How did drinking make you feel better about yourself while you were in college?
College was my first experience of independence. Drinking really eased up the anxiety that I had. I really felt more attractive, funnier, less shy in front of people. When I started seeing myself like that at social events in college, I liked who I was. I got more attention. It took me less time to really open up to people, which is not always a good thing. Those inhibitions really are good for you in your life, but I didn't have them anymore. I really liked going out. The drinking was once in a while or just on the weekends when I got to school. But as I went through the steps of alcoholism, it really quickly turned into during the week, and grades slipping.
What was it like to be so depressed despite having what seems like such a desirable life?
I found somebody who was dependable. As soon as we got married, we bought a house . . . then I had a child. I worked at a Fortune 15 company [where] I was steadily being promoted to higher positions. Everything seemed to be exactly as it should be on paper. Then I was very surprised when I was very depressed and very unhappy, even though I had all these things that I thought would equal happiness in my life.
To anybody looking from the outside in, I did have a great life. What really fueled the depression is that I didn't understand why I wasn't happy with it. Then there was a sense of failure or something being wrong with me, because I had these things and I saw other people who had these things, and they looked happy. But I was not happy.
What does it feel like to have to pretend to be happy?
There's this constant tightness [inside]. There's this constant anxiety and sadness. If you're not finding happiness and you feel like you should be happy. For me, I started looking for something that would make me happy even if just for a few moments or a few hours, and it did. Alcohol got me to a place where I was like, this is good. I feel happy. But I'm telling you, that happiness only lasted for a couple drinks. Where most people would stop, and drinking is a happy thing, I would always continue.
It looks like a lot of arguing and sadness in the privacy of your own home. Everybody else has what you want, and you don't really understand how you missed it because you took all the steps you were supposed to take. There's just a trapped feeling within yourself. You're in a household with these people who you love, and you just want to be content with it. But for some reason, you just can't.
As you got older, how did mounting responsibilities contribute to your anxiety? How would you deal with it?
One would think [that] your drinking would slow down because you had more things in your life that you had to handle. For me, the stress would consume me so much, that the only way to relax was to completely forget about it or get out of myself.
The intention was never to be drinking until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning when you had to get up three hours later. But for me, once I started it, I could not stop. Then I'm waking up feeling terrible. There are responsibilities as a partner and as a parent that you're expected to manage it all. I need to be attractive for my husband, I need to have dinner ready. My child needs to not only have the basic necessities, but I should be able to have playtime and read and do all of these things. Where I was barely able to get to work and come home, and then start all those things over again.
It just felt impossible to do without having a drink at some point to give myself some relief from just the constant anxiety that was present in my body.
How did drinking affect your relationship?
Drinking made me a very angry and sad person. My ex-husband likened it to a light switch. Something would happen, and I would turn. Once I turned, I was angry. I would make him argue with me until 5:00 in the morning. I would follow him around our apartment or house, just wanting to talk. It was something that I really didn't remember much of. [However,] when you're in a relationship, that person remembers everything. I know now that I was very sick. But it really does take a toll on your relationship, and it's like a secret that they're keeping. Because around other people you seem functioning, and your family thinks that this person is taking care of you. The thing is, they can't. They have no control over you.
I think at that time, my partner really felt like, “Why am I not important enough for her to stop?”
Why did you feel like it was so important to hide how much you were drinking?
I had a therapist once that said, "Are you an alcoholic?" I was like, "Absolutely not." There was no way I was letting that out because I really felt like once you say you're an alcoholic, you can't take that back. I needed to be able to take it back. I needed to prove to people that I wasn't an alcoholic, and that I was sad because I lived away from my family. I was stressed because of my job and being a new parent, and my mortgage, and my relationship was on the rocks. Once you let that out, it's kind of like the ultimate weakness.
How did you know it was time to get help?
I moved back in with my parents while [my partner] sold the house [that we just bought]. It was very obvious that I was broken. Very quickly, I was drinking every night and my mom knew that I had a problem.
It's not something that you can hide, but I thought I was hiding it. Everyone around me knew what was going on. At that point, I had another two years of separation in my marriage, moving back with my parents, going to AA just to kind of get people off my back. At this point, there was one day where my ex-husband came to me and said, "I don't understand why we keep doing this." I said, "I think I might need to go somewhere, because I can't stop and I don't understand why."
I continued to get so bad that my ex-husband had called my boss, said I needed to go on medical leave. My mother was there. At that point, I had no choice. I remember yelling at my ex-husband saying, "You ruined my career."
Suicidal thoughts had become not just thoughts anymore. Really trying to figure out how I could make myself not a burden to anyone anymore. Those thoughts really scared me. I was a mom. I loved my daughter more than anything, and it scared me that I was getting to this really dark place where drinking wasn't an escape anymore. It was horrible.
What was so unique about your treatment experience at Caron that you didn’t have before?
When you're drinking, it truly feels like you are the only one going through this. Then you go to treatment and you meet all of these people, and it is just insane how you all do the same exact thing. You finally meet these people, and it just takes away this secret because you're not bad anymore. Once you realize it doesn't have to be a secret, and there's so many people that have this secret . . . it's very freeing.
Once I really got that alcoholism was a disease, I didn't feel like such a failure anymore. Caron gave me acceptance. I was now part of a community of people who are going through the same thing I'm going through. This isolation that you have when you are in the throes of addiction is really deadly. It kind of pulled us all out from the darkness and brought us together. I was taught real connection with people in recovery.
How has your life after Caron improved?
It's the best thing that's ever happened in my life. I love the place so much. Caron prepared me to leave and to know that not everybody was going to understand my recovery. My happiness doesn't equal that checklist anymore, but it does equal relationships where I feel accepted. I got healthy and started setting up boundaries. I'm just lucky that I'm present. I got engaged in January to the love of my life. I feel so lucky that I get the time with [my daughter], and I'm not trying to rush through it anymore.