― Brené Brown
I heard in a meeting once that getting sober and staying sober is one of the most rebellious things you can do in an addictive society. I like that, I like to think of myself as a rebel, I always have.
Last week, someone messaged me on my blog site and asked me about my ‘back story.’ Thank you for asking. I really enjoy being around curious people. So I looked back over the past several years of blog writing and I realized I haven’t really talked much about who I am and why I’m here writing. So I decided to take the plunge and give my ‘back story’. It’s rather long, and it feels sort of self-indulgent to write it out. I’ll try to keep it succinct, but I can’t guarantee it. Feel free to jump to the end if you get bored.
Most of the people who know me well, know that I don’t drink, that it’s a choice I made many years ago. Being sober isn’t ALL that I am, but it’s a very important piece of who I am. I made the choice for all the right reasons, but it’s not a straight-forward story.
I grew up in a chaotic home, with an alcoholic mother and father. My mother was the identified alcoholic, because she drank at home and got drunk and looked sloppy. My father looked good, drove a good car, had a good job, and also drank a lot, but functioned well. Both were alcoholics, both hugely impacted my childhood obviously. I remember every holiday had massive amounts of booze, family members drank, got drunk, and there was inevitably someone locked in the bathroom crying. There weren’t huge fights often, although they certainly happened. Mostly the drama was sadness, my mother listening to opera records in the kitchen crying, while the ironing piled up next to the ironing board that was always out. The curtains stayed shut at our house, the house remained in perpetual dimness. That’s my memory.
When I was 12 and my sister was 16, my father decided that he didn’t want to live in that dim house anymore and he took off; it was the day before Christmas Eve. The pain was immense. And it became our secret. My mother made us vow not to tell anyone that he had left, it was too shameful. So my sister and I added another shameful secret to our repertoire. Don’t invite friends home; they might see our mother drunk; they might notice our father gone.
I learned early on that booze numbed the pain and helped deal with the shame. I was about 13 the first time I drank and got drunk. It was pretty inevitable. I drank, I felt cool and rebellious and comfortable in my skin. My memories of high school weekends all involve alcohol, usually of me getting sick and passing out somewhere, wherever we were drinking. Somehow I always made it home, often not remembering how.
Then at 16, my world collapsed. My mother died of alcoholism. I didn’t know how I was supposed to carry on. That period is hazy, I remember drinking a lot and smoking a lot of pot. The pain was too big. I didn’t believe there was any alternative but to numb it out.
Fast forward through high school and college, partying a lot, somehow surviving and graduating. The day after graduating from high school, I moved away for the summer and partied most days. And soon after graduating from college, I left CA to drive across country, staying in campsites across the country, always ending the day with a 6 pack of beer. Eventually I moved up to Juneau, Alaska and became a bartender at The Red Dog Saloon, a kid in a candy shop. There was always plenty of booze and the added elixir of cocaine now became prevalent. It felt fun, dangerous, outrageous and oh so rebellious . . . until it didn’t . . . and then it felt scary and like a trap. I remember thinking to myself, if I continue down this path, I am going to die here, either in a car crash or just burning my body out. I remember so clearly imagining standing at a crossroads and having to make a decision: Stay here and continue this life style or get out. Luckily I had the option, an invitation from Jeff, (my friend then who later became my husband) to go travel. So I packed up and left.
We spent the next 4 years travelling and working around Asia and the South Pacific. When we returned to the US in 1987, I started drinking heavily again. And I got scared. Interestingly, it was an astrologist who confronted me. I went to see an astrologist in Ashland, Oregon where we were living at the time to get my chart done. She pointed to an area in my chart and said: “Looks like a lot of addiction in your system” – and I said yeah, my mother died of alcoholism; and she said, yeah but there’s more here, and I said yeah my father is also an alcoholic and she looked me in the eye and said: “Yeah but this looks personal… Are you an alcoholic?” Boom! I collapsed in her little room and sobbed. Confronted, the shame was aired, the secret was out, I couldn’t hide.
That same day as the reading, Jeff and I were driving to Tucson, AZ for Jeff to finish his BA. We got to Tucson in January 1988. Two days before my 30th birthday, I went to my first AA meeting. I walked into a woman’s meeting and I felt love, acceptance and at home. Grateful beyond measure.
I’d love to say I’ve been sober and happy ever since, but as I said earlier, it’s not that straight-forward. I wanted to stay sober because Jeff didn’t like being around me when I was drunk… fair enough, neither did I. And I was committed to being sober for the children that Jeff and I were planning to have; I was fiercely determined not to be my mother.
