Monday, August 15, 2011

1,459 Days - Who I See

She looks back at me with desperation and defiance shining in her eyes.

Somewhere, deep down inside, she knows it's over, but that fact scares her too much, so she hangs onto anger like a shield - a force field - to deflect this hard truth.

She doesn't look like herself, not at all like the woman she pictures in her head, the woman she was for so many years.  Her pretty ivory skin is blotchy and bloated, and she can see the beginnings of tiny, pink burst capillaries on her cheeks.  She remembers that these are called gin blossoms, and her stomach churns with shame.

There is a slight tremor in her hands; these days it appears if she goes mere hours without a drink.  She is vaguely scared at this idea, but not nearly as scared as she is of stopping.  She cannot imagine life without alcohol.

I can't give it up, she thinks.  It is the only thing holding me together. 

Slowly, she ticks through the list she carries in her head - a careworn and dog-eared list of all the reasons she can't possibly be an alcoholic.   It's a familiar mantra by now, and it is sounding thin even to her own ears.

The other list - the one she tries not to think about - is getting longer.  She pictures the nearly constant disgusted anger in her husband's eyes.   She remembers her five year-old daughter's desperate pleas - but Momma, you're ALWAYS sleeping - when requests to read a story or play a game are met with a muffled grunts from beneath the sheets.

She looks back at me and begs me to tell her that she will figure it out, that she will get a handle on her drinking, that she isn't that bad.

Slowly, the defiance drains from her face, and she is left with only desperation.  The hard truth lands on her like a stone:  you're going to lose everything.  You're an alcoholic and you need help. 


That woman was me, 1,459 days ago, the day I had my last drink.   My husband had just told me I would be heading back to rehab - again - and that he didn't care what happened to me after that.  I was sinking, he told me, and he was done.  He said he wouldn't let me drag the whole family down with me.

So the afternoon of August 16, 2007 I found myself staring at my own reflection in the mirror, desperate to hang onto the one thing that was ripping my life apart.   The chasm between the way I presented myself to the world and the way I felt on the inside had finally opened up and swallowed me whole.   It happened quickly.   I began the summer with swaggering promises to get help, go to meetings, to stop drinking.   All those promises did was drive my drinking deeper underground.  I drank on the way to meetings.  I drank on the way home.  I popped breath mints and drank coffee to disguise the odor on my breath.   I spun flimsy webs full of lies, but the only person I was fooling was myself.

In two months I was hospitalized twice and attended two rehabs - one inpatient and one outpatient.  I listened to the advice I got, to the stories I heard in meetings and from fellow patients.   I wrote copiously in my journal, determined to get a handle on my drinking.  I did everything but the one thing I had to do to have a fighting chance at getting sober.  

I didn't surrender.

I still believed that there must be something I could do to drink like a normal person. I thought I needed to be stronger, to fight harder, to resist the temptation to keep drinking after one or two.   I really believed if I tried hard enough, I would be okay.

In the course of two months my world fell apart, and I stubbornly clung to my right to drink, even as I hurt the people I loved the most.  I was so scared.  All the time.  Scared to keep drinking, and scared to stop.

On August 16, 2007 I looked at my reflection in the mirror and I saw a bloated, desperate shell of my former self.  Unshowered, trembling and alone in the world, I finally hit bottom.  

I gave up.  I went back to rehab - thirty days this time - and I got out of my own way.

Take it, I prayed to whatever-might-be-out-there, take what happens to me out of my stubborn hands.


Today I gazed at my reflection in the mirror and thought about the journey so far.

The face looking back at me is thinner, the crinkly laugh lines around my eyes are more prominent.  There is a steely determination in my eyes, as well as an impish glint that wasn't there before.

The woman I see is strong, self-confident, determined.  I like her a lot.  I've only known her for three years, now - the first year of sobriety was full of anxiety and fear.  But slowly, she emerged from the darkness, wove her way into my day-to-day life.  Each day without a drink she grew stronger. 

The woman in the mirror is also vulnerable.  Her emotions ripple right beneath the surface, now that they aren't anesthetized by alcohol and denial.  She feels things more strongly: she hurts more deeply, but she loves harder than ever before.

I meet my own gaze and whisper:  I love you.

