Thursday, January 6, 2011

Live Out Loud

There is a lot about the end of my drinking that is lost to me forever.  

I have one memory, though, that is as clear as a bell.

I don't remember how close to the end it was, or what day it was, but I was sitting on my bathroom floor, sobbing.

It was late afternoon; Finn was napping and Greta was watching television.   I was trying not to drink.   My hands were shaking, I was sweating and my heart pounded with anxiety.    Eventually, like it always did, my resolve weakened and I locked myself in the bathroom, reached for my hidden bottle under the bath towels, settled onto the floor and drank until the shaking stopped.

After about ten minutes I started to cry, and I couldn't stop.   The tears poured down my face; I was drowning in self-loathing.    I am a prisoner in my own life, I thought.   How did I let it get so bad?  If people knew - oh God, if they knew - how sick and broken I was my life would be over. 

And then a thought dropped out of the sky and into my head; a lucid, clear, thought rang through the self-hatred and the haze:   if I make it through this, I'm going to live my life out loud. 

I had no way of knowing it, of course, but that was the tiniest beginning of telling my truth.   


The other day I was emailing back and forth with someone who isn't sober, but is terrified of her drinking.

She asked me two simple questions:   Why are you so open about your drinking?   Are you ever embarrassed?

I sent a pat response back, telling her that I wasn't embarrassed, not anymore, because I knew shame was a huge part of why I kept drinking; it drove me to drink without my own permission.    This is the truth, but her questions got me thinking.   Why?  Why do I talk so much about drinking and recovery?   Why did I start Crying Out Now?   What is behind this compulsion I feel to talk and talk and talk about it?

The memory of that day in the bathroom came roaring back, and I knew the answer:   I talk openly about it because I don't ever, ever want to live in silent suffering again.  

Alcoholism is a disease of isolation and shame.   Anyone who has ever struggled with drinking knows what I'm talking about - the huge amount of energy and effort it takes to sustain a double-life.   The endless lies you tell yourself - and others - to cling to the one thing that is slowly destroying your spirit.

When I got sober I was awash in shame.   I couldn't ever envision a day when I would be able to look people in the eye, admit I was an alcoholic and not feel that stab of self-loathing and guilt.    I went to recovery meetings for months and sat silently in the back row, arms crossed, hating myself and wondering what on earth made these other people seem so happy

That all changed when I started opening up, telling my truths.   I don't know when I finally broke down and got honest, but I do know why: without realizing it, people were coming into my life and patiently loving me until I could start loving myself.   They told me to get honest;  they assured me that my shame grew more powerful if I kept it inside.   They shared their own stories, their own struggles, and I saw myself in their words.  When I finally let down my guard, cracked through the wall of guilt, I suddenly understood something that had eluded me for months, even in sobriety:   I am not alone.   I am not the only one.  

I got honest.  First with myself, which was the hardest part.  But an amazing thing happened:  my friends were right.   A burden shared is a burden cut in half.   I felt lighter, freer.   The process of forgiving myself began.


I started this blog when I was almost a year sober.   It wasn't supposed to be a blog about addiction and recovery;  I thought it would be about creativity and making jewelry - a platform to launch my fledgling jewelry business.

But I realized that without my recovery I have nothing:  no creativity, no light, no genuine connections with other people.   No love.

So I started talking about addiction and recovery - out there on the internet for the world to see.   Just my own experience, strength and hope.   I didn't do it to save anybody, or to tell anyone how to get sober.   I did it to keep myself sober, to stay honest with myself.   

I know from my own experience and listening to countless stories that at the root of addiction are two things:  denial and shame.   Denial keeps you thinking you aren't as bad as you really are, and shame floods in when moments of truth surface and you see had bad it really is.

Women are particularly burdened with shame, I think.   I don't mean that our suffering is worse than a man's - but it's different.   A lot of the pressure to be perfect comes from within our own community of women; it comes from inside our own heads, too.

When a woman is struggling with drinking, the hurdles to telling people seem insurmountable.    These hurdles become even more complicated when the woman is also a mother.   The world is still struggling to understand that motherhood doesn't exempt women from the disease of alcoholism, any more than it would from diabetes or cancer.   Indeed, for me becoming a mother both fueled my drinking and drove it further underground.

Even women who know they have a problem with drinking often don't know where to begin.   How could they possibly tell anyone else?   The stigma of addiction and the shame of not being who people think you are keeps women stuck.   I know, because I've been there.   In my head it was better to suffer in silence than to face the judgements, alienation and shame of admitting my problem.   

Many women - myself included - stayed stuck and sick and alone because they thought their world would end if they told their truth.

So here is the real answer to her question:

I'm open about my addiction and recovery because I'm not ashamed.  Not anymore.   I know I'm not the only one.

I write about it so I won't ever have to have that moment on the bathroom floor again.  

I write about it because it keeps me honest with myself.   As they say in recovery:  you're only as sick as your secrets.

I write about it to live out loud.


  1. Someone said at my meeting last night that she felt guilty and sad because she had 2 years of sobriety but wasn't sponsoring anyone. Another lady jumped in and said you don't have to sponsor someone to be of service....there are so many ways...welcoming someone into a meeting, holding their hand, listening, etc.

    Thank you for being of service here. This place where men and women can read about not being alone, and know that hope is out there for them. This space is oh so important.

  2. You & Stefanie & Crying Out Now saved me. God bless you for living out loud.


  3. Alright. Seriously... I have to see you this weekend if only to give you The Gift of Imperfection. It's so relevant!
    And I thank you for being you and honest and open and just so wonderful.

  4. oh Ellie, you made me cry. I'm so glad to have you in my life.

  5. The work you do here is so important. It's helping so many people - shame is everywhere - with or without addiction, shame keeps so many people down. We've all got to live out loud, be honest with each other and stop trying to be what we think everyone wants us to be. How liberating. You rock.

  6. I appreciate your words, I am also very open about my alcoholism and recovery. When I got a tattoo of the serenity prayer on the inside of my left upper arm some people around me were shocked. Even in the rooms.
    For me there is no more fear of what I am. I am what I am and face each day with prayer.

  7. Thank you...THANK YOU for sharing this. So many women need to see this and read this and know that they are NOT alone. Some of us might relate a little too well.

    On Monday, I posted a post for an anonymous friend about her drinking. I never leave links in comments, but she asked me to please leave a link to the post for you because your post really hit her hard and she wants to talk about the shame. Here's the link:
    Please feel free to visit - she wants you to read her story. Thank you so much for everything you are doing and know that you are helping so many women come to terms with their own demons.

  8. Natalie - thank you for sharing the link - everyone should go read that - it's AMAZING. Your friend's beautiful light shines right through. I left a lengthy comment, but please tell her I understand -- many, many people understand -- and she can talk to me anytime she wants (I left my email in my comment). You are a wonderful friend. Thank you.

  9. I have always loved your honesty

  10. I agree with Corinne - The Gift of Imperfection is AWESOME. If you haven't read it, you must. I'm almost done it and it's rocking my world. And I'm grateful for this post, because I feel the very same about why I write about my depression. By getting it out, it feels less like it will consume. It's about connection and honesty and hopefully helping on person know they aren't alone. It's about owning my truth, as painful and bare as it sometimes is.

  11. Corinne, I'm reading it now and I have no words to describe it. This book. Wow.

  12. And I'm so glad you do. Where would I be if you didn't? I wouldn't be out loud, I know that. xoxo