I think today is the day I’ve been dreading and looking forward to in equal parts for many years. Today is the day I’m ready to share my story with all the guts exposed and flaws flapping for the world to see. I started this blog four months ago and I’ve referenced my sobriety but I haven’t gone to great lengths to go into detail—as any recovering alcoholic knows, dredging up memories of drinking days (most of them too fuzzy to remember clearly) can be painful. And it can too easily result in a shame spiral. But I’m not interested in spiraling down anymore. I’ve had my day in the dirt and I’m past that now.
I did a running podcast about a month ago, and the conversation focused a lot on my sobriety. As I start to read the comments and emails and social media messages of people who'd listened, I started to really understand that people like me are all around and they want to talk about it. They need to talk about it because when you don’t, it passively implies no one cares. But I do care. So I’ll start.
My name is Christina and I’m an alcoholic. For as long as I can remember, alcohol has been a part of my life. My parents and extended family worked hard and played hard, including incorporating booze into everything we did. It made for some fun times as a kid. It made for some difficult times as a kid. I knew from a very early age how to tell the approximate number of drinks my family had consumed over the course of a get together and I was pretty good at knowing when to isolate myself if things were about to get out of hand. Sometimes I think that’s why I was naturally drawn to running...because it can be an isolating sport and I think I craved that kind of safe space away from everything.
I don't think there was one exact moment when the tide shifted for me in my drinking patterns. Looking back, especially as a parent now, it is crystal clear to me that I was never one to drink responsibly. As a high school junior, I got alcohol poisoning at a party. You’d think that incident would have been enough to make me quit or at least slow down. But it didn’t. In fact, moving out of my parents house and into a dorm room after high school only provided me with more access to booze and less accountability in my schoolwork (which to that point had been outstanding, but quickly deteriorated as my alcohol intake increased).
Confidence was the mirage in my desert of drinking, and in the rare instances when I participated in a social event and didn’t have access to booze, all I wanted to do was remove myself. My husband can attest that for years, in the heart of my heavy drinking days, that it was very difficult for me to prepare for social functions. I needed a glass of wine to think about what I would wear. I had to have the second glass to forget the extra few pounds around my midsection. The third glass was just to take the edge off, and the fourth was to drink while I changed and re-changed my outfit tens of times before ending up in a pile of tears on the bed. Then I’d show up to the event, a bottle down already, and fear everyone else in the room had figured me out: that I was a fraud and a fake. That while I was chipper and funny on the outside, on the inside I had crippling anxiety that left me sidestepping meaningful relationships, and choosing instead to make bad decision after bad decision to punish myself for not doing better, for not being normal.
The idea of drinking without excess was a foreign concept to me. In grade school I slept over at a friend’s house one night when her parents were having some friends over for a small party. I remember how some adults had soda or iced tea in their hands, and how strange I thought it seemed. I noticed how much quieter this party was from the kinds of parties my family had. The next morning my friend’s mom and dad went for a run together. I can still see their shoes laying on the ground in my mind, and hear the sounds of them cooking in the kitchen after the run. For a minute, I wondered if I’d been doing it all wrong...if there was some other kind of lifestyle out there that my friends knew about but I would never experience. The feeling made me sad, and it pushed me deeper into isolation. I went through high school and college as an edge case—moving from one social clique to another without fully penetrating any single circle. I eventually met a man who loved me for all of it, a beacon of love and support in a haze of crap, and we got married. There were years of partying to excess, and figuring out marriage as two alcoholics. We made mistakes and had bad behavior, and learned to forgive each other and reconcile our embarrassing drinking moments.
My husband quit drinking a few years after we moved from Ohio to San Francisco, and that story is his. When I realized he quit and it was for good this time, I of course felt happiness for him. He found his peace and got through that very hard journey. But if we’re really being honest here, the alcoholic in me felt fear. Fear that he will see me for what I was more clearly than ever, and see my flaws and insecurities. I feared he’d judge my own drinking, or even worse recognize my addiction. I still sort through shame for not feeling 100% support for him during that time, but I know he understands what the mind of an alcoholic does sometimes. He gets it.
When my first boy was born, I took one look at him and felt a kind of ground shaking love that was new to me. It scared me how much I loved him. Life was good and we were so happy. Motherhood brought a whole new set of drinking buddies. The mom crowd. And they were more hard core than I expected. Let’s get the kids together for baby brunch (with mimosas!). Toddlers love the zoo, and moms love it because it serves beer and wine! And we were cute in how we embraced it. Wine in sippy cups? Let’s do it. A little Baileys in the early afternoon coffee? Why the hell not. All the women around me seemed to handle this new mommy friendly drinking culture with no problems. But as the playdates continued on, I felt more and more insecure and self-conscious.
