Of all the relationships I’ve had in my life, my time with alcohol was the most important and destructive of all. I loved that stuff. Looking back, any mind altering substance had me at day one. Alcohol, however, grabbed me and took me on a long, turbulent ride that completely beat the crap out of me.
At first it seduced me and made me feel powerful, but slowly it took control and always had me coming back for more. I could stop drinking for short periods in the beginning, but I could never stop once I had started. One sip and I was off to the races. Between the wanting and the needing, the little voice inside my head would ask, “problem drinker” or “full-blown alcoholic?” It was the same voice that told me “be very afraid” and also justified my drinking with, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll stop.”
It went on for 30+ years, the back and forth of denial and realization. Sneaking, lying, doing whatever I had to do to get my fix. I’d switch from liquor to beer to wine, always making deals with myself. Only on weekends, only after five, etc. I’d worry about the clinking bottles as I took out the garbage in my quaint suburban neighborhood. I worried about my kids having a loser for a mother. Despite all of that, nothing and no one could stop me. I was on a mission – a mission that was going to kill me.
I ended up developing hypertension and hyperlipidemia. I was put on medication for both and I had gained twenty pounds of bloat and fat (my poor liver). I drank for any and every reason. I was a high functioning addict; never missing a day of work, not even for a crushing hangover.
Slow and insidious, addiction is a chronic, progressive and fatal equal opportunity disease. It gets a hold of you and won’t let go. Most people had no idea how very sick I was. Inside, in private, I was unraveling and falling apart.
Both of my parents were alcoholics, so I was familiar with the genetic component of the disease. In the early 90’s my father was in rehab at Maplegrove in West Bloomfield, Michigan. I attended several lectures with him there and somehow, I knew I would end up there for myself. I was also aware of the physical complications from the disease: cirrhosis of the liver (which is fatal) and wet brain which is loss of brain function and a severe result of end stage alcoholism. There is no coming back from that.
I lived with extreme shame and guilt every single day. Me, a regular mother and wife with a good job and a great looking life. I suspected I would die if I kept going and feared I would die if I stopped. I couldn’t function without it, but the little voice kept saying “tomorrow.”
I couldn’t imagine going to a wedding or a party without drinking because I believed my life would suck if I quit. I even grabbed a friend and went to an AA meeting once, putting my big toe in the water, but too afraid to jump. It was there I heard how there are three eventual outcomes other than recovery: jails, hospitals or death. Even that didn’t deter me.
It was February 9, 2005 when I woke up and had a moment of clarity. I guess I just got sick and tired of being so sick and tired. I wanted to fall asleep and wake up instead of passing out and coming to. I knew I needed to be an example for my kids because they certainly deserved much better. I saw my bottom so clearly and I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to hit it. I got in my car with a raging hangover after having blacked out the night before and drove myself to Maplegrove. It was like someone else had the wheel, so much so that I really don’t remember what my thought process was, but it really doesn’t matter now. I got there and I was ready to stop dying. I wanted to live. When I look back, I see that it was nothing short of a miracle.
Maplegrove gave me a chance to get my life back, but I had to want it and boy, did I ever! I immersed myself in rehab and recovery. I sat in the front row at all the lectures, asking questions and absorbing information with the heart of a child. Something in me had shifted and my obsession had disappeared. At that point, I knew there was something greater than me taking charge here. I got my ego out of the way and surrendered. I decided to listen with a sincere passion. The speakers at meetings all shared a common thread: long-term sobriety and the 12 step program.
The 1st step states, “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.” Hell yes! I could not deny that. I grabbed ahold and have held on for eight years. I worked the steps (more than once) with a sponsor and have sponsored many others. I lost twenty pounds and my blood pressure and cholesterol are back on track without medication. I am now spiritually fit and I attend AA meetings on a regular basis.
I’m proud of my journey and call it “the gift of a lifetime.” I have good days and some not-so-good days, but I have many friends in recovery that I can talk to. I have an arsenal of tools and knowledge to keep my disease at bay. I will never be cured, but I know what I need to do – just for today. I stay true to what I know: I’m patty, I’m an alcoholic and I have a healthy fear of what could be. The monkey is off my back, but the circus is still in town.
Patty works as a medical assistant in a Michigan based doctor’s office. Her recovery is the most important thing in her life and she attends 12-Step Meetings regularly.
She makes herself available to women looking for experience, strength and hope and speaks to the patients at Maplegrove as part of an alumni group. She also runs a weekly “big book” study group at Henry Ford Hospital.