I used to pride myself on my cherished individualism, vowing to protect my independence at any cost, stubborn as hell and always insistent upon doing my “own thing.” Beyond doing my own thing, I found delight in doing the opposite of what was expected of me and defying cookie cutter. I moved to San Francisco after college on this very notion: I'm gonna do Me, because I know what's best, so don't even try to stop me. I was perfectly fine living in a great big city all by myself, thank you very much.
Even so, it was growing inside of me, and it became quite easy to hide it behind the happy hours and nights out.
Happy hours became the common currency of socializing, the only way to make friends in a new, big, and bright city. So I learned to love IPA's and wine, (San Francisco is not a Bud Light city, and they take their wine seriously). I grew an affection for the craft, for learning about wines, for going to Napa, for pairing with certain foods and learning their history. It was culture, and it was fun.
Addiction was not in sight.
Even so, it was growing inside of me, and it became quite easy to hide it behind the happy hours and nights out. It was always wine-and-cheese , someone's birthday, someone's promotion, someone's break-up, someone's engagement, someone's going away party, some holiday.
Good or bad, there was always a reason to drink.
The two glasses of wine started to happen every night, and I'd relish in trying new reds and whites from around the world while my wine-connoisseur roommate would break down all of its notes: floral, nutty, earthy, oaky, bright, complex, jammy and buttery. We’d sit on her bed at night, watching “Friday Night Lights” re-runs and drink wine. This was my kind of drinking — no big parties, no small talk with strangers — just two gals having real talk over wine and a good show. Sometimes I’d attempt to moderate the vino, but the two glasses became routine and I felt it was totally acceptable. At least I wasn’t drinking alone, I thought.
But drinking alone wasn't far off.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I would face each day mystically embracing the idea that anything was possible. Big cities always have a way of leaving me in wonder and making me feel limitless. But a year or so after moving there, my days became fairly predictable: I'd wake up foggy from the ambien and wine. I'd go to work until about 5:30, when I would head for the gym so that I could rationalize the bottle of wine I was about to drink. On my way home from the gym, I'd swing by the corner store to buy dinner and a bottle of wine. I had nice taste in wine, which was part of the justification process: the nicer the wine, the less likely I would be an alcoholic. Alcoholics drinks Boons Farm, 40s, and Yellowtail (so I thought), so I was going to drink only the best.
I frequented the same corner stores so often, that I figured they must be catching onto me, like they knew my secret, or they knew something I didn't know and I was ashamed. So I switched corner stores and stocked up at Trader Joe's as much as I could physically carry in two grocery bags up a big San Francisco hill to my apartment.
I'd go home and cook dinner, where I’d drink the first two glasses of wine. Cooking was always a perfect way to ease into my night of drinking, a perfect reason to justify opening a bottle. Who are you if you cook italian food without wine? I felt quite sophisticated. Then I’d proceed to have 2-3 more glasses in my bedroom with the door closed watching something on Netflix, (not sophisticated).
Bed time (1:00 am) would roll around and I would take my sleeping pills, throw them back with a glass of wine, and hope to pass out. As my body became more and more tolerant of the medicine, sometimes the adverse effect would happen -- I would end up staying up far later and not remember an ounce of it.
I so badly needed someone to tell me everything was going to be OK, even if I didn't believe it.
I vaguely remember one time after just taking my Ambien, I climbed outside my window on the fourth story of my apartment building, pillow and phone in hand, and tried to curl up and sleep on my fire escape, (not a balcony, a true rickety, barely-can-hold-the-weight-of-a-potted-plant fire escape). Why? I do not know; alcohol and Ambien made that decision for me. I only remember this because I was on the phone at the time with my ex-boyfriend who had to fill me in on the details the following day. This became routine for us, I'd call him at my most blackout moments, unloading my big fat scary mess on him, desperately hoping he could fix me. I so badly needed someone to tell me everything was going to be OK, even if I didn't believe it. I needed to at least pretend like I did. I was in survival mode and didn't even realize it.
That’s just one of countless stories.
As my addiction worsened, I grew more and more angry at the very thing that I knew I couldn't live with but couldn't live without anymore. I was angry at God, whom I pleaded with regularly to remove this struggle. Please, please, please God, I just want to sleep without chemicals. Is that too much to ask? I was angry at myself for being so weak, so burdened with shame that I was certain I had brought this upon myself and it was all my fault.
I began to make every wishful attempt I could to prove that I could control whatever it was that was going on inside of me.
