Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Darkest Place - 1,096 Days Ago

1,096 days ago I sat on my couch.  

Let's say it was a Tuesday - I don't recall, of course - but it was a weekday, because Steve was taking the kids to daycare.   It was about 8:40am on a sparkling August day.

I sat in the wrinkled tee-shirt and cut-off sweatpants I wore to bed, stiff and achy, staring straight ahead.   Just leave.  Just leave now, was my only thought.

"I'm only going to be gone ten minutes," Steve said.   "So don't get any ideas."

Just leave just leave please just leave.

I listened to the gravel crunch under the tires as he pulled down the driveway.   I waited.  Thirty seconds.  One minute.  My heart was pounding in my chest, my hands were clammy with sweat.   When I was sure I couldn't hear the car engine - when I was sure he was out of sight - I sprang into action.

He had hidden his car keys, but I had a spare stashed away.   I grabbed the key, and without bothering to put on shoes - no time, no time - I slid behind the wheel of Steve's car.  The black leather seat scorched the backs of my thighs, but I didn't care.  I realized I was grinning like a cheshire cat.   I knew I was going to get more, and my heart soared.

~~~~

The night before I had convinced Steve to drive me to an 8pm recovery meeting.    He agreed to take me, but only after telling me, "No purse.  No wallet.  No keys.   I'll drive you there and pick you up.  Understand?"   

I had proven to be untrustworthy with a car and money of my own.   The disease had me by the throat, and every single time I could get away,  I went to buy booze.   It had been this way for a few weeks now.

I pretended to walk into the meeting.   As soon as his car was out of sight, I scurried back outside.   A little less than a mile away was a convenience store, and I had $10 tucked into my sock.    I ran the whole way.

I bought a small four pack of airplane-sized bottles of wine.   I sucked down two in the store's parking lot, cowering behind a large bush.   I stashed the other two small bottles, in their brown bag, behind the bush.    I felt a surge of pride that I didn't drink all four.   See?  I can control my drinking.  

I ran back to the meeting, ducking through people's backyards to avoid being seen from the street.   I took a seat in the circle with ten minutes to spare.    Steve picked me up at exactly 9:30pm, and when I got in the car he knew immediately that somehow - however improbably - I had gotten my hands on alcohol.   He shook his head in sadness and defeat.   I felt nothing.   I had gotten my fix, and that was all I cared about.

~~~~~~

The next morning I sat on the couch and waited for Steve to take the kids to daycare.  It had been decided that I will go back to rehab.  I had just gotten back from this same rehab two days ago, and had found a way to drink.   Twice.   I hadn't even unpacked my bag from my most recent stay.   The plan was for Steve to drop the kids at daycare, take me back to rehab and return in time to pick them up at the end of the day.   

Ten minutes, I've got ten minutes.  I drove like a madwoman down the street, shoeless, in my pajamas.  I turned into the parking lot of the convenience store, and saw the brown bag I had stashed behind the bush the night before.   I didn't care if anyone saw me.   I didn't stop to think that what I was doing looked odd.  I parked and stepped out of the car like I had important business to attend to, grabbed the bag from behind the bush and got back into the car.

I drank the remaining two bottles on the way back home, tossing the empty bag out the window of the car.

I pulled into the driveway, rushed back into the house and plopped back down on the couch, feeling smug.   Steve walked in about four minutes later.

"Nice try,"  he said immediately.

I tried to feign ignorance.  "What?  What do you mean?"

"The car hood is hot, and I put a stick behind the right rear tire, which is now broken in two.   I know you left.  I know you drank.   I'm done, Ellie.   You're going back to rehab - I'll take you there - but I'm telling you right now that this is it.  I don't care what you do with your life after rehab.  I hope you get better, for your sake and for the sake of our kids.    But I'm done."

His words floated over and around me.  They couldn't touch me.  I had had my fix; my mind and body had quieted.   The beast that lived within me had been fed, and that was all that mattered.

~~~~~~

That was my last drink. 

I hate remembering that day.   I picture myself in my pajamas, barefoot, scrounging through the bushes, and I'm disgusted.   I remember the way my heart leapt with excitement when my hands wrapped around the paper bag.   It felt like freedom.   

For the past week or so my mind has been probing that memory like a rotten tooth.   I don't like to think about it, because I want to believe that woman wasn't me.  I want to erase that woman from my memory bank.    I want to banish her to some desert island in my brain, isolate her from the vibrant, loving, independent woman I am today.

But that woman was me.   On my three year anniversary, I force myself to embrace her, hold her close, tell her she's stronger than she knows.   Only by staring her in the eyes and reminding myself that she will always reside in me can I remember that she waits for me.   Waits for me to think I'm all better, waits for me to feel far enough removed from that day that I can lie to myself, tell myself that I can drink in safety now.    That one drink won't lead me right back there.   Because it will.

