“I would lay down at night, and it’s like the whole world would just rush in on me. It was just sitting on my chest. I didn’t sleep. I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted everything to stop, but I didn’t want to do anything to change it.”
My name is Hope. I’m an alcoholic. My sobriety date is March 14th, 2014. My family life is wonderful. I had a pretty awesome childhood. I’m the youngest. I’m the only girl. My brothers were a little older than me. [I was] a little bit spoiled, but my parents protected me and took care of me. I can’t say anything really bad about my childhood. We weren’t necessarily poor, but we weren’t rich, but I never wanted for anything. They were protective. They took me to church every time the doors were open. I was very active in church, and my faith was a big part of my life.
I remember looking at people and being able to spot the fake people, but spot the real people. I wanted what the real people had, but I didn’t know how to get it. I couldn’t quite figure it out. I felt like some sort of outsider, because I didn’t want to be the fake person, but, basically, that’s what I was doing. I was going through some motions trying to find some peace in my life, and, pretty much in the way I lived my life with relationships of any capacity is, “If you people just understood how much I loved you, your life would be so much better.” I had no concept of that that was manipulation or control, [or] that I was trying to control things, because I didn’t think that way. I thought I was just a good friend and always trying to be helpful.
“After the surgery and I was recuperating, I got depressed, and I started drinking secretly. Nobody knew.”
I did not really start drinking until I was around thirty. I just turned fifty. I haven’t really figured out all the connection in this. I think there’s somewhat of a connection. I had surgery when I was thirty years old. I had a brain hemorrhage, and I had surgery on that. For brain surgery, it really wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was brain surgery. Afterwards, I got depressed. I was taking some medication. I remember taking the pain medicine, and pain medication was not my deal. I never sought out drugs or anything like that, but I had never had any type of real pain medication until then.
I remember that one time they gave it to me, when I really didn’t need it while I was in the hospital, and I thought, “Oh my, what have we got here?” I never sought out the pain medication after that, but I remembered how it made me feel. After the surgery and I was recuperating, I got depressed, and I started drinking secretly. Nobody knew. I would go home after work every night and drink. I watched movies or whatever and [would] go to work the next day.
One day, I decided to take a friend of mine to a twelve-step [meeting]. I sat there and listened to these people, and I felt like they were talking about me. So I decided that I was an alcoholic and I needed to quit drinking. I did. That lasted about a year. I think the reason, the only reason that lasted about a years is, at that point, I had had no consequences for my drinking whatsoever. None. I didn’t do anything that was required to change. I didn’t. Basically, I just quit drinking on self-will because it was bad and I needed to quit.
It was progressive for me because when I started back, I didn’t care who knew that I drank, I didn’t care where I drank, and it was on for me. I lost relationships. I lost jobs. I don’t know how I drank so long without getting in trouble actually. I got married in my addiction. I got divorced in my addiction, because that’s going to fix it, too. If you get rid of the relationship, that’s going to fix me because I was in a cycle of blaming everybody else for my problems.
“I think we’ve all got that person in our life that we think, ‘Well, that person’s always going to be there for me.’ When that person in your life says, ‘I’m done,’ things get real.”
I got to that point where I drank so much I was on that merry-go-round where you drink because you have anxiety, and you have anxiety because you’re drinking. I would lay down at night, and it’s like the whole world would just rush in on me. It was just sitting on my chest. I didn’t sleep. I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted everything to stop, but I didn’t want to do anything to change it. I was just blinded. I couldn’t see the truth at all. I could not see the truth. I wanted to blame everybody else.
A couple of encounters with the law opened my eyes a little bit, but I still drank for six more months. That was highly recommended that I seek treatment. I was going to do that because it was recommended, but I still wasn’t serious about it. My best friend, basically, I’ll say she saved my life. I think we’ve all got that person in our life that we think, “Well, that person’s always going to be there for me,” because I was so wrapped up in my own selfishness and my self-centeredness, “That person is going to be there for me.”
When that person in your life says, “I’m done,” things get real. She basically had an intervention with me via email. It was awesome. I keep the email and I read it. I actually read it yesterday. When you look in black and white at how sick we make other people, how sick I made the people in my life, just the stress and the anxiety and the worry and the guilt that I put other people in my life through, it was kind of the catalyst that was like, “Man, I got to do something. I’ve got to do something. This is not going to go away on its own. I’ve got to do something differently.”
