I hope everyone is settling into the new year nicely and, if you’re having trouble…. FEAR NOT! Here’s the first WHWQ! of 2019 to help ease you into things, and I’m ecstatic that Talia’s story is the kick off for a new year of queer recovery stories. I truly feel that every human reading this will find something in her story that they relate to.
But, as LeVar Burton says, don’t take my word for it!
It is still somewhat unbelievable to me that I am sober, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that for most of my drinking life I didn’t think I had a problem. I thought of myself as a “social drinker” and no matter how many times alcohol & alcohol related problems would disrupt my life, I always seemed to shrug it off or insist that alcohol had nothing to do with it. From a DUI to waking up (many times) in my bed covered in vomit or pee, I just kept telling myself that these things weren’t that bad.
It’s difficult to know how or where to begin, but I feel it’s important to mention that I grew up in “the rooms” or “the halls” as they say in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) alongside my mother. My mom is a recovering alcoholic who has now been sober for 43 years in April. Seeing as I am 38 years old, I never saw my mom active in her alcoholism. I did, however, see her “active” in her mental illness (bipolar, which she refused to take medication for) as well as a variety of other non-substance based addictions, such as sex & love addiction & bizarrely, an addiction, it seemed, to recovery groups for her myriad of addictions! So, as it turned out for me, the youngest of three children, all conceived by different fathers, none of whom were regularly present, I found myself playing quietly in many candle-lit rooms filled with cigarette smoke, coffee, and recovering alcoholics, telling their stories around various tables, in churches, basements, and rented rooms around the island I call home. I would join in the hand holding and prayer at the end of every meeting, and knew all the token slogans by heart…. “It works if you work it,” “Keep coming back,” “This too shall pass,” “A drug is a drug is a drug,” “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” etc. I grew up hearing horror stories about alcohol and being terrified of it and pretty much anyone that drank. My father drank, in fact. But not much in front of me, and only beer. Years later, after I chose to stop speaking to him of my own accord at age 12, I found out that he too was an addict (apparently he also used drugs, which I was not aware of) & had also gotten sober at some point after I had severed ties with him. So, needless to say, alcoholism runs in my family. On both sides. In many forms.
But let’s get back to me, the self-proclaimed “social drinker” who didn’t have a problem. Although I do not remember specifically my first drink, It was somewhere around age 13, in 8th grade. Throughout high school I would go through periods of not drinking at all, due to extreme anxiety and panic attacks, that i was attempting to manage by exerting control over all things I felt I could control: my alcohol use being one of those things. When not completely abstaining I would party hard, getting wasted with my friends as much as possible. In general I was an all-or-nothing type person in all things. In school I got A’s or F’s, in love I was utterly devoted and madly in love or a screaming, crying, controlling mess that cheated on all my partners, and when it came to drinking I was strictly 100% sober or I was wasted. I also used my being drunk as an excuse to be promiscuous, as well as “curious.” The first time I kissed a girl I was drunk, and I often used it as an excuse to “experiment” with more than one of my straight girl friends. In fact, I had a close girl friend that I would hook up with throughout all of high school when we were both drunk and she didn’t go home with a boy. She was adamant that she was straight…. when sober. This would prove to be a recurring theme for me throughout my life; being the girl my so-called “straight” girl friends would hook up with when drunk. Looking back, it makes me feel sad and a bit ashamed, but it was all part of what alcohol did for me: masked things I didn’t want to feel or face and afforded me experiences that seemed impossible when sober, such as a seemingly vast amount of confidence (not real, of course) and a slew of sexual relationships with “straight’ girls.
