On the morning of September 10, 2014, I awoke to my roommate knocking on my bedroom door. “You okay?” she called. I rumbled a shaky, “Yes, I’m good, thank you.” I listened as she went back to her room and closed the door.
My head was pounding and a nauseating, sour taste of beer remained in my mouth from the night before. I lay back down, wanting my feelings of helplessness to consume my mind and body. A wave of shame poured over me as I remembered the events of the previous night.
I grew up in Ireland in the 1980s, where alcohol consumption was rampant. Each night, I watched my father hunched over his bowl of cereal and wondered if this would be the night he toppled into it.
I thought I would feel better if I threw some water in my face, so I got up and headed for the bathroom. I let the coolness of the water take refuge on my skin. An affirmation taped to the mirror was staring back at me. It read, “I am a capable woman.” I laughed to myself, a “capable woman” I was not. I felt disgust for that woman in the mirror. I had just thrown away six months of sobriety as easily as I would an empty beer can, and for what? I wondered how I had gotten to this low point in my life.
In the early hours of the morning, I had sent endless emails to my friend. Rereading my emails while sober was daunting – angry words, words that destroyed our friendship.
Alcohol had changed me. I had allowed the power of alcohol to take over my life for 20-some years. I needed something more powerful than alcohol to release me from this addiction. I looked back at the mirror and saw the outline of a twelve-year-old staring back at me. She was a harsh reminder that I had become my father.
I grew up in Ireland in the 1980s, where alcohol consumption was rampant. I had my first taste of alcohol when I was four years old. Every week, my father let us sample his homemade wine. At nine, my mother gave me a glass of her homemade cold remedy of hot whiskey and cloves to free me of a chest cold. Each night, I watched my father hunched over his bowl of cereal and wondered if this would be the night he toppled into it. His loud belches released the sour smell of red wine.
At age twelve, I was confirmed in the Catholic Church. This coming-of-age ceremony was an opportunity to take the pledge and vow to abstain from alcohol until the age of 18. My sister and I chose not to take that pledge.
I promised myself I would never end up like my father, but I had already experienced the magic of alcohol. I was already learning to be like my father. Even at that young age, my question was, “Why should I stop now?”
In 1995, I immigrated to America. I spent the next two decades in a downward spiral. My emotions and feelings were trapped inside of me. I self-medicated as though I were some kind of human fermentation tank.
Over the years, I had worked on sobriety a number of times, wrestling with sobriety chips, gaining ground many times, only to relapse equally as many times. The six-month yellow chip seemed as unlucky for me as the number 13.
The more I relapsed, the worse I felt the next day. It was not the hangover that bothered me, but the disgrace I felt over hurting the people I cared about. When I looked at my reflection in the mirror, I felt overwhelming shame.
On September 10, 2014, I once again began my journey of sobriety. The first couple months were easy and I didn’t have any cravings. But by the third month, my emotions were exploding – my patience was gone and my temper was worse.
I had self-medicated for so many years. My problems had never gone away; instead, they had just festered in the background. The oft-quoted words “How’s that working for you?” rang in my head. It wasn’t working for me.
For the first time in 20 years, I began the unfamiliar task of learning how to feel my feelings. As the alcohol left my body and brain, my emotions began to reflect my true feelings.
After attending Twelve Step meetings two to three times a week, I finally found a sponsor and started working the Steps with her. On our first meeting, she caught my attention with these words: “The past was yesterday; this moment is now.” With a sweeping gesture, she continued, “Out there is tomorrow. So let’s just enjoy the present – this moment.” That was my first full understanding of living in the now and making friends with mindfulness.
I had to find a power stronger than alcohol, a Higher Power. I was convinced it would never happen. How could I have a Higher Power stronger than alcohol? Where was this entity that claimed to be more powerful than my alcohol addiction? I didn’t believe it.
I continued with the Steps and still did not have this Higher Power that everyone was talking about. Then one evening after a discussion with a friend, she made the comment, “Let go and let God.” I researched that term, but could never fully understand it.
Time passed. I continued attending my meetings, picked up kickboxing and fell in love with running. I want to break through the runner’s wall and bask in whatever that feeling is on the other side. Just like in Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” I will take my life back and make up for the 20 years I gave to alcohol.
A few months ago, the phrase “Let go and let God” popped up again. But this time, I finally understood what it meant. This power was so effective that it could overtake any alcohol craving. This has become my visual Higher Power.
When things become too much, I remind myself to stay in the present, remembering that the past was yesterday, this moment is now and out there is tomorrow. I must accept something I can’t handle and tell myself, Let go and let God. When I do this, somehow it sends waves of warmth around my heart. It feels right. I have successfully finished my first year of sobriety and am looking forward to year two.
I realize sobriety comes with a price, though maybe I should say it’s priceless. For the first time in my life, I am experiencing frustration and tears, joy and laughter – sometimes all in the same moment. Walking through these emotions has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I will treasure the experience forever.
Many thanks to the two women who make all this possible: C. V. Snow, my good friend who helped me open my eyes and directed me to AA, and Erin Campbell, my sponsor.
Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Yvonne Hickey and her twin sister recently became United States citizens. Vonny is currently a restaurant manager in Georgia. In her spare time, she loves to write.