I am an only child and was born after my parents had been married for 16 years and had long since given up hope of having children. My dad was a Baptist deacon and he and my mom were both very active in the local church and the district association. I was expected as a deacon’s kid to look a certain way, act a certain way, and know “correct” doctrine. I didn’t like to sit down and shut up, I didn’t like to wear dresses and have my hair fixed, and I didn’t care about doctrine because I just wanted to play. I also didn’t like getting in trouble, so I learned from a very early age how to play the part and perform as a good little Baptist girl. When I was in Kindergarten, I was identified as being significantly more academically advanced than my age and was henceforth also “the smart kid.”
My dad was verbally abusive to both my mom and I. Well, really to everyone, but none so much as us since we lived with him. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to be perfect in a futile effort to earn his love and approval. I never did seem to be good enough. And so I learned “don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel” while also learning to know everything and do everything and do it perfectly in order to be good enough. My life was either an active crisis or trying to prevent the next crisis. I alternated between acting out and shutting down and never feeling a part of as I poured my whole self into trying to live up to what I thought other people’s expectations were of me.
When I was 15, my dad was caught committing beastiality. I don’t know if that “news” was ever known beyond our church. We moved right away in the middle of my freshman year in high school because my parents wanted to protect me in case it did get out. We were going to move that summer anyway, and I was ultimately just glad to move because I hated that school because I didn’t feel as though I fit in. But I never dealt directly with that event, choosing denial instead – pretending it never happened – yet always terrified someone would find out.
At the new school, everything was different. I knew very few people so I was able in a sense to reinvent myself. What I think I really did was just sit and observe how other people acted there and tried to mimic it. I did feel like I fit in there though. I was no longer the smart kid, I was just one of several smart kids and so I didn’t have near the academic pressure. I made friends with a good sized group of kids whom my mom referred to as a gang. We were a mix of brainy, theater, and band geeks. We were close, but I only ever let them get so close because I had secrets that had to be protected. I didn’t believe that they would still like and accept me if they knew the truth about my dad.
Prior to the move, I had been very involved in the girl’s youth group at church – the Girl’s Missionary Auxiliary (GMA). That’s a story in itself that show’s God’s grace working in my life when I couldn’t really see it. I was saved when I was 12, and baptized (the first time) when I was 14. My salvation was genuine and my baptism was valid. However, I had a distorted view of God based on my relationship with my dad and religious legalism. Around the time of my baptism, I settled on 3 goals for my life. I was never going to drink, never do drugs, and wait until I was married to have sex. I didn’t include smoking cigarettes and cussing because I had been smoking since I was 13 and already had a potty mouth which I largely picked up at home. But after the move, without the GMA mentor I had, my youth group involvement first slacked and then ceased.
When I was 16, one of my friends got a car (she was the first of us), and we would hang out on Friday nights at the bowling alley and cruising town with a couple of other friends. One evening she announced to me that she was going to get some whiskey. She gave me my way out telling me that I did not have to drink and I could go back home if I wanted and she would totally understand. I still drank with her. Seagram’s 7 on ice. It was terrible. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone drink this? It’s awful!” Yet, I drank it anyway. I don’t remember feeling drunk, but I do remember 4am next morning when my bed started spinning and doing flips. That was not for me. But a few weeks later, I had a couple of wine coolers with another friend. I don’t remember feeling drunk or buzzed then either, but I was apparently acting off enough that my mom caught me when I got home. She launched into a lecture though she never raised her voice, and I don’t remember any of what she said except for the last thing she said before she went back to bed. “Do you want to grow up to be like your Uncle James?”
Uncle James was one of her younger brothers and was the family drunk. No one denied his alcoholism (except possibly for him), and he was always presented as the face of alcoholism. He wasn’t ever mean (that I saw), but even as a teen I could see how he had thrown his life away losing his wife, never holding down a job for long, and living with Granny. I didn’t want that life, and so I decided that drinking wasn’t for me. I loved Uncle James dearly, but I didn’t want to be him. But then about a year later another friend’s parents went out of town for the weekend. 3 of us stayed with her since they lived in the boonies, and we all pitched in and got someone who was over 21 to get us a case of wine coolers. She pitched in a bonus half-pint bottle of Bacardi 151 rum. That was the first time I got drunk and knew I was drunk. I hit the sweet spot that night. That was the best I had ever felt. All of my fear and insecurity melted away and I wanted to always feel like that.
I still had appearances to maintain so I still made good grades and stayed out of trouble. I graduated from high school in the top 10% of my class and went to college just as I was expected to do. Sometime during that first year of college, my pastor preached an absolutely sickening racist sermon. I mentally left the church at that point though it would take until the summer when I got a part time job that I would be able to get away with physically walking away. At the end of that first year of college, the weekend before finals, I went to a party and had the worst drunk of my life. I had a lot of blackouts which corresponded with my vomiting. It’s a miracle I didn’t die from alcohol poisoning or have to be hospitalized. That was also my first hangover and when I decided I would never drink again. And I meant it.
Then that fall my dad was arrested for the rape of two 12 year old boys. In a small town that meant it made the news on the local radio station and the front page of the local paper. There was no hiding. 2 or 3 days later I was fired from my part time job. I did not have any idea how to deal with any of it in a healthy manner, so I went into denial. It wasn’t long until I was drinking to numb and escape. Daddy went to prison, and I went a little crazy for a while. By crazy I really mean I fell into a pretty deep depression with no idea at the time that was what it was.
