomer to persevere but it isn’t and I’m frequently disappointed by that. Especially when I compare myself to everyone else and make up great stories about how much better you are than me. I expected that by now surely I’d be better – as in all better – but better isn’t a destination. I’m better than I was yesterday and the day before that. AA has given me the tools to do things differently, if I choose to use them. What I’m working on now in my recovery is self acceptance and trying to live in the middle – not better or worse. I’m trying to stop setting goals, achieving them, discounting that success, and raising the bar yet again so that I can stay “less than.” I am trying to learn about “enough.” I’m trying to let go of being sad when another layer of the onion is peeled back, my character defects or boomerangs as I like to call them, keep coming back, and I judge myself for how recovered I SHOULD be by now. Maybe someday I’ll be able to say that I have a life I never imagined like many of you do but I know that as long as I remain sober and work in recovery I have a chance. Recovery isn’t for sissies, but it’s worth it.
Sobriety date 11.22.08