Laura’s Story

Disclaimer – The rhetoric on how people identify themselves when it comes to substance use disorder is changing and The Wagon supports however someone identifies. While some people do not like to call themselves alcoholic, I personally identify as alcoholic and will refer to myself as such in this post. 

I genuinely believe I was born an alcoholic. I come from a large Irish Catholic family that has a history of alcoholism and I displayed classic alcoholic indicators from an early age. I was an extremely nervous kid and always felt like I didn’t quite belong. I bit my nails till they bled, I was always checked out in a daydream, I often shrunk in social situations, and authentically didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. This was no fault of my family or upbringing, I just had an anxious disposition.

I caught my first buzz at sixteen while drinking a 40 oz. of Old English at the beach with my older sister and her friends, and I was immediately dazzled by the magic alcohol provided. It took all of my restless uneasiness away. I was suddenly relaxed and sparkly. I could chat with ease. I felt NORMAL. This wizardry was clearly the answer to all my problems and it was fun to boot. But just like anything that seems too good to be true, thus started a very long, hard, and complicated relationship with alcohol.

Drinking in college, 2000

My early drinking was fun and degenerate but I also got myself into some rookie trouble. I woke up in mysterious places next to men I didn’t know, I suffered injuries I didn’t remember getting, and I put myself in some pretty precarious situations. I also wondered why my friends weren’t interested in drinking every night like I was. But I was in college and young (aren’t I supposed to drink?) so I didn’t question my blossoming and unquenchable thirst for booze. 

When I started working, I got into a routine of picking up a six-pack of beer every day after work. I likened it to a reward for getting through my workday and a means to relax in the evening. But soon enough, I became preoccupied with drinking and once I started, I couldn’t stop. The first drink set off an unstoppable chain reaction for more. I was also quickly running out of alcohol because I was drinking it all very fast. When I eventually ran out of beer each night, I started dipping into my husband’s vodka to scratch my itch for more. 

So I started buying twelve packs. How I rationalized buying twelve packs was that I would have six for tonight and six for tomorrow. What a genius, I only have to go to the store every other day now! And that’s how I started binge drinking a 12-pack a night, plus whatever else I drank at bars, concerts, events, outings, etc. This behavior started in my mid-20s and followed me until my last drink when I was 39 years old. 

My life looked good on paper though I was binge drinking like a monster every night. I was able to “successfully” maintain a job, a mortgage, and my family but I was starting to admit I was an alcoholic. But I was a functioning alcoholic, and I told myself I would just stop later, as if it would be magically easy to put down a substance I was now unwittingly and gravely dependent on. 

I justified my behavior because I hadn’t lost anything as a result of my drinking YET and I certainly wasn’t like those alcoholics that can’t control themselves. What I wasn’t admitting to myself was that I was completely out of control and barely functioning. I would call in sick to work or cancel plans because I was too hungover. I would cry and make scenes after drinking too much. I would drunkenly pick fights with friends and strangers on the internet and wake up in the morning panicked about what I had done. But my denial was as long as the Nile River and I continued drinking all while exponentially rolling downhill. And very quickly, the wheels started to come off.

The health ramifications of my gluttonous habit quickly caught up to me around age 35. My liver was showing signs of alcoholic hepatitis, I was pre-diabetic, I had off-the-charts lipid levels, and my 12-pack-a-day habit had packed a ton of weight onto my otherwise small frame. However, I told myself my health problems weren’t that bad (they were). My doctor asked if I was going to stop drinking and I replied that I would when I was further down the road.  “You are down the road,” she replied and sternly warned that if I continued drinking this way, it would surely kill me soon. I dismissed her as overreacting. 

But I couldn’t ignore that it was becoming more and more difficult to function on a daily basis without alcohol. My hangovers were extraordinarily unmanageable and I was fraught with runaway anxiety on account of my daily drinking. One day in 2018, I left work early with a raging hangover that was not only causing me massive anxiety but was making me puke nonstop. My symptoms seemed to intensify when I got home, so I went to the emergency room. I was diagnosed with alcohol withdrawal, given a serious talking to by the ER staff, and sent home to ponder my life with my addiction. My liver was hepatic and I was on my way to cirrhosis. It turned out my doctor wasn’t overreacting — she was right. This thing was going to kill me and I had to get sober before it did. 

