Jessica's Story

I began drinking as a teenager. The pattern followed suit with my peers at parties and social gatherings. But what I know now to be different was the messaging alcohol signaled to my brain. It whispered: More. More of that, please. More, so you can feel less. And so, from almost the very beginning of my drinking career one drink was too many, and a thousand was never enough. ‍ The depth of my feelings have always presented as both a blessing and a curse. Once I discovered the term “empath” it resonated with me in the way the rooms of AA later would too. I give my full heart to everything and everyone that I love. With a passion for writing and children, I decided to pursue a career in special education.For anonymity purposes I will say that one of the classrooms in my teaching career was triggering for me. I am the survivor of a violent sexual assault and the constant exposure to violence at the hands of children with a diagnosis of Emotional Disturbances made me feel justified in drinking to the point of blacking out nightly. I was often anxious and depressed. During that time, it was easy to blame the environment, while refusing to see my drinking as the problem. I was married that summer and changed classrooms. I considered my junior high students “my children” and was still young enough to ward off questions about starting a family of our own. But every morning I’d wake up hungover, looking at myself in the mirror with the same question gnawing at my bones—a constant ache that said, What about motherhood? Shhhh, I’d tell dull, lifeless eyes, and that night I’d refill my glass until I could silence the painful truth: I wanted to be a mother more than anything else in this world, but I wanted to drink more. I was aware that I was no longer drinking like everyone else, but I kept the term “alcoholic” out of my vocabulary because I knew, I could never unsqueeze that tube of toothpaste. During my childhood, a close family member had gotten sober through AA and so I was familiar with the message. My generation grew up with Loveline and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. I share these connections to sobriety because they served as seeds that were planted without my knowledge and helped me later to recognize the agony of what I was experiencing was actually the behavior of someone with a disease. I never know when and where these seeds can be planted for other people, which is why I choose to share openly. ‍ Quickly the humiliation and lies began to accumulate. Everyone was angry with me for breaking promises and being unreliable. I was fired from my job and even though I was able to get it back, I couldn’t look at my part of what was happening. I was prescribed anti-anxiety medication while I lied about the amount I was drinking. My husband told me he was too afraid to try for a baby. One day I passed out in our backyard and burned the side of my face on the pavement. I slipped off a ladder when I accidently got drunk painting our living room, tearing my knee in three different locations. As a result, I gained access to pain medication, which I was delighted to mix with my anti-anxiety meds as well as alcohol. This combination meant I spiraled further, faster. I held my best friend’s daughter for the first time in the hospital when I consumed enough poison to quiet my own visceral jealousy that she was granted access to heaven, and I was stuck in a hell in which I had no idea how to escape. Then, exactly 24 days later, I woke up the same way I did every morning: Having humiliated myself in front of loved ones by passing out before I had the chance to vomit. I quickly ran to the sink to empty the contents of my stomach. I found if I turned the faucet on, it made less of an echo than if I allowed it to echo into empty chamber of the toilet. I’d become an expert at the most uselessly horrific devices when it came to perpetuating my drinking. ‍ My face was bloated, red, and unrecognizable. I found my eyes in the bathroom vanity. Haven’t you had enough yet? I heard a voice that wasn’t my own say. And I had. But even as I walked into the bedroom and told my husband that I thought I had a problem with alcohol, I found myself concocting a plan. I’d figure out a way to cheat the system, lie better, be sneakier if I had to. I could use the term “alcoholic” to gain sympathy and accolades to carry me through, all while secretly continuing to drink. That very same night I walked into a “Newcomers Meeting” of Alcoholics Anonymous. I counted all the ways I was better and different than every person in that room. I even applied lipstick in the parking lot before walking in. Despite my feelings of superiority, I heard others share vulnerable truths of hopelessness and loneliness, all of which sounded eerily familiar. I decided to not drink because I’m stubborn and I wanted to prove my own “willpower”. Slowly I started to feel better, the fog was lifting. Except out of nowhere the sickness came back. Paralyzing, debilitating queasiness. In a state of perplexed confusion, I took a pregnancy test, but it was negative. I fell to my knees, crying out to an entity I wasn’t entirely convinced was even real. I sobbed, asking what more I could do? Still existing in selfishness, I naively believed I was owed all of my hopes and dreams after sacrificing my so-called “happiness” at the altar of booze. ‍ The morning I received my 30-day sobriety chip, I took another test, except this time it was positive. Baffled and terrified, I’d only ever envisioned myself waving from the front porch as my children played off in the distance, while I dulled away any chaos or difficulty with bottomless mimosas. Except now I had declared to all my friends and every single member of my enormous family, that I was, in fact, an alcoholic—that I could never safely consume any amount of alcohol ever