In the United States alone, it is estimated that 1 in 8 adults struggles with excessive alcohol consumption. While some individuals struggle with occasional binge drinking, others suffer from constant, ongoing alcohol addiction for years and sometimes their whole lives. Seeking help can seem impossible, and for some, finding support may not be easy or even possible. Alcoholism is defined as “An addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol dependency.” We are honored to have had the opportunity to speak with our latest Brain Story contributor about her life as a recovering alcoholic, and the challenges she’s faced battling this brain disorder.
Alcoholism is a brain disease that can be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. In a 2013 study published by Howard J. Edenberg and Tatiana Foroud, researchers found that variations in two genes of alcohol metabolism, ADH1B and ALDH2, are the strongest known factors that may impact an individual’s ability to have a healthy relationship with alcohol.
Mary’s Brain Story – Life as a Recovering Alcoholic
Mary (whose name has been changed to preserve her anonymity) approached the United Brain Association to tell her story about achieving a fulfilling life as a recovering alcoholic. She spoke candidly about her addiction, her path to recovery, and the struggles she faced combatting her addiction. Even now, after almost 20 years of sobriety, Mary is still aware that relapse is possible at any time.
“The only thing that keeps me away from a drink is regular AA meetings (average 3/wk) and consistent contact with other recovering women. They are part of my life; they are my most trusted friends outside of my family. If I eliminated that from my life,I would definitely drink again. Alcoholism does not go away and I will never be able to drink “successfully” with control. If I maintain my meetings and sober relationships I can go anywhere and do anything. I don’t have to avoid alcohol. I am free. In addition to that, I feel my best when I eat well, exercise, run my farm stand, and take time out for enjoyable activities—drawing, painting, meditation, spending time with my friends & family… but I think that goes for anyone, not just alcoholics.”
Mary first realized that her drinking was a problem at 22. “The first time I realized I needed help to stop drinking was when I was 22. I remembered just feeling so sick from drinking and still needing to drink. One experience I recall so clearly is being in my apartment with my roommate and telling her, “I am only going to drink 3 beers tonight, and I’m going to sit on the couch and watch TV, like a normal person.” I only had 1 beer within the hour, and that’s how I rationalized that I could drink “normal,” so I got up and drank the rest of the beers. At that time, I seriously believed that I could just make the decision and not drink like an alcoholic bum anymore, and I could do it on my own. Instead, I was spending all of my money on booze and was completely lost.” Mary went on to explain that alcoholism has impacted literally every facet of her life. While attending university, Mary once had the opportunity to travel abroad, but due to her failing grades and lack of control, her father refused to allow her to take part in that experience. As a result, she tells us that she gave up everything she loved for alcohol.
While Mary has successfully stayed sober for the last 18 years, she recognizes there are situations where she is more likely to want to drink. Social situations can be difficult when others are drinking alcohol, and she has strict boundaries about who she associates with and where.
“I’ve become more aware of how much people talk about and drink alcohol. In a mom’s group I was part of when my girls were younger, the topic of booze usually came within the first few minutes. I don’t mind being around people who are drinking, but if someone starts to get drunk, it’s a different story. People who drink get uncomfortable around people who do not drink. Everyone has some experience with alcoholism.”
Alcoholics Anonymous – How Mary Regained Control and FoundSupport
We asked Mary what treatments and support she sought out to help her overcome her addiction; her experience is vast. Mary sought treatment through rehab facilities, halfway houses, and even therapeutic treatment communities, but none of these worked for her. While these treatments were ultimately not successful for her, she made a point to reassure readers that everyone’s journey is their own. The most important part of treating alcohol addiction is finding the treatments and support that work best for each individual. Mary says, “It doesn’t have to be AA. Maybe one-on-one counseling—everyone goes through hard times. There are so many different forms out there; don’t ignore the problem.”
Recovering from alcohol addiction: Joshua’s story from BUPA Health UK
Mary found that joining Alcoholics Anonymous was the key to her recovery. Even after completing the initial mandatory meetings required for her probation, she attends a minimum of 3 meetings every week. These meetings, where she’s surrounded by supportive individuals who share her struggle, are paramount to her ongoing sobriety.
“Nothing was really helping until I had to attend AA meetings as part of my probation. I thought to myself, I’ll just go to these meetings until my probation is up, and then I’ll go back to drinking. But then I started feeling really good and believing that it was possible for me to be happy and not drink. I felt a huge sense of freedom. I stay connected and choose healthy alternatives because I know I’m not “drunk-proof.” Even 18 years later, I still need to go to meetings and surround myself with other recovering alcoholics.”
Mary shared some of the more personal details of her journey, including divorce, the loss of a child, loved ones, friendships, and an overall feeling of failure and lack of accomplishment. Through all of that darkness, Mary has overcome what was seemingly impossible and she’s courageously here to tell the tale.
Mary is now thriving. Together with her new partner, amazing daughters, and their combined families, she leads an incredible life and works hard in her community. Each summer, she participates in her local farmers’ market and even runs her own garden market stand at her home. She tells us that she fully believes anything is possible.
As part of her very active involvement in her own recovery, she has become a support system for women just like her. As a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC), she is giving back to her community in ways that just 20 years ago would have been impossible to imagine.
We asked Mary why she chose to share her powerful story with the United Brain Association.
“I hope that by sharing my story, I can help someone else who may be struggling with alcohol. I want people to know that alcoholics can be normal, highly functioning people. They can be mothers, employees, homeowners, and contributing members of the community.. When I was drinking, I didn’t know that a person could stop. I thought of myself as an alcoholic, and this was going to be my future; I never thought I could have a normal life. So if there is anyone out there who’s drinking and feels helpless, I want them to know they’re not. A “normal” life without alcohol is achievable.”
We thank Mary for sharing her story, and we encourage anyone struggling with alcohol addiction to seek support and help. For a list of mental health resources, please follow this link here. You are not alone, you are loved, and help is available to support you as you overcome your challenges.
“If you feel like you have a problem, there is help out there. You can’t do this alone, but there are tons of people who want to see you succeed and are there to help. You may be able to stop for a little while, but the problem is never going to go away.” – Mary
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The United Brain Association – No Mind Left Behind