Giving up alcohol – one woman’s story of the day that changed her life and probably saved it in the process

Giving up alcohol – one woman’s story of the day that changed her life and probably saved it in the process

The day was May 1st, 2006. I was coming off of a weekend bender with alcohol where I attempted to control my drinking. My last drink consumed on April 30th. As I write this blog post today, April 30th, 2020, I have not had a drink in 14 years. That’s 5,113 days without a drink.

A few weeks before, I had visited Residence XII in Kirkland, WA, an all female alcohol & drug addiction treatment facility for a full evaluation. This was my third evaluation in a one month period, over the March/April timeframe, with a variety of other specialists and treatment facilities. The main difference on this evaluation? I decided to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. At this point I’d realized no one was going to teach me how to drink normally. I was feeling defeated and I knew instinctively I was at a tipping point where things were about to spiral even further out of control.

Were there consequences of my drinking? Countless. More than I could possibly list over my 16 year drinking career. And that’s just the ones I can remember. I was a blackout drinker, so there are many things I don’t recall or I have permanently blocked. That said, there were things I had not lost…yet. I still had a job, my son, a place to live, a little money in the bank, a car and a valid driver’s license. I felt as if I was on the brink of losing all of these things and I was desperate.

During this evaluation, I bared my soul. I kept nothing back. The result? They strongly recommended I seek inpatient treatment for a minimum of 28 days. My mind flashed to the Sandra Bullock movie “28 Days” and I panicked. I can’t go live with strangers and abandon my job and my son for a month. Are these people CRAZY?!?!? I don’t want to have to keep a plant alive and get a dog.

That was a no go for me. I was in pain, but not THAT much pain. I quickly asked about other options. Like how about a pill? Maybe start seeing a regular therapist that specializes in addiction? Is there a TED Talk I could listen too? Hypnotherapy perhaps? I can be very persuasive when I want to be. I pleaded for any other options besides a 28 day lock-up. (Ironically, as I write this I’ve been in stay at home mode due to Covid-19 for 56 days) Reluctantly, they offered me the option of Out-Patient treatment that would be three days a week, three hours a day, in the evenings, over a three month period. “Sign me up!” I exclaimed as my mind started already scheming what brilliant excuses I could use to “no-show” at least once a week, making the commitment seem more manageable.

I was asked how soon could I start. Mmmmm, ohhh, now let me think about that. It was the middle of April and I was a single mom working a full time job. “How about June?” I suggested. The intake evaluation lady, looking straight through my bullshit, quickly replied “How do you plan on staying sober between now and then?” Trying to scramble for an answer, I had none. She then asked “Can you control your drinking?”

And there it was! The BRILLIANT idea I was seeking. Just control my drinking. Why hadn’t I thought of that myself? “Oh yes, I should be able to do that” I said somewhat slowly. (I’m a terrible liar) She then asked me how. I think I fumbled through some kind of excuse like “I don’t have to drink every day” or “I’ll just try to only drink two” or some other nonsense like that. Then she asked me if I’d ever been to an AA meeting. “Yes I have and they are not for me.” In my head I had already stereotyped that alcoholics were homeless, didn’t have teeth, and drank all day and night regardless of consequences. Clearly that did not describe me. She then explained that they held a women’s only 12 step meeting at the treatment center every Tuesday night at 7:30pm called Sober Gals and that I was welcome to come by and check it out anytime I wanted. She hinted I might find several women there that I thought were “more like me”. I filed that away and headed out of that appointment firmly resolved to either not drink or only have two. Nothing or two. Nothing or two. Two or Nothing.

Here’s the problem. I could drink nothing, but then I became highly agitated and my life still seemed totally unmanageable. White knuckles were only going to hold out for so long. Or, I could only have two drinks. Because if I had three, then I couldn’t stop. Not until I ran out or passed out or blacked out. So, two would be the magic number. When I was able to accomplish this, probably not more than twice, I was still miserable and my life was still unmanageable. This is how I spent the last two weeks of April 2006. Testing myself with not drinking, drinking only two, not drinking around Jakob, not drinking before 8pm, never drinking in the morning. Changing what I drank. No matter what dumb rule I made for the day it wasn’t working. I was out of ideas.

