It’s been seventeen years since I’ve had any alcohol and over sixteen years since I’ve been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and worked the Twelve Steps.
That’s a long time. Although I’m closing in, it’s still not as long as I misused alcohol. Yes, misused. Around twelve years old, maybe thirteen, a neighbor guy showed me the way to freedom. Freedom from shame, fear, guilt, regret, alcohol was the perfect remedy to soothe my sullen soul.
My little body had been sexually molested from my earliest memory, and there was no one telling me, “You can be anything you want to be.” No, in my home, I was told that I was worthless and would end up just like my mother, a drunk on welfare. I had my shares of beatings and witnessed my mother being beaten and, on more than one occasion, raped. Little ones shouldn’t see such horrors.
Yes, that night, I found the key to disconnecting from God, who would never love a dirty soul like mine, the emotional pain that was like an infected wound that would never heal, and people because they were good for nothing but causing me harm. Alcohol became my faithful companion.
Through my teen years, I drank most weekends and eventually found cocaine and then crank, it’s now called methamphetamine. It was, by far, my favorite next to alcohol. I would be up for days doing much of nothing. Sitting around a dealer’s house and played cribbage for hours as strangers came and went to score their dime bags. It was a small shack of a house with no heat and very cold. But there I was jaw twitching, pupils dilated, as the pegs on the cribbage board went around and around.
I gave birth to my first son just after my eighteenth birthday and collected welfare just as my stepfather predicted. After my childhood sweetheart and baby’s daddy broke up, I started dating a man from that little shack. It wasn’t long before he violently grabbed me by my hair and ordered me to fix him breakfast. Luckily, we were in my mother’s house, and everybody was home, so when I ordered him out, he left.
It was around this time that I had my first blackout panic attack and ended up in the hospital. I stopped using all stimulants, but the need for alcohol grew. The panic attacks were constant. I would be in and out of the emergency room several times a week. They’d give me meds, which always seemed to make the attacks worse.
When I was finally accepted for government housing and got my own place to live, the panic attacks lessened, but nothing felt better than drinking. Drinking took the fear of panic away completely. My mom had come to live with me after my stepfather left her. This provided me an opportunity to break the welfare chain and seek employment.
Over the years, I gained confidence and promotions, and that little druggy and drunk was becoming more and more distant. I got married and had another son. It wasn’t a good marriage. In truth, I followed through because I didn’t want to be a single mom with two babies. But his true colors would be impossible to ignore, and I found myself being what I tried avoiding, a single mom, again. I drank on Friday or Saturday nights, but it seemed to be in line with what everyone else was doing.
And then came Tory. Tory was a very handsome, smart, charming professional that I used to work for, and long story short, we started having an affair. This choice was the beginning of my fall. He was married and lived in another state, but by being an information technology contractor with a long-term contract in my city, it had its advantages, you could say. They set him up with an apartment, and while he was in town, I could forget he was married and pretend that I was in a perfectly normal relationship. My dear friends would call me out, but I just reasoned it away. I loved him, and he loved me, I would defend. It’s complicated. Years went by, and my self-esteem eroded bit by bit until there was near to nothing left.
I drank and drank some more. Tory’s contracts became few and far between, and so became his trips. Toward the end, I pawned the jewelry he had given me over the years to pay for my drinking. I was losing my edge at work, and I could see my once-bright future careening to an end.
Wanting to gain some control, I started looking for help with my drinking, my life. The worldwide web was up and running, but the options to get help were minimal. I found Women for Sobriety, but the only option was pen pal via the United States Postal Service. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but more than an occasional letter in the mail was not it. Then there was the standard Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps. Because I knew I wanted something different for my life, I considered it, but the risk of being seen as an alcoholic outweighed my concern.
So, when nothing changes, nothing changes. I continued to drink to avoid facing the hard truth; I was failing. And although I took an extended route, I was heading right where I was always told I would be worthless and not unfathomable if nothing changed on welfare.
Enter Prince Harming. He was slick and disarming. I’ll take care of you he said with confidence. And in my shattered state, I gave him full access to my life. What was left of it. I had a two-bedroom apartment, a 1990 Honda that was barely working and still owed twenty-five-hundred dollars for it, and a credit card with a two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar credit limit. I was happy to give someone else the wheel. I had nothing to lose.
Within ninety days, my boss let me go from my job with a modest severance package. Prince Harming introduced me to manufactured homes, and with a very low down payment, I bought my first home. Prince Harming had grown up working with his father in the manufactured home construction business and started hustling work from the manufacturers and the finance companies. He showed me that he could generate a viable income, and he convinced me we could start a business. So, I took what little money I had left, and invested it in tools, got the appropriate licensing, started creating professional quotes and managing profit margins.
