“When I was younger and heard the word ‘alcoholic,’ I would always think of someone you may see on the side of street who hasn’t showered who is begging for change as they have a bottle of vodka in their hand. I didn’t realize that alcoholics can literally be anyone. Me included.
I wasn’t raised in a bad neighborhood by a broken marriage and brought up in an abusive household… which is another thought I had when I was younger as to what an alcoholic’s upbringing was. I was raised in an amazing neighborhood and had a close family with my mom, dad and two sisters. We went to church every Sunday, did every extracurricular activity imaginable, went on family vacations and just had an awesome childhood. Neither of my parents were drinkers so I wasn’t brought up around it. I went to catholic school for high school and excelled as a four-year varsity basketball athlete breaking records in my school. I was a member of the National Honor Society and had perfect attendance in high school. I was pretty much what one would consider a ‘goody goody.’ I went to parties, but I never touched booze. That all changed when I turned 18.
The first time I tried booze when I was 18, I chugged Mad Dog 20/20 until I was projectile vomiting. And the next day I felt so horrible, but I couldn’t wait to have that feeling of being drunk again. It was like an out of body experience; I felt like I was a new person when drunk. I had a new personality. I was no longer shy. I could talk to the guys I didn’t have the confidence to talk to before. I was now social. I was now ‘cool.’ I was in love with alcohol.
I started bartending at the ripe age of 18 and it was pretty much downhill from there, as I already had that taste of booze and now had full access to it daily. For the next 16 years, I pretty much lived the same day on repeat. Every story I have is different, but they are all the same. I worked in some of the biggest and best nightclubs in Washington DC, Baltimore and South Florida. And every night was a party. And after the party came the afterhours bars… then sleep and repeat. I managed to rack up two DUIs in my 20s, both times blowing over three times the legal limit. Both times totaling my car. Both times getting arrested. And, both times I had great lawyers so I got off with basically a slap on the wrist, so I definitely didn’t learn my lesson immediately following those arrests. I also got arrested for being drunk in public once, because I was in 7-11 and had no clue where I was or how to get home. I spent the night in the drunk tank and of course, the next day, I thought it was hilarious. Again, I hadn’t learned my lesson yet.
I had many close calls with death because of drinking. Crashing my cars was just the beginning of it. Years later, I would find myself in the ICU for almost unintentionally drinking myself to death. You know what’s worse than waking up in a hospital hooked up to a ventilator with a catheter in and no clue how you got there? Being so terrified because you have no memory of the night before? Feeling your head pounding as if it got run over by a dump truck? Your hands shaking so badly from alcohol withdrawal that you can’t even pick up the cup of water next to your hospital bed? Being hooked up to so many machines and IVs and not being able to talk because of the breathing tube? Not waking up ever is worse. And I thank God daily that He had other plans for me than to die in that hospital bed that night.
So, I went out with a friend and started drinking triples of whiskey; because in my world, that was normal. It was a snow day and the nightclub where I worked wasn’t opening, so that meant I could drink all day. And that I did. I drank for HOURS from day until night. All was good, or at least as good as it could be for a an alcoholic, until I slipped and fell on the ice and hit my head. I was knocked out, and my friend panicked not knowing what to do. The moments following my fall, a police officer, by the grace of God, happened to walk by. This was in the heart of DC, so I was very lucky to be in such a populated area where a police officer WOULD be just hanging around. He called for an ambulance and off I went. I stopped breathing in the ambulance and they had to resuscitate me. I went to the ICU where I ultimately spent three days. When I woke up the next morning, the doctors came running in and they were in shock. They said they didn’t expect me to wake up for days, if I did at all. My BAC was .46 which my being an alcoholic and building up that tolerance kept me from dying. ‘Normal’ people with a BAC this high would not survive, as it means almost half of my bloodstream was alcohol. After my brain scan, the doctor told me the brain damage I had developed over the years of my heavy drinking was so bad, he had only seen it to that level before in alcoholics over the age of 55. I was 31 years young. Thankfully, the damage was reversible pending my quitting of the booze.
You would think having a traumatic event such as this would make me quit drinking forever immediately, because who on earth would almost die then go back to doing the same thing that almost killed them? An alcoholic would. That’s who.
I had no shame when I was drinking. I remember one time I was at a restaurant by the beach that I frequented, and I was hammered by 1 p.m. (did I mention it was a family restaurant?) I was so drunk that I tripped on my long skirt while trying to get off my barstool. I flipped backwards while stepping on my loose-fitting skirt and ended up laying on the ground on my back with my skirt pulled down to my ankles. I made a complete ass of myself yet still showed up a few days later like nothing happened. I would get so drunk at another bar I used to go to regularly, that I would stumble to my friend’s house once I blacked out at 2 a.m., because I knew she had a hammock in her backyard. I woke up on so many occasions sleeping in the actual dirt NEXT to the hammock, because I was too drunk the night before to figure out how to get in it… or how to simply just knock on her door instead of sleeping outside. This is the insanity of the disease. You will do things that are absolutely crazy, but in your mind, it’s ok because everyone does it, right? Wrong.