About the time I started coming out of that I started dating my husband. It wasn’t long until sex and drugs came into the picture along with the alcohol. I’m still not sure how I finished college, but I had a less than stellar final GPA. We got married about a year before graduation, and 4 1/2 months after I graduated, I enlisted in the Air Force.
One does not join the military thinking one will stay sober, though that wasn’t one of my reasons for joining. You can drink and still pass a piss test. Then I got pregnant, and that’s when I got sober enough to realize that my husband had a drinking problem. After my daughter was born, I decided one of us had to be the sober responsible parent and thus began my martyrdom sobriety. It only lasted a few months at a time because if I was TDY (temporary duty – like a business trip) or deployed, I was getting drunk. It took 7 days to get from Tinker AFB, OK to Kuwait. I drank for 6 of those days. 3 months later I drank almost the whole way home. This would be the type of drinking I would do until I was stationed in England.
There is always a pub within walking distance in England. When we lived on base, I spent many a weekend getting hammered at the base club and then staggering across base housing to our house. Once I made that walk in a complete blackout. My husband had quit drinking, and I started making up for lost time. It wasn’t a problem because 1) I had a job where I worked successfully and with little trouble and 2) no one was telling me I had a problem. I neither looked nor smelled like a drunk. I didn’t get into fights. I looked secure and stable.
Drinking increased when we moved to NC in 2004, and late one night after drinking a lot of tequila, I got bored and dived into porn. I didn’t realize it until much later, but I had been comfort eating for years and between the breads and pastas and booze, I packed on some pounds. In 2007 my dad had a stroke and died about a month later. My mom started showing signs of reduced mental capacity around that time and soon diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Eventually I would discover that I was gluten intolerant and with a complete diet change which severely hampered my food addiction, and with running, I lost enough weight for my doctor to tell me my weight was fine.
I began to feel convicted that my children knew nothing about church, and decided to return to the church. I then became convicted of my drinking and my porn addiction, and decided they needed to stop. Porn wasn’t such a temptation when I was sober, so that was the easy part. Not drinking was a lot harder than I expected. It wasn’t long until drama broke out at work. Therefore it wasn’t long before I was drinking again so I could unwind after a week of hell at work.
Thus went the pattern of crisis drinking. And there was always a crisis. My husband started drinking again, the kids started having problems at school, and we just put on our facade for Sundays and Wednesday nights at church. I became a key part of the worship team at our church during all of this, but still could not contain the drinking and could not see it was a problem. Not even while leading worship with a raging hangover. My husband’s drinking was far and above worse than mine so he was the one with the problem, not me. My thinking and behavior were getting more and more insane, but I couldn’t see it for what it was – my facade crumbling. The beginning of my bottoming out happened when I got into a fight with the church’s secretary. We were both wrong, and we both apologized, but I still decided that was the final straw for that church, and we left.
First week of July, 2013, the kids and I returned from visiting my mom in Arkansas (which was stressful in itself), and found the house a wreck as if someone had partied like it was 1999. My husband was nowhere to be found, and when I did hear from him he was a mess and threatening suicide. I went and got him and took him to Duke where they immediately admitted him, sending him to a psychiatric detox center a couple days later.
I fell apart. For 2 weeks, all of my energy in public was used to not meltdown, while at home all I could do was cry. I went to my doctor and told him what happened and what was happening and asked for a referral for therapy. He put me on an antidepressant which helped considerably to function, and I entered therapy. In the meantime, my husband was back home and talked me into going to an open A.A. meeting with him. I was blown away by the openness of those men and women who were talking about how they were learning to handle something I was struggling with – asking for and accepting help. I realized that if Al-Anon was anything like that, I needed to be there!
So I started attending Al-Anon. After a couple of weeks I was even able to sit through a meeting without crying the whole time. One morning on my way to a meeting as I was praying, I asked God why he hadn’t helped me after all this time of asking for help. That’s when I heard him speak, “I’ve been sending other people to help you.” I just hadn’t been accepting them. About 3 months later, I was having dinner with one of my friends when she leaned across the table and said to me, “You need to stop drinking for a while. You’re replacing God with alcohol.” She was right. A few weeks later, at the end of my Christmas leave, I realized that I had drank every single day for 6 days straight. I recognized that as a problem. But it took one more weekend of drinking in January over Dr King’s birthday weekend for me to finally accept it. January 20, 2014 is my sobriety date. That’s the point that I told my friend I thought I might be an alcoholic. She agreed.
It was in Al-Anon that I first realized that my dad acted like an alcoholic. Shortly after my 1st year sober, I started looking at my adult child issues. I kind of scratched the surface when I did my 5th step in with my sponsor. I say “scratched the surface” when I had 20 pages of resentments towards my dad. I read the ACA “Big Red Book” deciding about 3 chapters in that the book was written about me. I contacted one of my paternal cousins to try to find some back story on why Daddy acted like he did. I learned some family history I had never been told, and thus learned that my dad had been abused – and apparently singled out for abuse.
He abused because he was abused. My mom’s grandfather was an alcoholic and she picked up the family adult child behaviors herself. I learned my coping skills from my mom. They served me well as a child to mentally and emotionally survive the abuse and dysfunction. But they hindered my growth, and I passed those same behaviors on to my children.
But I am finding hope and healing, and sharing my journey.