How I Got Sober: Louise
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How I Got Sober: Louise


This post was originally published on September 8, 2014.

I grew up in an alcoholic home, one that had a lot of turmoil, arguing and violence. I never wanted to be like the people in my family, so I thought if I could get a good education and lift myself out of poverty, I would be immune. Although I did some sneak drinking as a young girl, I was very afraid of alcohol and didn’t really start drinking until my late teens. But I remember thinking after drinking as a young girl that I would like to move to Paris, because I had heard that the French had wine with every meal, and that sounded like heaven.

Not long after I started really drinking, I had an uncle who began dragging me to AA meetings, but I honestly thought he was taking me just because he liked me. One night when I went with him, I was drunk and fell off the chair but still won the raffle (for AA literature). I remember thinking that AA was wonderful for people who were old—like 40—and maybe I’d go there when I retired. I didn’t identify at all. I later went back with a boyfriend who was a binge drinker (and died from alcoholism), but I never thought I was a drunk.

In addition to my drinking, I “chewed my booze” as the old timers used to say. By the time I was in my early 20s, I had prescriptions for Valium and Librium (benzos) and Black Beauties (a powerful speed), as well as old school anti-depressants like Elavil and Tofranil. I kept taking them right up until the end, when I got sober at 30.

Before I got sober, I ended up in Al-Anon because my alcoholic father had tried to take his own life, and some men from AA recommended it. I remember visiting my father in the hospital after drinking, and while I was washing down some pills at the water fountain, I overheard one of the AA men say to his friend, “She belongs with us.” The women in Al-Anon soon agreed, right after I called up the members of my group in a blackout at 3 am and tried to recruit them for a march to help out the starving children in Biafra. But I didn’t go to AA because I didn’t think I was an alcoholic.

By the age of 27 or so, I had switched from drinking primarily wine to harder booze, like gin and straight whiskey and started listening to “slit your wrists” music like Eddy Arnold’s “Make The World Go Away” every night. My husband didn’t know what to do. We stopped talking to each other for the last seven years of my drinking, and I thought we had an idyllic life, because when I was growing up in my alcoholic home there was nothing but fights, and my husband grew up in one too, so we didn’t want to argue. And when he got upset he just clammed up.

It all came to a head when I got a bad bout of bronchitis. I was sick and I kept loading myself up on codeine and cough medicine (which in those days contained hydrocodone—an opiate). I was also drinking 24-7 and just kept eating my tranquilizers and drinking my booze to take away not only the pain of the bronchitis but also the emotional pain. I just wanted to be numb and I kept doing that for three days straight, which I spent in a virtual coma, waking only to take more of everything.

When I woke up, my husband was hovering over me. He said, “I can’t do this anymore.” And he just kept saying it over and over. And I said to myself, “Uh oh. Something’s wrong.” I knew it was all me. It was the first time I ever thought that there was anything wrong with me, alcoholically speaking, because I kept comparing myself with my own family. I wasn’t like my mother and father because I thought a lack of education and poverty made you alcoholic. And I wasn’t like them.

The next day, I decided to go back to work, but I also decided to kill myself later that day. I was going to take all of my remaining drugs at once and just slip painlessly away. But for some strange reason, I didn’t want to do it until 5 pm that afternoon. So I went into work and I’m sure I was a fright. There were egg stains down the front of my dress, one side of my mini-skirt was shorter than the other, my legs were unshaven and I had two different earrings on. I was still sick, but I was also totally out of it from the booze and drugs, so my boss sent me home at 11 am.

I had some time to kill before my suicide at 5 pm, so I went into the ladies room to clean myself up. I was looking for a hairbrush, but I came across an old tattered meeting list book that I had saved for my father (who went to AA but continued to struggle until his death from booze). I found a 12 pm meeting in downtown Boston and decided to go. I think that moment was the grace of God, because I had no plans to get sober. I just had nothing else to do, and I decided to go there for one last laugh.

When I got there, it was crazy and wild and I immediately loved it. There were a lot more active drunks at meetings back then and there were two guys arguing and getting ready to fight over in one corner. I thought to myself at one point, “I’m home!” But I must have heard something, because the person who went in there was not the same person who came out. I wanted a better life and there was hope. That night when I went home, I told my husband that I had some bad news. I told him I was probably an alcoholic and that I had to go to meetings. His response was, “Is there one tonight? I’ll take you.”

I still wasn’t sure I was an alcoholic, but luckily a woman said to me, “You don’t have to be an alcoholic and you don’t have to call yourself an alcoholic. You just have to have the desire to stop drinking. You can be anything you want.” I thought she was a brilliant Harvard professor for giving me that insight, but she was just a drunk like me.

When I got sober, I was terrified. There were no real detoxes then, so I withdrew from all the tranquilizers and the booze, and that withdrawal lasted a good year, and my hands were still shaking at four years of sobriety. I recovered really slowly and it bothered me tremendously because so many people seemed to be doing so much better than me on the outside. My second sponsor (my first one had a nervous breakdown) assured me that it was okay to recover slowly. “Many of these people aren’t going to be around in a year because they’re so ‘well,’ she said. “And a lot of them are going to get drunk again.” Which turned out to be the case. I was so damaged, and I’m grateful for the fact that I was so damaged because I’m sure that I would have gone out like so many of the others that got it together so fast.

At two years sober, all I was doing was going to meetings, going on commitments (speaking in front of AA groups and at detoxes) and going out after meetings and drinking coffee until late into the night. (Meetings were from 8:30-10 pm in those days.) That’s when the initial joy started to wear off, because I hadn’t changed. I’d find myself sitting in front of the record player with Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?” and feeling sorry for myself.

I was still fearful and I was still whiny and my sponsor would tell me to go read the program literature. She always told me, “The girl that came in here will always drink. You have to change and there’s just no way of getting away from that. You can’t stay sober on yesterday’s sobriety. The disease is still with us and it’s never going to go away.” At about eight years sober, I dug into step work, and my life changed remarkably.

Thirty-nine years later, I still do step work as well as go to a lot of meetings—to help myself and others. And I do it because I have the disease of alcoholism, not alcoholwasm.

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About Author

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.