My anxiety, depression, and panic attacks continued to be an issue not just in high school, but throughout my life and as I struggled with those things, I would do what I did in high school and at times, stop drinking, in hopes it would help. There are countless instances of me “losing my shit” when drunk and having panic attacks or harming myself (I was a cutter for many years) and subsequently deciding I should stop drinking for a while. These times were always short lived and soon I would go back to drinking “socially” until I was back to drinking almost constantly. But, it seemed, to me at least, that when i wanted to, I could (and often would) stop for periods at a time, and this somehow proved to me that drinking clearly wasn’t a problem for me. My reasoning was that if i could stop, I wasn’t addicted.
My drinking life was over 20 years long, so I could list many instances of times I should have stopped but didn’t, times I was scared by my own drinking or behavior while drinking, times I got in trouble because of my drinking, or times my drinking was mentioned as being a potential ‘issue” within close relationships. But I feel the most significant times like that were near the end of my drinking, when I was nearing my “bottom” as they say. Again, it’s difficult to know when, where, and how exactly my decent to the bottom began. Was it when I broke up with my ex of many years, had a miscarriage, moved off the island and began to drink alone (something I had not done previously) and at all times of the day (I was once a strictly night time drinker) and then “needed” a certain number of drinks to DRIVE home in the dark, because of my anxiety about driving at night? Or was it after that, when I decided to move back home and promptly got a DUI (my first arrest) and had to spend an anxiety-ridden night in a small holding cell? Or was it after that, when I was in mandatory DUI class and met a much younger than me guy who was in a serious relationship but enjoyed having occasional sex with me, when he would come over to retrieve my Ativan that I so willingly gave him in order for him to give me a small bit of attention? Or was it after that even, when I began to sleep with his mentally ill brother who was so addicted to opioids that my alcoholism was practically invisible? Or perhaps it was later, when I began to throw up in my bed, pee my pants, and black out almost every weekend? Or the second time I was arrested, for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, for hitting a girl over the head with a beer bottle….I’m not exactly sure, but somewhere along the way it became clear to me that alcohol was not helping anymore (if it ever had) and that I needed to stop, not just “slow down” or “take a break” for a bit, but stop all together. Although, looking back now, I see that I still wasn’t completely convinced I was an alcoholic. I just knew I couldn’t do what I was doing any more.
And that brings us to my last night of drinking. It was not a special night. No different than any other really. I went out with a friend and we drank. I was mostly a wine drinker, so I was drinking wine, and then champagne (for some unknown reason.) At some point, the night becomes a blur for me. I vividly remember standing at the bar, with a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, talking to someone. But I cannot for the life of me remember what we were talking about. Not one thing. And that’s the last thing I remember in any detail. Apparently I seemed fine, and then I wasn’t….which was becoming a bit of a pattern for me at that time. I would seem completely fine/sober one minute and the next be absolutely hammered, slurring my words and unsteady on my feet. This was one of those nights apparently. And as the night was ending, a friend (and someone I had been sexually involved with in the past) noticed how drunk I was and insisted on driving me home. Apparently I claimed to be fine to drive, but thankfully he wouldn’t allow me to drive myself, and he drove my car to his house. I then walked in to his bedroom and promptly passed out, face down on his bed, fully clothed. A short time later he heard me retching. I was throwing up in my sleep. He had to hold my head up and my hair back as i vomited all over his bed and myself. He then took my clothes and the bedding off the bed, placing my clothes in a plastic bag and his bedding in the laundry, wrapped me in a blanket and went to sleep as far away from me as he could. When I woke up the next morning my head was pounding and I was confused as to where I was and why I was naked. My friend asked if I was okay and then proceeded to tell me what happened the night before. I laughed and apologized, not fully realizing the gravity of what could have happened to me had this friend not seen me and intervened. As I got up to put on some clothes (his, as mine were covered in puke) I noticed I was soaking wet. It became clear that I had also peed the bed. I was embarrassed, but also, still largely in denial. I said thanks to my friend, got in my car and went home to bed. I was sick for 2 days. I puked and cried, and produced no urine for almost 48 hours.I thought I may have to go to the emergency room. Thankfully, by the end of the second day I was able to hold down some food and I finally peed.
