Why I chose to recover out loud
The shift in my relationship with alcohol did not happen overnight. It was a slow, insidious slide into unwellness that I should have seen coming given my genetic background, family history and fears of abandonment. But I did not.
Alcohol was my solution, no, it had more power than that; I thought it was my friend. I celebrated with it, grieved with it, hid with it, I counted on it. It was my most secret relationship, my lover, an affair. I protected it at all costs, and, I mean ALL costs, because it was the only tool I had to deal with my pain, my fears, and my overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. I drank alone, in secrecy, and I drank a lot.
I protected this secret because I had no other coping skills. But I have discovered that I also protected this secret because I couldn’t let the world see this dark, ugly, bad part of me. My core belief was that I was unworthy, if you knew this about me, you too would see my unworthiness and agree I was bad and I would be shunned and abandoned all over again. So, I lived two lives. In one life, I lived a fairytale in a beautiful community, in a beautiful home. I had five amazing, wonderful children. I was head of committees and volunteered in my community and in my children’s schools. I was thin (had to be thin to make this fairytale work!) and I seemed to do it all with ease.
But my other life was dark and lonely. I swam in anxiety and fear daily and my only solution was my 5 o’clock glass of wine. It eased it all for a moment…but, just a moment. I could never hang onto that first moment so, chasing that feeling, that glass of wine turned in to several, then a bottle, and then vodka.
I lived this secret life for many, many years. I could not tell anyone (though many knew) because then they would know how broken I really was, that I was not a good mother or wife…I was just an imposter hiding in my drink. I was all the horrible things I believed about myself…and then you might take my drink away and then what would I do? I could not, did not see a solution.
Keeping this secret came at a huge cost. I became disconnected from myself and all those I loved. My behavior hurt those I cared about most in the world. But I didn’t know how to change. I couldn’t risk talking about this dark horrible secret but then I got to a place where I couldn’t risk not talking about it. I wanted to live.
This journey began for me in the rooms of AA and has grown and continued with the practice of mindfulness and self-compassion. As I began to share, I began to heal. By bringing my dark secret into the light I was able to see it, name it, and approach myself with a bit of gentleness, kindness, and compassion. I was not a monster or the worst mother in the world. I was a woman in pain. Once I could make friends with my pain, and approach her with curiosity and kindness, I didn’t have to hide it. She was part of me, no better or worse than any other part of me. To heal I had to bring all the parts of me together, and sharing my story helped me do that. I no longer felt separate from others, I began to feel a part of. I began to see that I was an imperfect human, like everyone else.
Mind you, I did not stand up on a roof top and announce this to the world! I started with baby steps!! I started by sharing with one person, then another and another. I found support and pathways to solutions. I read, I cried, and I listened. I shared my truth, and I was HEARD. My sharing began to soften my heart, ease my suffering, and allow light and love into that very dark place inside of me. Once I said things out loud those dark secrets lost their power over me. They were not so heavy, there were others who would help be carry them and let them be. However, there was also an added benefit to my sharing. To my surprise, it benefitted others! Every time, I shared my truth I, unwittingly, gave another person permission to share theirs, to begin this journey of connection and healing.
I invite you to give this a try…talk to a trusted family member or friend, another person in recovery, try joining a zoom group, or reach out to me. Be heard and let your healing begin.