My name is Mary Anne and I am a recovering alcoholic. I celebrated 19 years of sobriety on the 11th of July 2016. My journey from alcoholism to recovery took a bumpy road, across two continents and involved many attempts to get sober.
I was born in the West of Ireland, one of fifteen children into a poor family. This is not why I am an alcoholic but it is a critical part of my story. I was born in an Ireland where alcohol abuse was considered very normal, with the abuse of alcohol came the physical, emotional and sexual abuse rife in a society where much of the above was normalized. Women were less than and in my very early childhood circa 1960’s, women were not allowed in bars. That changed in the 1970’s and as I grew up bars became a huge part of my social life. Sexual advances and inappropriate sexual behavior from males was very normal, even at a very young age I was exposed to this. That is a story for another day.
My Father was an alcoholic and ruled the home with violence and a false sense of his own greatness as both a father and provider. Most alcoholics know about the grandiosity of the disease and my Father had that in abundance. As a child I never connected my empty stomach and shoes full of holes which did not protect me in cold and wet harsh weather conditions with the money my father spent on alcohol. I just thought that this was the way it was. My Mother cried a lot and today I understand her life and her despair at watching her children go hungry, while the scant finances were spent on alcohol. Our circumstances were not unusual, there were many large families as a result of the catholic faith and just as many alcoholic fathers. Unfortunately, my story is stereotypical of family life in Ireland at this time, with the alcoholic father and the martyr mother, much like that portrayed in Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes. One of the most poignant moments in that book for me, is when Frank talks about his mother crying into the ashes. That is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood, my mother stoking the fire, head against the mantle and her tears flowing into the ashes. Needless to say my Father was usually in the pub at those times.
Heavy drinking was very acceptable and to some extent alcohol was revered as a special substance. I recall my Father coming home from the pub three sheets to the wind with the Guinness slops in two buckets to feed the pigs, because it was good for them, gallons of the stuff. It was one of the highlights of our miserable childhood, watching that pig bang and slap into the walls blind drunk. When people ask me when I took my first drink I really don’t recall, I sometimes think it might just have been in the bacon from that pig when it was killed for winter food. That was the environment I grew up in and I went out into the world with absolutely no sense of self-worth or self-esteem. I literally had no life skills and a whole load of anxiety and fear. As I said earlier I do not recall that first drink, but I do recall being a black out drinker, right from the get go. It caused me no concern because it wasn’t unusual to what I had experienced growing up. There was no awareness of the disease of alcoholism. I remember a time at 18 years of age drinking whiskey until I blacked out and woke up covered in vomit. Still no red flags. This is where I feel the environment I was raised in comes into play, because despite the amount of drinking which went on I knew nothing of alcoholism or even what it meant. The way I drank was normal.
I was off to the races, I moved to the big city to make a living and had good success with my career. My drinking continued to get worse. I was a chronic binge drinker and was blacking out regularly. I got into some serious situations but still had no idea what was wrong, or indeed that there was anything wrong. Trips to the hospital, stitches in my head, relationships that never went anywhere, but all was well in my diseased world where alcohol was my best friend.
In my mid-twenties I did my first geographic, thinking a move from Dublin to London would give me new purpose and I would cut down on my drinking because my life would be more interesting. I moved in with another alcoholic. Things got real bad, real quick. It finally started to dawn on me that something might be wrong. This is where my childhood came in because I thought that this was why I drank. If you had my life you would drink too was my mantra. I felt so sorry for myself all the time. I had no idea that much of how I felt was part of the disease of alcoholism and nothing to do with my childhood. Somewhere in this fog I met the love of my life and the man I have been married to for 22 years. I got married and had my first child. Shortly after her birth I started to wake up to the fact that I had a problem. I tried quitting, cutting down, drinking on a full stomach, and all the other tricks we try as alcoholics to fool ourselves into thinking we can drink like normal people. I even went to a therapist who claimed she could turn me into a normal drinker. At about the same time my husband was offered a job in the United States. I immediately said yes, I had always wanted to live in the US. As a little girl I recall looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and watching the smoke from the airplanes overhead crossing the Atlantic to the US. I used to think if only I could get there I would surely be happy, everybody was happy in America. Nobody was poor and kids never got beaten. As it turns out I did indeed find happiness in America but it was not in the way I had imagined. I found recovery.
