my story by pam s
Hi, my name is Pam and I'm an alcoholic. I'm a mother, daughter, friend, smart cookie, hot mess...on a good day I can make a pretty objective list. On bad days, I can barely look in the mirror. As I write this, I've been sober for 11 years. It wasn't my first attempt at sobriety, but it's definitely my last. I didn't get sober through any program but was lucky to find help in the form of an incredible therapist. He taught me many of the philosophies and principles that recovery programs outline, he just didn't call it AA.
My long and illustrious drinking career (as I like to call it) is partly inherited and partly circumstantial. I know now that I’m an alcoholic, whether or not I drink. That's hard wired in my DNA. I come from a long line of alcoholics. When I was young I used to take care of my mom while my dad was at work. I was in charge of making sure that she had something to vomit in and didn't choke. So there's that part of it. You can't escape your genes. Then there's the other set of circumstances that made it necessary to escape reality.
Without going into detail, I was sexually abused from a very young age. My story is not uncommon. I had secrets and guilt and I couldn’t understand or rationalize the things that were happening to me. By middle school, I had some pretty big (and still secret) demons and a whole lot of denial. My mom had gotten her drinking under control, but my dad had a stressful job, so he drank often. It looked like SO much fun. I kept begging my parents to let me try alcohol, and when I was 12, they finally relented. Whatever I picked from the liquor cabinet, they said, I had to drink it all. I picked Jack Daniels. It was horrid, but I was determined. Suffice it to say, I got really drunk and really sick. I didn't even drink a fourth of the bottle. It was enough to quell my curiosity for a little while. I finished middle school without drinking again, but as painful as that first drinking experience was, I loved the way it felt. My family didn't talk about things like alcoholism, so I didn't have any reason to be concerned about how much I liked alcohol.
I made it through my first year of high school without alcohol. It didn’t take long until I found the “right” friends who had easy access to drugs and booze and I was happy to hide from my pain and insecurities by drinking and getting high. I wasn’t like my friends though, they could stop…I couldn’t. By my senior year, I barely showed up to school. When I did, I was useless. How I graduated, I still don’t know. I walked my high school graduation with a raging hangover. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to college.
I hadn't made the connection between drinking, the genetic link and the trauma that I was hiding from in my past. But this perfect storm made it easy to act out. When I drank, more often than not, I chose to harm myself as well. I would cut or hit myself. I would bang my head against a wall, scratch or even chew holes in my skin. I remember falling down outside once and forcefully rubbing my face back and forth across the gravel until one side of my face was shredded. I lacked coping skills, so the only way I could deal with the emotional pain was through physical release. I was rapidly losing control, abusing myself and everyone who tried to help me. I drank until I blacked out, stole money, stole alcohol, I was hostile and aggressive at home. I pushed my parents to the breaking point. I didn't care anymore. All I wanted to do was drink. I had good friends who looked after me, but I also attracted “friends” that were more interested in abusing me. Still, I didn't care. As long as I could get drunk, the rest was just noise.
My parents kicked me out of the house in the middle of the night shortly after my 18th birthday. It was three in the morning, and all I had were the clothes on my back. I didn't even have shoes. Fortunately, there was a park near the house that I'd slept at before, then I snuck back home the next day to get my things. I spent all of my free time with these so-called friends, couch surfing when I could, sleeping in parks or at the beach. I even knew some of the park rangers by name because I'd been kicked out so many times. Things got worse. I made bad choices and suffered painful, and sometimes unthinkable consequences, then I drank to avoid the pain or just forget. It was a vicious cycle.
I soon met a normie who didn't mind how I drank. It wasn't always pretty, but he let me drink the way I needed to. We got married after a couple of years and I got pregnant on our honeymoon. Although it was difficult, I stayed sober for a couple of years. I had to sweat it out, but it wasn't a question for me. I just white knuckled it until I could get through the days without wanting to punch people in the face just for looking at me. Even though I wasn't drinking, my alcoholic behavior was still there. My marriage was far from ideal, and by the time our son was two, I was drinking again. I was really good at being a functioning alcoholic. I could get through most days without drinking, but once I got home I needed my drink. Tired of being unhappy, I began to see a therapist. He illuminated a path that allowed me to see and own my choices rather than blame anyone else. None of this stopped me from drinking, but it did help me to acknowledge it. I tried a few AA meetings at this point, but it I didn’t get it. I was too intimidated and unmotivated to keep searching for a place in AA. My therapist recommended that I join group therapy. To my surprise, it changed my life. In this group, I found people who were just like me. I learned about codependence, and started standing up for myself. By this point my relationship was pretty toxic, and I moved out. I was still drinking, but as fate would have it, I quickly realized I was pregnant again. White knuckle time. I kept this information to myself for a couple of weeks trying to decide if I wanted to stay married, if I was ready for the fight. I went back. This time I focused on being more independent and standing up for myself. I stopped drinking until my daughter was about a year old. I told myself I can just have one drink and I'll be fine.
