Category Archives: Addiction & Recovery

Two Years Sober

It’s been two years since the end of my first relapse. First and only, I’d say, except I can’t predict the future.

Two years ago I became belligerently drunk at a party and, when my boyfriend couldn’t stand me anymore, I was dropped at my sister’s house to recover. I drank myself into alcohol poisoning instead.

That weekend is important for me to remember. It’s important to remember what happened the last time I made the mistake of thinking I could control my drinking through good intention and force of will. It’s important to remember that, though it took a year to get there, I eventually became the out-of-control, violent and angry drunk I’d been before.

That weekend, after a blacked out Saturday night (the recounted stories of which are still embarrassing) I woke up and started on a stout 6-pack. Old school Seana. After my boyfriend dropped me at my sister’s in frustration, I started on another. I drank all day, moving on to the liquor she kept on top of her fridge. Rum and coke. Rum and a splash of coke. Rum. Sleep. Wake up. Drink. I called in sick. I talked to my boyfriend, told him I was going to have a strict two drink rule moving forward. Eventually, I ended up back at his house, vomiting every 45 to 60 seconds, sometimes every two minutes if I was lucky. Drinking water just to be able to throw something up because the dry heaving hurt so bad. I spent hours like that, while my boyfriend took care of me. I started telling him, and others, that I wasn’t going to drink for a year. I don’t imagine they believed me, I barely did.

But, thanks to the ten months I’d spent in rehab three years earlier, my eyes opened that weekend and I saw my addiction for what it was. I realized I am an alcoholic. I’d never thought that before. I’d gone to rehab to recover from a cocaine addiction, not alcohol. I thought I could control alcohol. I was wrong.

And so, as realization hit, I told everyone that I was done entirely. I highly recommend being very transparent in the beginning of sobriety. Telling the world clearly and definitively that you have an addiction and are getting clean creates a useful web of accountability. I told people I realized I had relapsed, that I was an alcoholic and I was done drinking. And, so far, I have been. I have not had a drink in two full years.

The boyfriend in that story
is now my husband, we celebrated our first year of marriage a couple of weeks ago. Together we share a perfect baby girl and a house with a white picket fence. We have exciting goals and plans for the future. It would seem that life is back on track, like that little year-long relapse didn’t actually happen.

Which is why it’s so important to remember that it did. I got comfortable in my sobriety, overly confident in myself, and lax about self-protection, and it led to a relapse that could have ended a lot worse.

It’s especially important to remember my history on this, the second anniversary of sobriety, because this is when I relapsed the first time. I had my first drink, a Guinness, almost two years to the day after getting sober the first time. I entered rehab in March 2008 and I had my first drink in March 2010.

As though my addiction also knows this anniversary, and the ease with which I failed to make it through the first time, I have been consumed with thoughts of substances. Pondering bottles of wine in the grocery store, craving the burn of a cigarette, eyeing my sister’s mimosa at a shower, absently wishing for a reputable dealer as I glance at my postbaby body in the mirror; my addiction is everywhere these days.

I see it. I know it’s there. Life goes on. I drink my kombucha in a wine glass the way I did in the beginning, and I leave an event if I need to. I shared my cravings with my husband, my sister, now with all of you. I do not know the future, it’s true, but I know this moment, and I have some pretty clear vision of the next. And the next.

And I know that when enough of these moments line up we’ll be here again, except we’ll be celebrating anniversary number three.

See you there!


It’s Not Addiction; It’s Alienation

Lately life, with every up and down, kindles in me the desire for a drink.

It’s not as cut and dry as just alcoholism.
It’s not just wanting a drink for the rum’s sake, not just the liberation of carefree numb.

It’s wanting to be normal.

It’s a longing for escape, but not the expected kind involving a hangover; it’s longing for an escape from being different from the rest, from standing out.

It’s not addiction; it’s alienation.
It’s not that I want a drink, it’s that I want to fit in.

Alcohol is everywhere. It is everywhere. It’s not just in store coolers and bar room windows. It’s not just in television commercials. It is in nearly every conversation, in almost every invite. It is in most great stories and in many anticipations. Alcohol is everywhere. It’s out making new friends, buying new clothes, and planning exotic vacations while Alcoholism, well, isn’t.