That’s when I started taking my treatment seriously. I drank two days into treatment, pretty much like a jerk because there were these people, the outpatient people trying to get sober and, “Okay, well, I’m just not going to drink. I’m just not going to drink in treatment.” I started trying to do the assignments they gave me and trying to grasp this understanding of giving up and being powerless over alcohol and I didn’t. I couldn’t. I wrote stuff down, and I thought it sounded pretty good, but then I started to talk about all this spiritual stuff and something bigger than me having to get me out of this, and I couldn’t fake my way through it. All those fake people I talked about, I was like “I can’t do that. I cannot do this.”
I remember exactly where I was driving on my way back to work, and I just realized, “I don’t understand.” When I thought about my insanity, because that’s what everybody kept telling me, “You got to let a higher power restore you to sanity,” I didn’t understand what my insanity was. To me, my insanity was all my problems. I can’t fix it. How was I going to fix that? It was like somebody took a 10,000-piece puzzle, put it in the middle of the floor and said, “Put it together in five minutes,” and it is not possible.
“It was like somebody took a 10,000-piece puzzle, put it in the middle of the floor and said, “Put it together in five minutes,” and it is not possible.”
As I prayed really for the first time to help me understand what I can’t change, I understood that I was an alcoholic and I couldn’t do anything about that. What can I do? I can give up. I got the connection that my insanity at that point didn’t have to do with all this craziness in my head. It had to do with me not understanding that I can’t even take one drink, and that’s all God wanted me to grasp at that point, just the corner piece of the puzzle. It’s all I had to do and, from thereon out, just one piece at a time and just that acceptance on my part. Just accepting that I was an alcoholic, that that’s my insanity, was the greatest relief.
That day, when I was trying to work through that, I had had one of the worst anxiety attacks I can remember. It was horrible. The weight on my chest and on my shoulders, it was removed from me instantly. That was over two years ago. I haven’t had an anxiety attack since that point. I know that might be unusual and I know that’s not everybody’s story, but it’s mine. I realized that, for once, I could not control this thing. I had to give up.
I had to quit trying to make everything work my way, so I took some suggestions and, one of the most important things I did, I would get up every morning and I would pray, “God, show me what to do today and I’ll do it,” and I had to mean it. I didn’t say, “God, show me what to do today and then I’ll decide whether or not I want to do it.” I had to mean it because, at that point, I finally grasped that my life depended on it, that if I didn’t do things differently, if I didn’t change the way I thought, that I was going to die.
I was already spiritually dead inside, and that was kind of my bottom. I had lost everything inside and I was eventually going to lose everything outside. Lots of people have to lose all the material things first. I was on my way to that, but [had] given up, doing things differently than I’d normally would, that felt so weird. It was so unusual doing that because I’m … I was used to doing things my way and pretend[ing] like I was doing something helpful. I mean, I could make you think that I was doing something really for you when, ultimately, all I was doing was looking for some sort of validation. That’s the way I lived my life. Finally, I decided to take account for me, to look at me.
I was raised being taught grace is a free gift. I’m in the Bible Belt. Grace is a free gift. I think that’s true, but the problem was I had never put myself in a position to receive that gift. It was like I had this gift and I carried it around, but I never opened it. Going through a twelve-step program was what taught me how to do that. One of the first things I had to do was to look at me, the way I felt about god and relationships, and everything.
“I was raised being taught grace is a free gift. I’m in the Bible Belt. Grace is a free gift. I think that’s true, but the problem was I had never put myself in a position to receive that gift.”
It was like I had a magnet in my chest, where my heart is. God and everybody around me was also a magnet, but mine was turned the wrong way. Have you ever tried to put the wrong ends of a magnet together? It’s impossible. You can’t do it. God felt out of my reach. People felt out of my reach. They were there. I could not connect, but, when I looked at me, I took responsibility for me, for my actions, not what anybody else had ever done for me, I looked at my character defects, I acknowledged my selfishness, my self-centeredness and quit blaming other people, it’s like that magnet flipped. When that magnet flipped, it was like God just went, “Boom!” Then suddenly people were within reach, too, because that gift of self-examination gave me the ability to genuinely care for other people.