In 1989, Jeff and I got married, we had a sober wedding; it was beautiful. In 1992, we moved to New Zealand, Jeff got a job teaching and we decided NZ would be a wonderful place to raise a family. We had our two sons in a small town in NZ on the coast of The Coromandel Peninsula. Life was good, I felt content.
I found a very small AA community in our small town and went to meetings. I do not want in anyway to blame anyone in that community… but I began to feel estranged, I felt like I did not belong. It was so different from my women’s meeting in Tucson. It was mostly old men in the rooms, and most of them did not want to talk about emotional sobriety, or talk about much else besides ‘Just don’t pick up and go to meetings!’ When I did talk about feelings and discomfort and didn’t respond well to ‘Just don’t pick up and go to meetings’ – I felt bullied and quit going to meetings. It was about that time that both boys were in school, and my full time motherhood role was diminished. And the social scene I found myself in often consisted of wine on the deck of one of the mother’s houses, while the kids played outside. The wine was alluring, the scene was cool and I felt like I didn’t belong with the sober people in town.
I was also feeling strongly that I understood my drinking habits, that I understood the underlying causes . . . I had done A LOT of therapy at that point!
So in 2000, after 12 years of sobriety, I decided that I could drink a bit and I’d be fine. I made deals with myself; I could have 2 glasses of wine on the deck with the other mothers, but no more. I could have 2 beers at the pizza party with the other families but not more. I was fastidiously ‘controlling’ my drinking behaviour . . . until I wasn’t. After several years, I was hiding how much I was drinking, making sure no one noticed when I refilled my glass, hiding wine bottles at the bottom of recycling, lying to people about how much I was drinking on a regular basis. I wasn’t drinking every day, I wasn’t getting in trouble, I lied about it being all under control, but mostly I was lying to myself and I knew it.
In 2014, just before my youngest son left for college, I had this thought in my head: “Once the kids are out of the house, I can drink as much as I want to!” and I knew that was really sick thinking, terrifying. I journalled and thought about where I was, who I was and who I wanted to be. I wrote about being My Best Self . . . and realized that that best version of myself did not include alcohol. So on the first of November 2014, I gave up alcohol again, this time, hopefully, for good.
And what I’ve come to realize about my sobriety this time is that I have decided not to drink anymore for ME. Not because I want to be a good mother, although obviously that plays into the decision hugely, I do want to be a good mother to my sons. And my decision to not drink was not made to hang on to my husband, although Jeff has said many times that he likes me a lot more when I’m not drinking. No the decision not to drink came because I want to like me, I want to be proud of me, I want to feel good about myself. I was ready …
And I believe that this is an act of rebellion in this day and age.
Just check out the social media groups: Moms Who Need Wine have over 700K likes; Mommy needs a beer over 990K likes; Women and Wine; Women & Wine; Wine Women – several hundred thousand likes, and Mommy Needs Vodka over 3.5 million likes.
Search online, and you’ll find hundreds of memes that joke about why women need a drink to get through the day or week — whether it’s related to their kids or their job. There’s an endless supply of products around this topic — like wine glasses emblazoned with the words “Mommy’s Little Helper.” A Facebook group called “Moms Who Need Wine” has more than 700,000 members. And #WineWednesday is often a trending topic on Twitter by midweek.
After that rebellious decision to quit drinking, I knew I needed to find like-minded people. I joined quite a few ‘sober communities’ online, but I didn’t want to return to the AA rooms here in my small town. But then a wonderful thing happened; I saw a couple my own age that I recognized from past times in the recovery community here. I approached the woman and asked if she was still in recovery and she said yes. And to make a long story a bit less long, we created our own meeting, focusing on emotional sobriety, free of bullying and open to anyone wanting to deal with any kind of addiction. We follow the tenets of NA, but are open to everyone dealing with any addiction. We are focused on love and openness and community.
I guess I did not ‘come out’ completely before now because I am in a small town and it feels like a big deal to lay it all out there. But what I have found, is that almost every time I talk about my recovery and choosing not to drink, someone asks me more about it, and often people reach out to me for help. And that feels important. And I guess with all the ‘sober influencers’ now, it feels safer to ‘come out’ – Instagram Hashtags like: #SoberCurious, #SoberLife, #SoberAF, and #SoberIsSexy are becoming common in the social media universe. Celebrities are coming out as sober; people are talking about it as a sane choice in an insane world. My mentors like Brené Brown are celebrating their sobriety publically.
Quotes like this one from Mary Karr are found popping up:
“When I got sober, I thought giving up [alcohol] was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite. That’s when the sparkle started for me.”