Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What's To Stop Me, Other Than ME?

(A blog I submitted to the UK site, www.myroutetohelp.co.uk, the site on addiction and recovery I was asked to write for, an excellent resource for those escaping the throes of drug addiction and alcoholism....for most of my readers in the USA, this story is really old news, but it's fresh fodder for Europe...)

When I was drinking, and living in my own apartment in Chicago, I would come to my mom’s house to do laundry. It was a more cost-effective, sanitary way to wash clothes other than using the coin-operated machines in my apartment building.

Ma stored all the liquor in the basement, in a white cabinet on the wall. Lots of brandy, vermouth, cognac, whiskey, just general “brown” colored liquor. Whilst doing the laundry, while she was at work, I would nip into the liquor cabinet and pour myself a strong drink from those bottles that had been there for up to a decade, my ma not being much of a drinker herself.

And I didn’t even like hard liquor. I was a wino. I only drank hard liquor if I wanted to get really drunk, really fast, and it always made me weepy and depressed, whereas wine had me on top of the world. The trouble with alcoholism, though, is that you need increasing amounts of the booze to garner the same level of drunkenness the longer you imbibe. Still, I’d do my laundry and get blasted, usually before I picked my son up from school in the afternoon.

Crafty alcoholic that I was, what did I do to the bottles so that my mother wouldn’t notice that I was drinking from them? She had iced tea in the refrigerator. I’d carefully replace the liquor in the bottles with iced tea, which was the same color, and hide my habit. She never caught on.

After I went through detox and rehab, about a year into my sobriety, I moved back in with my mother, my son in tow, as our building was foreclosed upon and the landlord skipped town. When I came to live with Ma, I noticed something on the liquor cabinet in the basement: a really giant combination padlock.

I can understand not trusting me *not* to drink for a while, but after I’d been sober for a year already? And it’s not like there wasn’t other alcohol in the house–there’s been wine in the fridge for years, which I haven’t touched.

Perhaps a year later, aggravated that she didn’t trust me enough to remove the padlock, I finally confessed to her what was actually in the bottles. “Ma, they’re all filled with old iced tea,” I told her. She was very surprised at my craftiness. I said to her at that point, “You know, you can take the padlock off the cabinet, I’m not going to drink.” Yet she refused.

It wasn’t until this summer, 3 1/2 years into my sobriety, that I convinced her to remove the padlock, which was a mark of great relief and a rebuilding of trust that had been missing in our relationship since my sobriety began. “Just throw most of it way, Ma,” I told her. “It’s TEA, for God’s sake.” She complied. “I’m NOT going to drink, Ma,” I told her over and over again. She finally removed the giant padlock.

She’s gone out of town a few times since I got sober, with my son staying at his father’s, and there’s been nothing to stop me from drinking except my will. The first time she went on vacation, out of boredom, loneliness and, frankly, addiction, I found myself en route to the grocery store to actually buy a bottle of wine, knowing nobody would know if I drank or not, except for me and God.

God intervened, as I got pulled over by a cop on my way to the store, for having expired license plates. It turned out that the cop was a dear, old friend of my late father, who couldn’t believe who he’d pulled over. We spent the next half and hour chatting up, and he never did give me a ticket for the expired plate. But he saved me that night from making a huge mistake. After the pull-over, I turned the car around, went home, and stayed sober. I was scared that I came thisclose to wrecking my sobriety just because I COULD.

I decided to spend the rest of my mom’s vacation attending AA meetings and employing the help of friends and my (now ex) boyfriend to keep me “safe” while my mother and son were both away. I just didn’t trust myself enough.

The next year she went on vacation, I came down with pancreatitis and landed in the hospital, so being in a safe place away from the temptations of alcohol was angelically taken care of for me. I made it another span of time alone without drinking.

This year, when my mom went on vacation and Luke was at his dad’s, I arranged time with friends every night she was gone, save for one, when I worked all day and just came home to veg out and relax, soberly. I went out to dinner with friends, had a friend over for dinner and took a day off of work to regain my center of gravity and sanity–a mental health break day, for which I wasn’t penalized at work. Being a bipolar addict is tough stuff, folks. So again, I was safe from the temptations of booze. When my friend came over for dinner, I even went so far as to buy him a bottle of wine at the grocery store to go along with his meal, while I bought myself a bottle of alcohol-free wine, just to participate in the “act” of having a cocktail with him. I consumed no alcohol, but it admittedly felt nice to “have a glass of wine” with my friend.

The only alcohol I consume regularly is communion wine at church every week. It’s literally a thimble full of wine, but I believe in transubstantiation, the transformation of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, and I’ve been told by doctors, pastors and AA members that this, in no way, compromises my sobriety.

In February, I will have 4 years sober. There have been tricky, scary, tempting moments in those 4 years, but I’ve managed to stay dry this whole time, for which I’m proud. It’s NOT easy or pleasant. How many times do I come home from work and wish I could have an actual drink or glass of wine to settle down from the day? Frequently. But one day at a time, one hour at a time, I choose to stay sober.

If I really wanted to, there’s nothing stopping me from hiding a bottle of vodka or something in my mom’s house and drinking it after everyone goes to sleep at night and I’m left up alone. I *could* hide it. But I don’t. And I won’t, by the grace of God. I won’t blow it. I’ve come too far. I realize that I could drink and nobody would have to know, except for me and God. That’d be a tough thing to reconcile with my conscience. I finally am free of dirty secrets hidden from those I love. I don’t need a new one. I’m a better person for staying sober, a stronger character. And I intend to stay that way. A better mother, daughter, sister, aunt, co-worker…FRIEND.

I continue to stop ME. Next time you find yourself in a precarious position with easy access to alcohol and nobody around to know if you drank or not, reflect on your sobriety and success. Take pride in your accomplishments, those you’ve woven day after day.

Never take that first drink again.

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