Drink, Drank, Drunk…Sober

This post is a departure for me. A big, scary, whoa-what-am-I-doing kind of departure. It’s not filled with pretty pictures of DIY projects and party decorations. It is personal, intimate, and honest in a way that leaves me terrifyingly vulnerable. But I think it’s important. So here goes….

I have to be honest – sometimes I forget that all of you haven’t been riding shotgun with me since I was a kid. I forget that we haven’t been best friends since kindergarten. I see myself as such an open book (and such a chatty cathy) that it catches me off guard when someone is surprised by my past.

Recently, I was out with friends and in the course of a conversation told a story from my younger days. Some of the crowd were people I’d only just met, some were acquaintances, but one was a good friend. After I finished my story, which I didn’t think was a big deal, I felt *that* beat of silence. You know the one – where you wonder if you said something out of line or maybe you have food in your teeth and no one wants to tell you? I launched into a joke to power through the silence, but it was only afterwards that I realized that my story had been more than a little surprising to my compatriots that night, and especially surprising to my good friend sitting next to me.

Why? Because the story I told was a very abbreviated version of the sequence of events that led me to get sober at the ripe old age of twenty-one. (Full disclosure – we were in a bar at the time, and because I wasn’t drinking, the subject came up very organically.) I’m not secretive about my sobriety and have never shied away from explaining why I don’t drink if asked directly. I think a lot of people assume I’m “straight edge” or just a goody-goody. (HA! If they only knew…) But I’ve also learned that sometimes my sobriety can make people uncomfortable because they just don’t know what to do with it. Here’s this young (relatively -ouch), happy, outgoing wife and mother, and you can almost read it on their faces, “SHE is an alcoholic? Hubba-Whaaa?”

Yeah. I am.

From to-go cups to sippy cups, it's been a long road.

It’s been a long road from to-go cups to sippy cups.

Even though it’s been 11 years since I quit drinking, I’m still “one of them”. I always will be. I won’t ever “give it another try”. I don’t need to see if maybe I’ve outgrown it. I definitely don’t think it was a phase. I’m not interested in experimenting to see if I could handle it better nowadays.

I get it. It’s hard to reconcile who/what you see now with what we all think of as a drunk, right? But yeah, that was me. I drank to get drunk and in that endeavor, I was phenomenally successful. Not every once in awhile, not on special occasions, but EVERY SINGLE TIME. The story I told a couple weeks ago was about the time that a friend from college saved my life by being in the right place at the right time and saw me passed out on a city sidewalk in Texas, just as a bum started to drag me into an alley. It’s not a particularly scary story for me because a)I was a blackout drunk and don’t remember any of it, and b)I’ve told the story a bunch of times in AA meetings. It’s just one of the litany of jackpots that eventually led me to spend two and a half months in rehab. The stories that still scare the bejezus out of me are the ones that I don’t tell that often, like the time I came out of a blackout sitting on the stone ledge of a building, six stories up. When I figured out which window I’d climbed out of and rejoined the party, I laughed uproariously about it… and then drank some more.

Imagine that guy is a girl. And she’s very, very drunk. Image via Man On A Ledge

It’s no longer embarrassing to me that I did spectacularly humiliating things while drunk. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m an alcoholic. I am deeply regretful of the way I hurt the people I most loved and the dangerous ways in which I behaved, but I don’t think I’m a bad person. I think I was a sick person who has been committed on a daily basis for 11 years to staying well.

So, why would I admit this to the entire world? Because we all have bits and pieces of our lives we’d like to forget. Because our secrets keep us sick. Because I’m one of the incredibly fortunate few who have managed to stay on the straight and narrow, and turn my back on the siren call of an “easy” good time. Because one too many times I’ve had people comment on how “together” I am, or how perfect things seem, how remarkable it is that I have everything under control, and how I make everything look easy.

No. I am not together. I am not perfect. I do not have things under control. And most certainly, there are very few things in my life that have come easily.

This moment, circa 2010, speaks volumes of the joy my life today holds - all because I was willing to admit I was a mess a long, long time ago.

This moment, circa 2010, speaks volumes of the joy my life today holds – all because I was willing to admit I was a mess a long, long time ago. And because I fought HARD to become a woman worthy of marrying this man. Image via Anne Skidmore

I operate in a constant state of grace. I have a daily reprieve from my demons. I say thank you every day for a second chance to live my life better. I struggle, I plod, I mess up, I apologize, I strive for integrity, and I make a conscious decision every single morning that I will not drink, just for today.

The way that life is portrayed to us these days is so filtered, so produced, so edited. Y’all, we are not those people. I’m as guilty as anyone – you think I didn’t chose the most flattering photo I could find as my profile pic? Of course I did. But I also try to show you what my house looks like behind the scenes of a photo shoot. (It’s a disaster area in every square inch that won’t be on film.)

Photo shoot reality.

Photo shoot reality.

You know why I’d rather admit to the whole world that I’m an alcoholic, the kitchen island is almost always a wasteland of junk piles, I let my toddler watch an episode of Curious George pretty much every morning so I can get dressed, that I often just want to eat Captain Crunch for dinner instead of actually cooking, and that I require strict deadlines to accomplish even the most menial of tasks, and even then I procrastinate? Because that’s the beautiful reality of life, it’s my truth, and I honor it.

Yes, I picked the prettiest picture I could find for my profile photo. But I only look like this five days a year. Image via Grazier Photography

Yes, I picked the prettiest picture I could find for my profile photo. But I only look like this five days a year. Image via Grazier Photography

The level of perfection that’s portrayed as “normal” is EXHAUSTING. I find myself mentally doing a side by side comparison of everyone else’s FB, Twitter and Instagram – and finding myself, my life, my abilities, my creativity, my marriage, my parenting abilities, and my bank account, seriously lacking. Roosevelt said it best: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Rather than try to change other people, the media or the world, I’m going to do what I know works: I’m going to change my own behavior. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m going to tattle on myself. And I figured why not start with a whopper? I used to be a hot mess. Because I don’t want to be that hot mess today, I don’t drink.

