“My mind was saying, ‘Stop drinking,’ and my body just kept drinking. My hand lifted up the beer, and my mouth drank it down. My mind said, ‘No, no, no, no, no,’ and there was this total disconnect. Here I am, trying to teach people about mind/body connection, and my mind and my body are totally separate, and I have no control.”
I‘m Jennie. I’m a person in long-term recovery. I got sober on June 24th of 2014, so a little over a year ago. I started drinking at a pretty young age, and I think I’ve heard quite a few people say that as children, alcoholics can sometimes feel out of place or strange, like they don’t fit in. That definitely resonated with me. That’s true. I felt just like I couldn’t really talk to people or connect with people in the way that I wanted to. When I found alcohol, that changed very quickly. Yeah, it just made me feel like I wanted to feel… relaxed, sociable, outgoing. I just went with it and started drinking pretty heavily at a pretty young age. I was even known in my middle school as “the drunk girl,” at like twelve.
I can remember the first time I got drunk, I was with these kids who wore all black, and like spiky jewelry and black earrings. I was like, “Man, I want to know these kids. They are so cool.” I hung out with them. We went behind their garage, and we drank screwdrivers, and I got just totally wasted. It was Halloween, and I went home and told my mom I had way too much candy, and so I was in the bathroom throwing up. She clearly knew that it was more than candy.
It got a lot worse in high school and a lot darker, I think. At first it was fun, but I had a lot of different issues that I think contributed to my alcoholism. I had a really severe eating disorder, and my eating disorder behavior went hand-in-hand with my drinking. When I wasn’t drinking, I was restricting food and throwing up. It got pretty dark. I got pretty suicidal pretty early on, too. I cut and got close to attempting suicide a few times.
I just blamed everything but myself. Yeah, as we do. I started thinking that maybe if I left my hometown, which was this small town in Maine, that I wouldn’t have the problems that I had. I wouldn’t be depressed, I wouldn’t have an eating disorder, I wouldn’t be drinking so much, using so many drugs. I really quickly found a plan, like an escape plan. I started selling drugs in my high school and made a lot of money.
I went straight to Europe after high school. That was awesome, because I could drink and drug as much as I wanted to. I was of legal age there, so I just toured around the country… or around the continent, rather… wreaking havoc on each country. I got myself into some pretty dangerous situations time and time again. I can remember passing out on the streets a lot, being dragged around by my friends, just waking up in strangers’ beds and not knowing how I got there, throwing up in strangers’ beds and not knowing how that happened.
There was this one night where my best friend and I had a couple bottles of gin, and we met these kids in France who weren’t alcoholics and weren’t used to heavy drinkers. We polished off all of the gin and proceeded to make out with everyone that we saw. My friend fell over and lost her front tooth, so we had to finish our tour in Europe without her front tooth. I threw up all over their parents’ white sheets and white comforter. I laugh about it now, but it was not typical drinking for an eighteen-year-old, I don’t think, at all.
From there I just kept going from place to place. I never stayed in a place after high school for more than two months, because I found my reputation would catch up to me. People would start to be like, “What’s wrong with this girl? What’s going on?” I didn’t want anyone to figure out what was up with me, so I just kept running and running. There’s this line in a song by the Avett Brothers, “The Weight of Lies.” It says, “The weight of lies will follow you from town to town, no matter where you go.” That was happening, though. I was realizing that no matter where I went, things were still really dark, and my behaviors were the same, and my lies were following me. Yeah, that describes it to a ‘T’. I kept doing that.
I joined this program called AmeriCorps. I was volunteering around the country, traveling around in a van. I just kept drinking, and that was against the rules, and drugging, and that was against the rules. I got in a lot of trouble in Americorps. I got kicked off a team, kicked off of another team, kicked off of another team. I had a lot of people tell me that they thought I had a problem with drinking. I just didn’t listen, and just kept going at it.
One night, I got so drunk and high that I got married to someone I’d known for two weeks. Two weeks. Legally married. Yeah, I figured I wouldn’t tell anyone about it, and that it would just be this funny thing that happened. I would get a divorce, and it would just go away. It turns out that they send your marriage license to your home address, so my parents opened up this marriage license, and I was in a whole lot of trouble. I’m lucky today that I can look back and see the humor in all of the things that I did, but again, that was one of the least scary things I did… one of the most amusing, but still… I was married for five years after that to someone I knew for two weeks. We didn’t talk, but we were married. We finally got divorced last year.