~~~~~ 

I haven't told this story here before.  I hesitate, because I know people who are wondering about their own drinking can read it and use it to tell themselves they aren't that bad.   That they would never scramble through people's backyards with money stuffed in their sock.   That they wouldn't ever risk losing their husband or children just to have one more drink.

I tell my story because I said those things to myself for years.   I would read addiction memoirs or listen to other people's tales of woe - arrests, DUIs, hiding alcohol all around the house - and think:   I would never do that.   I'm not that bad. 

It's a frightening truth: if alcohol is slowly (or perhaps not slowly) taking over your life you won't know when you cross that line, because you'll find a way to normalize it.    You'll slide down into the obsidian eye of addiction where your world will be small and dark and only one thought will occupy your brain:  more.

If you're wondering - do I drink too much?   If you are sneaking a drink here or there, if you're lying about your drinking, if you tell yourself in the morning:  never again - only to break your promise hours or days later, please take heed.    It's already happening, and all those things you tell yourself you'll never do?   They are only things yet to come.

If you're struggling with alcohol, look inside yourself, at your truth.   If there is a woman inside you who is slowly drowning, hold her close.   Tell her she's stronger than she knows.

Life away from the obsidian eye of alcoholism is full of light.   Light and freedom.   I'm reminded of my favorite lyrics from a Jeffrey Steele song (he wrote it, but it's sung by Pat Green), "Trying to Find It" :

There's a feeling that I left behind

I felt it once running down my spine

The fear of God the joy of life

And I'm trying to find it

There's a spot on earth a man can go

To find himself and free his soul

A place somewhere between hell and heaven

Where no one hurts and all's forgiven

A door that leads to light and grace

But the keys are in the darkest place.

50 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing that. I have a little more than 14 months right now, and every day I am still haunted by the memories of the woman I was - sneaking alcohol, always obsessed with getting my next drink, and so on and so forth. Part of me hates it because those times cause me so much embarrassment and shame. "I'm not the same woman" is what I like to think. But like you said, she's still in there. And so I'm grateful that the memories still haunt me, because when they stop I'm terrified that I'll be lulled into a false sense of security, that I'm "okay".

    Sorry for all that - I'm not sure what it is about your blog that makes me want to spill my guts.

    Congratulations on three difficult and wonderful years, and I raise a Diet Coke toast to three more years, and three more after that, and then another three, and another three....

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  2. Ow. It hurts to read that. Especially because i see bits of it in me. But so wonderful to know that you are remembering 1000s of days ago, and not last night. What an amazing effort. 1000 nights with nothing lost. 1000 mornings with no shame. Amazing.

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  3. wow. i think i held my breath as i read this entire post. there are things i have done that i would rather forget too. the courage it takes to share them with others -- with the world -- is big time scary huge. thank you for sharing this. you really are helping people.

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  4. I am so awestruck and inspired by your strength and commitment to overcoming this disease. You are touching more people than you know with your stories.

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  5. (I finally gave in to the fact that I'm apparently not meant to sleep tonight and opened the lap top so I could leave you a comment that wasn't half typed...)
    You never fail to blow me away :) You are such an inspiration, Ellie, and I am so proud of you - and proud to know you and have you as a friend.
    Each of our stories is unique, and yet there are these similarities that bind us together and just the telling of those and the parts that are unique to you helps. It builds common ground and you reach so many. So many.
    :) You are incredible. Thank you. And congratulations!!!

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  6. I simply don't know what to say. It's hard to reconcile this story with the vibrant, beautiful, peaceful woman I met last week.

    Thank you for sharing it, for putting this out there every day. There is no limit to the lives you've touched.

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  7. Sobriety is such a miracle. My addict self waited nearly 2 decades for me to get sloppy enough that I entertained it's seductive voice. That was a whole lot of pushups for it to do to be ready for the right time and it kept doing them. Cunning, baffling, powerful was what I was told when that seductive voice scared me enough that I went back to the rooms.
    I'm grateful you posted this. Somehow we need to embrace the whole of who we are, have been and will be.

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  8. I see such familiarity in the scenes that you described - I see my husband & the last 4 months of his addiction. He, too, went to rehab, mandated by his employer; my pleas fell on deaf ears. He gamed the system, got his 30 days chip and became a day patient for another 30 days & was released. By Day 62 he was again in the throes, for 58 more days. Four months (to the day) after entering rehab, he died suddenly within a 24 hour period. At the age of 59 he was gone but the specter of his disease remains within me in the way that you speak of yours.

