April 24, 2020

Red Flag Moments: How I Finally Spotted the Warning Signs of my Drinking Problem.

Red flag moments.

They are an incredibly important part of my story, and I am grateful for them.

I am grateful because each time they happened, they were a huge warning sign waving in my face. Hello! I’m here! Pay attention! This is not okay! This is not good! This is your warning sign! Right here, see me? Don’t look away…

In college, I would stumble out of bed at noon on a Saturday with my roommates; order a large cheese pizza from Domino’s; and spend the rest of the afternoon laughing and recounting all of the stupid, dumb, crazy stuff we did the night before. We would all help each other put the pieces of the foggy Friday night story back together—who said what when, where we went, who we ran into, and how we got home.

It was just part of the silliness of young adult drinking, right? I don’t remember a lot of shame, guilt, or anxiety. The only person I had to take care of was myself, and I felt like I had little to lose.

Fast-forward, and I’m now 42 and it’s New Year’s Eve, 2017. The whole family is invited to go to a neighbor’s house; four families are going, and one of the guests is a chef. The guest chef will be preparing a six-course dinner, with special wine pairings that he selected for New Years. We will order pizza for all the kids, and they will take over the basement where there will plenty of entertainment. Video games, doll houses, ping-pong, you name it. The adults will stay upstairs and bring in 2018, and the kids will be safe.

Sounds awesome! Count us in.

My son, Sean, who was 11 at the time, woke me up the next morning. I was lying on the edge of the bed with my head flat on the mattress. When I opened my eyes, I could make out the shape of his little face.

He said, “Mommy, are you okay?” My automatic response: “Yeah, buddy, I’m okay.”

I was so not okay. My head was pounding, and the inside of my mouth felt like sand paper. He said, “Mommy, were you drunk last night?” My heart immediately sank into the deepest part of my soul, and I wanted to disappear. The shame and guilt and soul-crushing anxiety started flooding over my entire body, and I got hot and sweaty as I realized I was not dreaming. This was real. This was happening.

For the next few minutes, Sean proceeded to mimic everything that he saw me do in the final minutes of the party, when kids came upstairs to say goodbye, as we were leaving. How I walked, how I talked. He filled me in how I couldn’t put my boots back on because I kept falling over as I bent down.

“Mommy, Dad had to literally carry you up the stairs!” He thought it was hilarious; I did not. There was nothing silly or funny or cute about it. I couldn’t remember one thing he was describing. I was frozen in fear and shame and disgust with myself.

This was not college, and Sean was not going to be ordering the cheese pizza from Domino’s. My heart was broken, and I hated myself. The last thing I remember was taking shots of Fireball after dinner. My husband gently reminded me that was about 11 p.m. I blacked out with my kids present—and they saw everything.

I share this with you, one of my red flag moments, because it’s important. It’s important because it would mark the beginning of me seriously questioning my relationship with alcohol. I didn’t just dismiss it as New Years, because I knew deep down inside it was much more than that. I took it seriously.

The horrific experience I had that morning humbled me. I would continue to drink for another year before I got sober and continue to collect more red flags.

Yes, I am grateful for these moments. I am grateful that I chose to pay attention to them, to listen to them, to respect them. I would not be sober today without them.

The pain is there for a reason. I hope I never forget it.

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