I remember a different me. It’s possible the me I remember isn’t actually who I was, but I remember a bright crowd of laughing friends, seemingly endless adventures, and anticipation for things to come. I remember, of course, that there were days long hangovers and heart wrenching dramas; near misses and close calls. I remember all of the reasons that I can’t go back there, but I also remember that it wasn’t always a terrible place to be.

I thought the farther away I got from the scene I left behind, the farther removed I’d be from the lifestyles of alcohol. I thought that it was just me that looked intently forward to a drink at the end of the work day. I thought I was the only one who believed life was better with a drink or two, or, at the very least, that I was. I was wrong; it’s not just me, it’s everywhere.

Instead of feeling comforted by this realization, I feel isolated.
It feels like everyone has a comfort food but me.
Where’s my apple pie?

Let me be clear: I don’t want to have a drink, I want to have a substitute.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I do want to have a drink, I don’t want to have a relapse.

While others are making new friends in the comfort of nerves-softening beer, unwinding at the end of a hard day with a warming red wine, or marking celebrations with a risen glass, I… well, I’m at home playing mommy… and remembering who I used to be.

Sugar is the new wine

Sugar is the new wine.

The only problem is it doesn’t exactly have the same affect. There is no succession of relief: one truffle may temporarily calm the nerves and help me catch my breath, but two won’t improve my mood and make me warm and fuzzy, three won’t bring out the stories and the jokes, four has no impact on my sex life and five doesn’t guarantee a great nights sleep.

Sugar is the new wine if wine sucked.

Just like wine, however, sugar comes with a set of problems all it’s own. It may not make me act a fool and then black out only to wake up in the morning wondering what I did and who I pissed off, but in a hormonally charged time such as this whole postpartum chapter, it sure isn’t doing me any favors.

I’ve been reading some blogs of women who discovered themselves struggling with the baby blues, and have found myself encouraged by their stories of postpartum depression in varying degrees; reading about how they felt, what they experienced, and how they moved past it has made me feel remarkably normal.

It’s not that I want to leave my baby in the trunk or anything, I’m just a little down lately. I’m more than a little irritable, especially with my husband, and downright resentful of what I irrationally perceive as his ability to come and go as he pleases. The house and it’s endless to do list is overwhelming and depressing, my lack of independent time is maddening, and I’m damn sick of wearing maternity clothes.

Do I need to point out that cultivating a sugar habit is counter-productive to getting into my former wardrobe?  The more fudge I eat the less I want to look in the mirror, nevermind abandon my pajamas for anything threatening an actual waistline.

I’m a big believer in getting a handle on moods like this one before they take over. So, after a few days of research, I headed off to the natural food store with a few questions and shopping list in hand.

The resident herbalist at the store, after offering some tips for various herbs and supplements, said “And make sure to stay away from sugar, that’s probably the most important thing of all.”

The good news is that after two days of St. John’s Wort and a homeopathic remedy, Sepia, I’m feeling like I’m coming back up a bit. Blah, blah, blah, I’m going to live. The real question though is,

Man, can’t a girl be addicted to anything these days?!

The View From The Sidelines

What makes someone want to get sober? What is it that makes somebody finally say “enough is enough?” Is it getting caught enough times? Is it the consequence of being found out? Does it really have to take coming to a point where there are no more second chances? Does one really have to find their rock bottom before deciding to truly give sobriety a chance?

When I got clean it was because I had no where else to go. I’m grateful that my bottom wasn’t as low as some, and that I still had family to care enough to help. I don’t think I would have seen myself into a facility, I needed someone to take those steps with me. Still, I had reached my bottom by the time I was ready. While most moments in my life eventually blur to black, I can remember with unusual clarity the hours before I called my mother.

While I was once known for my strong skills in the service industry, I had burned enough bridges to become unemployable in the restaurants and bars close enough to walk to and I had never replaced my car after the DUI incident a couple of years earlier. Rent was due and I had no job, no chance for a job, and no one left to borrow money from. I had $40 to my name and was on my last pack of cigarettes. Soon I would have to choose between replenishing my dwindling cocaine supply or another couple of packs of parliament lights. I had no food but I was an anorexic with a cocaine habit, food was hardly a consideration.