And that brings us to Tuesday, May 1st 2006. I’d called in sick to work for two days in a row coming off that rough weekend. In between sobbing sessions, I was pacing back and forth chain smoking, while my son was at school, just trying not to drink. Gnawing in the back of my head, I kept thinking about the Sober Gals meeting. Were these women going to be like me? Did they not only have their teeth but bleach them too? What brand are their yoga pants? Do they binge watch Sex & the City and imagine that their life is better than it really is? What about all of the dark things that have happened in my life. Will they judge me if I talk about them? Will they just sit around and complain? Because I have no patience for that. Is it just a big cry-fest? Are they going to try and hug me and hold my hand? Not interested. Many questions and I was out of answers. Pain is a motivator, at least for me it is. Like it or not, I was very motivated.

I remember pulling into the parking lot and noticing what kinds of vehicles were parked and trying to not make eye contact with anyone walking into the building. Sitting as close to the door as I could possibly manage, I pretended to check emails on my phone right up until the meeting started. I sat there on that cold metal chair and spent the next hour listening to women I had never met before, in my life, talking about things that they had done, or seen, or that had happened to them that were exactly like things I had done, I had seen, or that had happened to me. Every. Single. Woman.

Every single woman that spoke that night pierced into me like a top notch cutting knife landing into a perfectly cooked steak. The appearance of toughness on the outside, but once smoothly cut into, totally tender at the center and easy to digest. I am exactly like each and every woman in this room. It was in that moment I truly, at my core, accepted that I am an alcoholic.

Overwhelmed by emotions, I darted out of that meeting as fast as I could once it was over. I didn’t stay to hold hands in a circle. I didn’t put my chair away. I basically ran to my car as fast as I could, holding back tears, chanting “do not cry public, do not cry in public” over and over again in my head. Driving home I was a potpourri of emotions. Crying, yelling, screaming, angry laughing, shaking my fist at God. I was not happy. “I have to give up vodka? Are you F&*(#!% kidding me? If that’s the case then just give me one more sign!!!” I demanded out loud at the top of my lungs headed north on Interstate 405 in my white Chrysler Pacifica. (and if you know me, you know I’m loud as shit)

“If that’s the case then just give me one more sign!!!”

At that exact moment an audible *DING* went off in my car. As I peered into the dashboard, my car read to me two simple words. Perform Service. Jesus take the wheel, God was in my dashboard!!!! This is my once in a lifetime burning bush experience. That’s the only way I can possibly describe something to you that is indescribable. It was that spiritual. So much so, I had to pull over on the side of the highway and just sit with my feelings. I cried. I laughed. I ugly cried laughed and snot went flying. “Well played Big Guy upstairs, well played.”

Yes, of course I know that my car was really trying to tell me I needed an oil change. As I sat there, just letting it all release, I finally looked back up, wiping tears and mascara out of my eyes, and peered back into the dashboard. My point of view had changed.

Now it was showing me that I had about 1/4 of a tank of gas. And at that exact moment, I heard these words as clear as if the person speaking them was sitting in the front passenger seat right next to me leaning in closely …”You can give it up now, before you are on empty. The next time I come for you it will be a different situation. Do you want to lose everything, including maybe your life?” I have not had a drink since that day.

Now, this isn’t because I haven’t wanted too. The last 14 years have been an incredible ride. One that was incredibly hard and incredibly rewarding. If you had told me 14 years ago tonight, April 30th at approximately 8:08pm in the year of 2020 the following things would happen, I would never ever believe you.

Starting with the fact I would never believe it would be possible that I would not drink, one day at a time, for 14 years consistently. That right there is insane in the membrane. (Insane in the brain!) That I would leave the newspaper world and land in the magazine world, a world I had been dreaming of since I was a teenage girl. That one day I would run that magazine and throw swanky parties with swanky people all over the greater Seattle area. A world that I would make new friendships that I know are going to last to the end of my lifetime. That I would pay my bills every month, on time. That I would development an incredible work ethic that turned into its own kind of addiction (and not always in a healthy way). That when I said I was going to do something, I actually do it. That I would get a dog. That I would lose a dog tragically and suddenly. And then I would get two more dogs? Noooooo I don’t think so. That couldn’t happen.

