I have hidden this from everyone but my closest friends and family for 14 years. Today, I share it with you.
Once again, I am terrified to hit “post”. I am so deeply ashamed of my behaviour that I can hardly believe you will know about it in a few minutes.
But it is time.
And I am tired.
Tired of the shame. Tired of the hiding, the avoiding, the pain.
So here it is.
But before you read it, before you judge, please remember one thing; I am no longer that girl.
And I don’t live there anymore.
“I say, the universe speaks to us always…first, it whispers. And a whisper usually in your life feels like…hmm, that’s odd; or hmmm…that doesn’t make any sense. Or hmm…is that right? It just really feels like that… it’s that…it’s that kind of subtle.
And, if you don’t pay attention to the whisper, it gets louder and louder and louder and I say it’s like getting thumped upside the head; you don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head--you don’t pay attention to that, the brick wall falls down.
That is the pattern that I see in my life and so many other people‘s lives, and so I ask people ‘what are the whispers’; what’s whispering to you now?…and can you catch it in the whisper?” ~ Oprah Winfrey
It is July 29th, 2002, and I am leaving the office for the day. I am the head of business development for an executive recruiting firm. I love my work and I love my boss and I love my colleagues. It is a family-run business and I am treated like one of their own. They have given me a large, comfortable office, a multi-city territory, an amazing support staff and they are grooming me to become a partner in the business.
It’s a Monday and I am on the phone with my Mom. At the end of our conversation, I tell her I am heading out to have dinner with a friend. She says “be careful tonight”. I get a funny feeling in my gut when she says it, but I tell her “I will” and we hang up.
I think about her words for a minute. I know what "be careful" means. It means, "don't drink too much."
I shake it off and grab my bag and I head out the door singing, "Have a great night!" to my boss.
I drive to the restaurant, which is a stone’s throw from my apartment. I am seated on the patio. I’ve never actually gone out with this woman before. She and I have been friendly and have enjoyed dinners together in our homes, but we’ve never gone out somewhere socially together, just the two of us.
She and her husband live next door to my boyfriend, although I just ended the relationship with him a few days ago. I told him that I just didn’t feel we had the kind of "connection" I wanted, but the truth is, there was more than that.
The truth is, he had started bugging me about my drinking. Nothing irritates me more than someone bugging me about my drinking. That is my pattern. That’s when I leave. To be honest, I do it as much for them as for me.
I know, on some level, that my drinking is out of control. But the denial keeps pushing that truth down so deep that I can hardly hear the whisper.
My friend arrives and we sit on the patio drinking wine and smoking cigarettes and talking about our jobs and our relationships. It is a beautiful summer evening complete with a cloudless blue sky. It’s a lovely restaurant, one I know well, and we order appetizers of calamari and bruschetta bread. We finish the first bottle of cold, crisp Pinot Grigio, the best one I have ever tasted, and we order another.
We talk about me ending my relationship. I tell her that although I really care for him, something just doesn’t feel right...we just don't connect the way I want to. She’s supportive but disappointed; she and I have developed a nice friendship over the year and a half I’ve been dating him. I’ve been staying at his place a lot, and she doesn’t want to lose having me close by. Plus, she thinks we are good together.
We finish the other bottle of wine. I become melancholy. I start to re-think my decision to end the relationship. I suggest that maybe I am making a big mistake. Maybe we just need to talk and work it out. Maybe he is the right guy for me. Maybe I'm just looking for something that doesn’t even exist. She is supportive; acting as a good friend would.
The Brick Wall
We pay the bill and realize that we’ve almost run out of cigarettes. We head off on foot to the store nearby to get some more. We leave the store and walk over to the parking lot. I have a moment where I know the right decision is to just head home. I am drunk and my boyfriend won’t want to see me now. Plus, I know I shouldn’t drive. My apartment is on the same street as the restaurant. I can walk home in less than 10 minutes.
The right decision is to walk home.
But this is not the decision I make.
I decide I need to work things out with him. I tell my friend I will follow her home. It's a twenty minute drive. We both get in our cars.
We pull out of the parking lot. I’m behind her. We turn out onto the street; my street. She is about to go through a light that is turning yellow. She decides to stop; I don’t react in time. I slam on my brakes but still hit the back of her car. Bang! A guy hits the back of my car. Thunk.