again. The truth is, the gift of becoming a mother, sealed my fate in sobriety. The order of events happened exactly as they were meant to. My daughter, my Charlotte Grace became my saving grace. I was confident I could have stayed sober during my pregnancy, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that I would have picked up again the moment she was born. I’m too terrified to write out loud what would have happened next. But it would have. For that, I have no doubt. And so, in the stillness of early sobriety and early pregnancy I decided to be open to the idea of acceptance—that I was meant to live this life sober. ‍ I not only had to re-discover myself as a sober person, but also a sober mother. Wanting to find a career I could do at home while raising my daughters I began writing. I started a mom blog and chronicled the messy parts of motherhood using humor and honesty, intentionally leaving out my story of sobriety. Everyone that knew me personally knew I was sober, but I didn’t decide to share publicly until 2020. I suddenly recognized an uncanny likeness between universal feelings of isolation and hopelessness from the pandemic and the darkest days of my addiction. I could no longer sit on the sidelines, witnessing the promotion of dangerous message that mom’s needed booze to cope with the challenges of parenting in quarantine. To me, it felt like I was back in that classroom, trapped within a volatile situation where I turned to alcohol as the solution which set me on a track to dependency. And literally everything about parenting during the pandemic was a recipe for drug and alcohol dependency. So I spoke out against abusing alcohol, publishing an article on ScaryMommy about how Dax Shephard’s relapse had “saved my recovery”. The truth was, however, I was doing exactly as he had done: replace one thing with another. Allowing my secrets to hide in plain sight. ‍ I began experimenting with various forms of marijuana, which initially began as a substitute for over-the-counter sleeping pills. I thought I could outsmart addiction if I tried honesty—sharing with my sponsor, my therapist, and friends, that I had begun edibles which I legally obtained in my home state of California. I convinced myself it was completely manageable since we weren’t going anywhere or doing anything. But after I was proscribed narcotics while recovering from surgery, I discovered the blissful allure of numbness all over again. I didn’t want to feel anything anymore. Quickly, lying became second nature. Slipping away was so easy when everyone around me was floundering too. It wasn’t until the evening of August 5, 2021, I overdosed on a liquid form of marijuana and began hallucinating, feeling like I was hovering far outside of my body. Just like how I had managed to parent my daughters for over a year—completely detached, looking on, but not participating in any part of their lives or my own. During my drug-induced-trip I wrote to try and center myself: “This time around I know what it is. I’ve looked the devil in the eyes already and I can beat it. So actually, I’m not worried, I’ve never felt more relieved. It’s the same problem, different name. I’ve very well versed in the solution.” The next morning, I called my family as I choaked on deep, unrelenting sobs, I said, “It got me. I can’t believe it got me again.” The “it” of course was addiction, but while I was able to name myself as an addict to them, I was still worried what others would think, especially professionally. I had just written my first novel and was in the process of pitching it to literary agents. Surely 8 years of sobriety could earn me a little street cred, but who would want to work with a newly identified addict? It wasn’t until I was approached to write this article that I realized now is as good of time as any to do my part to end the stigma. ‍ I have a sobriety date of May 2, 2013, and a clean date of August 6, 2021, and I can proudly say that I identify as both an alcoholic and an addict. I am so very grateful to have found the miracle of recovery, twice. It’s hard to put into words just how full my life is in recovery. I am constantly surrounded by love—whether it be my family, friends, along with my sober, writing, and motherhood communities. I’m a responsible parent, I even get to be people’s In Case of Emergency Contact because I’ve earned the label “trustworthy”. I’m no longer chronically anxious or depressed. Every year my closest friends get together to have a “garden party” to celebrate my milestones in recovery. My husband and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. I get to experience the entire spectrum of human emotions, including all the wonderful, powerful ones. I constantly get messages from former friends and strangers who want to share how many days they have or how they are struggling and seeking help. I’m sponsoring my very first elementary principal from when I was a teacher who just celebrated 8 months of sobriety. This summer my best friend will have 2 years just in time for us to complete our first Spartan Trifecta together. On the day I earned my 9-year sobriety chip that once belonged to my dearly departed first sponsor, I got “the call” from an agent who told me after reading a draft of my women’s fiction novel, “you write pain so beautifully”. My dreams of being a novelist are coming true. ‍ I used to be quick to dismiss all these connections or happenings as chance or coincidence, even beginning with the discovery of my first pregnancy. But I’ve learned that the alignment of these events happened because of something far greater. With acceptance, I’ve gained the gifts of serenity. Rather than mothering from afar, I get to lay in the grass, my limbs tangled with my 3, miraculous daughters, and participate in the story of my life.
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