Wednesday, April 27, 2011

All Of Me

Steve and I were cleaning out a bureau the other day, and we stumbled across a stash of old video tapes.

There were several from the late 90s: parties at our old ski house, our wedding, a New Year's Eve celebration with friends.  We found one tape from when Greta was a baby, and several more from when she was about two.

We settled in to watch them that evening, and there I was - the younger versions of me - right there on the screen. 

There was the 27 year old me, laughing and doing shots while playing quarters with friends, the 30 year old me marrying Steve, surrounded by family and friends.   The 35 year old me filming 2 year old Greta running outside and catching the first snowflakes of the season on her tongue.   The 36 year old me looking tired and bloated on Christmas morning.

Steve found a blank tape and popped it into the machine, just to be sure it was empty and didn't contain a memory we would wish to preserve. 

There was some static, and then I appeared staring solemnly into the camera and speaking.   Instantly, I remembered this day:  I was engaged to be married, and Steve was away on a business trip.   I got it into my head that I would tape a kind of confessional, a diatribe of all that was wrong with me.   I remembered drinking that night, kind of a lot, and having - possibly for the first time - a sudden awareness that alcohol was becoming a problem for me.   My intention, as I recall, was to admit out loud that I was afraid of becoming an alcoholic. 

I was twenty-nine years old.

What I did instead was ramble into the camera for twenty minutes, going on and on about how broken I felt, how I didn't understand myself, how deep inside I felt like I had a hole in my soul.   I didn't say one word about drinking.

We were watching denial in action.

I wanted to grab the television and scream at my 29 year old visage:  "Just SAY IT already!  Spare yourself eight years of struggling!"

But of course we can't go back, can we?

We watched the video all the way through, and then sat in silence for a while.  

"Wow," Steve finally said.  "You've come a long way, haven't you?"

It was hard to reconcile, all those versions of me colliding on screen, the evidence of my double life irrefutable. 

The footage from Greta's 2nd birthday party is adorable; she was learning to talk and parroting everything people said, her bright eyes shining.   "I wuv you Momma!" she said into the camera.   My chirpy voice can be heard off-camera, laughing as she tumbled around in the yard, opened presents and played with her cousins.  Our family and friends were all there; it was a sparkling sunshiney day in September.  

What I remember from that day is sneaking into the kitchen to steal sips from a bottle of white wine stashed in a cupboard and drinking copious amounts of coffee to disguise the smell on my breath.   I remember feeling sweaty and disjointed; terrified of discovery and unable to stop myself.

How did I do it?  I wondered as I stared, agape, at the screen.   Why did I do it?   Which one of those versions of me - the chirpy, laughing mother or the crippled, broken spirit - is the real me?

The answer is simple:  I was both of those people.  The fact that I was slipping into the grip of alcoholism didn't negate the fact that I was a loving mother and wife, but I didn't see it that way at the time.  All I felt was dirty, shameful and broken beyond repair.  I was determined to beat the drinking on my own; the idea that anyone would find out about my secret was unthinkable.

I couldn't imagine asking for help because good mothers aren't alcoholics; it was as simple as that.   In my mind, admitting I was an alcoholic meant telling the world I was a horrible mother, a horrible person.   I never once thought of myself as a sick person who needed help to get well.

As I ripped the film from my taped confessional and threw it away, I thought about what I would say to the 29 year old me:

You aren't broken, you don't have a hole in your soul.  The alcohol is eating away at your joy, your gratitude, your ability to love yourself.  You are carving out the best parts of you and filling the hole left behind with poison, distorting your thoughts so that you believe these lies you tell yourself.  You are a good person, a beautiful spirit.  Put down the drink, ask for help, and go see this for yourself.


  1. After my brother died, I found a tape he had done of himself. It really showed me the depth of his pain. It hurt to see it because I didn't realize how deep his pain was. Your husband probably felt similar feelings. What a way to see how far you've come!

  2. I love this post - thank you!!!!

  3. Love this so much. Thanks, Ellie.

  4. Oh man that was so me!!
    Admitting that I was an alcoholic was to me like facing the fact that my entire life was a failure.
    It's so not true. Alcohol was tearing me apart piece by piece and yes I potentially could have lost EVEYTHING!
    Now I can see that I was wonderful, a wonderful Mum, friend, wife, employee and many other things but I was sick.

    Your words are important and I hope they will reach into the heart of someone reaching for happiness in a bottle.

  5. Hi Ellie,

    You wrote:
    "I couldn't imagine asking for help because good mothers aren't alcoholics; it was as simple as that. In my mind, admitting I was an alcoholic meant telling the world I was a horrible mother, a horrible person. I never once thought of myself as a sick person who needed help to get well."

    You echo just what I thought of myself.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thank you for sharing this. Very powerful and moving.

  7. Hi Ellie! Isn't it amazing how far we can come and how we can in our life time be more than one person? Congrats to you on all you've accomplished and where you are today. You inspire me.