“I’m Brittany and I’m an alcoholic.”
These are the words that come out of my mouth each Monday night. Recovering alcoholic. Perhaps that more so defines the trips around the moon I have taken without finding solace in a bottle or that herb that allowed escape. Almost eight years without a drink, and six and a half without the herb which used to bring peace to my bones.
Minutes turned to hours, to days, to months, to years. Days strung together, adding on those which I never thought I’d obtain. The thought of going even a week seemed too heavy a weight before that first day.
I think back to my 12-year-old self, who first tasted the freedom that came with those two beers. Then the 14-year-old, who hid liquor in plastic water bottles, carrying beers in a duffle bag to a sleepover. And the 16-year-old, who drank liquor out of a shot glass neckless in the car before driving to a party. And the 18-year-old who drank alone, out of a half-gallon of cheap vodka in her dorm room. And the 20-year-old, who came close to death, though of course not for the first time.
I think of the words I yelled, the falls that brought scrapes and bruises, the friendships lost. I think of the tears that welled up in my mother’s eyes, my sisters’ eyes. The disappointment. The eyes that shown fear, fear for themselves, and for me as I took off with those car keys. The screams of a passenger in my car, begging me to pull over, “you’re going to kill me!”, and still I kept driving. The moments upon waking I think to myself, that must have been a nightmare, just go back to sleep. And then waking to the pit left in my gut as I know it was not a nightmare. The text messages I sent, asking my friends what happened. The call logs I searched, trying to piece together information. The days I spent all day in bed, hungover. The pieces of myself that died a million, slow deaths.
This is just one piece of it, though. You see, it’s much more than those encounters. Being an alcoholic lives in your mind. My mind racing, wondering, “will I have enough?” Counting the beers, chugging so I can consume more than the others. Running to the liquor store right before 2:00AM to make sure there was enough. Not tasting, just consuming. Always wanting more.
This began all those years ago at 12, when I felt the beer flood through my bloodstream. I loved it. I couldn’t wait for more. The slow relaxation that comes, the warmth that touches your cheeks, the insecure part of yourself goes to sleep.
What comes to mind as you think of an alcoholic? Is it the stumbling homeless person holding onto a brown paper bag? Is it the soccer mom driving her kids to school? Is it your grandmother? Would you ever guess it to be me? The girl wearing gym clothes buying sparkling water, the therapist, the trusted aunt, the newly married wife.
The stigma of addiction runs deep. It kept my mouth quiet for some time. We wonder why they can’t make better choices, or just stop. As if it’s an easy process, as if they could only understand how harmful it is to their body. Though, I appeal to you, can you stop something you love most? Something that you get lost in, that provides relief.
It’s the feeling of thirst that comes after dehydration. The feeling as though you lose the ability to not take a sip. You need water. And if one glass of water is good, then two is better, and ten never enough.
Being a recovering alcoholic colors much of my world. I think of it all the time, and sometimes not at all. I think of it when I see someone stumbling, passed out, slurring their words. It comes to mind when I walk through the grocery store, seeing the aisles of wine bottles. My thoughts always remember to smell my mocktail before consuming, and make sure the waiter/waitress knows I really mean nonalcoholic. Some days I go about my day and somehow forget this piece of my life. As if my life is just as usual as anyone else’s. And it is, and it isn’t.
I wonder if I’m the only one, the only one out of my old friend group in middle school, in high school, in college. What about her? She seemed to drink just as much. And maybe she is, and maybe she isn’t. But I know my introduction regardless of others, it’s still “I’m Brittany and I’m an alcoholic”, or perhaps it should be “I’m Brittany and I’m a recovering alcoholic”.
Pride is held in my bones as I hold the coins, the years, the sobriety for myself. And for my brother, and father who were not as lucky to close their eyes to death while sober. And maybe someday you, or your friend, or your family member will hold this pride too. The pride that brings freedom, an unrelenting joy in a new life, in no longer needing the escape. And when you, or they do, know you’ll be coming home, to belong, with those of us who hold the same thing.