The Shriver Report – Last Call: A Journey to Sobriety

Special Edition

Last Call: A Journey to Sobriety

© kmiragaya –

This is why I drank. When I was fourteen years old, my grandmother slid her glass of E&J Brandy on the rocks to me where I was sitting at the other end of the dining room table and said, “Try this.”

I took a sip and shook my head.

“Go and get Daddy’s Bacardi behind the door and try that,” she said.

I went into my grandparents’ bedroom and retrieved the bottle of Bacardi. I was excited because I thought if you drank, you were an adult. I went to the kitchen and prepared my first drink. Ice in the glass, four fingers of Bacardi, and a splash of coke. I sat back at the table with my grandmother and experienced a warm, burning feeling in my chest as the alcohol ran down my throat.

I liked it. I knew I had arrived.

That night, I drank the entire bottle. I drank enough to not feel a thing. I drank enough to not remember anything. I drank enough to forget that my mother had had me at sixteen, too young to properly show up for me in my life when I needed her, leaving my grandmother and great-grandmother to raise me. I drank to forget that one of my adult relatives had been molesting me for the past seven years, from the time I was seven years old and he climbed into the bed that I shared with my baby brother one late night. I drank to forget. And it worked.

I don’t know why my grandmother passed me my first drink. Maybe she knew the pain I was living in. It was definitely never discussed, but here was my family, seven people living in the same small house…how could my molestation have gone totally unnoticed? Maybe she was trying to help me? What I do know is that from that first drink, I drank to get drunk, and I drank to forget.

Unfortunately, being an active alcoholic did not make my life any easier. There was the boyfriend who beat me when I was only sixteen. There was the neighbor who raped me when I was twenty-one, coming upstairs to my apartment to borrow a knife and turning it on me instead. Does it matter that I was drinking all day? Would it have made a difference? Would I have been able to fight him off? Who knows? Like an insidious cycle, each incident drove me deeper, gave me more to forget, continued the spiral of shame and remorse and guilt and yet another excuse to drink again.

At twenty-six, I was in a relationship with another alcoholic. Our lives were surrounded by violence and addiction and no intention of doing a damn thing to change any of it. His family surprised him one weekend with an intervention and shipped him off to treatment. I felt like my world had imploded. He and drinking were my everything, and I didn’t know how to deal without both. My chest absolutely ached with the loss of him. Except it wasn’t heartbreak. It was pancreatitis, from long-term alcohol abuse. Hospitalized, my now-sober, now-ex-boyfriend came to visit me and said the words that changed my life forever: “If you get sober, we will get back together.”

And thus, my journey into sobriety began.

I first landed in an all-women’s treatment center for ninety days. In a word, it sucked. I missed drinking the way a mother misses her baby. I was angry; I hated being around other women because I couldn’t bring myself to trust them. In my head, women were the ones who stole the boyfriend, or lied and manipulated you. All along though, it was me I didn’t like, because that’s the type of woman I had become. The first time I realized that sobriety was going to stick and become my new life was when I spoke to the ex-boyfriend, now off the wagon, and thought, for me, there would be no going back. Maybe it was my story in Group of hugging my toilet bowl and praying to God to give me the strength to stop drinking. Maybe it was my friend, Janine, who said to me in Group, “Perhaps he just came into your life so you would get sober.”

Or it could have been Tina, who had been urging me to simply find the willingness to be willing.

Or maybe it was just time.

I have been sober for 13.44 years, which is 161.28 months, 4,905.6 days, or 117,929 hours. My life could not be more amazing. With the grace of my higher power and my willingness, I am living a good life. The sober me chose a husband who is kind and loving and does not drink and does not hit. He knows every step of the journey I have taken to become the woman I am today. The sober me is a great employee, because I had to show up for myself, and it has translated into every aspect of my life. The sober me has amazing friendships filled with love, compassion, honesty, and so much fun. In learning how to love myself, I learned how to be a good friend to women. And then there is the most important relationship in my life, which I cherish the most, because it never would have happened if I had not gotten sober. Four years ago, I became a mother. I have been blessed with a little boy who thinks the world of me, who has no judgment of me, who thinks I’m the funniest person in the world, and who loves me unconditionally. Michael is a smart, amazing, funny, lovable little boy and has brought me the utmost joy. I get to be his sober mom.

Even thirteen years sober, I can still suffer from self-doubt. I will find myself looking at my beautiful child and my loving husband and ask myself, “Is this it?”

The wounds don’t heal easily. My past will always be part of my journey, but it no longer defines the woman I am.

Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions, Compiled by A Band of Women. Published by Nothing But The Truth, LLC, May, 2014.

Dolores Coleman is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Dolores Coleman, as of the publication of this collection, will be celebrating 14 years of sobriety. As founder and head chef of the newly launched Dee's Soul Food, Dolores is ecstatic to be realizing a lifelong dream of running her own business.
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