    I celebrate your return to Life and your daily choice of sane living! There is no greater gift to yourself & your family. I am proud to know of your courage & strength and am always humbled by the grace of it all. One day at a time.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this. It's important for the world to know that suburbanite, middle class, 'normal' moms can be alcoholics, and it's important for us alcoholics to know we can recover too. Congrats on your 3 years. I got my first year on the 13th.

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  10. Happy Anniversary to you! And to your whole family, who celebrate your success every day.

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  11. FĂ©licitations Mon Amie! I remind myself every day as we enter year 3 of our renovation hell (I know it is no where near the mountain of challenge you have climbed!) that it is the darkest, most difficult times that let us appreciate the light, the good. It is overcoming, and learning from those times that makes us strong AND happy. I have learned to grasp even the smallest wonder during now & make it grow to be the good in this bad. Congratulations & continued Bonne Courage! xoxo Bisous from la Maison M-J :)

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  12. Lady, this is beautiful and my heart hurts. For you and with you, remembering. I'm so honored to know you, to have had your words bring me to freedom. Happy Anniversary, you strong sober rock star, you.

    xoxo

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  13. Congratulations on 3 years. Thank you so much for writing this, you have inspired me. I have 4 days and while I may not have been "that bad" I did things in the last few weeks that horrified me and finally caused me to seek help.

    Knowing that three years is possible gives me hope to continue on. So thank you again and congratulations.

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  14. butwhymommy - 4 days! Good for you. The first few weeks are rough, but oh so worth it. And it warms my heart when I see women who seek help before it gets "that bad". What a miracle you are.

    Jane - Happy Anniversary - one year is a HUGE milestone.

    Anne - Thanks for your comment - it's always wonderful to meet other sober sisters.

    And to everyone - thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support. It means everything to me.

    -Ellie

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  15. All I feel when reading this is love for her, you, him.

    And grace.

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  16. Ellie, I have Goosebumps and tears. My mom was an alcoholic and my brother a drug addict. Both are sober but both went through what you did.
    I feel such admiration to you all.

    Thank you for sharing this. You truly don't know how many people you help daily.

    Love. Lots of it.

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  17. Ellie, this is the best thing I have ever read on this site, and that is saying a lot. A LOT.

    I'm speechless in the best kind of way, and so inspired. I thank God every day that I know you, and that's the truth.

    Happy anniversary.

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  18. Here via Miss Britt. Happy Anniversary. One of my beloved uncles was an alcoholic and he struggled with it mightly. It takes a lot of heart to get to where you are and a lot of courage to share it like this. Thank you.

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  19. Wow, this is amazing, I just sit here and am amazed at what you've written. So real. Thank you.

    Steph

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  20. Happy Anniversary!

    Your open heart shines strength and courage and grit. And maybe it's not alcohol for everyone, but everyone needs to see a heart like yours that shines and shouts, "You are stronger than you know!"

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  21. As the sister of a brother who is 18 years sober this month, I just want to say that you are amazing and strong and CONGRATS!!! It's good to remember that day, but better to see that number of days go up every morning.

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  22. I can only imagine the courage it took to put these words out there, and I commend you for it.

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  23. My mother has been an alcoholic for at least 25 years. Probably a lot more. It's wonderful to read your story and see that you're there for your kids right now. It's such an unspeakably wonderful gift that you're giving them!

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  24. Just two months ago, I would have said "I'm not that bad." But today? Today I cried because I know how close I am to that point. I have snuck around, I have lied, I have heard that beast whisper to me and have done what it wanted. I have cared more about the fix than anything else. Thank you for having the courage to post this, for all of us and for yourself. I have only two days, and posts like this will help me to have many more (or to pick myself up again if I stumble and have to start over). Happy 3 years! (((HUGS!)))

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  25. I've got goosebumps. Thank you for sharing yourself.

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  26. Thank you, Ellie, for this story. I think it's so important to remember where we've been. I've heard many times in 12 step rooms that our disease is just waiting for us and, in relapse, it's like there was no sobriety. I take that information very seriously. I understand that it's easier to stay abstinent, in my case, than to regain my abstinence.

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  27. Thank you Ellie. The honesty and grace of your words is so inspiring. I hope to be only half the woman you are when I get to 3 years :)

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  28. This is beautiful, brave, and graceful, and so are you.

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  29. Congratulations on 3 years. I so appreciate your words and you being here!!

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  30. This is wonderful. I drank in every word, because it is a life story...

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  31. Oh, honey.

