Sober at 20

When I was 7 years old I made a decision that I would never drink alcohol when I got older. My home was filled with constant chaos and dysfunction with the remanence of alcohol smell lingering through every room.

When my mom drank, it meant there was the possibility of many things that could happen. There was the possibility that furniture would be tossed in a rage. There was the possibility that she would sit on the phone crying for hours and hours, and then quietly pass out as I would carefully tiptoe over her so not to wake her. There was a possibility that if we were out in public that my dad would have enough and want to leave; and at 10 years old I would be physically helping my mom to the car, where my dad was waiting. I would tell her to hurry up because I was terrified he would leave without us as he always threatened to do so.

Fear became second nature to me. I was always afraid. I was afraid of everything. As an adult looking back I realize that much of that had to do with the unpredictability and lack of control of what was going on around me.  As a child, you don’t understand that. You just feel afraid, and different, and you don’t know why. By the time I was 16 I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I spent time on the psychiatric ward of our local hospital as they tried to “fix” me with many cocktails of prescription medications that never worked.

When I became a teenager and my friends began to experiment with drugs and alcohol, I chose drugs. Remembering my decision at 7 years old to not drink; I did not have any interest in putting the same thing in my mouth, that in my opinion took my mother away from me.  I had resentment against alcohol. That was until I had my first drink at 16. It was that first drink that provided me with the ease and comfort I longed for, the solution to my anxieties and fears. It did for me what years of counselling could never do, what anti-anxiety medication could never do, and I finally understood for the first time why my mom drank the way she did.

I had a love hate relationship with alcohol. I hated it because when my mom drank it, my life felt like it didn’t matter. But I loved alcohol because when I drank it, it helped me forget all those times I felt like that.

I began to drink socially with friends. We were not old enough to drink, but these were the kind of friends I had. I kept a mental note in my head of things not to do when drinking for fear of becoming an alcoholic. These were things like; don’t drink beer, don’t drink at home alone, and only drink on weekends.  I appreciated the effects of alcohol for the relief it gave me, even if temporary, from all the “stuff” I had going on inside my head and my heart that I didn’t know what to do with.

In the beginning, it was easy for me to manage. My will and desire to not be like my mother was a strengthening driving force to help me stick to my plans of not being an “alcoholic.” I did not know at the time I was already well on my way.

At 17 I became pregnant with my first child. There was never a question as to if I would keep the baby and in my young, naïve and immature perception, I had the idea that this was an opportunity for me to give a child what I always wanted. My journey set out to be the parent my mother never was. I did not drink or use drugs for the entire pregnancy. What I soon discovered was that I had trouble coping with the fears and anxieties without the help of alcohol. Alcohol was a solution for me. A form of self-medicating for my anxiety, and I no longer had those solutions. I was hospitalized again at 5 months into my pregnancy for depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder.

After my child was born, I was very busy with parenting classes, going to college and trying to be the best mom I could be. Some other young parents I knew would go out on the weekend to a bar dance club and I would go with them. They would leave reminding themselves they needed to get up with their child in the morning. I would call my sitter for two and three days at a time, asking if she could keep my daughter longer.

I was a great mom I thought. I was going to school, I had my own place, I was an attentive mother and had a good relationship with my daughter. But I loved alcohol too. And just like my mother, when alcohol entered into my body, my priorities shifted, my logic waned, and the person I tried so hard to be, would disappear for a while.

I continued living like this until my daughter was almost 2 years old. My drinking had increased, my benders would get longer. My crowds of friends changed. I still remembered the list I had in my head of what an alcoholic, was and I thought as long as I am not drinking at home, and my daughter cannot see, then I am not an alcoholic.

On April 4th 1994, I picked up my daughter after a weekend bender. It was morning, I was hungover and I remember very little. It was my 20th birthday on April 1st and the party started days before.

I remember putting my daughter in her highchair and placing some cheerios on her tray. I opened the fridge and realized that at some point one of my friends had put some vodka coolers in the fridge and left them there. I looked at them momentarily and then took one out and twisted the cap. As I was about to take a drink, I turned to check on my daughter and there she sat in her highchair staring at me. She would not have a clue at that age what I was holding in my hand, but she watched me intently. A voice inside my head said, “Don’t do this to her.”

I dumped the bottle down the drain along with the rest of them and a few days later I began to get help for my alcoholism. I was an alcoholic. It was hard to admit. I never wanted to be one. I never wanted my children to see and experience what I had as a child, and here I was already living a life that did not prove that. I felt like a failure. I felt confused and scared.

I was 20 years old and sober, and when you would think everything would be great for making the decision to quit, it wasn’t.  I could no longer turn to alcohol to give me the ease and comfort I needed to help me deal with my anxiety.

Fuck, now what.

Drinking during those anxious times was no longer the solution and I chose other ways to deal with those days. It was not easy. There are times I thought about drinking the anxiety was so bad. There are times I craved it so much I could almost taste it.

As a sober woman in my 20’s, I continued to watch the disease of alcoholism in my mother’s life progress. When I was 23 years old, she took her last of many overdoses and died 6 days before Christmas.  As devastating and tragic as that was, it has continued to be my strength and motivation to want to be sober and well.

There have been many hardships and heartaches over the years but I have not picked up a drink since. I continue to work on my alcoholism and the issues that I feel contributed to my drinking. I continue to live with anxiety and periods of depression but I have not drank, even when I felt unable to cope.  I belong to 12 step fellowship that has loved me every step of the way, and helped me with the growing up that I had to do.

This past April I received my 22-year pin for sobriety from the 12-step group I belong to. My 23-year-old daughter, the one who sat in the highchair that day in 1994, sent me a text right before the meeting that said, “22 years is amazing. Thank you for not being your mother, and for making sure you were better for your own children. I love you.”

I am an alcoholic. I have generalized anxiety disorder. My children have a sober mom.