Kelly went from high functioning alcoholic to not drinking at all through spontaneous recovery. Read on to see how This Naked Mind fits into her life.
My story, I feel, contains many “garden variety” problems often identified by high functioning alcoholics. Sara Allen Benton’s book “Understanding the High Functioning Alcoholic” has more on this. We maintain a rather normalized drinking lifestyle for decades. Debilitating hangovers are laughed off and skillfully managed; neglect of and drinking around children; driving drunk over and over but never getting a DUI; keeping a good job but never working at full capacity due to fatigue from drinking; ‘dressing up’ one’s drinking with fancy cocktails, expensive wines and theme parties. All of these things were easily justified and normalized because I never hit a low bottom.
No Rock Bottom
I did hit a spiritual and moral bottom though. Right around the time my drinking had increased to six out of seven days a week and with more money being spent weekly on alcohol than at any time before. This lifestyle was easy to justify because –
1) I came from a family in which my father was a low functioning alcoholic (unemployed, isolated daily drinker ) so I still looked “OK” by comparison.
2) I surrounded myself with people who drank similarly (husband, close friends, and extended family).
From High Functioning Alcoholic to Alcohol Free
I stopped drinking at the age of 52, about one and half years ago. I intend to never drink again. Like Annie, I made that decision when my thinking shifted. I do not go to AA meetings to stay sober one day at a time.
I have already committed to an alcohol free life.
My reason for going to AA (about 2-3 times a week) is for the support and wisdom I find there. I don’t like calling myself “an alcoholic”. We don’t call cannabis users “marijuana-holics”, nor do they call themselves that and say “that’s my marijuanaholism at work again”. I also have no higher power at this time. But I am a long time ABUSER OF ALCOHOL and that is how I identify to myself.
My first actual “bottom” did come at age 22 while in graduate school. I did attend AA for about 3 months in Chicago in the summer of 1988. This was following a sexual assault when I was under the influence. A therapist refused to treat me following this incident – she said I had an alcohol problem and needed to address that first. That really pissed me off! But I did go to AA, and I was the only young person in the room.
Back then, there were no young people meetings to be found and no internet to turn to. I ultimately was unable to accept that I was giving up this thing I loved – alcohol – “for life”.
I had a lovely, older, African American woman as my sponsor, who I simply stopped answering calls from. I wrote off that devastating assault as something that happened because of circumstances. The guy had also been smoking crack in my apartment and I felt I was partly to blame because I had asked him to pick me up from the airport. I shouldered the blame because I had been drinking with him for hours before the incident. I stopped going to AA and I continued drinking for another 30 years.
I have not read many other stories like mine, in which the impetus to stop was the abrupt realization that my abuse of alcohol was just as serious as my 19-year-old son’s addiction to marijuana. I realized it one Saturday morning in 2017, as I struggled with a pounding hangover. He told me point blank that he may have to leave our house because he wanted to get sober but could not do so living in a household awash in alcohol.
It was the first time I felt my denial really cut with a knife. Instead of resentment, I felt relief, realization, and some hope as well.
I realized that my drug is just legal and socially sanctioned- even encouraged. Whereas, his drug of choice had brought him and our family rapidly to a catastrophic financial bankruptcy (legal, DMV, car insurance, inpatient program expenses).
My addiction had essentially brought an internal, spiritual, and moral bankruptcy that nobody could see but me.
High Functioning Alcoholic, Low Functioning Parent
One sad recollection I have from the last few months of my drinking was when I gave my son alcohol at a July 4th party we were hosting. I thought it would be easier for me to manage his intake of alcohol (given that I was an expert) than to yell, freak out, and destroy his marijuana at every turn in desperation of my inability to control his use. Of course, he never did like alcohol. He got sick and passed out quickly; I put a blanket on him and went back to the party.
That scenario was easier for me to understand than the addiction that he taken up.
We were both so lost at that moment in time. We are both in recovery now.
There are other aspects to my story that I may share at a later time, that I think resonate – especially with women. In particular, the connection I have noticed between sexual acting out/ promiscuity/ poor boundaries in relationships and how those things overlap with alcohol abuse. Today, I really just want to say how much I appreciate what it is like to be on the other side of an alcohol-obsessed culture. That includes the sickening mommy wine culture. How relieved I am that I have two young adults in my household who are not interested AT ALL in spending their young adulthood binge drinking as I did. I feel (for me) that the combination of reading women’s drinking memoirs, listening to podcasts like yours, and having a great support network at the AA home group I now attend, have helped me continue on this path of living sober.
When I found Annie’s book I was already sober over a year and not feeling cravings for alcohol. I had one of those “spontaneous” recoveries. Suddenly, I saw things differently – for whatever reason – on that date and time when I gave up ethanol, after my son confronted my alcohol abuse. I have had very few cravings since that time. This Naked Mind reinforced my resolve and helped me to feel so much better about myself and how/why I became addicted in the first place. My story of addiction took decades to unfold.
Did you convince yourself that by being high functioning, you couldn’t have a problem with alcohol? You’re not alone. Start reading This Naked Mind for free today and see how life can change for the better when alcohol no longer controls you!
My Recovery Blend
Going to AA has helped me STAY sober because it gives me an “in person”community. This also reminds me of how miserable I was by the time I actually quit drinking. I think the phrase “keeping it green” in AA (remembering what it was like to be in that awful place of not wanting alcohol in our lives, but feeling unable to give it up) overlaps with Annie’s point that we must be continually reminded that the ingrained unconscious messages of alcohol’s ‘benefits’ are wrong.
The romanticizing of alcohol is ALWAYS a trap and for me, must be on the forefront of my mind EVERY DAY.
It Isn’t Perfect
I have problems with AA of course – the language, the phrase “character defects”, and even the words alcoholism and alcoholic. Yet, I continue to go because I feel supported. I feel that I can help others and there are women there that understand my story. Women in recovery really need each other, especially if there is a lot of shame related to past behaviors. This is fine to also talk about in an online forum. Personally, I really need the in person connections as well.
I am reading A Woman’s Way Through the 12 Steps right now to help me find my own language for my journey. I use the phrase “patterns and defenses” in looking at the longstanding behaviors I want to change, as that works better for me than the 1939 language.
I love my hybrid brand of recovery, as it has gotten me this far and I do feel stronger every day! Thank you again Annie Grace for giving me the MUCH NEEDED science and modern understanding about addiction to complement my AA journey, and to make my recovery SO much more stronger and de-stigmatized.
Share Your Story
Thank you for letting me share my story of going from high functioning alcoholic to not drinking at all. I hope others will share their stories as well.