Shit. Oh my God. Oh shit! Oh my God!! Oh My GOD!!!! No, No, No, No, NOOOOOOO!!!!!!
He gets out and determines that there is no damage to either of our cars and before I even realize what he’s doing, he gets back into his car and takes off.
I get out of my car. My friend is assessing the damage to her trunk. There is very little damage to my car and a small amount to hers. We begin discussing our options, but within moments, the police are there. The accident happened across from the police station. They heard the crash.
My world is about to change in every single possible way I can think of and every single possible way I can’t even imagine.
It happens that fast. It happens in a moment. Life happens in moments.
The rest is a blur. Everything happens so fast and yet it also feels like slow motion. I get a breathalyzer. I am arrested for impaired driving. I am handcuffed and placed in the backseat of the cruiser. My car gets impounded. My boyfriend and my friend’s husband come together to pick her up and drive her car home. I get taken to the police station. I get finger printed and processed. I stay most of the night in the holding cell. Early the next morning, my boyfriend picks me up. He takes me back to his place. I call in to work and leave voice mail that I am sick. I crawl into his bed and curl up into the fetal position. I rock incessantly, sobbing uncontrollably.
He has to get to work.
I am alone.
The blinds are closed, the room is dark and I can’t stop bawling my eyes out. “What the hell have I done? What the hell am I going to do? Oh My GOD!!!!!!”
Every time I think of what I am going to have to do, a flood of emotion washes over me and I curl my body up even tighter and crawl under the covers even lower. “What the hell have I done??? What the HELL am I supposed to do?????”
I begin to think of everything I am going to have to do. My work requires me to travel...daily. I am going to have to sell my car and quit my job. How am I supposed to quit my job? A job that I love with people whom I adore?? Where am I going to live? I can’t afford my apartment if I don’t have a job!! I live paycheque to paycheque, I have no savings and I am in debt. What the hell am I going to tell my parents? Am I going to have to move back home? What am I going to tell my friends?? What the hell have I done to my life??
I just want it to be yesterday again. I will do it better the second time. I will listen to my mother and be careful this time.
I just need a do-over.
I sob and I scream and I cry and in all of the tears and Kleenex, I realize that I am an alcoholic. Only an alcoholic could get themself into this much trouble. I have known it for a while, but I haven’t truly admitted it until this moment. I know I can’t drink anymore. How can I?? After all of this, how can I ever drink again?? “Damnit!!! Noooooo!!!! I can’t quit drinking!!! How can I quit drinking??? How do I do life without drinking???"
Who am I without alcohol????
It is the one relationship I truly care about. The one relationship I can’t give up.
Drinking is what makes me…me. When I drink, I feel normal. I feel good. I feel right. I can talk to people and be sociable and funny and relaxed. I need alcohol. It is who I am.
Who AM I without alcohol????
I am 29 years old and my entire world has been shattered. I cry until I can’t cry anymore. And then I think of everything I am going to have to do and the tears keep coming; big, fat tears streaming down my cheeks.
Hours go by like this.
I can’t understand what I can do other than kill myself. It is the only way out. I can’t imagine everything I will have to endure to get myself out of this mess. I am not strong enough. I am not capable of sorting this out by myself. I have no choice but to end it. How am I going to do it?
There are no guns in the house. I can’t imagine hanging myself. I go to the kitchen and stare at the knives. I visualize stabbing myself in the heart with the butcher knife. I close my eyes and imagine how hard it will be to push the blade into my chest far enough for it to stop my heart. I hear the knife pushing through my flesh and cracking my chest plate. I cringe imagining how I will be able to go through with it. I pick up the knife. My hands are shaking. I touch the tip of it to my chest. I hear a voice say “Put the knife down. Now.” I throw the knife down and run back to bed, screaming and sobbing. “What the HELL am I supposed to do??????? How am I supposed to handle this???? I can’t handle this!!!!!”
I imagine taking pills, but neither of us took anything more than aspirin or Tylenol, and I don’t want to end up in the hospital getting my stomach pumped. I just want it to end. I just want this all to be a bad dream and I want to wake up and have my life back. “I WANT MY LIFE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
But I know, deep down, that my life will never, ever be the same. I have fundamentally changed the course of my life and it will never, ever be the same as it was. Not ever.
My boyfriend comes home at lunch. He pulls the covers off of my head and looks me in the eye. With tears streaming down my face I tell him I have to kill myself. I tell him I have no choice.
