4. Don’t Be Like Me

4. Don’t Be Like Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Don’t Be Like Me

We acquire the strength we have overcome.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This last Christmas I celebrated five years of sobriety. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in five years, but I am still an alcoholic because I know that I have no control when it comes to the bottle. I will always be an alcoholic because of the way I used it to medicate my pain. Tears spill onto the keyboard as I write these words and read them out loud to myself. But there is a freedom that comes from shining the light on something so ugly.

I used to say that I would never ever be a drinker. I wasn’t one of “those” people. I had too much self-control. My Christian upbringing would keep me on the straight and narrow. I didn’t touch the stuff until after I was twenty-one, unlike most of my friends who had dabbled in it much sooner. I was a waitress when I tried it the first time and it was no big deal. It did not take control over my life right away. I was able to forego drinking for years with no problem at all. I got married and started a family without giving alcohol a thought.

Alcohol did not touch my lips again until a friend’s wedding. I was under a tremendous amount of stress. My son Andrew had just been diagnosed with autism two months earlier, and we were in the midst of trying to figure out how to help him. I was at a loss. He was beating me up daily. Literally. Therapies were not working. They seemed to make him angrier. I would come home from sessions with bruises and scratch marks on my arms, and bloodied lips from him head-butting me as I tried to keep him from throwing himself on the ground and getting hurt. I felt so weak. So when I was offered a glass of wine during the rehearsal dinner, I gladly took it. I had no idea what that one action would start.

Now let me make one thing clear. I do not think that people who enjoy having a drink or two are alcoholics. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you drink because you love trying different wines, or you order drinks when you go out to dinner, or you like a cold beer with your nachos — that is not what I am talking about. I have friends who are part of wine clubs, or will have a drink with dinner nightly. No problem. The problem doesn’t come in the type of drink, or the amount even. It comes in the “why.” I drank as a coping mechanism. I drank because I was in so much pain, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

My reliance on alcohol came slowly. A glass of wine here and there. But it manifested quickly into a problem that I was not willing to face. I would look forward in desperation to the end of the day when I could have that shot of vodka . . . or three. I didn’t drink because I liked the taste. I liked the warm burn down my throat. The tingly feeling in my fingers. The fact that the pain and grief would slowly disappear and I wouldn’t have to think about what I was dealing with on a daily basis. And I stupidly justified it by telling myself that I was a more relaxed wife and mother with a drink or two in me. That was the biggest lie ever. My drinking went from one or two drinks at the end of the day, after Andrew was asleep, to a shot here and there after 4 p.m. when I knew I was home for the rest of the day. The bottle moved from the kitchen, in plain sight, to the closet in our room. I didn’t want my husband to know how much I was drinking, and that was the easiest way to hide it.

My time of self-medicating with alcohol only lasted about a year, but by the end of it I was completely out of control. It culminated in drinking too much on Christmas Eve and coming to the ER with my husband at my side and a doctor asking me stern questions about how much alcohol I had drunk. I denied having more than a couple of drinks of course. My wonderful husband was so worried about me and had no idea how deep my addiction had gone. He thought I had perhaps accidentally doubled up on my antidepressant or something of the sort. He was completely blindsided, and to this day I feel so sorry for what I put him through that night.

I continued to deny the reality of the situation when we got home that night. We went to sleep. I woke up with a terrible hangover and was sick all day. Bryan waited until I was feeling better before talking to me about what was going on. He also presented me with evidence of why he had taken me to the ER — a fleece sleeper my son had worn the night before. It had my vomit all over it from throwing up on him as I tried to rock him to sleep. That was rock bottom. That was also the first day of my new life.

Immediately after the New Year, I went to my first Celebrate Recovery meeting. It is a Christian 12-step program. Bryan was adamant about my going and I had no room to argue with him. I was very nervous. Luckily, so many people were there that I slipped in pretty much unnoticed. But it didn’t last long. They talked about the intense step classes starting a couple of weeks later, and I knew that I needed to commit to attend every single Wednesday of the nine-and-a-half-month course. The class started with thirty-three ladies. By the time graduation came and the twelve steps were completed, only eleven ladies were left.

Recovery is a terribly hard road. The not drinking is only part of the struggle. Facing the reasons behind the addiction are even more difficult. The first three months of sobriety were the most unbearable. The physical need for alcohol disappeared pretty quickly, but the mental addiction had a death grip on my self-control. Every single time I went to the store to get groceries, I had to call my sponsor, or my husband. Someone needed to talk me through the store so that I wouldn’t go down the liquor aisle and lose all of my willpower. Vodka was my coping mechanism, and I hadn’t figured out a new one yet. I needed to ask for help from others to get past those desperate moments. It was hard for me to ask for help. Getting clean was a humbling experience indeed.

I remember the moment that the desire to drink went away, for at least a short time. It was about three to four months into the program. We were at Step 4. By that time, more than half of the women in my group had dropped out. We were at the point where most people who are going to quit, do. Step 4 calls for us to take a moral inventory. It is the hardest step by far, and critical in the healing process. I had filled out the chapter for the week, and it was time to go around the circle and share our answers. We were to talk about guilt. About the “what ifs” we say to ourselves. It was my turn, and what came out of my mouth surprised even me. It wasn’t what I had written.

“I feel like it is my fault my son has autism. What if I hadn’t had to get that root canal when I was pregnant? What if I hadn’t eaten so much tuna? I was supposed to protect him and I didn’t. What if I caused my son to regress into autism?”

In that moment, I felt a thousand pounds lighter. It was the first moment since Christmas that I did not want a drink. I had admitted out loud what had been eating away at my soul for years. And it felt good. I still struggle with those thoughts, especially with having two kids on the spectrum now. But they don’t control me anymore. I can push those thoughts away by giving myself grace instead of reaching for the bottle.

Why am I writing this to a bunch of strangers? Because I don’t want you to be like me. Don’t be full of pride. Don’t try to be so strong that you won’t ask for help when you need it. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness (I am still learning this). Accept help when it is offered, even if you didn’t ask.

Don’t be like me. Realize that no one is perfect and everyone has their weaknesses. You don’t have to be Super Mom, Super Dad, Super Spouse, or Super Person. You are doing yourself a disservice by putting that much pressure on yourself.

Don’t be like me. You can’t control everything that happens around you. You do the best you can, and then you have to let go and realize that life will take the turns it will.

And this last one is especially for parents of special needs kids. Some deal with it well, some do not. Make sure you get time to yourself, or with friends, or with your spouse to refill your emotional tank. Our job is tough. It is life-long. If you don’t take care of yourself, you leave yourself open to unhealthy ways of managing stress. You deserve breaks. Your children will survive without you for a few hours. Your health is as important as meeting their needs. You can’t help them if you don’t help yourself.

Don’t ignore that voice in your head telling you that you are reaching your breaking point.

Don’t make the same mistakes I made.

Don’t be like me.

~Wendy Letterman Hoard

More stories from our partners