My cousin has a video of me she took on her phone and keeps as a kind of blackmail or perhaps more of a safeguard. It is a fabulous account of me in all my drunken glory walking along the main street of my hometown after exiting a nightclub. When I say I am drunk, I mean that I am drunk drunk—I’m at that obnoxious point where I am singing and hassling strangers in my party dress and carrying my shoes in my hand. At one stage, I lay down in the middle of the street with my legs up in the air and my two much younger cousins, who are babysitting me, are in hysterics laughing and trying to get me up. There was a time when I would see this as hysterical as they did, but now I just see it as tragic.
I cringe when I think about this and am very glad there is something for me to watch if I ever get it in my head that really I was not that type of drunk and things really weren’t that bad. Alas things got worse—much worse. While my drinking was always excessive, the consequences started to get really bad a few years before this video was made, when my marriage broke up and I began a one-way journey to self-destruction.
Of course at the time, the world was to blame for my drinking. It was my ex-husband’s fault for not caring, it was my mother’s fault for abandoning me when I needed her, it was my father’s fault for being a drinker, and the list went on. Never once did I consider that I was my own biggest problem, nor did I think that I had a problem with alcohol. In fact, as far as I was concerned, I was entitled to drink and have fun because most of the time my life was crap. The truth of the matter was that there was no one reason for me taking this path, no one event out of the hundreds of catastrophes I encountered that sent me into meltdown; I simply could not cope with life on any level—not the good bits nor the bad bits. And to help me survive, I needed something, anything, as long as it numbed me physically, mentally and emotionally.
On January 23rd of 2010, I came to after a three-day birthday celebration. I had just turned 35. I was battered and bruised, shaking from withdrawals and at a loss to remember what had happened or how I’d gotten into this state. I lay there in my bed wondering how my life had turned to shit. I had lost my sanity, my marriage and my home, in that order, and if I didn’t get help soon, I knew I would lose my children. My family had all but given up on me and I knew it was because the pain of watching me destroy myself was too much to bear. That morning, however, something inside of me changed. I still can’t explain what it was that changed, or why I didn’t go get a drink to stop the shakes like I normally did. I remember laying there, crying, realizing for perhaps the first time how big a problem I had, and saying out loud to nobody in particular that I needed help and I needed it now.
And so I went to rehab. I did an outpatient program, since I felt my children wouldn’t cope if I went away for a whole month. The reactions I received from friends and family varied from “Oh you’re not that bad—you’re just a drama queen” to “I’m so glad you’re finally doing something about your drinking” to “My God, I never knew you had a problem.”
I will never forget the initial meeting I had with the rehab coordinator. I sat beside my mother as Sister Maureen asked me what my behavior was like when I drank. When she asked me if I danced on tables and took my clothes off, I didn’t know whether to laugh because it was such an unusual thing to hear coming from a nun or cry because of course I had and how the hell do you admit to something like that when your mother is sitting beside you? So I lied and said, “No, not that I can recall.”
I went home after that meeting full of fear, not knowing what lay ahead or how I was ever going to get through life without even one glass of wine to prop me up. I poured my stash of booze down the sink and got rid of the hundreds of empty bottles in the garage. My body began its detox from years of battering it with alcohol and drugs and there were days when the cravings for a drink were so bad that I didn’t think I would get through it. But I did. The kids noticed immediately that I wasn’t taking my usual route around the supermarket and asked me why I was avoiding the alcohol aisle; they also noticed that they were not waking up in the morning to find me asleep in the living room in a chair where I had passed out the night before. There were no shaking hands while pouring cereal into their bowls in the morning and generally my life began to improve immediately.
Three-and-a half years later, I’m still learning how to navigate through life without chemical support. I’ve had some rough days—days where I’ve felt everything so intensely and haven’t known how to handle it since dealing with feelings is an altogether new process for me. And I’ve had days so beautiful that I don’t even know how to put it into words. I haven’t sung in the street for a while wearing a party dress and clutching my shoes, but I know that if I did it now, no one would have to videotape it for me to remember.
Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website intherooms.com. You can see her blogs on iloverecovery.com. She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland. Drunk girl photo courtesy of lynnrockets.
Categories: Getting Sober