After a couple of years, we decided to move away from my hometown to a place where we knew no one. I left my support network behind and I was married to someone who was quick to point out how inadequate I was and that I couldn't do anything right. This was a recipe for disaster. I had two small children and was trying to live up to some fairly unreasonable expectations. They weren't my expectations, but I felt like a failure nonetheless. I started falling apart. I was working late, taking care of two kids and trying to run a household in a place where it didn't fit in. I just turned 30 and I was lost. I started drinking with friends after work. Soon I was staying out until just before I had to get the kids up for school. I was numb, I was broken, and it was getting harder and harder to feel. I started hurting myself again. It's amazing what a little bit of pain will do. I could feel… At least for a few minutes. I was no longer managing my life. I loved my kids with everything that I had, but I still couldn't stop drinking. It was the only way I could get through the day. I'm not proud of it, but in some weird way, it saved my marriage.
I was unraveling and stopped coming home. I was hanging out with people who were 10 to 15 years younger than me, and rapidly approaching mental collapse. My husband realized he couldn't control me anymore. Somehow it was enough to change the dynamic in our relationship. He stopped criticizing and demanding, and began contributing. I agreed to stop drinking. Things got better. We made friends with other couples. When we got together, they drank to excess, and I watched. This went on for a few years, then one night, for no reason in particular, I decided that it would be OK to have one drink. The moment I did, it was like my pores opened up and screamed to be fed. One drink led to another, and another and another. This bender lasted for about six months. I managed to take care of the kids, go to work, and look like I had it all together, yet every night as soon as I got home from work, I fed the beast. On the nights I made it off of the couch, if I couldn't make it to the bedroom, I'd sleep in the hall, or in the bathroom, wherever I passed out. I don't know what my husband told the kids, and they never asked me any questions.
The trauma from my past was beginning to haunt me. I started acting out again. Not coming home, hurting myself. I looked at my kids and realized that I couldn't keep doing this. I needed to be there for them. It was as simple as that.
The moment that got me sober this time was rather comical. We had friends over and proceeded to get wasted while the kids played and entertained each other. Between the four of us we had six kids ranging in age from 2 to 12. We ended up passing out in the living room and I was the first adult to wake up the next morning. I walked into the kitchen to find that the kids had made their own breakfast. They weren't in their rooms, it was about 8 am. I stopped to listen and heard them in the front yard. When I walked out onto the front porch, I thought I'd lost my mind. There was a jello-like mound in the lawn about the size of a small car, and all six kids were jumping on it. I thought I was hallucinating. Apparently one of the sprinklers broke underground and filled up underneath the lawn, creating a trampoline for the kids. While it was wildly funny from the outside, all I could think about was what if one of the kids had somehow drowned, run out into the street, fallen?! I was still drunk from the night before. I felt like horrible mother. Dammit, I had to figure out why I kept doing this. White knuckle time again.
It was about this time that we uprooted and moved halfway across the country. I managed to stay sober through the transition. We had a nice house in the suburbs, fancy cars, nice things, vacations, and neighbors that really really really liked to drink. For a while, I could watch them drink and it was okay. It was particularly difficult around the holidays, and about a year after we moved to the burbs, we had a big party. One of my favorite neighbors stayed after and I decided that I would have just one glass of wine. I didn't even like wine. Once again, I didn’t realize that I couldn’t stop once I started. I drank the whole bottle pretty quickly. When my neighbor got up to leave, rather than getting up to say goodbye, I vomited into my own shirt. It was quite impressive actually. I stumbled upstairs and managed to get in the shower with all my clothes on while containing this crazy mess. I had countless experiences that were more humiliating or painful than this, but for whatever reason, I finally got it. I can't. I'll never be able to have "just one drink". It's just how it is. White knuckle time again.
Later that year, I met a police officer who taught safety and personal protection to the community in which she worked. I attended one of her seminars and I relived the violence and assaults I had survived as she spoke. She explained it with such eloquence, it was like she saw all the things that happened to me, explained why, and offered me a solution. I was in awe. I approached her after the seminar and told her how powerful and meaningful this information was to me. I volunteered to assist her when she taught again. I began to help her set up classes and seminars, pored over the material, asked questions, read books, articles and case studies about sexual violence. Oddly enough, it was like therapy for me. I still wanted to drink, but somehow I was healing through this experience. Pretty soon, I was helping her demonstrate fighting techniques, and I worked up the courage to ask her if I could start teaching as well. I finally had answers and purpose and I could give back. This felt better than drinking ever did. It made sense and it felt right.
I look back at my life and although there are still things that come up from time to time that knock me down, I've learned to embrace my experiences. I understand how they happened and why I reacted as I did. It's easy for me to recount my story without flinching anymore, and I teach because I know that if I say something that changes someone else's outcome, my life and my pain are worth it. I know that those things happened to me because I needed them so I could help other people. This is bigger than just me. It didn't kill me. I survived for a reason.
My kids are grown now, and just recently, my daughter drove her car into a telephone pole and got a DUI. It's frightening to watch your kids repeat your mistakes. Her drinking has become unmanageable, and much like me she can't live without it. I am trying to gently introduce the idea of alcoholism to her but she's not ready to hear it.
I recently reconnected with someone from my past who is heavily involved in AA. He invited me to join him at an AA meeting and to be there when he got his eight-year chip. In this meeting, I finally felt comfortable. It made sense to me. I'm attending AA and Al-Anon meetings. This amazing man gave me an 11-year chip ON my 11th birthday. He told me to be proud. He helped me to see that even though I may not have gained sobriety through the program, I still earned it. Then he asked me to share my story. So yes, my name is Pam and I'm an alcoholic. But more than that, I'm a survivor.