Then my world changed in a big way. My dear friend was getting married in another state and my husband and I planned to fly there as our first trip away from the baby. My mom and dad were flying here from Ohio to babysit. I’d prepared all my dad’s favorite foods (he tended to be picky about California cuisine) and stored them in the fridge. I drew a large map for he and my mom, to help them navigate our neighborhood and entertain the baby while we were away. I bought a new comforter. We wrote out all the phone numbers for emergencies, and made our extra set of keys. That night I felt restless...pretty common when waiting for visitors to arrive. I moved out to the couch and tried to sleep there. Then I glanced at my phone and saw I’d missed a bunch of messages. I thought maybe mom and dad’s flight was early. Then I heard the first message: “Christina, this is your brother. Call me now.” My first thought was that their plane went down. I called him and he said, “dad died.” He passed away in his sleep, on the couch in front of the television where he’d been watching the Reds game.
The layers of emotion and feelings I have about my dad run so deep, we would peel it all night if I started. But I will say he had his own battles and addictions, and never got to beat them. And I will say he was a wonderful human being and I miss him so much.
Dad’s death changed me in ways I still can’t pinpoint. I drank a lot. More than ever. Bottle after bottle of wine every day. I knew where to buy it without hitting one store too often (the embarrassment if someone made a comment about the “wine lady” at the store in front of someone I knew was a real fear of mine). I knew how to wrap an old sock around the bottles before putting them in the garbage so the neighbors wouldn’t hear all the bottles dropping into the truck on trash day. I chose to feed my addiction. Instead of returning to work in an office, I took a virtual one where I could drink while I worked. It became a very physical need to drink. I felt myself slipping into depression. I hid it in ways that scared me, but I wasn’t ready to confront it.
Then my world changed in a big way. I was in the bedroom doing something one night and my husband walked in and asked me how many glasses of wine I’d had that night. Now he is a recovering alcoholic himself so he already knew and understood that you can’t tell a drinker that they have a problem. No one is going to stop drinking unless they want it. I think I told him I only had a couple. That was my canned answer so I’m going with it. Only a couple. And as intoxicated as I was, I still remember his eyes. They were sad. They were sad for me and the loss I was struggling with and for the need I felt to keep the drinking from him. Maybe it was knowing that there was at least one person in this world that I knew loved me for everything - for all those flaws and fuckups - and he was still there. Standing in our room wanting me to admit it, and to help myself. Maybe the timing was just right or maybe I was just beaten down with the burden of my perceived faults and couldn’t take it anymore.
I said to him, “I’m drinking a lot. I need help.” And then I pulled the bottles out of my closet and lined them on the floor. And everything got a little better. He hugged me and we cried.
The road to quitting was not easy. It was physical for many weeks, my withdrawal from the chemical need to drink. My skin hurt. I shook and sweat a lot. This is an unpretty memory for me.
And then one day it wasn’t physical anymore. Food tasted good again and I could smell things again and in a better way. I saw a therapist. Or three. Some days I sat in the chair across from my therapist and just cried...for one hour. Then I’d walk home and breath the air and pat myself on the back for doing something for myself. I got a job in an office where I was stimulated and respected, and seen as a strong woman killing it at life. A little bit every day I let myself believe I was killing it. I let go of the old standards I held myself to: the perfect birthday parties and the Pinterest-worthy lunch boxes. Pinterest owes the mothers of our generation some restitution for what we’ve put ourselves through looking at those boards.
Running saved me on many days. It became the thing that I looked forward to every weekend. My social plans changed a lot after I quit drinking, and some of my friends stopped calling. But I was okay with it, because their path was pretty different than mine. My whole timeline shifted and I started waking up earlier, putting on my running gear and hitting the pavement. I saw beautiful things on my runs and it honestly just felt nice to use my senses. There is so much more to feel and smell when you aren’t numbing.
I’m not perfect, and every day is a struggle in some way for me. Maybe it’s not the drink I crave anymore but I do crave the self-deprecation and negative talk sometimes. It’s the whole shame spiral thing I started with, and trust me it is real.
I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Moving here, meeting the people I did, and making the lifestyle changes I did. I grew so much out of all that numb, and I love looking at myself now. I don’t change my clothes tens of times before I leave the house. I don’t shy away from uncomfortable situations. I don't fear someone is talking about me in the corner. Or better yet, I just don’t give a fuck. And that’s good for me.
If you’re reading this and wondering if anyone would care for you even if they knew about your drinking and your addictions, well then I’m here to say I care. And there are other people that care. You’d be surprised how many care once you start asking for help. But you have to ask, so maybe just start there and see what happens.
Talk to me in the comments, or drop me a line if you need an ear: christina [at] therunningnoob [dot] com.
(Almost) daily blogger. Sober runner. Mental sh*t stirrer. Pro gender equality in tech. Family first.