Friday, December 17, 2010

My Other Birthday

This is kind of a long one, but its important to me, it is part of what got me to where I am today.

Every person has a birthday, the day they entered the world.  My birthday is May 15, 1979, I celebrate in some way every year on this day.  Some of us have more than one birthday.  Let me explain.  There is another day that I celebrate, quietly, but still spend time paying attention and reverence to, and that is my other birthday.  My other birthday is today, December 17.  It is the day that, in many ways, I was reborn.  December 17 is the day I got sober, four years ago.  The last time I had a drink was December 16, 2007.  So, for me, December 17 is a very important day, in some ways more important than my actual birthday.

Before I got sober I wasn't an everyday drinker.  I wasn't waking up in the morning needing a drink.  I didn't need alcohol on a daily basis.  I didn't feel withdrawal symptoms when I didn't drink.  I didn't drink a fifth of scotch or endless bottles of wine or a case of beer on a daily basis.  I wasn't what many people consider an alcoholic.  But, being an alcoholic isn't that black and white.  There are a lot of shades of gray with alcoholism.  What makes one person an alcoholic might not be the same thing for another person.  My drinking problem is very specific to me.

A little history... the best I can remember it...

I had my first drink when I was 14.  That might seem young to some people (or a lot of people), but in the beginning I only drank occasionally with friends, at a party.  When I was about 16 (I can't exactly remember) I started drinking more often with my friends.  By our senior year of high school there were parties many weekends at which there would be alcohol.  We would drink and have a good time.  We were a responsible group, we didn't drink and drive, we didn't do anything bad.  I never blacked out.  We were good kids.  I was a good kid.

I got to college and my drinking increased.  At the beginning of college I was struggling with some severe anxiety issues (and in turn depression).  Sometimes drinking would make me forget about or settle my anxiety, other times it would make it much worse.  My drinking habits were not regular.  I steadily drank more and more.  I played drinking games, I went to parties, I went to bars, I did what college students did, I drank and enjoyed myself.  I had my first blackout in college.  It's a scary thing not being able to remember what you did or where you were.  Having a blank spot in your memory is not fun and does not always mean you had a good time.  It's really never okay to blackout, at least not for me.

After college I my drinking escapades continued.  I was in my early twenties, it was what we did.  We would go out to bars, have drinks with dinner, go to parties, and of course get crazy drunk sometimes.  It was all "normal."  I had a couple of times where I blacked out from drinking too much (no, that's not normal, and it could be more than a couple times, I just can't remember, no pun intended).  I had fun with my friends when I would drink.  I would also do stupid things when I was drunk.  Things that I don't like remembering because they are not good memories.  (Remembering those things now is part of what keeps me from having a drink, but the memories can still be embarrassing and/or painful.)

I don't know when exactly things got out of control for me.  I don't remember a specific event that was a turning point or a specific time in my life that was a turning point.  I just remember that it seemed like it was suddenly a problem.  I got to a point where I couldn't go out and have just one drink.  If I had one I'd have three or four or more.  I couldn't stop myself, even when I said I was only going to have one or two, I'd almost always have more and get drunk.  And, I had started drinking by myself, not a ton, but enough to get a good buzz going, a couple of times a week.  I actually don't know how much I was drinking at a time, because I wasn't keeping track.  By this point my bipolar had gotten bad, I hadn't been diagnosed yet, and I was going through stages of deep depression followed by manic episodes.  I didn't know what was going on with me, and the alcohol was a good mask (at least it masked it for me, even if others could see there was a problem).

I remember quite clearly the night I last went out really big, well the beginning of the night at least.  It was for Halloween and I got drunk, blackout drunk.  I woke up in the morning and didn't know exactly where I was, I was with friends so I was safe, but that is still totally unacceptable behavior.  I just didn't seem to know when to say when.  I don't like thinking about that night, because it was a bad time in my life.  I realized during my insanely bad hangover (I know it was truly an awful hangover that lasted a couple of days, but I only have a vague recollection of it, weird) that I had a real problem, and I didn't really think it was with alcohol, I just knew I was severely depressed and needed to go back to the psychiatrist.

I went to the doctor and was put on anti-depressants.  He told me not to drink.  So, I didn't.  Most of the time I'm really good at taking directions and following instructions.  But, in December of that year I went to a Christmas party and figured I could have one or two drinks and it wouldn't be a problem, even on the anti-depressants, even though I knew better.  I hadn't had anything to drink since the blackout night of two months before.  I figured it was no big deal, one drink couldn't hurt.  But, again, I can't ever have just one drink.  I had about 5.  And then I did the one thing I swore I would never do, I drove after drinking.  Thankfully I got home safely and fell asleep.  In the morning I realized I had a problem and I had to stop drinking, for good.

That morning was December 17.  I haven't had a drink since that party.  About two months later I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on even more medication.  Now, if I chose to drink it could cause more problems because of all of the medication I take, just more incentive not to drink.

