If I Can Get Sober, You Can Get Sober
If I Can Get Sober, You Can Get Sober
By Sarah Houston, SHRM-CP, Human Resource Manager at Master Center for Addiction Medicine
I woke up to bright, fluorescent lights overhead and a familiar pounding in my head. Blood was crusted on my face and my nose and eyes were swollen and sore. I blinked painfully and tried to get my bearings. Where was I this time? I was laying in a bed, an IV was hooked up to my arm and as I slowly looked around the room, I saw a young, short-haired woman sitting at a chair in the corner, writing on a chart and regularly glancing in my direction.
Hospital. It was not the first time. The normal panic and dread and shame flooded me. As did dizziness and nausea. I was still drunk. Drunk and hungover. The usual. Early morning light peeked through the blinds of the window in my room. How did I get here? What did I do this time?
I must have been mumbling aloud because the young woman in the corner (I knew her purpose now—she was my assigned babysitter. The hospital always gave me a babysitter. As an active alcoholic, I was a bit of an escape artist and they blessed me with the requisite “Flight Risk” band and an intern or CNA to watch me during my stay.) informed me, “You were in a car accident.”
Well, that explained the bloodied face. Although I had no memory of being in a car the night before. I desperately searched the archives of my sluggish brain. I had blacked out. I always blacked out. The last thing I remembered was drinking vodka out of a wine glass with my roommate and her date. Classy.
“Who was I with? I don’t remember getting in a car with anyone.”
The young woman stared at me incredulously. “You were driving.”
My panic escalated. The fact that I was the driver was particularly problematic because, I did not own a car. This was very, very bad. I must have taken my roommate’s car—she allowed me to use it for work and grocery store runs and the keys hung on the peg by our front door.
“I have to go!” I cried out. “I have to find out where my roommate’s car is. She’s gonna kill me.”
The babysitter was, understandably, not feeling very magnanimous toward the drunk driver in the room. Expressionless, she slowly told me, “If you leave, I will call the police.”
Well, as was the typical case in the last year or so of my active alcoholism, I do not exactly remember the sequence of events that followed. I somehow snuck past my babysitter, after pulling off the tape on my arm and ripping out my IV needle. I found out my roommate’s car was impounded, so I took the free trolley downtown, retrieved her car from impound (it was scratched, missing a side mirror and a tire was blown out). I rolled it to the mechanic next door, paid to replace the tire and my next move? Still drunk, I drove her car, with a missing mirror, to the nearest ABC store to load up on handles of vodka. I knew it would be my last opportunity to use her vehicle for an alcohol run, and I had to have alcohol.
I somehow did not get a DUI, though it would have been much deserved, and thank you God, I did not hurt or kill anyone, but it was not the first time I drove drunk and it would not be the last. I can still feel the visceral fear and paranoia that accompanied me in the ensuing weeks and months, wondering if I would get a knock at my door from the police. It never came, and my drinking never slowed. It only ever increased.
That was not my bottom, because I was not ready to stop drinking or to ask for help. My bottom came about a year later. Towards the end of my drinking, I drank around the clock. I could not go more than thirty minutes without a drink, for fear of withdrawal symptoms becoming intolerable. I woke up throughout the night to drink. I had not had a regular job in many months, and I was perpetually sick, drunk, and hungover, making me unemployable. I had withdrawn from college several semesters prior (it turns out attending class is a necessity of earning a degree but attending class did not fit into my drinking schedule). My friends had all graduated, moved on, or could no longer stand being around me for any length of time. My family, who knew I was drinking alcoholically and had begged me to get help, had cut me off as best and as lovingly as they could. I was living a tiny, postage stamp-sized life. My landlady was in the process of evicting me, I had a couple of weeks to find a new place, and I had no money to pay the rent I currently owed, let alone a down payment on a new apartment. I had a maxed-out credit card I was not making payments on and two student loans in default. I lived in fear of the phones, the door, the mailman, everything, and everyone. My life was tiny, and I existed only to keep drinking, because I was so physically and emotionally addicted, and so spiritually and morally bankrupt. I could not stop, did not know how to stop, did not want to stop. I truly thought I was the worst alcoholic that ever lived. I vaguely knew of rehab and of Alcoholics Anonymous from family and pop culture references, but I thought (with no real evidence) that I was too bad off—I was beyond help.