I sat in my beautiful, well furnished apartment (remnants from loftier days) and considered my options. I read the personal ads of obvious call girls in the Dallas Observer and imagined myself as one of those girls. I tried to figure out the specifics of how that would work – would they come to me? They’d have to, I didn’t have a car. Could I be sure of my own safety if I allowed strange men looking for sex in my door? How could I be sure I wouldn’t get arrested? It felt too risky. I paced around my apartment, chain smoking cigarettes that I couldn’t afford to waste. I thought about Harry Hines, the street that I heard people went to for prostitutes. Sex meant nothing to me, it hadn’t for years, I didn’t consider the moral implications of working the street, cocaine was my new God. Still, despite a polished urban veneer and a hard edge, I was just a country girl in the big city. I believed all those stories about pimps and violence. I could take money for sex, but I was afraid of getting hurt in the process. And jail, I was terrified of jail. I felt sick but by then I always felt sick.

It never once occurred to me that there were government programs for the destitute. I never once thought about food stamps or agencies that offered housing assistance , job placement, and the like. I have to believe that it was God that kept those thoughts from me because if I had been able to think of any possible way to stay alive, out of jail, and on cocaine I would have taken it.

I waged this internal battle for hours. I tried to think of every possible way in which I could safely sell sex – which had become, in my mind, the only way to earn the kind of money I needed. No matter how many scenarios I came up with, I couldn’t find a way to become a prostitute without the risk of serious injury (because while I welcomed the idea of death, even the thought of pain was unbearable to me) or time in jail.

Hours. This went on for hours. Of course, long story short, I ended up in rehab. The point , though, is that even when my entire life had come down to the choice of prostitution or rehab, I still tried my best to find a way to choose prostitution. I’m grateful it never came to that for me, but I’ll never forget how close it did come.

What about lying? What does it take for an addict to stop lying to the people trying to help them? More importantly, how does an addict stop lying to themselves? When does the truth get easier to bear? When does an addict truly begin to understand how to protect themselves from their worst enemy – themselves?

It took me a long time to stop lying, to other people or myself. Sometimes I’m still not good at telling myself the truth, which is when knowing how to protect me from me and having a solid support network is vital. I think that the hardest thing about getting and staying sober is learning to accept blame and responsibility; owning your mistakes and your weaknesses is hard for everyone, but harder for addicts who have made a social art out of victimization.

I lied myself into my first and, God willing, only relapse. I told myself that I could drink casually and responsibly. I led myself to believe that God intended for me to be able to have a healthy relationship with alcohol as a sign of my complete healing – my drinking could only serve to bring glory to him. It is truly masterful the way addiction can trick a brain, in the most rational manner possible.

For a long time it seemed I was right. I was able to keep my drinking seemingly healthy and controlled. I was more than capable of having just one drink, of keeping my boundaries intact, and I was proving it more and more often. So confident was I in my self-control that I stopped paying attention to it. I was normal and healthy and no one would dare to think otherwise. I was fine – until I wasn’t.

A drink every couple of weeks turned into every weekend turned into a few times a week turned into binge drinking turned into every night drinking. I had listened to the cunning voice of my addiction over the voices of wisdom that surrounded me and I was in active addiction once again, blacking out more often than not only to awaken the next day hungover and trying to manage the damage.

I quit drinking almost nine months ago. I learned almost as much from relapsing and returning to sobriety as I did from rehab itself. In rehab I learned how to conquer addiction, in relapse I learned how to conquer myself.

I have learned so much over the last four years. I have acquired so many of my own answers. Yet, in my next chapter of life, I realize I still know so little. I haven’t yet learned how to make an addict want to be well. I haven’t begun to understand how to let the experience of my addiction sufficiently convince another to choose a better way. I have only found the answers to my disease, not the cure for disease itself, and suddenly, as my youngest sister sits on the fence between addiction and sobriety, it’s the cure that seems most important. I have not felt helpless in a long time, but I feel helpless now.

I Believe In “Never Again”

It can be overwhelming to look into the face of addiction and vow “never again.”

I remember when I left Dallas headed for rehab in New York. My intention was that I would be gone from the city and people that I loved for the minimum required stay of 6 months and then I would return. My plan was to go clear up the pesky cocaine business I’d so apparently lost control of and then get on with my life. I had no concept of reality. I had no way of knowing that when I changed, everything would change.