    I remember crawling around the floor of my living room, mostly naked, coming down from the last of the cocaine I'd injected into my veins, trying to find scraps of weed that I was so sure my friends had dropped on the floor so that I could get some sleep. I smoked what I found. What I found was mostly cat litter.

    Our bottoms are different, but the feelings... oh, the feelings are the same.

    I love having gotten to know you at BlogHer a little bit. This helps me get to know you more. You are my people, sweetie.

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  32. Thank you for sharing this, it is wonderful. I am struck by what a wonderful husband you have too, to not stand by while things got worse for you. You are both very lucky!

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  33. Thank you so much for your honesty. It's hard to share such desperation and pain. I loved the part at the end where you talk to women who may be grappling with wondering if they have a problem. My sponsor always reminds me social drinkers never have that thought. Thank you!!

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  34. oh Ellie. You continue to impress and amaze me. I too have horrible stories, I too 'normalized' it, I too could be this woman if I ever went back to dance with the beast.

    thank you for your courage and honesty, you're a true gift to us all.

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  35. Ellie Ellie Ellie. I can't believe you got nailed by the old stick behind the tire trick.

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  36. I am overcome - really blown away - and so, so grateful for all your comments and support. Thank you, everyone, so very much.

    -Ellie

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  37. I'm reminded of a day on the phone when we were discussing the power of telling our stories and acknowledging that it is also very painful to do that and I remember you saying, "If I ever dreamed of being famous I certainly wasn't planning to do so by showing an Oprah film crew the laundry hamper where I stashed my booze." At the time we got a giggle from that but it was also poignant. This post is just plain poignant. Every time -- every single time -- you tell your story I learn something new. And important.

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  38. Ellie Ellie Ellie. I can't believe you got nailed by the old stick behind the tire trick.

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  39. I've got goosebumps. Thank you for sharing yourself.

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  40. As the sister of a brother who is 18 years sober this month, I just want to say that you are amazing and strong and CONGRATS!!! It's good to remember that day, but better to see that number of days go up every morning.

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  41. Congratulations on 3 years. Thank you so much for writing this, you have inspired me. I have 4 days and while I may not have been "that bad" I did things in the last few weeks that horrified me and finally caused me to seek help.

    Knowing that three years is possible gives me hope to continue on. So thank you again and congratulations.

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  42. Thank you for sharing this. It's important for the world to know that suburbanite, middle class, 'normal' moms can be alcoholics, and it's important for us alcoholics to know we can recover too. Congrats on your 3 years. I got my first year on the 13th.

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  43. I simply don't know what to say. It's hard to reconcile this story with the vibrant, beautiful, peaceful woman I met last week.

    Thank you for sharing it, for putting this out there every day. There is no limit to the lives you've touched.

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  44. Ow. It hurts to read that. Especially because i see bits of it in me. But so wonderful to know that you are remembering 1000s of days ago, and not last night. What an amazing effort. 1000 nights with nothing lost. 1000 mornings with no shame. Amazing.

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  45. Thank you so much for sharing that. I have a little more than 14 months right now, and every day I am still haunted by the memories of the woman I was - sneaking alcohol, always obsessed with getting my next drink, and so on and so forth. Part of me hates it because those times cause me so much embarrassment and shame. "I'm not the same woman" is what I like to think. But like you said, she's still in there. And so I'm grateful that the memories still haunt me, because when they stop I'm terrified that I'll be lulled into a false sense of security, that I'm "okay".

    Sorry for all that - I'm not sure what it is about your blog that makes me want to spill my guts.

    Congratulations on three difficult and wonderful years, and I raise a Diet Coke toast to three more years, and three more after that, and then another three, and another three....

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  46. Hi Ellie,
    I know it has been many months since you wrote this post, but I still wanted to comment.
    You are incredibly brave to share this story. I respect and commend you for that.
    It must have been scary to put it all out there, but please know that you are helping so many women to know that they are not any different from other women struggling with addiction (your truly included). I only hope that one day I will be strong enough to share with others my stories so that I can also contribute to the healing of others. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    Judi aka Pearly in CT

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  47. I want to thank you and all the women who post about alcohol and the drinking Mom. I've been an alcoholic for 5 years now - just starting recovery. For me the breaking point was spilling a drink on the van floor while getting in to drive the themto a Birthday party. OMG that sounds crazy doesn't it.

    Anyway - stay strong and thanks again for being so open.

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  48. You have opened a flood gate for so many of us women (mothers) who are con artists at living each day, and our main thought is how we will get our alcohol, hide it. We could write the book on this being our priority, and how far we go to maintain our habit. Nothing else is as important.
    LuAnn

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