I recently celebrated one year of sobriety, as well as my 40th birthday. Both of these milestones allowed me to reflect and exhale. This new chapter of my life has been a moment of clarity and peace, intertwined with more joy than I could have imagined. Joy found within myself, not dependent on others. Through heartaches and pain have also been the most beautiful lessons. Casting away alcohol has unchained me from resentments and faults and cleared my heart, mind and soul. Recovery has given me a new, shining lease on life.
Sober. Such an interesting word. As a child, I thought of the word as a punishment. I have an older half-brother that struggled with addiction. I heard my father use the vocabulary: clean, sober, probation, court hearing, attorney’s fees, release date, rehab and so on. Sober, for me, became synonymous with trouble. It felt uneducated, lacking sophistication, and for those that couldn’t handle grown-up, adult activities because they had no self-control. Tigers tearing through the wild on benders of ravenous sprees hunting their prey. The next hit, the first drink. So aggressive, animalistic and pitiful.
That was when I was six. I was still a baby. I was young and innocent and hadn’t experienced the world. I was living a sweet, protected life in a warm, inviting home with my nuclear family. The smell of onions sauteing and Carly Simon’s voice filled the air while my mom cooked a square meal. Days were measured by what was for dinner. Salmon croquettes were a C- while barbecue chicken with perfectly sliced lemons on top scored an A+. Butterscotch pudding in precious dessert bowls told me I was extra special. I was safe. I was home.
When Life Wasn’t So Shiny
Then I discovered my father’s inner conflict. In one light, he lived a pretty life that sparkled with financial success, loads of self-worth, friends and esteem. In the dark, however, he fought to clean up the messes of his first family, his inadequacies and short comings. He yearned for big and grand. He wanted more for his three children, but he could relate to his first-born son because he knew this dark and complicated life all too well. He wanted to run, but felt pulled. He tried turning his back, but was obligated. That’s the unconditional love of a parent to their child: to never leave or abandon and continue coming back, time after time. Even through mistakes.
At 14, I spent a cheer season as the youngest on a varsity team filled with high schoolers that talked about boys and dating and other things that teen girls talk about that I wasn’t familiar with. My dad drove me to practice, and left me feeling like a child being babysat by older girls. I felt inadequate and small and desperately wanted to quit the team. But quitting wasn’t an option. I made the team because I deserved to be there, and I wasn’t able to drop my commitment.
Around this time, my father lost his battle to his demons. He died by suicide. He took his own life and left my world shattered. My red headed hero was gone. I was left broken and ashamed. We had always been taught it wasn’t permissible to quit. I stayed when I wanted to leave. How could he do that? How could he quit? I was left abandoned and conflicted and felt sad and incredibly sorry for the pain he must have endured. But I was engulfed in anger, too.
A Slow Death Lived by Keeping Up Appearances
Despite losing my father by suicide, I have spent the better part of the last 23 years plowing through life like everything is normal. I’ve tried to be the life of the party, the intense career woman, the best mom, the most adoring wife and every other role in between. I have walked the road of depression and anxiety. And at the very same time, have lived with privilege and esteem; the pieces of my childhood leading me to the role of a magazine-cover suburbia mom of two precious children in seersucker outfits. All the while, coping with alcohol and masking with perfectionism. I wanted to be liked and accepted. I didn’t understand, with a family history of addiction, that using alcohol as a crutch could turn so quickly on me. The more I tried to maintain it and manage it, the steeper the fall became.
At the very beginning of the pandemic, when our world was turned upside down, I crashed into rock bottom. The hodge podge of glue on my life began to unravel, and I lost my ability to hold it together. My pretty game of pretend was coming to an end and it was time to uncover the hurt and shame. I walked into alcohol recovery as uncomfortable and out of place as I felt that day as an awkward freshman placed on the varsity cheer team, so small and scared.
Despite the challenges, the unsettled year of 2020 gave me the gift of time. It was an opportunity to peel back the layers and dig deeply into what has shaped me including the death of my father. I spent years playing roles of characters in my own life story. Now is the time to define what is true to me. Today I can stand proudly with my own story of love, loss, mistake, accomplishment and perseverance. I can lead by example and continue carrying the message of hope in sobriety.
My life’s journey has given me rich material in which to learn, grow and share. As my deeply rooted passions evolve into my purpose, the light becomes ever so bright.
You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending. -C.S. Lewis
What's your bright story?