I was barely in the US 3 months when I got pregnant with my second child. I was still drinking and desperately trying to cut down but with no success. I had cut down during my first pregnancy, especially in the first 3 months but this time two years further into what I have learned is a progressive disease, I could not stop. I white knuckled it through the first trimester, drank a little in the second and was miserable. At 7 months pregnant I woke up from a blackout and that was my moment of clarity, as we call it in Alcoholics Anonymous. I was 36 when I had my first child and 37 when I gave birth to my second. I had longed to be a mother but thought it would never happen for me. I knew with absolute conviction that if I could not stop drinking for my children, I had lost the power to say no to alcohol, it had me. My husband came home from work the next day and I said “I am an alcoholic and I need to get help”. I had not been drinking enough to go to detox nor could I go to treatment with a 1 year old and another on the way. I saw an addiction counselor and she helped me understand the disease of alcoholism. I saw her regularly to help me stay sober. I bought every book out there on alcoholism and read vociferously. I had it now- “self-knowledge”, I would never drink again, and I had found the secret. I decided that I knew I was an alcoholic and as long as I did not drink I had it cracked. As many of you know who have been down this path, I got that horribly wrong. It’s true I did not drink again but boy did I get sick. I know today that I was a dry drunk on a rampage to fix myself and the world. I almost lost my marriage in this chaos to the man I love more than anything else in this world, “because he did not understand me you see”.
Almost 6 years after I took my last drink and many anti-depressants later, I visited Ireland for my brother’s funeral who had died from alcoholism. I came back a broken woman, as I knew if I did not do something I would lose my family and most likely my life. I was either going to go back to drinking or I would kill myself. I had entered ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) still blaming my childhood and my sponsor in that program, herself a sober alcoholic advised me to go for therapy. I saw a therapist who was also a recovering alcoholic. A few sessions in he asked me about my alcoholism, I responded very uncomfortably that I dealt with it by not drinking. He took a book from a drawer and read the following to me:
“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had feelings of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we could not be of real help to other people” –
The Big book of Alcoholics Anonymous – Page 52
That was my first introduction to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and for me the simple solution to my problem through the practice of the AA program and the magical 12 steps. He called another member of AA because that is what we do and she took me to my first AA meeting. She was also my first sponsor. I would love to tell you it was plain sailing since then but I have had many ups and downs. I had a lot of trouble forgiving my parents and the authority figures from my childhood and it took several attempts to work through it. What I have learned in AA is that getting sober is only 1/3rd of the story. The disease of alcoholism is three fold, spiritual, mental and physical. Quitting drinking only deals with the physical, it was through the spiritual approach of the 12 steps that I was able to fully deal with the mental and spiritual side of the disease. l could finally accept the past and put it behind me. I owe my life and my sanity to the 12 steps, I now have tools to deal with life. I am not perfect thank God and what a relief it was to find a God I could believe in that was not me. I have a disease, I am not fatally flawed, it is not my fault, is not my parent’s fault and as sure as if I had diabetes, I have a disease. The good news about my disease is I can put it into complete remission. I have not only forgiven my parents but I learned that I love them. They did the best they could with what they had it just sucked.
I am a wife, a mother of two beautiful girls and a successful business owner. I love my life and even though I have recently had some serious setbacks with my physical health, I would not swap one day of my sobriety for anything in this world.
So this little Irish girl’s dream of moving to America and being happy really did come true. All with thanks to the wonderful program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the amazing people I have met, who love and support me no matter how crazy I get. I experienced unconditional love for the first time from others and as long as I put in the work to maintain my spiritual condition, I will be okay.