I didn't have to go to rehab or detox.  I just quit drinking.  I have never been to an AA meeting.  I just did it on my own.  I never asked for help, I just stopped.  I will say this, quitting drinking right before the holidays was insanely difficult and AA or something similar might've been helpful.  I wanted to be able to have wine with dinner at Christmas.  It really really sucked to go out on New Year's Eve and not drink.  We went to a bar.  Ugh.  That was a mistake.  All I wanted to do that night was say screw it, give me a drink.  But I didn't.  I made it through the new year and beyond.  I won't lie, it has been incredibly difficult at times, and it still can be.  But, I'm so glad that I've stuck with sobriety.

The good things about being sober:
1. It has made me more clear-headed, happier, more relaxed, a better friend and a better person.
2. I have had some mean hangovers in my life, and it is amazing to never wake up with a hangover.  Now if I wake up and feel like crap I know that I didn't cause it myself.  (Okay, maybe I've woken up after a marathon and felt a bit yucky, but that pain is so worth it.)
3. My bank account thanks me.  It's nice not to spend all that money on alcohol.
4. I always know where I am when I wake up (yes, not knowing where I was happened a couple of times when I drank, not safe or acceptable).
5. I can always get myself home and not have to spend money on a cab.  I don't ever have to depend on someone else to give me a ride.
6. I don't mind going to be early on a Friday night to do a long run on a Saturday morning, I'm not missing out on a night of drinking (if you're not a runner this might seem weird, but for me its nice).
7. I always remember what I did the night before.
8. I can take care of you when you need it.
9. I can get you out of jail or keep you out of jail for the crazy things you might do.
10. I am better.
I could go on and on and on... but you get the idea.

There are also things that suck about being sober, but the list is much shorter.
1. I can't have a glass of champagne to celebrate a friend's wedding or New Year's or something special.
2. I can't have a beer after a marathon or half to celebrate finishing.
3. Hmmm, I can't really think of anything else.

So, clearly the positives far outweigh the negatives.

It is still difficult to stay sober, even after four years.  But, it gets easier.  It's not difficult every day.  But there are days when it takes a lot for me not to have a drink.  But, I know I've made the right choice every time I don't have one.  I have moments where I think that I could probably drink now and it wouldn't be a problem.  But, its those thoughts that make me realize that it would be a problem, and fast; its that same part of my brain that tells me that I feel fine and don't need my medication anymore, clearly that part of my brain sometimes gets a little confused.  I can't EVER drink again.

So, to you, my friends, please understand that when I say I don't want a drink, it always means I can't have a drink.  Please try to remember this.  Don't encourage me to have just one beer with you.  Just one would be my demise.  And good friends wouldn't want this for me.  I don't expect you to always remember that I'm sober, you have your own stuff to worry about.  But, please, occasionally try to remember and not offer me alcohol. 

Please, my friends, understand that for me, going to a bar or a club where everyone is clearly drinking is not going to be fun for me a lot of time.  It just makes me want to have a drink.  I don't mind sometimes going to bars/clubs, I don't mind when I'm at dinner and people are drinking (but don't expect to split the bill evenly, I didn't drink and alcohol is expensive, I don't mind if you drink but I'm not going to pay for your drinks).  I don't always like being around people who are trying to get wasted.  It makes me uncomfortable, in a way that makes me want to have a drink.  But, don't think that this means I don't want to be invited to your nights out on the town, I may not always accept, but understand that this is not because of you, its usually because I'm having a difficult day with sobriety.

I don't mind driving you around when you've been drinking, I'm sober, its fine.  But, please appreciate it, pay for gas (I drive a beast of a car, it devours gas) or parking or valet, or say thank you, and mean it.  And don't expect it.

Please understand that watching you get drunk is only fun sometimes. 

Please don't get judgmental with me because I'm not drinking, I'm not judging you for choosing to drink.

Please don't say things like, "It would be so fun to see you drunk."  No, it wouldn't.  That isn't supportive or kind.  Please try to remember that this is difficult for me and when people try to encourage me to drink it just sucks.  I know many of you met me after I got sober.  Understand, that we probably wouldn't have met if I hadn't stopped drinking, I wouldn't have done the things I've done if I hadn't gotten sober (i.e. - run a marathon or two).

When I drank I didn't know when to say when. I couldn't have just one or two drinks, I would drink as many drinks as I could.  I would drink til I got drunk almost every single time that I drank (in the end).  And now I have found the best solution for me, no drinking at all.

My name is Elisabeth, and I'm an alcoholic.

Please help me celebrate my other birthday by making a donation:  (maybe we can get me halfway to my goal!)

1 comment:

  1. Happy Re-birthday!!!!!!!!! What an eye opening blog Lizzie. I am so very proud of you.
    Love you,
    Nancy. XXOO