In September of 2014, I woke up one morning and vomited. This was unusual, because I had built such a tolerance that alcohol did not make me sick anymore—I walked around with a .25 Blood Alcohol Content as just a baseline to function. The second time I threw up that same day, it was blood. I continued to vomit blood over and over and over for about a week, becoming ever and ever sicker, the sickest I had ever been in my young life. I knew this was the end, because I had watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to understand that bleeding from bodily orifices means death is usually imminent. Given the amount and frequency with which I drank, I also knew it was undoubtedly a result of my alcoholism. Yet, I kept drinking—mostly because I could not stop but also because I knew just enough about alcoholism to understand that if I quit drinking at this point, I would have a grand mal seizure. So, I continued to drink and vomit blood, and slowly, I began experiencing the worst pain of my life in my abdomen. It grew worse and worse by the day, and after about a week, I was in so much pain, I could not stand up. I crawled around my apartment, trying to drink and generally stay alive. It felt like an alien was attempting to rip through my organs.
I finally could not bear the pain anymore. I did not want to die but I did not particularly care to go on in this state, and above all else, I just wanted the pain to stop. I called 911 and, for the first time in my life, I said, “I am an active alcoholic. I drink about a third to a half a handle of vodka a day. I can’t stop throwing up blood and I think I am dying.” I was so desperate for the pain to end that it scared me into honesty for the first time in a very long time.
The ambulance took me to the hospital (I was a frequent flyer at this point). I was in the ER for about 24 hours before I was admitted to the Medical ICU, where I stayed for five days. I stayed a further three days in a step-down unit. When I was first admitted, I was given many examinations. My Blood Alcohol Content on arrival was .39. I had bleeding esophageal varices, which can cause hemorrhage and death, and acute pancreatitis, which was the source of my extreme pain. I had confused my body with the toxins from alcohol to such a degree that my pancreas began secreting digestive enzymes into itself rather than into my intestines. My pancreas was cannibalizing itself. I promise you; it is one hundred times more painful than it sounds. I also had alcoholic hepatitis, extreme dehydration, extreme malnutrition, and multisystem organ failure. I was jaundiced and would be yellow and bruised for months to come. I do not remember the five days when I was going through acute delirium tremens in the ICU. I am grateful I do not remember. But the hospital called my parents, and they were there to bear witness to their daughter nearly dying of alcoholism. I sometimes think of what I put them through. My father told me later that my mother did not sleep for four years, waiting for the call that I was missing, dead or dying. And she got that very call on October 2nd, 2014.
My sobriety date is October 3rd, 2014. I came to several days later in the hospital and had my first memory of being sober after two years or so of heavy, constant drinking. I was sick, weak, and scared but I remember the miracle of being sober. I was grateful, and I was so desperate to stay sober, that I was (begrudgingly) willing to take direction. I also was out of options in many ways. This was the last house on the block. The doctors told me if I had one more drink, ever, I would die. Frankly, I have no interest in testing that theory. I did not want to go to treatment, but I had nowhere else to go, and I had negative thirteen dollars in the bank, no car and I could not even walk without assistance. So, I went to treatment. In treatment, I learned about alcoholism and recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous. I found out I was, in fact, not the worst alcoholic, and many other alcoholics drank just like I did. I was not a bad person, I had a disease, and now I had a choice to treat that disease. I no longer had to live that postage stamp-sized life. I could be happy, joyous, and free. Women from the town brought AA meetings to the treatment center. I learned a little bit about the Twelve Steps and a spiritual program of recovery. I slowly gained some strength and though my head would be foggy a full year, it was enough every day to not be drunk and hungover and wondering what I had done in a blackout the night before.
When I was discharged from my treatment program, I had been advised to go to an AA meeting everyday for 90 days. I went to a meeting almost every day for a year. I also went to counseling weekly. I got a sponsor in AA and started working the steps. It has been six years, and life has had its ups and downs, but through working a program of recovery and having a connection with my Higher Power, I have not had a drink. Thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way, I have a beautiful and full life today. I worked my way through school and graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Business, with a concentration in Human Resource Management in August of 2020. Back in 2014, I had a credit score of 300 (yeah, I did not know they went that low either), and it has now reached 750. I have two cats who are my sweet babies and a gift to me every day, and I am married to the most wonderful man, and I am so grateful to say, he has never seen me drink. I have a full-time career that gives me fulfillment, in a field that I love. I have friends and family in my life, and I enjoy spending time with them that I can enjoy and remember.
If you are struggling and feel that nothing will ever change, I am here to tell you that it absolutely can. If I can get sober, you can get sober. And there are many, many people who care and want to help you on your journey of recovery. It just keeps getting better for me, every day, and I know that will hold true for anyone who has a desire to stop drinking or using.