I continued to just have crazy encounters with people and crazy relationships. It got bad. I tried to go to college, and I just kept trying things and then losing what I was trying to do, or moving or leaving. I stayed in college for a few months. I was on a cross-country team, but my coach kicked me off because I kept showing up drunk and hung-over to practice.
I decided that college wasn’t for me, so I started dating my drug dealer and started selling stuff again and went to South America. Then I did some damage there. I got really into cocaine there—cocaine and marijuana—and I ended up with a pot leaf tattooed on my foot after another blackout. Yeah, some really scary stuff happened there, too. I was in a foreign country, and yet I was still drinking as heavily as I had been. One night I got drunk and I fell into this bio-diesel tank and came out covered in bio-diesel and then almost fell in a fire directly after. I was just this drunken mess covered in gasoline, running around. I don’t know how I didn’t end up dead.
I also ended up taking a whole lot of drugs and passing out for three solid days and waking up in another part of the country. No idea how I got there. Luckily, some really kind people dragged me around and didn’t hurt me. My drinking just kept taking me to some really dark, scary places, and I’m really lucky to be alive. Towards the end of it, I stopped being able to travel, because my drug use just kept spiraling, and my alcoholism just kept spiraling down and down, so it was harder to have the money to do that. I would stay in places a little bit longer, and, yeah, I would drink a lot more.
I was kind of able to let go of drugs. Not everyone is. That’s me. What I couldn’t let go of was alcohol. I felt like I was okay for a while once I gave up the drugs, but alcohol just brought me to my knees. It got to the point where I was drinking from the time I woke up, which wasn’t early in the morning, it was usually late afternoon, until I went to bed. When I wasn’t drinking, I was smoking pot, which I guess I didn’t consider a drug at the time. Now I do.
I was using something to recover from my drinking. I was drinking Pedialyte, and I thought it was brilliant mixed with my booze, so that I would stay hydrated. People were like, “That’s really weird and tastes disgusting. What are you doing?” I was like, “This is brilliant! This is the way to do it. You just haven’t caught up yet.” I was hurting a lot of people around me in really big ways, and that got scary.
Then I discovered yoga. Yoga is a really big part of my story. I’m a yoga teacher today. When I discovered yoga, some of the addictive behaviors that weren’t booze stopped. The drugs had already stopped, but I also was able to recover from my eating disorder. I still have since today. I thought for sure that yoga was going to cure my drinking, too. It did slow me down for about a week.
Then I was just leading this double life. I would go to trainings. In the yoga teachings they say eventually you clean up your life and your body, so part of that is giving up alcohol. I was like, “No way is that ever happening. I’m going to drink. I’ll be able to control it eventually, and it will be fine.” I definitely was not able to control it. I was showing up to teach yoga classes and trying not to throw up on my students.
It was bad. I would say, “I’m not going to drink if I have a class in the morning,” and I would. I’d have to find a sub or call out, or, you know, and I’d get fired or just… It was bad. No one really knew that I was still drinking as much as I had been, because on the outside I looked fit. I had jobs, and I had friends, and I had a partner, but I was dying inside. Things were getting worse still, so yoga didn’t cure my alcoholism.
After a couple of years of trying to do that, last year I got again to this really dark spot where I went home. My dad owns a bar in the town that I live in. I went home for my birthday. I thought, “It’s my birthday. I don’t have to teach yoga for a few days. I’m just going to get wasted, and there’s not going to be any repercussions to it.” So I started drinking.
I was with a couple of friends who left eventually, because I wasn’t done, and they were. I had a glass of beer in my hand. I can remember this really clearly. It was one of those moments where I said something is not right, because even though I drank excessively and even though people kept telling me I had a problem, and I kept getting in trouble with the cops and at school, and I would get kicked out of this program, I had no idea that I was an alcoholic. I was just clueless, because I surrounded myself with people that drank like me, and because I come from a family of alcoholics and addicts, so it was just, “This is what people do. This is how you deal with life.”
There was this moment where I’m holding this beer at my dad’s bar, and I said to myself, “I’m about to black out. I don’t want to black out. I’m just going to put this beer down and not drink anymore.” My mind was saying, “Stop drinking,” and my body just kept drinking. My hand lifted up the beer, and my mouth drank it down. My mind said, “No, no, no, no, no,” and there was this total disconnect. Here I am, trying to teach people about mind/body connection, and my mind and my body are totally separate, and I have no control.
So I kept drinking that beer, and I proceeded to black out, go behind the bar, steal a bunch of booze from my dad, chug it. I got really, really sick, fell over in the bar, throwing up, passed out. I had a partner at the time, but I woke up in someone’s bed that I didn’t know, with one contact in, so I could hardly see. I had no idea where I was, so I had to pull out my GPS and pinpoint myself and wander home, hardly being able to see, covering up one eye.