And without missing a beat, we were moving in together. All the while, being threatening but not actually “hitting” me. Prince Harming would bend my fingers back until I was screaming in horror expecting the bone to come through the skin. He would push me around and hold me to the wall while applying pressure to my chest, making it difficult to breathe. He would drive recklessly in anger whipping in and out of traffic, fishtailing, burning the tires, while telling me he doesn’t want to live, bringing me to tears and promising I would never leave. And almost daily, scream in my face until I wilted into submission, and continually reminding me of how worthless I was. We would have screaming matches in front of people, and I would just drink and drink to forget who I could have been, should have been, would have been, if I would have only made one different choice at any given moment.
Around six months, I got up the nerve to run a background check, and I was stunned by what I found. Arrested for drug distribution topped the list of most current offenses. The drugs weren’t his, of course. I had asked him if he’d ever been married when we first met. He told me, no, but as I looked at his record, I found several marriages, but two, I couldn’t see where he had gotten divorced. In truth, it was difficult to follow the aliases. He had arranged his name in every conceivable order and changed to his wives’ names too.
I spoke up one night and stood my ground. I want you ou- and before the t left my lips, I hit the ground. I will never forget the sound of his fist, beating into my face and head over and over again. He was speaking with each blow, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I begged, please, my boys, please stop! My head was ringing and throbbing when he stopped the assault. As he was trying to stand, I took that moment and ran to the front window crying hysterically while I half climbed, half fell, hitting the ground running toward the middle of the street screaming for help. Nobody came to help as I stood there, screaming. But my aunt and her boyfriend pulled up to take him away and keep him from going to jail.
They were paid employees and couldn’t afford for the business to close because we had a drunken fight. I imagine that was their thinking. He stayed with them for a week or so until I was once again manageable. They would call and remind me that he really loved me and was very sorry for what he did. He’s hurting too.
My home. My livelihood. My credit. My family. Everythings entwined in the relationship with Prince Harming.
I was trapped.
Just drink some more. Forget the pain. Forget the past. Forget the future. There was no hope.
For the next year and a half, the business expanded, and we added more employees. The responsibilities grew, and so did my reliance on alcohol. I could not imagine being awake during this nightmare. Prince Harming would not leave me unattended if he had to check on a job, I had to go with him. Rarely would he even go to the store without me being in tow.
Two years had come and gone, and I would wake up wishing I hadn’t.
Happy New Year, 2003. I drank January 1 as I always had, and January 2, I woke up experiencing panic and auras. Aura’s are a disruption in your eyesight. They are like wavy prisms of color that block part of your vision. I had had them before, but only when I was on the birth control pill. I hadn’t been on the pill for some time. After Prince Harming’s sixth, maybe seventh, child support order was served for children, he said he never had he agreed to have a vasectomy. So, when I had the aura’s, it scared me, and all I could think of was I didn’t want to leave my boys. I can’t leave them.
I woke up Prince Harming and had him take me to the emergency room where I met a doctor who, with patience and grace, educated me on how alcohol was exacerbating my anxiety and panic attacks and killing my body and brain. I agreed to have some tests run to see how much damage had been done, and I would think about treatment. But I didn’t really know what treatment was or even Alcoholism. Only what I had seen in movies.
Prince Harming had been in Alcoholics Anonymous as part of his good behavior in prison for early parole. He didn’t waste any time telling me how I was going to go through detox and struggle because I had a disease. In the next twenty-four hours, I was on pins and needles waiting for detox to come through. While I waited, I contacted the outpatient treatment program recommended by my doctor, and soon I was learning about who I was now and how I would have to live the rest of my life as an alcoholic managing my disease, alcoholism. I never did experience any detox symptoms.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum of alcohol misuse, overuse, or abuse, or how you describe any drinking concern, Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps, and disease (Alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder) will be part of the discussion.
Two months into my outpatient treatment, I attended my first AA meeting. Prince Harming preferred I attend AA meetings so he could be part of my recovery. That same evening, I had a couple of beers. Convinced that everything they told me about the monster in the parking lot was true, I ran back to AA and pledged my life to the traditional path of meetings, step work, sponsor, and service.
The longer I was sober, the stronger I was becoming. I wouldn’t fight with Prince Harming any longer. Instead, I would state my position and let him argue with himself. There was an uneasiness about him that was growing, and one morning as he was badgering me, I walked past him, down the stairs, and left to my mother’s house. I called my sister to meet me there. I shared with them; I believed my only freedom from Prince Harming would be through him killing me. It was a grim conversation, but I needed them to know what I was expecting. As I drove away, I could see them crying in my rearview mirror through my own tears that seemed to have no end. It felt like a final scene.