After living in an apartment for one year with roommates I met through Craigslist, I heard of an open room in an apartment and I learned that the women who lived there were Christians. That should do the trick, I thought. I'll surround myself with God-fearing women in hopes that they might be a direct line to a God that I felt had completely forgotten about me. They were the closest thing to a church at the time. Maybe their goodness would rub off on me, I thought. But of course, that did not solve anything.
I came up with new ideas daily about how I could control my addiction. I asked one of my roommates if she would administer my Ambien to me every night. She would be in control of the quantity of pills (temporarily, of course), until I had proven to myself I could do it and then I'd take the control back. I knew this was asking a lot, but I didn't care.
I asked her to pray for me, maybe God would hear her...because it sure seemed like He didn't hear me.
One night, I snuck into her room to take more of my medication before bed. I vaguely remember confessing this to her later, in my Ambien and alcohol haze. I told her I wasn't okay, and I sobbed. I asked her to pray for me, maybe God would hear her...because it sure seemed like He didn't hear me.
Again and again, I thought I could outsmart and defy this thing. I was not going to be an addict, no way. So I started to pour out half of the bottle of wine every night when I got home from work, that way I wouldn't drink the whole thing and I'd just have two like everybody else who is normal. That idea only led me to walking, partially drunk in sketchy city neighborhoods at 11:30 pm in my PJs in search of an open corner or liquor store.
Then, I vowed to take my Mom's simple advice, make her proud, and just become a "two-drink girl," as she used to call it. How desperately I wanted to be a darling two-drink girl, who had the self-will and discipline to stop at two. Didn't I used to be this girl? How can I get her to come back? I could hardly bare to even try limiting myself to two drinks, because I knew that I would fail on my first attempt. And I did, which only further fed the shame that kept me imprisoned and struggling silently.
Then I started making deals with God. I'll get on my knees every day and pray, I'll be good, God, I promise, I'll go to church and I'll try to be of service to others and I’ll drink wine like a true lady, I promise.
I was so desperate to get off Ambien that I became willing to give up my beloved freedom in San Francisco to move back to Texas, where I knew I’d have the love and support of my family to kick this thing once and for all. It all went back to sleep — I thought, if I can just get my sleep in check, then everything else will be okay. I won't struggle with drinking and I wouldn't have to take Ambien. I will be able to manage, I will feel normal again, I will regain control over my life.
Little did I know, none of us have any real control over our lives.
I poured all of my might and self-discipline into getting off of the sleeping medication. I even gave up drinking for a week or so at a time. And guess what? I did it! I got off Ambien. I thought the battle was won, victory was mine and my hard work had paid off. Finally.
Things got good again. But it didn't take long for my brain to find a substitution for Ambien. Wine began to fill its position entirely, and for the next two years, I would drink my tired self to sleep every night
I was so physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted, I ceased fighting all together.
I was so physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted, I ceased fighting all together. For the next year and a half, I embraced the darkness of my addiction. I fell into my abyss and didn't even try to get out. I was done. Done praying, done trying, done with my half-hearted cries for help that no one seemed to hear. Nothing was working, not even the alcohol.
Deep down I knew that if I wanted to live a full life, a day would come where I would have to give up alcohol entirely. I shuttered at the thought. What will I do at my wedding? On my honeymoon? What will I do when all my friends are young parents sitting on a back porch enjoying a beer and grilling? How will I celebrate my birthday? How will I watch the Bachelorette? How will I sit through watching an entire football game? How in the world will I sleep? Alcohol was ingrained in me, just as it is ingrained and accepted in our society. It was so normal to me, so “not-a-big-deal.” How could I ever live without it?
It all seemed near impossible, unbearable. Nah uh, I won't do it. Sobriety at age 26 was a death sentence.
I remember telling my therapist through tears, "How could any man love a girl that has to drink a bottle of wine to fall asleep at night?" My heart broke at this thought, that my addiction made me unlovable. Despite what I knew to be true in my heart, despite the scripture that was woven in my spirit, the truth was all but blurred through the lens of my addiction — the only thing I could see at the time. My addiction said in a charismatic and charming manner, "Sweet Caroline, you are beyond repair, come with me and drink the finest of wines until the bitter end."
But stronger than the fear of not drinking champagne at my imaginary wedding was the fear that I would fail.
But stronger than the fear of not drinking champagne at my imaginary wedding was the fear that I would fail. The fear of what others might think of me. The fear that if I tried, I'd be all talk and no game. Fear that I was too far gone. And a small, glimmering fear that by staying in my comfortable dark corner of shame and addiction, I would miss out on the best life I could ever imagine.
It truly became a life or death matter for me. And I had a choice to make.
For another story on addiction, check out Jordan Roger's short film:
(Photo source: Unsplash.com)