Part of recovery from an addiction is spent looking backward. I try to be a look-forward, don’t-dwell-in- the-past type of person for the most part, but I think it’s vital when recovering from an addiction that we spend a little time exploring the possible reasons and triggers. To examine some of the early behaviors. To engage in some healthy analysis.
For me, and I imagine for many people in recovery, a lot of time is spent trying to figure out why. Why did I become an alcoholic and my spouse can have two drinks or no drinks and it’s not a big deal to him? What trauma caused me to use alcohol as a medication to quiet my brain and pain? What was the scenario that flipped the switch in my brain and body from drinking for enjoyment to drinking to numb, from a few heavy drinking nights of partying with friends to almost nightly drinking nights of blackouts alone?
While I do recognize the value in searching our pasts to try to understand the addiction, I am also careful to recognize the danger in dwelling in past trauma or difficult situations.
The fact is, now that I’ve spent 11 weeks trying to figure myself out, is that I NEVER learned how to drink healthfully. As I think back to different situations and scenarios when I drank, I am realizing now that it was ALWAYS binge drinking. While there may have been a few occasions when I had 2 or 3 glasses of wine and stopped, it seems like almost every situation when I drank, I drank extremely heavily. Somewhere along the line, though, it switched from partying with friends on weekends to drinking alone most nights of the week. The patterns and behaviors of being an addict have always been there.
My senior year in high school is when I first tried booze. I might have tried a drink a handful of times before then, but it was really then that I full on began to drink. My parents didn’t drink, so there was never alcohol in our house. It was my senior year when I was going out more and more and meeting up with friends who could get alcohol. I didn’t drink all the time, but when I did, I got drunk. Granted, that’s a common theme among high school and college kids – many experiment and drink too much. Most, hopefully, learn their lesson and learn their limits. I certainly didn’t.
So anyway, my senior year I was sort of dating a guy. Well, I was dating HIM…he just wasn’t committed to the relationship. But after an emotionally and physically abusive relationship my junior year, I had incredibly low self-esteem and thought I HAD to have a boyfriend. This guy was nice enough, but he tried to tell me he wasn’t interested in a commitment. I ignored him and wallowed in my insecurity. He was still hooking up with his ex and a few other girls. One Saturday night, I had gone to sleepover with a girlfriend whose mother was out of town. We had the house to ourselves, so of COURSE we ended up having a party. It was 1990, so wine coolers were the go-to booze for hip teenagers.
Several people came over and we drank. I got totally smashed. But the boyfriend/not boyfriend was not there, even though he was mutual friends with everyone at the party. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones and social media, so I went the old-fashioned route and called him. And called again. He didn’t answer. In my booze-addled brain, I was convinced he was with his ex-girlfriend and was ignoring my calls. Drunk, jealous, insecure me did the only thing I could. I drove to his house.
Here’s the kicker – I didn’t have my own car in high school. I I did the next best thing. I ‘borrowed’ my friend’s mother’s little Honda. I guess my friend and the other guests had already gone to bed – not sure where everyone else was when I left. Anyhow, it’s 2 a.m., it’s pouring down rain, I am drunk, and I am driving a car I stole from my friend’s mother (who was on a business trip). He lived at least 20 minutes from her house on the other side of town, too.
When I got to his house, his truck wasn’t there, the lights were all out, and his mother’s and sister’s cars were gone, too. It looked like the entire family was gone for the night.
I don’t remember driving back at all. I don’t remember getting back to my friend’s house. What I do remember is jarring back to reality when I ever so gently tapped a box fan sitting in the garage with the front fender when I was pulling back in. The rest of the details and the rest of the night are fuzzy – I guess I managed to press the remote to open the garage when I got back, close it behind me, return the car keys and shut the garage door before I stumbled into her bedroom and passed out. I do know that drunk little 18-year old was VERY lucky she didn’t get pulled over, she didn’t kill or harm herself, she didn’t kill or harm someone else. Aside from an old box fan in the garage, nobody was the wiser. She didn’t learn anything from that experience.
You see, addicts have rules, especially functioning ones like I am (or was, I guess). I had rules. But the thing is, despite having rules, we are very good at bending them and completely rationalizing when we need to change them in the moment. 18-year old me in 1990 and 45-year old me in 2018 had rules. They kept her in control, and they kept her from admitting she was a drunk. My brain lied to me and said I followed the rules, so I was safe. I didn’t drive drunk.
I only drank at home or limited to only 2 or 3 drinks if I did go out. And I DID drive drunk or drive while on the way to getting drunk. But in my mind, I could always rationalize it. In my mind, I never drove while I was drinking, but in reality, I did. Coming home from getting trashed at our friends? Of course I could drive, it was only a mile or two through the neighborhood. Running to the corner gas station for a pack of cigarettes. Going to a meeting at my kid’s school (I only had ONE drink in my water bottle to calm my nerves, right?) Coming home after a wine tasting with my friend (they didn’t make us spit, so I of course drank every drop of every taste)
The fact is, I drove under the influence quite a bit, and was DAMN lucky I never got in trouble or got hurt or hurt or killed my passengers or a stranger. I cannot even try to imagine how I would feel if I had gotten a DUI with my kids in the back seat or had a wreck and killed a young family all because I was “OK” to drive.
The first time I drove drunk, I was 18 years old, stole a car, and had a fender bender with a box fan. The last time I drove drunk was the last night I drank, 78 days ago. As I had done dozens of times before, I stopped at the liquor store and bought a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Coke zero. I pulled into the gas station next door – over to the side of the entrance so nobody saw me. I poured out the top two inches of Coke zero and filled it back up with vodka. I drank that the remaining 20 minutes of my commute home and already had a good buzz going by the time I pulled into the driveway.
Rules don’t matter if you bend them or downright break them, and addicts’ rules are constantly bent and broken.