He stares down at me and matter-of-factly states the following: “You didn’t hurt anyone else but yourself. Now suck it up. You are not going to kill yourself. You will figure this out.” He will have to repeat this mantra to me many, many more times before I get myself on track. But his words are true, and I know it. Although I have done a very, very bad thing, and I have a lot of cleaning up to do, this mess is mine alone. I haven’t hurt anyone else but myself, and I don’t have to die to make it better. I just have to get better. And so I cry and scream some more.
And then I get to work.
Managing The Crisis
When my friend and I talk a few days later, I ask why she wasn’t charged with impaired driving, as well. I find out that the cops had decided that they “only wanted to deal with one” and they told her to count herself lucky. They wouldn’t let her drive, so she had called her husband to pick her up and take her home. I remember the look on the guys’ faces when they saw me in the back of the cruiser.
Looks of disappointment and sadness...and pity.
“How was she free to go??!” I have anger about this and I tell my boyfriend how unfair it is that I am the only one who has to deal with this shit. "It’s so unfair!! Why me???!!! How does she get to continue on with her life like nothing happened??!"
It will take me many months to release this anger; to know, deep down, that this wasn’t her lesson to learn. She didn’t have an addiction to alcohol and she was only an occasional drinker. Having a drink and driving was way out of character for her. It was due to my influence that she drank that night, and although this doesn’t make it right, and I couldn’t believe the cops chose to treat the situation this way, I came to a place where I realized that I was the lucky one; I got to change my whole life and become better from the experience. But it took a while for me to get there. Our friendship couldn’t handle the stress, and we saw less and less of each other. We were still friendly, and she was supportive of my new life, but our relationship became strained. When I moved to Ottawa, we never spoke again. They say people are in our lives for “a season, a reason or a lifetime”.
She was definitely there for a reason. And I am deeply grateful for her.
I get out of bed and begin to pace. What do I need to do first? What is the next step to take? I need to go and get my car out of the impound lot. Ok, my boyfriend can help me with that. That evening, he gets my car back to his place and it sits on his driveway. We sell it in the coming weeks.
Ok, what’s next. I have to quit my job, and I don’t want them to know about my arrest. I have way too much pride and I can’t imagine them thinking anything but good feelings towards me. They have become family to me, and I love them deeply. I can’t stand the thoughts of disappointing them. Ok, so I need to quit my job. What can I tell them that will make sense? I will go back to school. I will tell them I am enrolling in business school and so I am quitting to prepare for college. I tell them I will give them two weeks but that I won’t do any more outside meetings. I will just wrap up my paperwork and make phone calls letting my clients know I am leaving, and how their files will be handled. My boyfriend drives me into work each day for the next two weeks. He drops me off away from the front doors so that no one will see I am not driving.
Ok. What’s next? I need to move closer to the college. My boyfriend offers to let me move in. This man that I didn’t feel I had “enough of a connection with” will prove to be the single-most important person in my life up until that time. I will be forever grateful for his love, his support and his steady presence as I navigated my way through the darkest and most tumultuous time of my life. He lives close to the college but I’ll still have to take the bus. God, taking the bus makes me want to die. I haven’t taken the bus since I was a teenager. It's humiliating to even think about. I call my landlord and ask if I can give only 30 days’ notice to end my lease. We are on good terms, and so he agrees.
Ok, what's next? I have to enroll in business school. I call my Dad to tell him what I want to do and to ask if there is still money in my education account. “Yes”. But he is concerned about the amount of math in the program. I have never done well in math. I tell him I can handle it. I haven’t told my parents about my arrest yet, and so he doesn’t yet know how determined I am to make my plans work. He agrees to cover my tuition. I contact the school to enroll. The program is full. I can’t begin until the January intake. I am disappointed but I enroll. I am in.
Ok, what’s next? I decide to find a serving job close to my boyfriend's house so that I can pay rent and cover my living expenses. I walk up the street and into the local tavern, a busy restaurant and event venue. With my resume in hand, I get an interview with the owner’s son and am hired on the spot.
Ok, what’s next? I have to tell my parents. We call and tell them we want to come over. We arrive and sit on the deck. My dad is having a beer and my Mom is drinking wine. For the first time, almost ever, I don’t have a drink. I can’t make small talk. I just have to tell them what has happened.
