This post was originally published on June 25, 2015.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a lot of things. In elementary school I wanted to be a dancer. In middle school, I became fascinated with bee charmers and thought that sounded cool. In high school, I just wanted to get away from the small town I had always known and be a stranger in a strange city. That is something that had seemed appealing to me since I was a young child—being in a place where no one knew my name. It was no surprise to anyone that I chose a college where I knew no one.
I was really good at making people think I was something that, in fact, I was not. I could talk my way in to almost anything, including college and that’s exactly what I did. I had gotten a rejection letter from the College of Charleston a couple months before high school graduation, but I had already made up my mind that I was going there; I wasn’t going to let a little rejection letter stop me. Somehow I secured a meeting with the Dean of Admissions through a family friend who was an alumni at the college and I walked out of that meeting with a fall semester schedule in hand and later became part of the graduating class of 2002.
Well, I was supposed to graduate in 2001, but I decided to make one of my first of many geographical moves after my sophomore year when my first love broke up with me. Most girls who got dumped binged out on Chubby Hubby, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and sad movies before moving on to another guy, but not me. No, I decided to move to Boston and intern for Ted Kennedy for no other reason than it sounded fun and would allow me to escape and not have to deal with being heartbroken. In the same way that I got my acceptance to college, I secured an internship with a Kennedy through deception and charm. It was the perfect escape. I was introduced to a world of prestige and politics in a city that embraced booze and I was in a new place where no one knew my name.
I guess I should mention that I didn’t have my first drink until I was almost 20 years old. I was more concerned with cheerleading and not getting in trouble with my dad if I got caught drinking in high school. I didn’t drink my entire freshman year of college but had my first drink (a Fuzzy Navel) at a party on Edisto Island the summer after my sophomore year. I blacked out that night and over the next 12 years blacked out probably no less than 1000 times or more.
I eventually moved back to Charleston and graduated in 2002 with the absolute bare minimum 2.0 GPA. A couple years later I moved back to Boston. That got old and San Francisco sounded like a fun option and it was. I moved to San Francisco and my drinking became more frequent and consequences quickly followed. I started to not recognize the girl in the mirror but not once did it cross my mind that my drinking was a problem. I found myself in situations where I would compromise my morals for a good time without hesitation.
I wasn’t able to keep up with my San Francisco lifestyle any longer and moved back to North Carolina to be closer to my family in 2008. The thing about that was I had to keep a certain distance from them because they would not have recognized the person I had become if I let them get too close. Nobody really knew me. I didn’t let anyone get too close or see the person beneath the façade I put on. I started drinking a lot—and alone. I may not have recognized the girl looking back at me in the mirror in San Francisco but I hated the girl looking back at me in the mirror in Charlotte.
I woke up morning after morning wondering how I let myself get so drunk again and then blacking out. I’d wake up in strange places with strange people. I would promise myself every day that today was going to be different. Today was never different. It was like I was apologizing and making promises to the person I once was, but my addiction was stronger than any promise or good intention I had and so I continued to wake up each morning hating myself a little more.
My younger brother died from a prescription drug overdose in April 2012, which provided me with two things: an excuse to drink unapologetically like I wanted to and the permission to admit that I had a problem. I drank around the clock for 49 days from the day he died until what would have been his 30th birthday. The next morning I woke up and felt a kind of hopelessness and fear I had never experienced.
I had told myself all that week that I wasn’t going to drink at the celebration my family was hosting in his memory on his birthday. But I was in a blackout by the time it started around 2 pm. When I woke up the next morning with no memory of the event, I found myself standing over my parents’ bed asking them to keep my miniature schnauzer, Otto, so I could go to rehab. I drove back to my house and called several rehabs. Then I packed my bags and my parents drove me up to the mountains of North Carolina as if they were taking me to summer camp like they had done when I was a little girl. But I wasn’t 10, I was 32 and it wasn’t summer camp, it was rehab.
It was the first time as an adult that I couldn’t run away from my problems or drink to escape them. I began feeling for the first time and realized that my feelings wouldn’t kill me. I started grieving the death of my brother—something I had delayed by drinking for 49 days straight. I started to get an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I had this second chance at life. I didn’t know what that meant or how I was going to stay sober, but I felt safe and had some hope that everything was going to be okay.
It was amazing to wake up without a hangover and also free of the guilt, shame and remorse that had become a part of daily living for me. I wanted to keep that feeling. I found myself sitting in rooms at 12-step meetings where I discovered people who were just like me. I could identify with stories that were shared by men in their 80s and girls in their teens. I was one of them and they were me. It was the first group of people that I didn’t think I was better than or lesser than—we were all equal. I stuck around and I kept coming back like they suggested. I got a sponsor and I worked the 12 steps. I took suggestions and one day at a time, I didn’t drink.
I just celebrated three years of sobriety. It’s strange to write that because I was never supposed to be an alcoholic. No one wants to be an alcoholic. No one wants to be an addict. We were all kids at one time who had big dreams of being dancers and bee charmers. None of us grew up thinking it would be fun to struggle with addiction. None of us grew up with the dream of being the most popular girl in rehab. But you don’t see it coming. And by the time you do, it’s usually too late. You are so deep into your addiction that being a kid with dreams and a bright future ahead of you is just a vague memory. Some of us make it and some of us don’t. But those of us who do get a chance to find that happy kid that was always inside of us.
Most of us, of course, do not then become bee charmers.