The next day I was at my mom’s place with my older brother, who had been in and out of recovery for a while himself due to an addiction to pain pills as well as alcohol. My family had no idea how much I drank. Compared to both of my older siblings who had significant substance abuse issues, my mostly-hidden alcohol abuse flew under the radar. I was a successful preschool teacher with a college degree, full-time job, and lots of friends. Although I had been arrested twice, they were far enough apart that they seemed like rare, isolated incidents that could have happened to anyone. I kept my alcohol abuse under wraps and was never drunk in front of my mother. So when, on that day in late March 2016 I said out loud to my mother and brother that I thought I needed to stop drinking, they were both a bit taken aback. I explained that things had gotten a bit out of control lately and I wanted to stop for a while. My brother automatically suggested I go to an AA meeting, which I flat out refused. The next day however I found myself driving to a noon meeting, coming in and sitting next to my big brother for the first of many meetings I would attend. I went to one, then another, then another. The first couple I just listened. Then there was the meeting where I said, “I’m Talia and I MIGHT be an alcoholic,” to which I got many head nods, some smiles, and a few quiet laughs… cuz, come on, not many people find themselves in AA meetings that are not alcoholics! Within a couple weeks I was admitting I was an alcoholic, collecting numbers, and counting days. This was the beginning. If you had told me then that I would never drink again I would not have believed you. If you had told me then that I would get past 90 days, 6 months, a year, 2 years I would have probably laughed in your face. It was hard and depressing and awful at times. But it was also a huge relief. And sometimes, it was amazing.
For the first year of my sobriety I did it the AA way. I got a sponsor, I attempted to do the steps (I never got past step 2) and I attended countless meetings. I shared my story, I made coffee, I cleaned up, I read the “Big Book” and I collected my monthly coins. I thought the best, and perhaps the only way to get and stay sober was through AA. But after I got my year coin, I felt different. I dreaded going to meetings and when I did go, I didn’t always feel better, like my sponsor insisted I would. Eventually my sponsor and I “broke up” because I was not willing to do the steps. I could not say I believed in God and I refused to pray. After that, I pretty much stopped going to meetings all together.
I have now been sober for 2 years and 8 months. I occasionally miss the taste of my favorite wine or the free feeling I felt after that first glass, but that’s only rarely now. I like myself now more than I ever have in my entire life. I still have anxiety, depression, and occasional panic attacks, but they are MUCH less frequent and feel more manageable, as does most of my life these days. I stay sober by staying connected to people I love, by going to yoga and therapy, getting acupuncture monthly, and when needed, reminding myself how bad it got for me. I don’t find that I need, want, or miss AA meetings, so I no longer attend. But knowing it will always be there, when or if I need it is a comfort to me, and I met some amazing, kind, compassionate people in those rooms who I am eternally grateful for. When people ask me now how I do it, I don’t know what to say. Whatever I say will feel like not enough or too much of the story, my story. I know I never want to go back to how I felt at the end of my drinking. I know I never want to be that person again, although I love her and know she (I) was doing the best she could at the time. But i am 100% a different person now. Or, to put it more accurately, a better version of myself; I am now who I was always meant to be, but who was drowning in alcohol and self-pity, among other things. I am so grateful to be alive, sober, and thriving. Not every day is easy. Far from it. But I know that drinking wouldn’t make anything any easier, and would more than likely make things much, much worse. So I stay sober. And I attempt to stay sane. And I am grateful.
Talia is a pansexual woman who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, MA – where she was born and raised. She’s a bookseller at an independent bookstore on the island. If you’d like to keep up to date with what Talia has going one, follow her on Instagram: @talialune
Are you a queer or trans person in any kind of recovery or who is working on recovery, even though you may not have many (or any) consecutive days? Do you have a story to tell that you think others might relate to? Send me an email with WHWQ in the subject and we can chat about you contributing to We’re Here, We’re Queer!