Today marks 800 days of my life without alcohol in it.
Those who have never had the honor of placing booze front and center in their lives might not understand what a milestone 800 days alcohol-free means.
Those of you — like me — who’ve had a love-hate obsession with alcohol (can count the days you DIDN’T drink in the past month on one hand; “how to tell if alcoholic” appears in your search history), 800 days is significant.
Eight hundred days also means that ample time has passed for you to understand why you drink in the first place. Why you have let yourself hurt so much, for so long. Why you suffer.
Those of us who have put ourselves through the traumas of addiction to stifle the traumas of life often carry invisible badges of honor around with us. We might let a few people in and say, “Look at this space in my mind. This is what I went through and this addiction is why I failed to escape it. Here is how I let go of trauma to cope with trauma.”
In her amazing book, “We Are The Luckiest,” sobriety coach Laura McKowen explains that those of us who have survived a chemical or behavioral dependency are the lucky ones. Yet, to be the “luckiest” at something suggests chance. Lucky is winning $25 on a scratch-off. Lucky is having the person in front of you pay for your coffee order. Lucky is getting to your car just before the parking attendant slips by with a ticket.
There is nothing “lucky” about pulling yourself out of addiction. Overcoming a dependency, my friends, is hard work, not luck.
Of course, Laura is speaking in the lost art of metaphor here: “recovery” makes us lucky in that we have experiences that often make us wiser, more resilient, more patient individuals. That’s what Laura really means when she says, “We Are The Luckiest.”
Consistent, long-term recovery from an addiction makes you a special person, whether you own that reality or not. You likely gave yourself the grace to honor your traumas by working through them, not against them. When you put down the bottle, you put trauma in front of you instead of setting it aside. That’s not luck. That’s fucking heroic.
Bad luck isn’t what gets us into patterns of addiction, either. Abuse. Neglect. Illness. Depression. Anxiety. These are traumas, not bad luck.
For me, that bad luck—my trauma—was Alzheimer’s, and I would have done anything to escape it. I did a lot of damage trying to, at least.
To explain all the ways Alzheimer’s has fucked me up, I’d have to go way back to 2011 and share with you how my mom started losing herself. There’s a book of information to that narrative, so let me briefly explain:
Mom lost the ability to tell the time.
She didn’t know how to order food off a restaurant menu.
She forgot her birthdate.
Then her middle name.
Then she forgot her name altogether.
These were the early signs. These were the early traumas that sent me to a bottle of rose every night because it was the easiest way to forget Mom’s forgetting.
Towards the middle of her disease, around 2014–2015, she was already living in a memory care facility.
She cried for me when I left her after a visit.
She screamed and spit at staff because she was frustrated and didn’t know how to communicate it anymore.
She became doubly incontinent.
This is when I started drinking almost two bottles of wine a night. The anxiety of her disease consumed me. The perpetual cycling through the stages of grief had taken me whole, chewed me up and swallowed any sense of self I had left.
By 2018, Mom had forgotten who her grandchildren were. On good days, she’d remember my name and my partner’s name. She still laughed and smiled, and she still ate all her meals and remembered the music and how to dance to it.
By 2018, every day I’d wake up with a hangover and a massive anxiety that by this point couldn’t be relieved until 4 p.m.—my “fuck it” hour. The time of day I’d call it a day at work and head out the door for drink. I’d have a few out with friends, drive to the liquor store to buy another bottle for home, and then pass out or black out in front of the television.
Drinking was my way of turning up the volume to drown out the noise. I was slowly losing my mom to Alzheimer’s and the entire experience was taking me with it.
I knew I had to do something. My drinking was unsustainable. The anxiety I felt on a daily basis made me ideate about suicide. In my mind, life was over. My mom was never going to get better … but one of us had to.
So I quit drinking. I didn’t do it for some noble reason, like because I thought that’s what my mom would want me to do. In fact, we loved drinking together when she was healthy.
I quit drinking for me. And if that sounds selfish, then fine. But it wasn’t nearly as selfish as drinking every night, feeling sad for myself and my mom, and all the things we never got to do because of Alzheimer’s.
Even so, her illness was a significant trauma in my life, and when I say trauma, I mean that Alzheimer’s brings chronic grief, chronic sadness, anger, guilt, bargaining … all of it, over and over again. If you’ve had Alzheimer’s in your life, you know what I mean.
The trauma and feelings of grief have not gone away since I quit drinking, but the anxiety has. The shame about drinking is gone because the drinking is gone. I don’t wake up feeling like shit because I drank.
Now, if I wake up feeling like shit, it’s because I’m going through some shit just like everyone else.
Mom is on hospice now. I haven’t been able to touch her since March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic started. When we Skype together, she’s often asleep in her chair, drooling and non-responsive to my voice. She no longer laughs or smiles.
Yes, there is plenty of grief and trauma still. But instead of hiding it away with a bottle or two of wine, I sit with it. I cry with it. I punch it in its metaphorical face. I throw it away. Sometimes it comes back. Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I’m glad the booze is gone. I’m not glad my mom got Alzheimer’s, but in all the ways it ruined me, it also saved me, too.
I guess that is lucky of me.