On July 13th, 2007, I was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning–AGAIN (read: the second time in my life).
I only drank for six years–first year of college until right after my 24th birthday–but those six years were action packed.
My drinking started out as fun. Growing up, while absolutely adorable (see pictorial evidence below), I always felt like something was off. I struggled to fit in. I was constantly teased and bullied. I was the nerdy type in middle and high school, not entirely socially awkward but definitely insecure and hyper-sensitive–which made me a perfect target.
I battled with anxiety, OCD, and panic attacks throughout my childhood and teen years, and when I got to college, I wanted to shed that old identity and become a more “fun” version of myself. Whatever that meant. So naturally, underage drinking appealed to me–and I fell into a crowd of kids who liked to have a good time. (At the time, I didn’t think their–or my, for that matter, behavior was dangerous.) We had lots of fun and I became the life of the party. I was me–but I was a me that wasn’t anxious and fidgety. Hallelujah! Self-medication (I didn’t have the language then to know that’s what I was doing) didn’t feel so bad; I didn’t know that I was hiding from my problems but I felt alive, and I wanted to sustain that feeling.
Soon, though, fun for me often turned into fun with problems. Losing phones, drunk dialing (before I lost those phones), hazy memory. Then just problems. Going home with random guys, blacking out entirely, injuring myself (the infamous broken foot incident), embarrassing myself and my friends, over-sharing personal secrets, becoming “that” girl that had to be babysat, and waking up with dreaded hangovers cocooned by feelings of shame, guilt, and terror.
Believe it or not, it got worse after graduation. That was when I made my first hospital “visit.” Not a glamorous walk-through but an ambulance-driven, paramedic-carried, shame fest. And after that, I vowed never to drink again. I went through several dry periods but couldn’t commit to taking the leap to sobriety. None of my friends were going through this–how could I possibly not go to bars and parties at 22? How would I ever have fun again? So I slowly crept back into drinking, and I picked right back up where I left off. And that’s when the night of July 13th happened.
I was in New York City for the first time with a previous coworker. We drank airplane bottles all the way up from DC, drank some more at his friend’s place, drank some more at Madison Square Garden (MSG–not the preservative). Did I mention my sole subsistence for the day was a bagel? Before I knew it, I was running around in the lobby, one flip flop dangling, the other foot bare, without my purse, crying and begging for help. But the language that was coming out wasn’t English. It was drunk-babble. And no one could help me. Fortunately, the kindly MSG police officers called an ambulance and they whisked me away to a busy NYC hospital. When I came to, seven hours later–yes, this implies I blacked out–I was still drunk. But I had no way to find my cousin, who I was supposed to stay with post-concert (Dispatch, for those interested–amazing band–and I don’t remember a thing).
Unbeknownst to me, while I was passed out on the hospital bed, someone had turned in my purse to the MSG security guard. Everything was intact and my phone still had battery. So he called a recent number–either my mom or my cousin–and told whomever he spoke with that he had my belongings but I couldn’t be found. Yeah, that sounds like a fun call. I can’t imagine the sheer PANIC and TERROR my family went through as they listened to that man tell them they couldn’t trace back to me. And of course, when I came to, I didn’t have my phone and didn’t know any phone numbers by heart (my parents had just moved back to the States from living abroad and I hadn’t memorized their phone number) so the only thing I could think of was to call my Grandma. I lied to her–which I’ve had to forgive myself for–and told her I arrived late and needed my cousin’s phone number. Which she gave to me. (My lovely grandmother, who passed away in January of 2012, will always hold a dear place in my heart. Not only did she help save me that day, but she constantly believed in me and knew I would do something good with my life. Even though she never knew about my struggles with alcohol and my road to sobriety, I believe she could see that I changed my life for the better.) So I called my cousin, took the subway to her apartment, bathed in anxiety for the rest of the day, and the next day took the bus back to DC (remember, my bus ticket, along with everything else, was miraculously still in my purse!) feeling like I had escaped from my body and mind.
The only thing I could think to do was take a few days off of work with a bad excuse because I needed space to breathe. I called my health insurance company’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health division and asked for help. I met with a counselor who had me take the standard “Are you an Alcoholic” test, and I naturally answered “yes” to most of the questions but still couldn’t admit to a problem. Hell, I was only 24 and didn’t live under a bridge with paper bag-covered bottles of booze. I never drove drunk. So how could I be an alcoholic? Still though, I took that lovely woman’s suggestion and gave the group counseling sessions she led a try, and that was the beginning of my journey. Five weeks, three days a week for two hours each, coupled with 15 hours of Alcoholics Anonymous (that’s 15 separate times I had to sheepishly walk to the front of the room and get my paper signed). All of us were breathalyzed at the beginning of every counseling session–it was intense. We would always recite our sobriety dates at the beginning of “class,” and while mine continued to stay the same, many from my cohort changed each week. Somehow, mine didn’t change. I started to like not having alcohol as a crutch, but I still couldn’t think in terms of “forever.” It’s only when I read Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (Koren Zailckas is brilliant, by the way) that I felt an internal click–something (my newfound sobriety?) was churning inside of me. It was like living my life, in book form.
Soon my recovery started to become a source of pride for me. I would celebrate each month, and then each year. Lo and behold, by doing this “one day at a time” (one of the 12 step-isms that I will always love—and have, literally, tattooed on my back), with constant support from my family, friends, and a sense of spiritual attachment to the universe/nature, I will be celebrating eight years of continuous sobriety in July. Don’t get me wrong, I still have OCD. I still have panic attacks. I still have regular problems that regular people have.
But I face them all head on, and SOBER.
Laura is in long-term recovery from alcohol abuse–and is the founder of The Sobriety Collective, a community for amazing, creative people in recovery to come together and share their stories (sound familiar?). She firmly believes there is no one way to get and stay sober, and welcomes recovery in all shapes and forms. Feel free to send your stories of recovery to her at [email protected]. Connect with her on Twitter at @wearesober, Facebook–and get in on the conversation!
Celebrate with Laura on July 14, 2015 as she proudly achieves 8 years of continuous sobriety.