I would never have thought that my son would be diagnosed with a chronic, incurable illness, Crohn’s Disease, in the same week I had emergency heart surgery. Following some months later, I would also take a nasty fall and suffer a concussion. Jakob would have a major surgery that would keep him in the hospital for a week and result in having to pull him out of his freshman year of college. That I would hit a breaking point and leave that fancy magazine world abruptly. All this and I’m still not drinking? No way.

Then, if that same someone had told me I still wouldn’t drink despite any of this, do you think I would buy what they were selling? No way. I wouldn’t have believed the good parts or the bad parts. Now if they had told me I’d still be single, now that one I actually would probably believe. Ha! But I would have never believed I would enjoy six months not working, only to end up working for a local TV station I had grown up watching. Say Wha??? That I would meet and make even more friends of a lifetime all while getting to do work I thoroughly enjoy doing. Someone once told me if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day of your life and they weren’t wrong. That all by itself is an amazing gift.

If you had told me at age 43, on my actual birthday, I would be told via voicemail while waiting to catch an Uber that I had stage one melanoma skin cancer and needed immediate surgery on my ankle, I would not have wanted to believe that either. Who gets cancer on their ankle??!?! (Me apparently) But, knowing how much time I spent in the sun day-drinking over the years and not applying sunscreen like a responsible person should, it would also not be a total surprise. Plus, if I’m being totally honest, my shark bite (aka the scar now on my ankle) is somewhat of a badge of honor now. I like to think it also gives off a “don’t F with me” vibe at the same time.

The shark bite and semicolon tattoo – because my story is not over yet

Finally, if you had told me I would be typing all of this up from my makeshift office in my parents living room in Centralia, WA where I have currently convinced my mom to let me tape lime green plastic table cloths to her living room wall, creating a fake green screen backdrop because I live a life on Zoom and Microsoft Teams for work now… NOT A CHANCE!!!! (Trust me, my mom wouldn’t want to believe this one either). That I had so far spent 56 days in quarantine from a virus that is taking over the entire world and that Donald Trump from the Apprentice would be President…all of this and I still don’t take a drink? Not possible. (I’m not gonna lie, it was one of my favorite shows. I would have been so good at it!)

Honey, if you read all of this and you still don’t believe there is a God, then my heart hurts for you because it was God that saved my life right there on the side of 405 in Kirkland. No one will ever be able to convince me differently. God also showed up and spoke to me through the women at that Sober Gals meeting. God showed up through specific people that were placed in my life during the early years of my sobriety. God was there all of the times before and after I got sober and kept me alive. I have knocked on deaths door a few times in my 44 years. Some of those times I’ve mentioned here today. There are other times I’m not ready to share publicly. Maybe one day I’ll sit down and write that book that I’ve always wanted to write.

Today I am proud to say I am a recovered alcoholic for 14 years. I am happy. I am joyous. I am free. I am forever grateful to the people that entered my life in the last 14 years and the ones that stayed in my life during my drinking and non-drinking years. To my parents, you never stopped loving me or supporting me. I know I gave you lots of reasons too. My love and respect for you both has never been deeper. To my sister, thank you for always being there to listen and for dedicating your career to helping people that struggle with addiction and mental illness. To my son, I have not always been the perfect mom. I was absent for periods of time when I was drinking. Then I was absent for periods of time after getting sober so I could work on my recovery and on my career. I hope you know that everything I do is truly for you. You are my entire heart and my reason to live and live life sober.

If you or someone you know are struggling with addiction issues and/or mental illness, there are resources available. Even during a world-wide pandemic, there is help. If you are suffering, I know it hasn’t been helpful that for the last two months everyone seems to talk nonstop about drinking all day to get through. I know you are being emotionally, mentally, and physically pushed to the brink. I know because I am too. Even with 14 years without a drink, this period of time in our lives is hard. While there are many ways to achieve and maintain sobriety, I believe it is impossible to do it alone. The good news? You don’t have to. We truly are stronger together.

Resources: Nationally: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline In the Seattle area? https://www.seattleaa.org/ and https://recoverycafe.org/ In Washington State? https://alcoholicsanonymous.com/aa-meetings/washington/

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Alysse Bryson
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