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[ Personal Narratives ]

How Alcoholism Crept Up On Me…

Growing up with an alcoholic Mom was at times torment for me as a little girl. I spent so many nights not sure which Mom I was going to get; sober Mom (which was rare), buzzed Mom or over the edge drunk Mom who was angry and the person to blame was me. I did everything I could to be perfect both at home and at school always hoping that by being the perfect daughter and student, it would somehow make her not want to drink. As I got older, my need to be perfect brought with it anger and resentment as I realized nothing I did mattered. I would never have the Mom that I dreamed of, one that would care more about me than drinking, or at least that was my mentality about alcoholism back then. All I knew FOR SURE was one thing…I would NEVER end up like her!

I kept my promise for many years, I was always a little goody two shoes and that was the character I portrayed. I was the responsible Pom Pon Captain who upheld all the rules. My perfectionism was always there and my need to be an overachiever was sometimes overwhelming. I was always hard on myself and never good enough for me but I was on a quest to get there…to some unreachable place I created in my head when I couldn’t make myself “enough” for my own Mom. Who I showed up as on the outside didn’t match what I felt like on the inside but I never wanted anyone to see that person; the scared, insecure little girl who was filled with anxiety and sadness. I just wanted to feel as normal as everyone else appeared to me; Never thinking that they too, may be hiding from someone else on the inside, just like me.

I started to experiment with drinking for the first time in college. I do remember that I could never have just one. I aways had to keep going and keep up with everyone, but in college, there were so many others drinking just as much as me if not more, that I never thought twice about it nor stood out. I was a bartender, a Budweiser girl, a Jaegermeister girl, and any other gig I was asked to do, because I was good at it. I made a lot of money bartending in college and that became my click. We all stayed after the bar closed and drank more, played darts, and usually went home around 2am or later. I was able to keep up with school and was also able to leave the alcohol alone if I didn’t feel like it. I still wasn’t “her”. I still wasn’t my Mom, and by this time, she had stopped calling, never came to visit me down at school and I finally confronted her and told her that I couldn’t watch her kill herself any longer. I told my Mom that it was me or the drinking. She didn’t choose me and I said my goodbyes.

After I graduated college, I got a good job downtown, moved back in with my Dad and really didn’t look back on my college drinking days as anything significant or to be worried about. They were fun but I was a responsible adult now or at least that was my new character I portrayed on the outside. I had a corporate job and that was who I was. So my drinking tapered back for the most part. The only time I would really drink was on the weekends with all the other younger corporate newbies. What I realize in hindsight was that more often than not, when I did drink, I would drink to get drunk. I would rarely have just one and have water after that although there were still times I was able to do that. Then the week would start and I would be “corporate girl” again, focusing on climbing the ladder and making something of myself. My perfectionism took hold again and I climbed that ladder of success.

I lived in the city for about 5 years and met my first husband Joe there. Living in the city was the thing to do. I still drank on the weekends, but Joe always drank himself to oblivion. I really didn’t like drunk Joe, but I loved him and just found a way to overlook his drinking and pot smoking. During our time of living in the city I got a call one night that my Mom had died. Her final months were spent alone, in isolation with her disease and she drank herself to death. It was awful and painful, but as always, I stayed strong and got through it. I suppose shortly after I realized I couldn’t “fix” her I turned my attention to Joe. He had already had a DUI (his 3rd actually), no license and no aspirations and I thought I could help him get all those things. I just wanted to fix someone; show someone that they could have a better life. I felt a desperation to do that for Joe, since deep down I felt responsible for my Mom. So, I did the next right thing (or so I thought) and within a year, Joe and I were married and living in the house that I grew up in that we bought from my Dad. Back in the same house where my own childhood took place. A place that would later haunt me in many ways.

Five years and two beautiful kids later I realized that our marriage was crumbling. I tried so hard to make things work. I tried marriage counseling and he would just sit there, I tried taking us on getaways and he was emotionless. I tried any angle I could to support him and our marriage but nothing was working. I was worn out and feeling alone. I never talked about it with anyone because I didn’t want it to be true and from the outside, we were a perfect all american family. The thought of breaking out of my new character of perfect Mom and wife terrified me. I finally realized after several attempts that it just wasn’t working and I couldn’t live like that anymore. Something had to give. After more built up resentment and growing apart, I divorced Joe. I wasn’t perfect, I had an emotional affair leading up to the divorce when a man that I worked with picked up on my vulnerability and I was not proud of allowing that attention in, but after years of fighting for my marriage, I was smitten by this kind of flattery. It was an awful split and because he played the part of “victim of life” so well, Joe set out to make me appear to be the most awful person in the world. He called me every name in the book, defaced my character, and let out all our dirty laundry to anyone who would listen. Since I kept our troubles secret, my emotional affair made the demise look like it was me being selfish and I lost many of our friends who turned their back on me. Joe’s words destroyed me, and I eventually told myself that I was everything he called me and then some. It was all unbearable, and eventually I lost my self esteem, my self worth and my identity during this horrendous time. I broke character and now I too was broken.

I started to have more glasses of wine at night to cope. I just didn’t want to feel this way anymore. The pain of the new identity I had taken on was too much to bear. My facade was shattered and I didn’t want to face any of it. And finally the realization hit me…the perfectionist and overachiever who to the outside world had it all, just failed and it was all out for everyone to see. Who I was on the inside was now bare and open and raw for the first time. I was experiencing the biggest failure of my life and it was too much to bear. I went from climbing the ladder of success to falling down the ladder of life and every step down was a new low. Everything I worked all my life to hold together fell completely apart and I succumbed to it. The dam burst inside me and all the negativity that I had been fed since I was a child came pouring out and from that my new character was created. I felt like nothing but a worthless soul. My decent had begun. It was as if something flipped, like a switch in my head that had been unactivated, laying dormant for all these years, just waiting to be switched on. And just like that, I went from a seemingly perfect all american girl to a woman who would live in denial over the next 8 years as my disease progressed and slowly took over. It would take many years to finally identify who this new character was…an alcoholic.