Then I went to breakfast with my mom. My mom is not an addict or an alcoholic, but she’s lived around a lot of them her whole life. She’s really the one person that’s always been there for me no matter what I’ve done to her, and I’ve done a lot throughout the years. I couldn’t be there with her. I was so sick. I was so distraught by what had happened the night before. I was running to the bathroom every five minutes to throw up, and she was looking at me like, “I just want to spend time with you.” Here’s this time that I cleared out for her, and I couldn’t be there. I couldn’t be present. Again, I’m trying to teach people how to be present, how to be mindful, how to be kind and loving, and I can’t. I’m not practicing it in my own life.
A few days later and few more nights like that… because I had to finish all the alcohol in my house before I quit… I went to a yoga twelve-step meeting, and I decided to stop drinking. It was not easy at all. The first few days were hell. I was shaking. I was hallucinating. I was sweating, and my emotions were out of control. That doesn’t stop, or it didn’t stop for me for a while. Way more than a couple days.
I started going to more twelve-step meetings, started reaching out to people. Then some stuff went down really early in my sobriety. About two weeks into it, one of my best friends in the whole world was killed by a drunk driver. The last time I had seen her was that night, on my birthday, at my dad’s bar. I couldn’t remember a word that she’d said. I had driven drunk a million times in my life, so it just hit me really, really hard. The crazy thing was that even two weeks sober, I knew that drinking was going to do nothing, but she died because of someone like me. Because of an alcoholic. It just became this force that took over and really kept me sober through it. I was surrounded by people drinking, because they were drinking out of grief and trying to handle the situation. She was only twenty-five, so it took everyone by surprise. She was really loved in her hometown.
I was able to actually feel the emotions that I was feeling, and actually feel my love for her and to help people around me with their grief. That was a gift, you know, to be able to stay sober through that. I think sometimes when we, I don’t know, nowadays, sometimes I’ll stub my toe—not recently, but a few months ago, I would stub my toe and be like, “God damn it, I want a drink.” Then I remember, “Actually, you know, I’ve gotten through a lot more than this without a drink.” That’s the way that I have to look at it.
It did send me into a pretty dark spot again in sobriety. I ended up getting really suicidal, or getting really, really depressed, and I had to go to an institution for a little while in my early sobriety. I came out, and I met some really great people. I started meditating all the time and doing a lot of yoga, so yoga came back into it, and it really helps, and going to a lot of twelve-step meetings, and then just doing the work and talking to people about what was going on with me, because I was like, “Actually, you know, I’m going through grief, I’m going through insanity, just came out of a psych ward, and I’m still sober. I’m still sober. I’m still not drinking about it.”
I think that helped. People would be like, “Yeah, okay, I don’t have to drink if you’re not drinking. You’re going crazy, and you’re not drinking.” I’ve been just really slowly climbing uphill from there. It’s not a straight climb. It’s up and down and up and down and up and down. Things have just become a little bit more manageable day by day.
I think telling my story and talking to people is one of the biggest things, and I’m really blessed to be able to do that pretty often. It’s not easy for me. I used to think I was a really outgoing person, but it was the booze, basically. Since getting sober, I’ve gone back to that little girl who was scared of everyone and everything. Alcohol was my solution, but today meditation, reaching out, other people—getting service is a big one. That’s my solution. Prayer.
I just continue to do that stuff, and I’m hoping that it continues to work. I teach yoga now more than I ever had before. I am teaching yoga in rehabs, and teaching some yoga twelve-step meetings, so similar to the one that I went to when I got sober. Now I get to lead those meetings and help other yogis get sober, and help other people who are in recovery find yoga, because I’ve really found that the twelve steps that I’ve paired with yoga is a really cool combination. I don’t think one can replace the other, but together they’re really powerful. Yoga gets me out of my head and into my body. A lot of my addictive behaviors are in my head. Obsessive thinking and getting really down on myself. That’s all up here, and when I do yoga, I come back down into my heart, into my hands, into my feet. That’s so helpful.
I’m just hoping to be able to continue doing that work, and to stay sober and to stay present, and to start living the principles that I teach, teaching yoga. Then I learned from the twelve steps to be mindful, to be present, to have a clean life and a clean body. When I teach that to people now, I’m teaching it from a place of truth and experience rather than having just read a book and repeating words. Now I know what that means.
Photographs taken outside Jennie’s family’s home in Portland, Maine.