She’s an alcoholic. This is dreadfully humiliating since she once professed to be a substance abuse counselor. She’d gone into the field with the intent of fixing her alcoholically dysfunctional family of origin, curing her mother and brother of their alcoholism, looking for the answers and tools necessary to get her own unstable psyche on track.
During her training as an alcohol counselor, she learned that it takes a child under the age of five,only five weeks to become addicted to alcohol; under the age of 15, five months; an adult, five years.
She knew herself to be at risk, potentially alcoholic given the fact that she came from a strong line of drunks. Even then she ditched the initial three daily beer bottles in the barn at the back of her apartment until she could dispose of them properly.
But still, there was plenty of time. Given that this had only been going on intermittently for 2 ½ years; she was safe for another 2 ½ according to what she’d wanted to believe. After all, her “situational” bout of alcoholic drinking was purely “temporary”, until she got back on her feet after being abandoned by the love of her life.- Right?
Years passed, and she got married, relocated, had children.
During a visit to her parents’ house over the holidays, her mother discovered her stash in the closet. After agonizing for days over this turn of events, the elder woman confronted her daughter with her discovery of empties buried in her suitcase and dirty laundry- rather ironic given all the times that the shoe had been on the other foot. (What was her mother doing searching her belongings anyway??)
The younger woman fled with her two young children to visit a friend in another part of the state, and then spent her remaining time in New England in a motel so as not to face her mother.
The older woman was convinced that her daughter had left to resume her drinking (wouldn’t she have done the same?). But she was wrong. Discovery was what the young mother had needed to stop drinking- for someone else to know so she could be held accountable. Her eldest was approaching the age she was when she became aware of her mother’s “drinking problem”.
She confessed to her friend and later, her sister. In passing she mentioned to her husband that she had the “potential” to become alcoholic.
“So stop drinking.”
And she did. For three weeks.
She had learned that one of the “tests” in determining whether or not one is alcoholic (designed more to break through the denial of the “problem drinker” she later suspected) is to go 30 days without a drink, or 90 days having no more than one drink a day.
She had clearly failed. She took her drinking into the closet; she no longer drank in public. Ever.
At her mother’s death bed three years later, not wishing for her to die with that boulder around her neck (it was her faulty gene passed on after all) she assured the dying woman that she had taken care of the problem. “I know,” her mother beamed. She had noticed that her daughter no longer drank at family gatherings. Little did she know… She was her mother’s daughter after all… she knew the signs, She had them all.
Following her mother’s death, she nearly went off the deep end because she was convinced that her mother now knew everything from her cosmic perch.
Three years later…
She came home for a moment from a neighborhood gathering, for some brilliant and well planned excuse, to fortify her alcohol level with the wine hidden behind the furnace, or in the root cellar, or her closet. She remembered the times that she had chalked up her husband’s discovery of hidden bottles to her mother’s previous visits. (Couldn’t do that anymore; she had to remember to bury the bottles in the garbage on pick up day.)
By now she was plotting to ensure that she had a constant supply. But she didn’t want everyone in her small town to know, so she alternated between liquor stores. She learned the liquor shop keepers’ schedules so as to make her purchases seem more spread out.
She invented reasons to go to the city: She needed some supplies from the craft store – and while she was at it she’d just slip into the liquor store next door.
When she went out with friends, she’d leave the restaurant to go to the package store next door under the guise of going to the ATM two doors down for cash.
She stopped on the way home from appointments in another town to “get wine for a friend who is unable to get a certain kind in the local store”, or because “Joan asked me to get it for her”.
She was constantly on the lookout for options, and excuses to go to new locations. She’d even gotten a purse large enough to accommodate two 1.5 liter bottles without splitting it out.
When she arrived home with her stash replenished, she was giddy with relief and anticipation.
At the airport, during layovers she sampled wine from each bar within the allotted time frame. She even tried once to smuggle a bottle onto the plane, but security made her get rid of it- “oh, no problem” as she nonchalantly deposited three liters of wine into the nearest garbage receptacle, cursing under her breath.
She dampened her husband’s suspicions by claiming that the alcohol he thought he smelled was the breath freshener she used; or that she was slurring because she was so exhausted and could scarcely keep her eyes open.
She stayed home when her children would go skiing, or hiking, or camping, or bowling with their father.
Over the last two or three years she was spending as much as $60 a week, asking friends to pick up wine for a “romantic dinner”. She threw up a quart of wine that graced the toilet in it’s original form, and went back to the closet for a replacement slug.
In the mornings over those last three months, as she stood at the bathroom mirror gazing into her mother’s eyes, she sensed her spirit presence day after day, as Mother seemed to nudge her left shoulder and breathe encouragement- Come on Girl, it’s time to pull yourself together. Girl, you can do this, it’s time…
But she couldn’t do it. She’d try. She would resolve to put an end to this hell. And she couldn’t make it beyond a day or two.
Finally she realized that the only way she could do this was to let her husband (who had been in denial all those years) know that she was in trouble. But she didn’t know how to tell him.
So she hid her bottles where he would be certain to find them- in the cabinet with the cat food. He fed the cats every day; he couldn’t miss it.
After several days of dread filled walking on egg shells, she chickened out and moved the bottles.
Several days later, the dreaded confrontation happened as her husband angrily told her of his discovery. He was furious!
He insisted that she see an alcohol counselor; she told him she would if it became necessary. She was after all, a former substance abuse counselor- she knew the drill. Besides, seeking outside help would be so humiliating!
It became necessary.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross writes, “It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth- and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up- that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
And so, she embarked on the long and difficult and blessed journey to recovery.