Meet Recovery Rockstar, Gena L.
I had a normal childhood. Nothing that would lead anyone to think that I would grow up to be a drunk mom. My parents didn’t drink, and my friends didn’t drink or do drugs. In college, I became like every other sorority girl, binge drinking on the weekends at frat parties. I had trouble controlling my emotions when I was drunk. I usually ended nights crying. For who knows what. It never interfered with my grades, a job at the newspaper or leadership roles in the sorority. I assumed it was all part of life. Get drunk cry, fight, pass out and then wake up with a hangover and a cloud of shame.
I graduated college full of ambition. Moved in with my boyfriend, who then became my husband. I went to grad school to get my MBA, he to law school. Our relationship progressed on schedule as did my career. We got married, bought a house. I got promoted and then got pregnant. Life was following the perfect script I had laid out for myself.
My first big bump in the road was when I had my firstborn. My strong-willed, independent self was not prepared to be at the beck and call of an infant. I lost my identity and couldn’t find my footing. I did not care for the baby stage (still, don’t) and felt out of place as a mother. When I went back to work, I felt out of place as a career woman. I knew I wanted both and had been told my entire life by my father that I could never be a stay at home mom. It wasn’t long before I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends.
But, I had a plan, and it involved two kids, not more than three years apart. So I got pregnant again right on schedule. When my daughter was born, I was even more of a mess. Now I had two kids that needed me. I was more tired, more conflicted about what path I should be on.
As my kids entered their toddler years, my drinking progressed right alongside them. I had anxiety about my purpose and shut it out each night with wine. Quieting the voice in my head and numbing the unrest in me.
I began drinking most nights. Before motherhood, I would only drink on the weekends because I did not want a hangover to interfere with my performance at work. Bedtime became wine time. It was my prize for making it through another day. I still had internal conflict about my identity but shoved it far down with each drink of wine. It was so commonly accepted with toddlers to need a drink at the end of the day that those closest to me never questioned my drinking.
My career stalled. I became more unsure of what I was to do with my life. The Husband and I built a life and literally a house on our two incomes. I hated my job and felt run down every night with the demands of the kids. Their activities grew, and I was running and rushing around all the time. Only to get home and have that glass of wine as soon as possible.
My one to two glasses of wine grew into a bottle or two. My kids grew out of the toddler stage, and I began hearing that they were at the best ages 4 and 7, but then why was I always still so tired. Why wasn’t I out of the baby hole yet? I couldn’t maintain healthy eating habits; I couldn’t stick with exercise. I had no desire to do anything as a family that wasn’t a necessity. On top of this, my mother was diagnosed for the second time with stage 4 breast cancer. The cancer had spread so far that there wasn’t much to be done.
My mother's reoccurrence of cancer came not long after her mother died of colon cancer. I saw the pattern and became obsessed with health. I wanted to feed my body the best foods and give it all the nutrients it needed to prevent cancer. With one exception, eliminating alcohol.
My mother passed away of breast cancer when she was 62. She said to me while she was in hospice: "Gena, you take care of yourself. Don’t continue the pattern. My grandmother died in her 80s; my mother died in her 70s, and I’m dying in my 60s. Don’t you die in your 50s."
I knew intimately the risk alcohol posed for me with breast cancer. I read about it all the time, but I couldn't let it go. It was after her death that I decided to do a Whole100 challenge. The Whole100 is based on a Whole30 challenge where you give up all sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, and legumes, but instead of 30 days you do it for 100 days. Hoping the time without alcohol would break the habit. I made it 82 days, until celebrating with champagne the night we moved into our new house. It was the beginning of summer. In a new neighborhood with several friends and I quickly was right back to a bottle of wine most nights of the week.
But, the seed was planted. I got a taste of what life without alcohol was like, and I wanted more of it. I kept trying to repeat my Whole30s but never made it more than 10-11 days without giving in to that glass of wine. Only exasperating my frustrations and loss of identity because I was not successful in any of my attempts. Maddening for a type A, goal-oriented person like myself.
I had a constant battle in my mind. I loathed myself. I knew how great my life was without alcohol. Only to return to the misery when I began my wine again. As a parent of young kids, it was so acceptable to need a drink. Whenever we would get together with friends, the first thing we did was pour a glass of wine, open a beer and then watch the kids play. I could not envision my life without alcohol. I figured I just wasn’t trying hard enough and didn’t have enough self-discipline to keep my drinking from becoming a nightly habit, fueling more self-hate.
My drinking never came across like I was out of control. My husband tried to help me drink less only because my hangovers were so bad. I would be so tired that I could barely stay up past my kid's bedtime. Not great for marriage. At times when I could stay up, I drank so fast that I passed out only to wake up with a migraine and barely able to function the next day. No one thought my drinking was a problem. Gena just enjoys her wine.
In January of this year, I got a new big job I had been dreaming about for three years. I knew that if I was going to be successful in this job I had to get back to my Whole30 lifestyle (still not believing I needed to quit alcohol for good). I spent the first five months of this job in a tortuous cycle. Trying to complete a Whole30 and then the stress of change pushing me back into the numbing of alcohol. About the third attempt, I realized maybe I just need to get alcohol out of my life. Alcohol is the trigger that leads me to stop exercising, eating junk and overall malaise.
I started reading some books about shame and then some memoirs by alcoholics. I began to think, yes that’s me. No, I’m not passed out on my front lawn, getting caught drinking at work. But, yes that’s me. I can’t just have one drink. It always goes to a place where I wake up with shame the next day. Whether it was one glass or one bottle of wine. Shame. I then progressed to books about quitting alcohol and manifesting my future and something just clicked. I knew without a doubt that alcohol could not be in my life any longer. I owed to my husband, to my kids and most importantly to myself.
When I decided I no longer needed alcohol in my life, it came as quite the shock to my husband. My battle has been so much on the inside that I’m sure he won’t be the only one that’s shocked. I began seeking out others like me. Quietly, online. Reading blogs and following others in recovering online. I began to write my feelings instead of playing them on a loop inside my head. I started a blog, Sober Life Victory, to connect with others. I feel alive in a way I haven’t in years.
When I had alcohol in my life, the amount of hate I had for myself was paralyzing. I could not make goals or see a future that I would love. Successes in my life, like building a house or getting a big new job were blurry and not exciting. I was just wandering through life. No joy, no plans just numbness. A turning point for me was realizing that I needed to start feeling again. That I'd have to experience fear and anxiety that I could not shut them out with wine. Today, my future is bright. I have goals, hope and a future that I’m certain will be beyond what I can ever have imagined.