That is how many days I have been sober. April 4, 2016 was when I was able to have a second chance at life.
I might not be the person you would immediately think of as an “alcoholic.” I grew up in the tony suburb of Short Hills, New Jersey in a stereotypical nice Jewish family. Everyone around me lived in a nice house, drove nice cars and wore nice clothes. My dad owned a lucrative men’s clothing company and my mom worked with him after I turned 11. They were the Nice Jewish Parents par excellence: loving, warm and giving. Their priority was to instill good values and encourage us to be the best people we could be.
Growing up, when mom and dad returned home from work it was cocktail hour in my house. Dad drank Dewars and Mom drank Smirnoff, always with cheese and crackers. Every night, they had their two drinks. It was normal and I never saw any danger in it. Drinking was not encouraged but it also wasn’t taboo, and alcohol was not an issue in high school, college or graduate school. Even studying abroad in Rome, surrounded by wine all the time was never an issue.
My drinking habits didn’t change during my single days in the city. I drank when I was out for dinner, and had my share of sex-on-the-beach shots at the New York City bars.
I did not have any of the telltale signs of an addict.
I didn’t drink alone, I didn’t binge drink, I didn’t drink in the AM, I didn’t black out, and I never suffered any consequences from drinking. I had a masters’ degree, a job, and I was doing life normally.
Some people know they are alcoholics from the moment a drink touches their lips. This was not my story, I lead a very normal life for a very long time. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to discover my alcoholism earlier so I could have recovered sooner and my kids would have escaped the nightmare.
Years later, when I realized I had somehow become an alcoholic mom in the same suburb where I grew up, it didn’t make sense to me. How could I be an alcoholic? I was on the PTA! I was a proud soccer mom, a devoted wife and cheered on the sidelines of Little League.
It started simply.
Initially, it began with a cocktail or two after 5 PM, similar to my parents. It was when my husband Steven and I separated that I began to spiral. My drinking did not cause our break up as I didn’t start drinking like an animal until the day he left.
After Steven moved out, and we legally separated, the 5 PM drinks became 4 PM, then 3 PM, and before I knew it, I was drinking during the day. I kept a buzz all day long and became obliterated at night. My housekeeper or my 12 year-old son would be left to put the kids to bed because I would pass out at 7 PM. I filled up Powerade bottles halfway with alcohol and carried them everywhere I went – soccer games, baseball games, school plays, and teacher conferences. I even drank in the shower.
Steven took the kids to live with him, as I was incapable of parenting them and they were in danger. When this happened, it seemed like the end of the world, but it was the best and right decision for everyone. My kids were victims and becoming deeply affected by my erratic and irresponsible behavior.
It was when I got a DUI and it was in the local paper that suddenly everyone knew I had a problem.
To be honest, it was almost a relief. I didn’t have to give fake excuses anymore about why I couldn’t do late carpools. I didn’t have to avoid telephone calls from friends who wanted to do normal things with me, like go to a movie or go out to dinner.
At the risk of losing my kids for a long, long time, I made a perfunctory attempt to drink less and reluctantly slithered into an AA meeting. I implored my family not to tell anyone. After all, only real alcoholics went to meetings. I was not a “real alcoholic” – I was a nice Jewish mom from New Jersey. When I walked into Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time, I told myself that I was just there to learn how to drink like a normal person. Fighting my problem fiercely, I concluded that AA was not for me.
My demons persisted and I still didn’t have my kids, so I kicked and screamed my way into a 28 day rehab. I played it like a self-styled Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin when I first arrived, but soon became a rehab rock star. In 28 days, I was fixed! Well, not quite. I still felt that somehow I was better than all the people around me. I wasn’t like these people, I told myself, I was smarter, stronger, just different. It was these precise thoughts that led me to relapse two months later.
I was in my closet.
No, not a metaphorical closet, the actual closet – chugging the cheapest, most disgusting vodka. I was chained to the bottle and alcohol ruled me. Drinking was more important to me than my children and THAT terrified me. I woke up every morning shaking like a leaf, my body begging me for a drink. I made a Bloody Mary (because that was an acceptable AM drink) every morning at 6 AM and, after a few sips, the trembling subsided enough enabling me to brush my teeth and hold my coffee mug.
Hiding my drinking was a ton of work. I knew exactly which liquor stores opened at what time and I rotated going to them because I was afraid the people working there would think I was an alcoholic. I had to remember where I hid all of the bottles and keep track of all the lies I told.
An “anonymous” person (I knew who it was) made a call to family services and my kids were taken from me. My children were gone. The thing I identified with most, being a mom, was suddenly stripped, so who the fuck was I now?? My family was barely talking to me. My car was repossessed. Slowly, my life was crumbling.
I received a text from my mother that her friend’s son, who did work with recovery, was going to call me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, let alone a recovery guru who knew nothing about me. But he called, and I answered. He told me to get help or I would probably die. He said I needed to get serious about AA. This time I did.
April 4th is the day that the gift of desperation gave me the gift of another chance. I now truly understand that alcoholism transcends all socioeconomic groups, from park bench to Park Ave.
This time I got a sponsor, did the 12 steps, and went to 90 meetings in 90 days. All of the things I had been told to do before but ignored because I thought I knew better, I did them now. AA saved my life, both literally and figuratively.
And now I have my kids. I am fixing my relationships with my friends. When I am with my family, I am present and show up. I have a new home and my debts have been paid. Honesty is now a priority to me. I have learned how to cope with shame, guilt, remorse and fear that I lived with for years.
I was blessed with a gift and now my job is to help other alcoholics. I sponsor three women and we keep each other sober. AA has become part of my family and I go to a meeting every day.. My kids and Steven have attended several meetings and they have a full understanding of the program and the crucial role it plays in my life. Their support is unwavering and for that, I am forever grateful.
Life is not perfect. Steven and I are still trying to figure out where we fit into each other’s lives and my kids have been left with scars. I even have days when I think a drink sounds like a good idea. I have caused a lot of wreckage. But I don’t drink, and I have that power not to drink. This power comes from loving my kids fiercely and NEVER wanting to go back to that powerless awful place again. I live in gratitude every single day and my purpose now is to share my experience, strength and hope and help other alcoholics become, like me, a better version of themselves. One day at a time.
Leslie earned her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and taught in NYC for many years. She moved to NJ in 2002 to become a stay-at-home mom to her three children – Max, Luke and Olivia.