I didn’t know, as I was driven, weeping, out of the city that day, that I had become an alcoholic. I didn’t understand that, in my addiction, I had built a world around myself that supported my addicted behaviors and that helped me stay as sick as I wanted to be. I had no idea that beneath all of the drugs and the drinking, beneath the promiscuity and the violence, underneath everything that created the life that defined me, was a self-loathing little girl who had done everything she could to avoid fixing herself. That sort of awareness only comes with hindsight.

I’m certain that had I known ahead of time that my sobriety would encompass alcohol as well, I never would have gone. I wouldn’t have been able to wrap my head around the idea of a future without drinking – what a boring, pedestrian life that would be. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a world that didn’t include all of the excitement of the nightlife, all of the dangers of the sparkling underground.

I’ve gotten several emails from people looking for… something. There are questions about how I did it, how I manage to do it still. There are confessions of individual failings and struggles. There are people looking to just tell their story, people looking to know that someone understands the chaos that comes with the dawning awareness of a problem needing attention. These people are afraid. It is an overwhelming thing to look your addiction in the face and say “never again.”

I certainly have no easy answers. There is no simple solution that leads to joyful sobriety and guarantees a successful future. The path to sobriety that I know involves a lot of saying goodbye, a lot of heartache and turmoil, and a lot of learning humility.

I believe a few things, though. I believe that addiction is most often a symptom of an emotional injury and that it takes more than willpower to stay sober, it takes healing of my heart and mind to stay well. I believe that when I fall, I must get back up again. I believe that I would not be able to stay sober without my diverse support system. I believe that I would not be alive today were it not for God.

I believe that sobriety is the most worthwhile thing that I have ever achieved in my life. I believe that it is worth every moment of heartache, past and present. I believe that each and every person who desires wholeness can ultimately achieve it.

I believe in your ability to be whole. I hope that you do, too.

I Believe In Miracles

I believe in miracles. Now, to be fair, I also believe in wood fairies and elves. I plan my attack for surviving the zombie apocalypse and can convince myself quite readily that toys come to life at night. Those things aren’t the same as miracles, though. I believe in those things because I want to. I think it’s fun to think I’m not alone in the woods when I’m hiking, that one day I might experience an “other world” out there. I think it’s neat to figure out whether I should go by boat or land, or stay put, when the zombies come. My imagination is my playground and I create a world there that I want to believe in.

Miracles are different, though. I believe in miracles the way I believe in science. I don’t understand them, but I’ve seen them in action. I believe in miracles because I have seen the evidence of their reality in my very own life. I do not doubt that I need oxygen to live and breathe. I do not doubt that miracles happen everyday.

Many people would consider my recovery from addiction and alcoholism to be a medical sort of recovery. Science says that if you go to rehab and follow steps x, y, and z then you are no longer an addict. Well, actually, science says that you’re an addict for the rest of your life but if you do what you’re told to then you can live without acting out on your addictive behaviors.

I, on the other hand, know my recovery to be miraculous. First of all, I haven’t followed any of the steps. Even the rehab I went to was anti-program. I’ve never sat in a circle and said “Hi, I’m an addict.” I actually got kicked out of rehab for being rebellious and overly anti-establishment. I hang out in bars and around people who do drugs. Science says I should be a big old relapsed mess of drug bags and hangovers.

Even that might not be the miracle. I know me. I know me better than I know anything else. I know that I’m not the kind of girl that gets and stays clean because of willpower or desire for a better life or any other such romantic idea. I’m the kind of girl that finds dark alleys romantic and thinks cocaine in bathrooms is sexy. I’m not the girl that gets and stays sober.

Except that I am. I am sober and I am, apparently, that kind of girl. Because I am the kind of girl that believes in healing, in miracles. I believe I am one.

Not convinced?

When I was in my very late teens I was told that I had a disease called poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), characterized by dozens of little cysts on my ovaries that were continuously growing and bursting. I was told that, because of this disease, I would never be able to naturally conceive a child. I spent the first 10 years or so of that diagnosis mourning the idea that I would never be able to have a natural child without a lot of difficult and expensive medical intervention. Slowly I grew accustomed to the idea (or hardened to the mourning) and declared I didn’t want to have children, conceding that maybe someday I would adopt. I relish the role of Community Aunt and, over the last couple of years especially, have come to peace with what I believed to be my reality.