I went through so many failed relationships. All of them failed because of the same common denominator – my drinking. All of these men would say the same thing, ‘Erica, you’re so awesome when you’re sober but when you drink, it’s just too much.’ All of them left me, and I cannot say I blame them. I was unstable, acted insane and was unable to love another human, for I didn’t even love myself. It is impossible to have any sort of clarity or understanding of love or feelings or true right from wrong when you are clouding your thoughts with booze on a regular basis. The only feeling you have is selfishness because when you’re addicted to alcohol, nothing is important except yourself and when you’re going to get drunk next.
I watched myself hurt my family for the duration of my drinking. I saw the sadness and disappointment in their eyes each and every time I showed up to a family function hungover, called them wasted or had some sort of episode which was the result of my binge drinking. It was beyond painful to see what I was doing to them, but that’s just the thing; addicts put themselves first whether they realize it or not. So no amount of pain I saw in them would make me stop because I didn’t WANT to stop. I didn’t know how to stop. However, they weren’t the only ones who felt this pain; I did too. Alcohol brought me to such a dark place, especially when I was alone. I was always sad and had been diagnosed with severe depression. I hated myself and oftentimes I just wanted to die. I attempted suicide more than once. I swallowed bottles of sleeping pills three times that I can remember. Once resulted in me going to the hospital and then the psych ward for a week, another time I forced myself to throw up, and a third time a friend caught me, and he put his own fingers down my throat to force me to throw up.
Another suicide attempt was when my ex wasn’t home and I found his gun while blacked out. His roommate walked into the room while I had the gun to my head trying to pull the trigger. Thankfully, I didn’t know how to work the safety and the roommate ripped it from my hands. All of these attempts were when I was very much under the influence of alcohol. All of these times I was blacked out. It’s so incredibly terrifying how alcohol mixed with depression could affect me in such a way. It was truly poison to my body and mind. It made me believe things that weren’t real, like that I wasn’t wanted on this earth and I would be helping my family by killing myself. My stomach turns even typing this, because it makes me so sad that I could have saved myself so many years of sadness had I just put down the bottle years ago. But, I know, it was all in God’s plan the way it happened.
I woke up one morning hungover. I felt awful, like I had hundreds of other mornings over the years. But this day, something was different. I was told by a friend that morning a story of my actions from weeks past. She told me that weeks prior, while blacked out, I ran behind the bar of a venue where my ex worked, and I started hitting him. In the moment I heard of my actions, something in me snapped. Granted, what I did to my ex is completely inexcusable and wrong, and I am so very sorry for what I did. But, to be honest, unfortunately I have done far worse things while drunk. But for some reason, on the day I was told what I did to my ex, THAT was my breaking point. Hearing what I did was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was quiet for a moment, then I said with tears in my eyes, ‘That’s it. I am done drinking.’
I immediately called my mom and sister whom I’m sure were apprehensive of my news of sobriety at first, as I had tried quitting alcohol before in the past a few times with no success. Nevertheless, they were beyond supportive, as they have always been, as I have no doubt they always will be. I prayed harder than I ever have in my life that day. I prayed for strength. I prayed for guidance. And I haven’t looked back since. That was September 19, 2016. I have remained sober by the grace of God ever since.
How do I do and how has my life changed are two questions I get regularly. The first answer is easy. I do it with the help of God and my family. If you take either of those out of the equation, I don’t think I could pull it off, as this disease is bigger than I am. A support system is everything. Being brought up in the church, God has always been my center in my life, however, sobriety has brought me to know I cannot properly function in life without God’s hand and guidance. I pray for strength daily. I pray in everything I do. It’s the first thing I do in the morning, first thing I do when I get in the car to go to work and the last thing I do before bed. My family is my rock. I truly don’t know what I would do without them. Their encouragement and unending faith in me has been such a huge part in what has lifted me from the hell I created for myself on earth. I am lucky for being blessed with them and will be forever grateful beyond words for as long as I live.
I do things differently now. I do things for ME that make me happy. I go to the gym daily, I hang out with people who are my real friends and not just drinking buddies. I cut off any toxic people from my past that I knew wouldn’t be good for my future. My life has changed drastically. I am no longer in a dark place. I am no longer depressed and when things are bad, I always know that God is bringing me through whatever it is for a reason, and that things will get better. And they always do. I try to be the best daughter, sister, Aunt and friend as I can be, and I am constantly trying to fix my character defects (I have a lot of them) lol. I admit now when I am wrong and I make amends when I can. I am a constant work in progress, and I am ok with that! The biggest thing that makes me happy is that now I am able to help others who struggle. I am so thankful that I can turn what was once my nightmare, into a blessing. I receive messages daily from people all over the world just reaching out and asking for whatever helpful words of insight I can offer on alcoholism and addiction and for me, knowing I am capable of helping just makes me feel like I have purpose. If I’ve even helped one person get sober and change their life, that makes me happy beyond words.
I am not here for compliments or praise or a pat on the back; I did a lot of messed up things and hurt a lot of people while drinking and just because I got better, it doesn’t mean all those things I did are suddenly forgotten. I can’t go back and change the past, but I am in control of my actions for the future. And I want to pay my penance by helping people so they know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m here because I want to share my story so others can find comfort in knowing that one decision to put down the bottle can not only change their life, but SAVE their life. By God’s grace I am here, and I plan to spend the rest of my days making Him proud of the person I have become.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erica Haywood. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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