Normies and newbies often ask me how I first got sober and if I really needed to go to the Betty Ford Center. Of course they’re coming at the question from two different points of view.
After all, normies want to know why couldn’t I just stop drinking and using drugs (Yes—it was the ’80s and ’90s, I worked in the entertainment business, and drugs were involved!)
Newbies, on the other hand, marvel that I was able to pull myself together long enough to step through the doors of a rehab center.
The truth is that none of it was easy. It wasn’t easy to stop and it wasn’t easy to go to Betty Ford. (Once I got to rehab though, it was an amazing, life-changing experience! More on that later.) I tried stopping on my own a million times.
Towards the end of my drinking and using days, when my husband Jim had left me and gotten sober on his own, I promised myself every night that tomorrowwould be a new day. I would not pick up no matter what. But then I would wake up with a hangover, and I’d need a glass of wine and several Advil to get rid of the pounding headache, plus a few lines to perk myself up enough to start my day. Then off to work I’d go, where I’d put in a solid, productive day at the office, hit the liquor store and/or drug dealer on the way home and spend a lonely night at home (with my two beagles and a stray cat) using until I passed out. Wash, rinse, and repeat and that was my weekday schedule. On the weekends, I would binge all day and night, alone, except for the pets to keep me company.
This went on for several months. It’s rather surprising that no one at work (where I supervised an office of 12 employees) ever noticed, but I guess you could say I was a highly functioning alcoholic and I never actually used at the office. I drank like everyone else at company parties but I never got drunk. I called in sick a lot but I still finished my work from home. Maybe everyone just looked the other way in those days, but apparently, they were truly shocked when they learned of my alcoholism.
The turning point came when my mother finally confronted me. She had noticed some odd behavior of mine on New Year’s Eve and asked me the next day, “Were you ‘on’ something?” Of course I denied it at the time but her question nagged at me for weeks. Meanwhile, I’d been going to AA meetings sporadically while continuing to drink and use every day and also had a sponsor whom I was lying to and dodging all the time. So I knew the jig was up soon—it was just a matter of time.
I called my brother to test the waters. “I think I have a problem with alcohol.” He laughed. “No one in the family will be surprised to hear you say that, Alison.” I took that as encouragement to ’fess up to my Mom. I called her and within an hour and a half she was at my side at an AA meeting—even though she was not an alcoholic. Understand, my Mom was the Queen of Co-dependents. She loved me unconditionally, but as a co-dependent her happiness was all wrapped up in my happiness. She couldn’t be happy unless I was too. (In a future post, I will talk about dysfunctional family dynamics.)
Now that the family knew, the next question was what do I do about my marriage and my work. Jim had pretty much said he would not live with me unless I was sober. I felt I couldn’t get sober unless I quit my job. I really, really thought my job was the root of all my problems. It was too stressful. My boss was evil and demanding. My employees couldn’t do their jobs and I was always picking up the pieces for them. I could go on and on. I wanted to quit but something inside me told me to ask for advice from a colleague who used to be a lawyer with the company. And boy, did he give me the best advice of my life!
“Don’t quit,” he said. “You have a disease. It’s the company’s responsibility to give you time-off to get help. They may even pay for part of your treatment through your health insurance. And you might think differently about your job after treatment. You might like it better. Call Roger, your mentor, and he will help you.”
So I did call Roger, who was like my Dad—he was my mentor, not my boss. And guess what: Within 48 hours I found myself driving to the Betty Ford Center thanks to that advice.
In my next post, I will talk about what it’s like at rehab. It’s not like what you see in the movies. It’s not what you read in the tabloids. It’s not a spa and it’s not a hotel. It’s 100 percent better and I can’t wait to tell you all about it, so stay tuned.
And finally, I’d like to give my husband, Jim (spoiler alert: yes, we stayed together!), a belated Happy Birthday for turning 20—that’s 20 years of sobriety—on January 1.
If anyone else would ever like me to give a shout-out to them or to a loved one on their sobriety birthdates, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.