There was one moment, perhaps a year ago, at a nighttime church service, in which I swore I had been healed. There were visiting ministers, prayers for healing, shouting prophesies… all the things that get a good Evangelical worked up and feverish. I swore I had felt my insides being healed, I gave thanks for this healing. Months later, I had an ultrasound for an unrelated condition. The doctor mentioned the cysts on my ovaries in passing, pointing them out casually on his way by. My heart sank. I hadn’t been healed after all. I had fallen prey to the emotionalism of an Evangelical service and been a fool to believe otherwise. My heart hardened further.

Not a very convincing story of the miraculous, it it? I suppose not. Unless, that is, you fast forward another year or so to present day and find out that, to my complete astonishment, I am pregnant. Seven weeks pregnant with the naturally conceived child that was supposed to be impossible. That sounds much more on par with the miraculous.

The thing is, a few cysts doesn’t matter to God, or whether or not they are visible on an ultrasound. If He wants a baby to be conceived, He’s just going to go ahead and make that happen. Why? Well, because He believes in healing, in miracles.

You might say, “Well, there’s a chance the doctors were wrong or that you got pregnant by a fluke. Perhaps the cysts weren’t erupting that day or the egg sneaked by them all Mission Impossible like.” And there’s a chance you could be right. There’s the possibility science can explain exactly what happened. It’s nice when God let’s science find the reason behind miracles, but it doesn’t make things any less miraculous. Of course, I choose to believe in wood fairies. And oxygen. You choose what you like.

How Do You Deal With Shame?

Puerto Rico, where the sound of competing roosters blends with those of wandering cats, both of which will give way to the lullaby of the coqui frog when the sun begins to set. The people are warm and friendly, and though most speak English well enough, they grin amicably as you stutter your way through Spanish, helping you learn the correct pronunciation. The food is hearty and cheap to come by at road side stands and restaurants that are little more than a room in someone’s house. It’s a place to get away, to slow down and enjoy; a place that I love.

Unfortunately, even here I cannot escape myself. Even here, laying on the beach to let the sun dry the ocean off my skin, I cannot help but remember days gone by: the things I’ve done, the person I once was, and the frightening idea that I’m not the only one who has those memories of me. I think sometimes that it’s that last one that worries me the most, the fact that for all of the memories of me I wish I could forget there is at least one other person (and sometimes many more) that has that memory of me, too. I could come face to face with a living, breathing, reminder of my past life at any time, at any moment. And not just me. Anyone, any one of you, could come face to face with a piece of my past. It isn’t just the shame that I can’t escape, it’s the fear of having to face the things I’ve done all over again, it’s a fear of being found out.

As any of you who regularly read this blog know, the memories of last year’s vacation to Puerto Rico are foggy and regretful at best. San Juan, Rincon, Guanica… each little city has it’s own shameful imprint in my mind, a memory of something I did or a way I behaved that I wish I could forget.

To be fair, it isn’t that Puerto Rico is any more or less difficult than any other place in this regard. While it’s true that I am straight-line walking some of the same steps here that I was drunkenly stumbling last year, it doesn’t make the waves of memories any better or worse than they are at any other time. It doesn’t even take a similar situation to thrust me back into the middle of a vivid remembrance of some terrible thing I’ve done, or said, or been a party to.

Sometimes I wish I could write all of those things here, expose all of the filthy and depraved scenes from my past and leave it here for you to deal with. I wish I could write it all down and be done with it; the things I’ve done when I was drunk, the things I did to get high, the terrible ways I hurt people that never deserved a bit of it. I wish that everyone could know these parts of me so that I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about people finding out. If everyone knew I’d never again have to think “what if they knew?” If you all knew everything about me, all the dark secrets that I hide, then you’d either stay or go, but either way I’d be free. I would never have to worry again about the truth coming out, the past catching up to me, my secrets being revealed. In theory, it sounds wonderful; it sounds like peace.

In theory it sounds great, sure, but I can’t seem to make myself actually write the words. When I do manage to put into words a flashback, a bit of dark history, it never makes the final draft.

My fear, of course, is that people will go; that if faced with a complete picture of me, people will recoil in disgust, in judgment, and I will be alone. And my greatest fear of all is ending up alone.

How do you deal with a lifetime full of shame? What are the steps to achieving wellness, within and without? Are there answers? What are your thoughts?