by Kate Thorp-Hickner
as told to Julie Weingarden Dubin
I don’t remember my life without alcohol in it. My father is an alcoholic, I had my first taste of alcohol at age 6 and I was drinking heavily by 9th grade. I’ve had periods of my life when I drank a lot (high school) and years of not drinking at all. I identified as a “binge drinker,” meaning I could go long stretches without drinking, but would then have a long or short phase of drinking every day until blackout. Despite being an on-and-off drinker, I built a life as a high-functioning, full-time, working single mom.
But when my younger brother was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2002, I turned to alcohol and began a downward spiral. My daughter, Finnley, was only 2 and I started drinking heavily. The disease of alcoholism is extensive on both sides of my family. I couldn’t function without alcohol in my system. I was destroying my body.
I did scary, irresponsible things. I blacked out in my little girl’s presence. I got behind the wheel. I’m not proud of those choices and I still feel regret and shame.
Over the next five years, I lost three jobs, two homes, almost lost my daughter, met the police at least once and wound up drinking 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I also met my future husband, Andrew, and stepson. My life was insanity.
I thought I hid my disease for years — I was a functioning alcoholic. But by the time I decided to change my life I wasn't hiding anything from anyone. I reached a turning point in December of 2006 when I realized I wanted to marry Andrew but I knew I couldn’t go on depending on alcohol. I was physically a mess and worried my daughter was going to be taken away.
I was sick, sad and broken. It took going into an inpatient rehab medical facility for seven days after an attempt at out-patient rehab to get back on my feet. I needed to be under medical supervision because alcohol withdrawal can kill you. I was jaundiced with severely impaired liver function and my blood pressure was life threatening within the first 24 hours. Rehab gave me the medical care to know that when I left I would not keel over and die.
When I left rehab I went to AA meetings and learned how to live life from the ground up. Everything scared me. Driving, cooking and talking all became a challenge. I put one foot in front of the other and just kept going.
My last drink was October 13, 2007. I’m a recovering alcoholic of almost five years and every day I choose to be sober. Life is far from perfect. My brother died last year and several friends and family members abandoned me. We struggle financially, argue, make mistakes, fall and get back up. There are still emotions that shock me, and I struggle to figure out how to cope with, but I know I can manage, and succeed without a drink.
I’ve taught my kids about the disease of alcoholism and addiction. We are careful about how and what they learn, but honest. My daughter, Finnley, and I have had to work through some issues but not about Mom embarrassing her — it’s more about me being reliable. Will I be there to pick her up on time? Will there be consistency in her life without constant emotional ups and downs? Yes.
I live with honesty and integrity. I love unconditionally and with fierceness that even shocks me at times. I have hope and the trust of others. I have self-respect. I wear my sobriety with pride and sometimes this scares people. I feel as if people see the face of the disease, it takes the stigma off of it. Five years ago, I never would have thought it was possible, but I am here to say it is.
Alcoholism can creep up on you. Moms may be drinking a little to ease the stress of kids and it can spiral out of control. Thankfully, it’s possible to stop the cycle of addiction, live a completely different, productive and happy life — without condemnation, shame and lies. This disease is insidious and cunning, but you can draw a line and say, “Enough.” You can turn your life around.
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