I love the show “Intervention.” I’ve been watching it for years – long before I even fathomed that I could be an alcoholic myself. In a sick way, the show was comforting to me. Those people – with their DUIs and their hospitalizations and broken families – they are alcoholics. And if that’s what an alcoholic looks like, I’m certainly not one.
I remember doing a physical exam before starting my rehab program. They do this to determine if someone needs to go to the hospital to detox first, as alcohol withdrawal can be incredibly dangerous. As they took my vitals, I told them, “I definitely don’t need to go to detox. I’m not physically dependent on alcohol or something.” And I was right, physically I was fine. After all, only alcoholics need to detox. I wasn’t sure what I was, but I sure as hell wasn’t one of them.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and I’d both embraced the alcoholic label and fully committed to sobriety. But today, after nearly six alcohol-free years, I still sometimes find myself struggling to relate. I devour books about other women getting sober – “quit lit,” as my favorite sober Instagrammer calls those – but often times their stories feel so far from my own.
They write of nights, weeks, months in jail. They share anecdotes of waking up in hospitals, crashing cars, and losing spouses and jobs. They discuss drinking while pregnant and attempting suicide. In a way, I feel like I don’t have enough alcoholic “street cred.” Sure, I’d skipped a few early morning college classes because of hangovers, and yeah, I’d called in sick a few times to my first real life job. I’d disappointed my family and my friends plenty of times. I definitely found myself drinking more and more. But those stories other women recounted that had me on the edge of my seat? I had none of those.
When I hear another dramatic story of a fellow alcoholic hitting rock bottom, I always go back to a conversation I had with a therapist during my intensive outpatient program. She said I had a list of things that I can call my Not Yets.
I haven’t gotten a DUI. At least, not yet.
I haven’t had my stomach pumped due to alcohol poisoning. Yet.
I haven’t ruined a marriage or hurt my future children. Yet.
She encouraged me to be brutally honest with myself and consider where my drinking was headed. Would I suddenly wake up and be able to drink normally? Would I stop letting alcohol hurt my relationships? Would I magically be able to take a sip and not always want more? I knew the answer to all of those questions was no. I just knew that my brain was different than that of a normal drinker’s. And I knew that, even if I’d evaded many of those dire consequences so far, I wouldn’t for much longer. They would catch up with me one day. They were simply my Not Yets.
A couple weeks ago, I was speaking with a sober mentor with whom I’d recently connected. She was asking me about my story, and I debriefed her on what led to me getting sober: the panic attacks, the shame, the drunken fights, and ultimately the intervention. I said something along the lines of, “I’m just so glad I had no major legal or medical consequences.” She responded, “Yeah, you don’t have to hit the lowest rock bottom to get sober.” This really struck a chord with me, as the first page of nearly every recovery story seems to begin with the bender from hell that changed everything.
I’ve realized that a person’s rock bottom doesn’t have to look like an episode of “Intervention”. You don’t need to have a criminal history or alcohol withdrawal shakes to ask for help. You’re incredibly lucky if it doesn’t come to that before you wake up.
My personal rock bottom looked like a lackluster job performance, familial discord, tenuous friendships, and a lack of self-respect. It looked like morning after embarrassment and unhealthy relationships with men. I could’ve continued comparing myself to the people I watched on “Intervention,” and telling myself that I’m so different than them. Instead, I started comparing my drinking self to the woman I so desperately wanted to be. I knew giving up alcohol was my only way to become that woman.
I chose my rock bottom, and that was the place where I’d had enough. If you have a voice in your head whispering to you (or maybe yelling at you) that your drinking isn’t normal, just know that you don’t have to wait and see if things get worse. You don’t have to wait to check off all those Not Yets. Choose to make your current circumstances your rock bottom, and it’s onwards and upwards from there.