And I do. Not an egotistical I'm-better-than-you love, but a gentle, accepting, motherly kind of love.  I treat myself with the same kindness I do others. I have to, because when my disease comes knocking it tells me that I don't measure up, that I need to hide from fear, to anesthetize boredom and anxiety.  

I spent years erasing myself from the picture, lost in shame and fear.  Every day without a drink I draw those lines back in - with confident strokes and bold colors.

I like what I see.  Finally.


  1. Oh my Ellie.

    This is stunning, transparent.

    Thank you for writing it.

    I like what I see when I see you, too. :)

  2. Hating yourself is no way to live life. Why is that so hard for us to learn? I'm so glad you made the scary choice to be vulnerable...with yourself and with us.

  3. congrats on 4 years of well-earned sobriety. This was a beautiful piece, and you have a beautiful heart. Your site and insight has helped me so much. :-)

  4. Wow. That is everything that I am now and everything that I would love to accomplish but can't, or won't. Inspirational in that it gives me a little hope that someday I might stop. I'm too scared to go to rehab, to tell my family and children that I want to go to rehab and then do it. God help me, I will get there. :)

  5. Congratulations on four years - no small thing.

    Early in my recovery I had a dream that featured me as a child, cowering in a dark corner. The newly sober me stood in the sunlight, and gradually coaxed the child me out of the dark and into her arms. It was very much the same sentiment you express here.

    Thank you for this beautiful post. At 18 years sober, I often forget the person I was. Good to have the reminder.

    Hugs to you.

  6. You go girl!!! Thank for sharing this ... and congratulations on your inspiring accomplishment.

  7. You are amazing. And SO very strong. Happy Anniversary my friend!

  8. Ellie, congratulations! You are an inspiration.

  9. My story is the same but it took me a lot longer! Ten years sober now. I think I finally felt some sanity and self-love around year 5. Now I struggle to follow my heart, my gut, my reliable intuition to make another life change. I'm 62 and I'd better get on with life or I could easily drink again!
    Thank you for a beautiful post and that beautiful picture!

  10. Ellie again you have taken the words right out of my heart! I'm about to walk into YANA and pick up my one year chip! You've been an inspiration since I found your blog and again you have moved me to tears. I love you, and I LOVE being sober, and finally, I love myself. Than you for showing me I'm not alone!

    With greatest appreciation,
    Lauren (aka starbabypi)

  11. Ellie: Another year out of the obsidian eye of alcoholism. Four years and moving on. Went back to last years post of 3 yrs as it is a great one to whack the mole of indifference that sometimes gets hold of our thinking. It is hard to understand how we can be one and the same person with just one factor,alcohol, making all the difference on how we live our lives.
    Maple Leaf

  12. A big congrats to you on this anniversary, Ellie. I, too, very much admire and 'like what I see'. Both here and on Twitter. You are such an inspiration.
    Beautiful post! I wish you all the best on your continuing journey.

  13. congratulations, my dear friend! My heart holds a million words in response to this, but none seem enough. I'm soooo grateful to know you. You are truly so lovable.

  14. I am so inspired by you Ellie, thank-you for the gift of your journey and for your role model. I am very happy for you. Peace at last. You have worked hard for it.

  15. congrats, friend. i'm so proud of you.

  16. I congratulated you over at The Extraordinary Ordinary, and then I realized I could just come over here and do it in person :)

    I am three days away from my first anniversary of sobriety, and stories of those who have gone before me are powerful. Thank you so much for writing about it. Thank you.

  17. so proud of you and so much in awe of your bravery in speaking and willingness to create Crying Out Now. Love you so much.

  18. So happy for you, beautiful post!!! I know things have been hard lately, but your staying strong and that's what you have to do. Have a wonderful day!!

  19. Happy birthday, Ellie!! Thanks so much for your blog - I am on my way - the road is bumpy but much more fun. All I know is that I failed royaly at moderation and when I finally surrendered to the fact that I can never drink again, it became crystal clear. And I am not missing anything, I am actually present and accounted for!! You and Crying Out Now brought me full circle - I do not need to hide in shameful islolation. The more I talk about it, the more my resolve strengthens that an alcohol-free life equals freedom to do and be all that I was meant to be. XOXO.

  20. This is beautiful - congratulations on four years!! An amazing and brave thing.

  21. Best to you on your four year anniversary, Ellie. Each day is an accomplishment for which you can be proud. Here’s to the next four....