I also eat Smarties one by one until I get a blister on the tip of my tongue, but that’s a story for another week.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. This? It’s a lotta words. You should totally get a certificate for reading achievement.


25 Responses to “Drink, Drank, Drunk…Sober”

  1. MJ

    Girl, you are even gutsier than I gave you credit for. So painful and so beautiful. Grateful to know the woman you are now because of all of these layers and experiences. xoxo, MJ

    • Minnow + Co.

      Spoken from a phenomenally talented lady who roars in her own right, I take that as a super high compliment, Daisy! Thanks! And kisses to your adorable babe.

  2. theresadykes

    I read this achingly beautiful post and then had to take a moment; Verklempt, I was. I applaud you for having the courage to both write this post *and* hit publish. As a child of an alcoholic (my dad is sober 28 years), I know the journey to sobriety isn’t an easy one, but ultimately it’s the most rewarding one you’ll ever take. I wish you nothing but the best on your journey; Keep up the good fight! As I tell my dad: I’m proud of you. xo

    • Minnow + Co.

      I got all verklempt by your comment! I have a sober parent, too, and can relate to the challenges of being the child of an alcoholic. I have a lot more empathy now that I see the other side, but I am willing to bet you have your own stories to tell. And telling stories is something you do beautifully, lady. :)

  3. Monique Dulac

    On behalf of everyone who has ever known you, thank-you. For being the most spectacularly courageous and soul-bearing person on the planet. I love you to the moon. Maybe I should start sharing at meetings again now….

    • Minnow + Co.

      I adore you. Sobriety got a lot more lively, colorful, and interesting once I met you. I’m so proud to have a best friend like you. And I can’t wait to see you in seven weeks! xoxoxoxoxoxoxox

  4. beautifulhello

    I am so, so proud of you. I know your little girl will admire, respect, and love you 100x over for the strength you are showing every day.

    “I operate in a constant state of grace.” I love that. I think that is a theme everyone can relate too – regardless of what our individual deep, deep sins and downfalls. You are a remarkable, strong woman. We all know you’re “real”, and that’s what makes you even more fantastic in our eyes.

    • Minnow + Co.

      Emily, I can’t tell you how much I sincerely hope my little one never has to experience my battles in her own life, but no matter what, I’ll be there to help her through whatever challenges may lie ahead of her. Every parent craves the love and respect of their child, but the best thing I can offer her is my unyielding support. Which is exactly what my parents did, heartbreakingly painful as that must have been, but it saved my life.

      I can’t wait to see you again face to face! Fingers crossed our master plan (mwuhahahaha) works and we see each other in a few months. xoxox

  5. Olivia Korpi

    Ellen, such eloquent words for such an authentic human. I love your honesty. I love your willingness to be you, to tell your story, to show your strength through sharing your weakness. We all have them. Secrets do eat us away, and I love you just that much more for being willing to say this one out loud. Go you girl…hero!

    • Minnow + Co.

      Thanks, Olivia! It’s so much easier to walk through life without the added weight of secrets, so I’ve gotten pretty good at not keeping any. :) Besides, we’re all flawed – and in my eyes, that’s one of the things that makes humanity so beautiful. That we can recover from our errors, mend the broken pieces, and move on along the path to happiness. xoxo

  6. Laurie

    Great post, Ellen! I had no idea about your past, that’s how much you come off as having it all together! You’ve done an amazing job overcoming obstacles like this, and these are some serious challenges that not everyone is strong enough to overcome. Love the quote about making comparisons, it’s so true and it’s something I find myself doing when I’m in a funk (no good). If you ever need a source for your Smarties, you know where to come (haha).

    Again, great post, see you around!

    • Minnow + Co.

      Laurie! Of COURSE Lolly is my go to spot for all things sweet and pretty. Best candy shop in all of NH and it’s a few blocks from home? No brainer. :) Thanks for the comment and the support. Let’s talk windows soon! xoxo

  7. Allison

    Amazing post and amazing story. Everyone has things like this, a lot of them choose to keep it all inside. I definitely am with you on being real and not being ashamed of your past. Great to hear that you’re on an awesome track, you deserve it and I don’t even know you!

    PS I do the same thing with smarties. And I eat the white ones last, always.

    • Minnow + Co.

      Allison – THE WHITE ONES. Yes. Totally, unequivocally yes. Are you the same way with Necco wafers? Or is that just a New England thing? If you don’t know Neccos, allow me to introduce a new variety of sugar rush to your candy habit. :) Thanks so much for your kind words!

  8. katie sanzone

    I love you, my dear, dear friend. I’m so glad you are you…..you make the world better in so many ways. I’m so fortunate to know you and call you friend.

  9. Rebecca Day

    Ellen, it is not easy for any of us to “bare-all” and I am so proud of you for your ability to do so- and quite eloquently I might add! You amaze me with all you do! Keep on rockin’!! xoxo

  10. kim @ DESIGN + LIFE + KIDS

    This is a wonderfully raw and honest post. Thank you for sharing. It’s interesting how common your story actually is and I hope that others who need this inspiration will come across your post and get even just a little bit of guts to be as honest with themselves. My mother is an alcoholic, it was absolutely rough as a little girl – and I didn’t even live with her. Last year, my husband went through some tough times and has not had a drink since 01/01/13. I’m very proud of you both!


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