Can you remember your first drink?
I remember mine.
I was 13 years old.
That first pull of Black Velvet burned. But when the second and third hit my stomach, euphoria washed over me, wrapping me from head to toe like a mink blanket. More than 40 years later and my pulse still quivers at the thought. It was love at first sip. A femme fatal. Slipped into like a pair old faded Levi jeans.
It tasted awful, but I wanted more. I was instantly hooked.
I knew nothing about addiction. All I knew was if one drink could make me feel that good, then more was better. “Omnipotent,” a word Preacher pontificated. “Exquisite,” my friend Barbie would later say. It was pure bliss. I could breathe with ease. My skin fit like a glove.
I chased that feeling for the next 20 years, never quite capturing the elusiveness and almost died trying.
If only I knew then what I know now, I could have saved years of pain and hardship.
In the Beginning, It Was Fun
I was young and wild and free. I loved dancing and listening to Janis Joplin. Damn, that girl could sing. I had a record player and a copy of Tea for the Tillerman and Madman Across the Water that I listened to over and over.
After I became a wife and mother, even housework could be a party with the right LP and a bottle of wine. It didn’t have to be expensive. A glass of Cold Duck did the same as a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Then it was fun with problems. Single mom. Drug addict boyfriend. Acting out teenager.
Then it was just problems.
Before I knew it, 20 years had passed.
Mornings were the worst. I hated waking up. On instant high-alert. Heart pounding like Charlie Watt’s machine gun drumming on Voodoo Lounge. Next would be the “you did it again, loser” flogging. Then dread as I strained to piece the evening together. “Where did I go? What did I do?? Where was my son??!!” Pulsating migraine, curdling nausea, gray skin, sweating, out of breath, fatigued. All this before I even lifted my head from the pillow.
I’d been saying for years, “This is it. I’m not drinking anymore.”
Then the voices would start.
“What the hell, have one. Just one.”
Next thing, I’d have a drink in my hand.
Beneath the chaos was a deep yearning. It came from behind my breastbone, a gaping hole where I ached for something more. Something deeper… more purposeful… more meaningful.
I might have gotten help sooner had I known my biggest fears were lies.
The Lies I Believed
When addicted, I denied, justified, and minimized my drinking.
Which of the following can you relate to?
- “It’s not that bad.”
- “Alcohol (and other drugs) are the solution to my problems. Not the cause.”
- “Get off my back.”
- “No harm in having one.”
- “You’d drink too if (fill in the blank)”
- “This time will be different.”
It stopped me from taking responsibility and getting the help I needed.
How Do You Know When Drinking is a Problem?
Different levels of alcohol use exist: experimentation, social and recreational use, habituation, abuse, and addiction (alcoholism).
Without going into medical jargon, probably the biggest indication you have a problem is if you think you do. Social drinkers rarely question their drinking. They can have one or two, then stop. Imagine that.
Others may abuse alcohol or other drugs while going through difficult times, then when things settle down go back to social use. But some of us are hard wired differently. We have a difficult time stopping once we start.
My friend Sue, another woman in recovery said, “People who are not alcoholic do not understand why you can’t just use a little willpower to stop drinking. Addiction has nothing to do with willpower. Addicts are in the grip of a powerful craving, an uncontrollable need that overrides their ability to stop. This need can be so strong that getting that next drink, pill, hit, line, whatever… becomes more important than anybody or anything else.”
You Are Not Alone
That addiction only happens to “certain” or “other” people is a myth. Addiction is non-discriminatory and affects millions of people around the world. If you have not experienced a substance use problem first-hand, you likely have a family member, friend or colleague who has.
Women are particularly vulnerable. The Centre of Disease Control reports the highest risk group for drinking at elevated levels is white, post-secondary educated, middle- to upper middle-income women.
Statistics also report women’s drinking is catching up with men’s for the first time in history. This is due to changing cultural norms, and the power of social media and especially the alcohol industry.
4 Things I Wish I’d Known
- Had I received age appropriate information about addiction, it would have helped me put words to some of my experiences and emotions. Instead I grew up feeling “different” and thinking there was something terribly wrong with me.
- Addiction is an illness. Like other medical conditions, if left untreated it progressively worsens. Untreated it will eventually take you down. Believe me. It will. Don’t for a second think it won’t. You are not unique.
- A myth exists that alcoholics must hit rock bottom before they get help. That is not true. For some, rock bottom means death. If not, you’ll wish it were. If you’ve got a problem, get help before 20 years pass by.
- I didn’t think there was life after alcohol and drugs. However, what I considered to be a death sentence has become the best time of my life.
Is There Life After Drugs and Alcohol?
There absolutely is. It is called recovery. It’s called freedom. Your second chance. It’s the grace of god, love, beautiful, and so much more than just quitting. Stopping is merely the tip of the iceberg; a prerequisite to getting better.
I’m not talking about trying harder or “getting it through your thick skull” as I know you might have been told. Recovery is a process. No quick fix exists. Nobody comes alone to save you. There is no knight in shining armor. It’s about “becoming,” and growing into the person you are meant to be.
Admitting I needed help and reaching out is the most important decision I have ever made. If you want your life to change, pick up the phone. Call the AA, NA, Life Ring, or the Crisis helpline. Find your tribe. You need them and they need you.
Do you need detox? Contact alcohol and drug services. Join a church, if that’s your thing. Go for counselling. Get a coach. A guru. Check-out an on-line peer support group. But find something, anything, that feeds your soul. Addiction is a disease of delusion, isolation and loneliness. The antidote is human connection.
Listen to the quiet voice. What’s it telling you to do?
Is Recovery Hard Work?
Hell yeah. But harder was the life I lived before that. In fact, no comparison. I have undergone a distinct personality change.
You can too.
But it’s up to you to rise to the occasion.
Become your own knight in shining armor. A freedom fighter. A regal goddess marching into battle. And when life knocks you down, you get back up. And you get back up. And you get back up, again.
Fierce. Proud. Dignified.
Along the way miraculous things will happen.
This is not a trip you are going to want to miss!!
Janet Christie is an Addiction Recovery Coach, blogger, educator, and intuit. Janet loves to facilitate positive change which empowers women, mothers, and families. In her spare time, she likes to…haha! Spare time. You are adorable. Janet is available to provide recovery coaching support. What is Addiction Recovery Coaching? Book your FREE 30-minute consultation.
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P.S. Before you leave, please share your thoughts and comments below. What are some other things you wish you knew about addiction? If you prefer, you may email me in confidence.