I never knew what it was like to really care for other people. I pretended like I did. I cared to the best of my ability, but I needed that validation. I needed other people to love me, to find my value. When I realized that I am valuable and that I have a purpose, I didn’t know what that meant. There’s lots of people that talk about, “If you get in recovery, you’re going to get out of it which put into it.” I don’t believe that because I didn’t have very much to give. I gave all I had, but it was like I said, “Here’s a penny,” and I got a million dollars in return. I can’t even describe what I got out of it.
There’s a lot of talk about promises and not regretting the past, and I don’t. I don’t. I did a lot of bad things when I was drinking, but I do believe, for the next person that walks in the door that wants to get sober, that those things have a purpose. People in recovery, we have a unique gift and ability that not a lot of people have. I have the opportunity and ability to relate to you and you to me that a normal person would never have. Every time somebody comes in that’s a day sober or barely sober, I get excited because I know how much better it can be. I know how good it can be and I just want to take it and I just want to put it on. I was like, “Oh, just hang in there and give up at the same time.” Some of the words we use seemed so strange. I was like, “Oh, it just sounds foreign. It doesn’t make sense.” It doesn’t [make sense] until you do it. I got sober out of desperation, and it was a gift.
My life in the last two years, like I said, I didn’t start drinking till I was thirty, but I have the peace and serenity that I’ve experienced from doing some very simple things—trusting god, cleaning house and helping others. That’s it. That’s the formula for me. That has given me the peace and serenity that I never knew in my life even before I started drinking.
Finally, what those other people got, I think I finally understood. I was like, “Oh, that’s it. I was just over-complicating everything.” It seems simple. It is simple, but I had to give it everything I had. I heard somebody say this week something about dipping their toe in the water. I’m just barely dipping my toe in the water. Dipping my toe in the water, all that entailed was just not drinking for a minute. I didn’t get better until I started doing some things and I got busy. I had to jump in. It was all or nothing to me. I had to abandon myself to this thing. That’s how bad I wanted to get better. I just had no idea how great the benefits were going to be.
“She had gotten her house key from me and then I realized why. That was in February. In December, for Christmas, we exchanged gifts, and the gift she gave back to me was the key to her house.”
From somebody who couldn’t not stop at the bar on the way home, I thought it was impossible. I mean, I remember thinking, “Well, I don’t need to go today. I just need to go home,” but I couldn’t fathom being alone at my house. I would rather be at the bar drinking than be alone with me. I can’t fathom going to drink today. That obsession is gone for me. Lots of people think, “Oh, we know you got sober. You must think about drinking every day.” I don’t. I never thought that would happen. I never thought that the way I think could genuinely change. It did.
The relationships that have been rebuilt, the trust that’s been rebuilt, and that’s one of the things I brought with me—my key chain. I’ve got a key on that key chain. Before my best friend kind of did her little intervention and said, “This is it. I can’t do this anymore,” she had gotten her house key from me and then I realized why. That was in February. In December, for Christmas, we exchanged gifts, and the gift she gave back to me was the key to her house.
There’s lots of people, when they get sober, that get stuff back. Lots of times, we don’t lose people’s love, but we will lose their trust. When we start getting things like that back, that’s amazing. I got things that I didn’t even know that I wanted.
I was talking to my friend one day and I couldn’t put my finger on this emotion that I was feeling, because there’s so many feelings that we don’t know. We’ve got to feel them. I’ve got to face them and figure out what they are and put them in their place and all that, and I finally figured out what it was. It was respect, and I thought, “I didn’t even know that I wanted that. Somebody actually respects me?” I mean, I spent my life being a screw up trying to live up to other people’s expectations or what I thought my expectations are, instead of just being exactly who I was supposed to be in the moment, learning to live in the moment, being who God designed me to be right now.
Trust God, clean house and help others, and that’s just the key to my life today. That’s all I have to worry about every day, and get to enjoy the moment and not worry about the past, not fret over the future, but live in the moment right now.
Photographs taken at Hope’s home in Pearl, Mississippi.