This started an almost five-year start-and-stop battle to get sober. I would set out with honest intentions to get sober, make it a few weeks, and then fall hard off the wagon. But what decimated me was the pandemic. We hear a lot about how the pandemic took already explosive alcohol and drug disorders and shot them far into orbit. I am one of those cases. 

drunk at home
Drinking at home, 2015

My drinking went from nuclear to atomic when I was sent home to work at the start of the pandemic in 2020. I was alone with myself, who’s best ideas always lead to drinking and on top of that, I was freaked the fuck out about this mysterious virus ripping through the planet. An anxious alcoholic all alone with a bottle is a dangerous combination. And now, I was drinking all day, every day, with robotic commitment and utter ferocity. 

I surpassed my typical daily intake of 12 beers a day and was now drinking up to twenty. I was drinking in bed in the morning because I otherwise couldn’t get out of it. My anxiety was a constant 10-alarm fire and the only thing that put it out was drinking. I knew things were bad, and I was telling myself I wasn’t going to drink as the car was mysteriously driving itself to the beer distributor every single morning.

Laura still active
Bad hangover, 2021

The magic of my early drinking days was gone and all that was left was misery. I was constantly hungover, sick, and exhausted. I was the heaviest I had ever been, I was bloated, I looked like shit but I honestly didn’t care. The only thing I was concerned with was drinking, even though it left me miserable every night. I started regularly threatening to kill myself because I couldn’t see any other way out. I couldn’t stop. This horrifying nightmare continued for a year and a half until I hit my rock bottom on December 9th, 2021.  

I didn’t know the day before would be my last time drinking. Other than my usual binge, nothing out of the ordinary happened. But that morning, as usual, I had a raging hangover. But, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I knew the only thing that would make me feel better was to start drinking again but this time, I couldn’t do it. I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually dead. The only thing left to die was the body that carried me around. I knew that if I started drinking again, it would never ever stop and as much as I wanted to drink to quiet the internal screaming, I didn’t. I called my husband and my best friend and told them I was in crisis. I got my keys and once again drove myself to the emergency room.

I got out of detox three days later and although I was still withdrawing and bewildered, I knew I had to go to any lengths to get sober. There was no more fucking around with sobriety. I immediately joined Alcoholics Anonymous, ramped up my therapy, and started listening to what other sober people and my therapist said to do. I stopped trying to do things my way and started being more open and willing to execute what other people suggested. Turns out, I don’t know everything and though I may have been kicking and screaming, I did what they said. That, and not picking up alcohol one day at a time saved my life.

But it wasn’t easy. I was heartbroken and lost in my early recovery. The idea of having a slice of pizza without a beer made me cry. The evenings felt hollow and empty without my drink sitting beside me on the table. I also felt hollow and empty because I had lost such a huge part of my identity. Whether I cared to admit it or not, my entire adult life for over 20 years had revolved entirely around alcohol. And now it was gone, and I had to go through the rest of my life without it. I was crushed. 

However, as I built up my sober time, things started to get better. The obsession to drink slowly went away and my spirit started feeling better as I continued to heal in time. I made a lot of new friends in recovery who were going through the same thing I was. I also met Susan, my Partner here at The Wagon and she has become one of my closest confidants and best friends. By the time I turned one year sober, I didn’t want to drink anymore and I still don’t. That is a miracle to me to this day.

I have not lost the silly and fun person I have always been. If anything, I’m sharper and funnier. I have energy, I am motivated, and I enjoy waking up early now. I got back all the hobbies and interests that I lost to drinking and more. I lost 35 lbs. in my first year sober without even trying. My anxiety has calmed so significantly that I was able to kick my lifelong nail-biting habit and smoking cigarettes. My liver is healed, and all my previous health problems are gone. I handle stress and difficult situations 1000% better. Dare I say, I’m happy. 

Recovery is certainly not always roses but it has been the best thing I have ever done for myself. But it’s hard work. Getting sober has been more than just putting the drink down. It’s doing the hard work necessary to make difficult personal changes to ensure I don’t pick up again. I will always be an alcoholic, and because of that, I am always in danger of drinking in the future. So I have to take care of myself and work on my recovery every day. I take it very seriously. 

There’s no graduation from recovery for me because this disease is centered in my mind and it’s constantly talking to me. But if I continue to treat my alcoholism daily with my recovery program, the tools I’m learning in therapy, my friends, family, and laughter, I have a good chance at closing out my second act in life sober — and happy. 


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