Today, I know how damn lucky I am to be happy, joyous and free. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t acknowledge my gratitude for life, the universe and everything in some small way.
I owe my sustained bliss to the tools for living I adopted as a direct result of the ravages alcoholism has wreaked on me and many of my loved ones during the past couple of decades. I was introduced to those tools because of someone else’s problem drinking, then in my 30s, developed a problem of my own that quickly reached critical mass. I am so grateful that I already had a foundation of recovery and knew exactly where to go for help.
This Wednesday, Nov. 20, it will be four years since I had my last drink. Four years free of hangovers. Four years out of the abyss and into the sunshine. Four years of gifts that just keep on givin’.
Last year, I wrote a post about the hole in my soul that I tried to fill with alcohol and other unhealthy habits, and how I now choose to fill that hole with spirituality (not to be confused with organized religion, which I abhor).
In my post, which you can read here, I was vague on the details about the worst of my drinking days, and the precise events that led me to give it up. My moment of clarity, as many people call it.
I went to a concert at The Louisville Palace a few days ago, which is where my “moment” happened. Because of the timing, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how that last, definitive day went down.
As I sat in my sixth-row seat, letting the joyous music of Amos Lee infuse me, I was hit with a profound wave of joy for how and when my “moment” took place — when I hit my bottom and admitted my true powerlessness. The day one life ended and another one began. It brought me close to tears. (That, and hearing “Arms of Woman,” my favorite Lee song, which he almost never plays live anymore.)
After my moment, which dropped like a bomb during the intermission between the opening band and the headliner on that fateful Thursday in November 2009, I did not return to the Palace (or any live concert) for almost two full years.
The memory of my despair, and to some degree my shame, was too acute. So sitting comfortably and contently at the very same venue, almost exactly four years later, was a personal accomplishment, showing just how far I have come out of the darkness. It was damn liberating, is what it was.
Anyhoo, I thought I should use this space to recount my last night of drinking, to serve as a reminder that I NEVER, EVER want to feel the way I did back then again. Fortunately, I know today that I don't have to. I am not alone anymore, thank God.
First, I should point out that by the end of 2009, my alcohol consumption had escalated over the prior couple of years to become an everyday occurrence, starting at 5 p.m. and ending with me blacked out on my couch somewhere around oh-dark-thirty.
I was still highly functional and responsible in terms of my job and all of the tangible tasks of daily living. I was also successful in hiding my excessive habit from most people I knew. But those closest to me were watching me fall apart. I was full of self-loathing because I could not extricate myself from a seemingly endless loop of self-destruction. IT. SUCKED.
My Titantic night began when I got home around 5:30 p.m., like usual. My husband at the time was not off work yet (I should mention that he was sober and in recovery then), so I took it upon myself to drink as much as humanly possible in the 30-minute window I thought I had between when I walked in the door and he pulled in the driveway. I was a slave to a compulsion I could not control, though logically I knew I was making a bad decision. And I hated myself for it.
I knocked off nearly a full bottle of red wine, had the bottle buried in the outside trash can and the glass washed and put away three minutes before my husband walked in the front door at 6. For the record, I was only covering up my guilt. He never would have said a word.
My now ex-husband was a lot of things, but he was not judgmental or tyrannical about my drinking, and that was because of his own past. He never once told me I should quit or demanded that I go to rehab.
He just stood quietly by, watching me deteriorate to the point where I had no choice but to give up and ask for help. If he had tried to “make” me quit, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to hit bottom. I will always be grateful to him for allowing me have my own, messy journey. (I wish his had turned out better, but I digress.)
Back to that night. I had not eaten since lunch, and I did not want pesky ol’ food to impede the effects of the wine, so I told my husband we should skip dinner and go straight to the venue. I may have told him that I already ate, I can’t remember. He grabbed a sandwich, and we left the house together. He drove, which was our custom because we both knew I was a danger behind the wheel.
I was pretty hammered when we got to The Palace, but I headed straight for the bar anyway. I ordered two glasses of red wine because I did not want to have to wait in line again, and one was never enough.
After that, everything is pretty hazy. We ran into a few people we knew, but I have no idea what I said to them. We found our seats and heard the opening band, but I have no clue who it was. I do remember that the headliner was Regina Spektor, but to this day I have never seen her perform.
When the opening band ended, I had to go to the bathroom. I could barely walk, and I was already in the kind of blackout where I couldn’t see. (It’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.) Somehow I made it to a toilet, did my business and exited the bathroom.
The next thing I remember is overwhelming panic. I did not know where I was, or how to get back to my seat. I may have fallen to the floor. I may have burst into sobs. All I know for sure is that when my husband found me wandering the halls, he literally had to carry me out of The Palace, as I wailed, over and over, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore. I. Can’t. Do. This. Anymore.”
He took me to my best friend’s house. She and her now husband (who had close to 10 years of sobriety) held my hand and listened to my drunken blubbering for hours that night. I confessed, out loud, how much I had been drinking and how desperate the noise in my head had gotten. They suspected as much, but laying it all out there in the open was a huge relief to me. The first step to healing, for realz.
On their advice, the next day I called another wonderful, sober friend who, along with many others (including one woman who has become like a sister to me), taught me a new set of life skills that I continue to employ every day.
I am active in 12-step recovery today, though I tend to concentrate on one certain support group, and it’s probably not the one you think. Some people might say I’m doing recovery wrong, but as far as I am concerned, the results speak for themselves.
No, my story doesn’t involve the high drama you see in the movies, like property destruction, fist fights, neglect or arrest warrants, but it doesn’t matter. People whose drinking grabs them by the throat and wrestles them to the ground are all the same at their core, regardless of the circumstantial details. For me, all that matters about my story and my moment of clarity is that I was in pain, I had enough, and I asked for help.
You don’t have to be a wino drinking out of a paper bag on a bus bench in front of the Motel 6 to be an alcoholic. You can be a professional, middle-class woman who rarely drank for most of her adult life, but who made up for lost time after a mental switch flipped in her brain sometime around age 32.
All it would take is one sip of Stella Artois or Yellow Tail Shiraz to throw me back down into the abyss I was flailing in four years ago, so I choose not to take that sip. I don’t WANT to take that sip, because I know it doesn't really fill the hole in my soul… it makes it worse. The only effective cure for my emptiness is prayer and meditation… faith in something bigger than me that I don’t have to identify or explain.
It’s taken me a long time make peace with my past, not to mention be OK in my present. I have accepted who I am and focus only on progress, not perfection. Yep, these days, I am just a normal person who happens to be a nondrinker.
Today, I can be around other drinkers without feeling any desire to imbibe myself. I can go to concerts again without an invisible cloud of embarrassment hovering over my head. I can dance in public and put myself out there in the business and dating world sans any liquid courage. It’s pretty awesome.
I am truly present in every situation, and when I wake up, I always remember what happened the night before. The best part is, I can see — really see — all of the splendor in the world, as well as the value I bring to it.
Four years, one beautiful day at time. God willing, there will be many, many more.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.