By: Katy V.
My name is Katy. I’m a singer-songwriter, a ukulele player, a mother, a wife, a dual citizen of the US and UK and I’m an alcoholic.
May, 1st 2016 was the day I finally gave up drinking. I told myself I could maybe drink again if
I wanted, if I could control it, contain it, enjoy it, but I wasn’t sure I would have a marriage, a
career, a relationship with my kids, or anything else I wanted in life if I did. Even with all of that
in the balance I still wasn’t sure what choice to make, or if it was even a choice.
That day I woke up with my last ever hangover. I was pretty good at handling them. 4 Advils,
water, coffee, shower. As usual, I replayed the previous night in my mind, feeling foolish about
some of my conversations but also truly frightened by the parts I couldn’t remember. I’d been telling myself for years that I didn’t drink more than other people and I was getting increasingly used to trying to piece together lost moments and lost evenings, reading clues about what I had done the night before. I would later learn that these were ‘Brownouts’. Walking, talking lost moments. I’m lucky that they were mostly contained within my own home. But that last night they weren’t and I had to face up to my embarrassing behavior and try to align that with the person I thought I was.
For so many years I would minimize and joke about whether I needed to cut back and control my drinking but all of those excuses were suddenly inadequate. It wasn’t funny anymore. I needed to wake the hell up and get in control of my life.
I was definitely ‘sober curious’ way before I got sober. I’d read books about it. I saw people
being sober and wanted to snap my fingers and be like that. But not yet, I didn’t think I needed it just yet. I’d read over and over in different books and online forms the list of signs that you might be an alcoholic, but as I was only up to about number 8 on the list I was sure I wasn’t out
of control! I had more time.
I drank because I was sad,
Because I had chronic pain,
Because I was lonely,
Because cheese never tasted so good as when it was paired with red wine,
Because I was stressed at work,
Because I needed to wind down from a great show,
Because I liked it.
Because everyone drinks.
Even when I knew it was clearly getting out of control I thought I could control it. I would joke that I was ok not drinking at all, it was just once I started I couldn’t stop. So funny. Except not. This was all socially acceptable and for the most part hidden. Only my husband saw the signs of how out of control I was getting.
When he expressed that I drank too much at parties I asked him to gently cut me off, which as
you can imagine did not work well! It also creates a weird uneven parental role in a relationship
that is doomed to fail.
No one can truly be controlled, policed, or saved by someone else into recovery. Yes, we need
the support of others, but we also need to build the motivation to save ourselves. So how did I get to this point?
I got drunk for the first time when I was 8. I was a bridesmaid for our cleaning lady’s wedding. I don’t even remember us having a cleaning lady (sounds so fancy) but I guess she helped my mum do some stuff around the house and liked us enough to ask me. I got to wear a Laura Ashley dress and have flowers in my hair. I was pretty excited about both of those things.
My parents came to the wedding but allowed me to go to the reception on my own. I felt very pretty in my dress and it signified the very important role I had to play, even though I barely knew the bride or anyone there!
It started when I had at least two Snowballs (a sweet cocktail made with advocaat and sprite), at the bar served to me by a teenage boy. I loved Snowballs and my mum had made me very weak versions of them at Christmas. These ones weren’t the weak version though. Still they tasted like vanilla ice cream and I gobbled them up. After that I went around the room picking up glasses of anything I could find and finished the drinks inside them. Wine, beer, spirits. Some of it disgusting, but the blinders were already on and I just emptied it all. Grown-ups looked on and laughed and I felt like I was entertaining them, my favourite thing to do! At some point I got sleepy and by the time my parents came to get me I was passing out.
I don’t remember getting in any trouble at all. As far as I know, it was just laughed off. It’s only
shocking to look back on. I’m certainly not proud of it. I lost both of my parents in my teens, this created such a profound sadness in me that the grief just seemed to take hold and change every part of me.
I spent so many years trying to numb the pain of that loss, I shut down my ability to deal with my feelings almost completely. I also felt very sorry for myself and pretty angry with the world. I
couldn’t express either of those feelings in a polite society so I tried to swallow them. Swallowing red wine was the quickest way. I recently heard the term “Poor me pour me a drink” and it’s annoyingly relatable.
After the lost night that served as my personal turning point, I made the choice to stop alcohol
from entering my body. That felt huge but was only the first step in learning to be sober. I
thought I’d be happy and healed and in control of everything without alcohol (and I am now for
the most part) but at first it just made me feel everything in a massive wave of emotions and my
only crutch was gone.
So 3 months into recovery I went to my doctor. For the first time ever, I answered all of the
questions about alcohol usage and depression honestly. It felt scary but amazing to admit the
truth and to have a professional listen without judgment and want to help me.
I had spent so many years since losing my parents — trying to navigate my feelings and my place
in the world — that my mental health issues crept up on me. I always had a million reasons to feel sad, and I didn’t know that depression had taken hold. It was probably always there, and it helped me realize that I was literally self-medicating.
I am now on medication for clinical depression and can finally feel the difference between
sadness and depression. It’s a profound difference that I am still getting acclimated to. Around the same time in my early recovery, I sat in one of the Twelve Step rooms and listened to a woman discuss how she took a business trip to France. She was alone in a hotel room thousands of miles away from her family. Wine was served with every meal, and there was a fully stocked mini-bar in her room. She didn’t drink. She was proud of herself, and as I watched others congratulate her on her recovery, I couldn’t imagine “that” ever being me. Of course, at the time, I didn’t fully believe I had an addiction. But I also couldn’t imagine having the freedom to drink without witnesses or judgment and not doing it.
Less than a year after this I took the biggest risk of my life and booked a solo tour playing music
in the UK for 6 weeks. The UK, where drinking is allowed everywhere, on the street, pubs on
every corner and wine sold by the glass in convenience stores! Total freedom and total temptation. I made a promise to myself that I would be like that woman and stay sober. Not because anyone would ever know, but because I was worthy of keeping my own promises. I used to feel naked out in public, meeting new people. Only alcohol put me at ease. But I’m finding a more natural ease now.
People often ask me if I’m OK being around alcohol. I know it’s really hard for many, and you should always listen to your gut and avoid stressful situations, but for me being in a bar, pub, or club is work. That’s my office. So I can separate in my mind the place from my addiction. I tell myself I’m allergic to alcohol and that helps. Every time I walk into a new venue, I have the choice to either take someone up on the offer of a drink or to introduce “sober me.” I tried this in the UK even knowing that no one would know if I cheated on myself. It was a test and I felt so happy knowing I was passing it. As soon as I let the words “I don’t drink” come out of my mouth, I feel like I am holding myself accountable and being true to the person I want to be.
Every day I still have to make this promise to myself. The road has had bumps. I had lapses in
the past and learned to keep going and not let them defeat me. Addiction is a chronic condition, and I have come to know the importance and value of prioritizing self-care, maintaining a support network, and helping others.
When I stopped drinking I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel I was in. I had to hold
on to the hope that many other people have survived this and if I listened and followed their lead I maybe could too. Ultimately I just tried really hard not to give up on myself. If you can put that feeling on hold ( I have also had to face the ultimate lows of hating myself and not wanting to go on) and stay close to people that are in active recovery, then you’ll hopefully understand that it’s never too late for anyone.
I wrote this last song I’m going to sing about there being bravery in vulnerability and in acknowledging that we can only respond to life as it happens. Once we’re able to internalize and practice that wisdom, then we can start to forgive ourselves. You are not your addiction. You have value. It’s never too late to change your life.