I pulled in front of the house, and it was suspiciously quiet. Walking through the front door, I yelled out, hello. I looked through the rooms downstairs, and no one was home. I climbed the stairs, resolved to end this relationship no matter the cost. Walking through the master bedroom, I dropped to my knees, and for the first time, I prayed. I prayed to a God I had abandoned more than twenty years ago. I didn’t pray to save me. I prayed for peace. I cried, and I prayed fervently, please God, take everything, just restore to me my peace. Which I think is interesting because I don’t know that I ever experienced peace before. And I now realize that God doesn’t bargain. But that was my prayer. After several minutes I wiped my eyes, stood up, and looked around. I hadn’t noticed the travel bags were out and that clothing and such had been strewn about the room. Where is he? I was thinking while grabbing for my phone. Ring. Where are you? I’m at the airport. I’m going to my mom… I cut him off and screamed, “YOU’RE NOT COMING BACK HERE!” I hung up and called my aunt’s boyfriend and paid him to change all the locks on the doors.
It took about a month more of phone calls and an arrangement for him to collect what he believed was his, but that was the last I saw of Prince Harming. I wish I could say it was smooth sailing from there. Still, there were many storms to follow, including but not limited to bankruptcies, foreclosure, repossessions, homelessness, emptied bank accounts, and facing jail time.
Somehow, I remained optimistic and joy-filled through it all. I was on what my AA community called a pink cloud. For the first time in my entire life, I was free to create and be exactly who and what I wanted. There was nothing to risk. Everything that I thought had value was wiped out in the great storm of 2003. It reminded me of the children’s bible song the foolish man built his house upon the sand, the rains came, and the house fell flat.
This time I was going to choose how and what I built consciously.
Around month six into my AA journey, I began feeling uncomfortable with the monotony of meetings, slogans, and stories. By month nine, the sense that I’ve reached my peak, this is as good as it gets, and the feeling of being trapped again was closing in on me. I had to decide, do I stay in AA or do I go? And if I go, what about the monster disease in the parking lot? My gut told me I had to take my chances with the monster my sobriety depended on it. If I stayed, I knew I was going to get drunk again.
December 2003 was the last time I attended an AA meeting for my sobriety. I attended one for my husband so he could get his one-year coin. I think he just wanted to show everyone in the rooms that for the first time in his life, he had remained sober for longer than thirty days since becoming a member of AA at just seventeen years old.
I am not an alcoholic. I don’t have a chronic brain disease, Alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder.
Alcohol is not the enemy, and I am not powerless over alcohol.
I don’t not drink because I’m afraid of the monster in the parking lot. I don’t drink because I don’t want to miss another moment of my life. I love my life and so grateful to have so much freedom to choose how to live, think, be, and do. People spend a lot of energy and thoughts on what they’re going to miss out on if they quit drinking. But few think deeply about the life they are missing out on while they’re drinking. If you can’t remember the moments, conversations, evenings, that’s life forfeited.
And in the rooms of AA, you never get a reprieve from thinking about drinking or not drinking. Going to meetings and working the steps often keep tilling up the past. By continually tilling up my past, I couldn’t heal, and it was keeping me from growing. Not growing is another way of feeling trapped, helpless, and hopeless. I couldn’t live that way.
Over the years, through awareness and curiosity, it became clear that it was never about the alcohol. Alcohol wasn’t the problem. Misusing alcohol was a response to my pain. My pain was from unresolved problems. And misusing alcohol to avoid the pain and the problems kept me in a perpetual cycle of pain, drinking, and creating more problems.
When your life is full, inspired, intentional, rewarding, and you’re living on purpose and in purpose, the desire to numb out, dumb down, and shut off, fades away. It takes time, intention, and practice to live life differently. Especially when you’re programming runs deep, like mine.
What I have found is life is an incredible opportunity to be creative in how we express who we are, not who we think we are supposed to be.
When I find myself overwhelmed instead of numbing out, I sort it out with a clear mind.
When I find that I’m on the wrong path instead of trying to make it work, I pivot! It’s important to keep an open heart.
How I keep from falling back on my trusty old drinking habit is to have defined intentions that pull me forward.
I am clear about who I want to be and how I want to live, and alcohol doesn’t fit in my life.
But they were right about me being on a pink cloud. I still am. Dr. Harry Tiebout coined the phrase pink cloud syndrome and said it’s when your ego detaches, and you fly right up to your pink cloud and think you’ve found heaven on earth. But inevitably, the ego will return, and you’ll come crashing down and learn how to be a real sober person with the help of other alcoholics.
I did find heaven on earth, and I cultivate my pink cloud mindset daily. Instead of looking at what’s happened to me as drawbacks, I look at how I can use my experiences to help others. I look for the gift and beauty in all things. I don’t take myself too seriously, and I’m willing to be wrongable. See what I did there. Wrongable isn’t even a word. Ha!
These are some examples of keeping the ego in its proper place and me on my pink cloud for seventeen years and counting.