It is now Thursday, three days since my arrest. I start by telling them I am an alcoholic. It is the first time I have said the words out loud, and I begin to cry. They don’t know what to say. I explain to them that I have been arrested for impaired driving and that I know I can no longer drink. We talk about what happened. They are visibly upset and we all smoke. They ask what I am going to do about my job. I tell them I have already quit and that I am finishing out my two weeks. I explain that I have enrolled in school but that I can’t start until January. I thank them for paying for it and promise to work hard.
I explain that I have given notice at my apartment and am moving in with my boyfriend. They ask him how he feels about this. He says he is going to support me any way he can. They thank him. My parents sit quietly for a few minutes, looking at one another, letting it all sink in. My father speaks. “I have something I’d like to share with you”. My father admits to suffering with depression. He has recently gone on medication. I tell him I am sorry and ask how long he has felt this way. We talk for a while about when it all started, and I admit to noticing a change in his behaviour over the last several months. We hug. My father comes close to crying. I am crying; both for myself and the shame I feel in disappointing my parents, and for him in having to expose himself and share something so personal and painful.
I look back now and realize that I couldn’t have been as supportive as I'd wanted to be, mainly because for the first time in my life I was putting myself first. I was in a desperate situation and I was in crisis mode. I was handling more than I ever thought I could and I was managing my situation and my emotions the only way I knew how.
I couldn’t take on any more than what I was dealing with in my own life. I feel sad that I couldn’t be of better service to my dad during a very difficult time in his life, but I needed to don my own oxygen mask.
We leave and I go about the business of managing my new life. I move out of my apartment and into my boyfriend's place. I paint and decorate the house and build a few things like an island for the kitchen. I drop weight immediately after quitting drinking and so I use it as the impetus to start nourishing my body and exercising. I begin reading about health and fitness, sparking a new passion in me that I had never uncovered before. I start my new job and work full time until I begin school. Once school starts, I immerse myself in the learning and go on a personal journey at college that, alone, could fill a book.
It will be a long time before I realize that the "end" of my life is indeed the beginning of it, my rebirth, and that the entire experience will end up being the greatest lesson and blessing of my life.
But it comes.
My alcoholism is a gift. Sobriety, my greatest teacher.
YOU are a gift. Thank you for being here to listen and to be with me as I reveal more of my journey. I know I have disappointed many of you reading this. I know you will judge me for drinking and driving, and it is this shame that kept me locked up inside myself for years before I decided to live my life out loud and share my truths with the world.
But part of living out loud means facing judgment and criticism. I understand that, and although it is terrifying for a sensitive person like me, I have strengthened myself through my vulnerability and I also know there are many of you out there who will see yourselves in my words; who will judge less harshly because perhaps you’ve done things, too, that cause you to feel shame.
I hope me sharing my story allows you to release some of your shame. It holds us back in every area of our lives. Please allow me to remind you that no matter what you’ve done, you are loved. Your are held. And you are worthy. Because you are born.
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.
P.S. As someone who used to drink every day and drive every day, it was inevitable that I would get caught for drinking and driving. But I know that a lot of people believe that just a glass or two with dinner is ok. I felt like "everyone has a glass or two of wine with a meal and then drives. It's fine!" It's really not ok. It's not fine. When we are behind the wheel, let's make sure we aren't under the influence of any drugs so that we can get where we are going safely...and let's keep everyone else on the road safe, as well. I don't want you to ever have to go through what I have gone through. I love you too much. And although I needed my rock bottom to change my life, if I had hurt or killed someone else, my story wouldn't have unfolded the way it has. Of that I am certain.
P.P.S. I would love to hear from you if this story resonated. Please let me know in the comments below. If you have a shameful story and you don't feel comfortable sharing below, feel free to email me at Sarah@SarahTalksFood.com. Remember, our secrets keep us sick.
P.P.P.S To learn more about my story while also kicking a sugar habit, check out my new book, The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge, where I share more of myself and how I used health and fitness to overcome my addictions to alcohol and sugar, while also developing a greater sense of self-trust, self-respect and self-love. I would be honoured to help you do the same.
P.P.P.P.S. If we aren't already friends on Facebook , let's connect! We can also connect on Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you should! That way, you won’t miss anything. For joining, you get my personal meal plan, shopping list, and a week’s worth of easy, tasty recipes. http://sarahtalksfood.com/