I was diagnosed with major recurrent depression around 20 years ago but didn’t start taking medication for it until my late 20s, maybe early 30s. I started with Zoloft and didn’t like that because Of weight gain and I was already super fat back then. I switched to Paxil but that stopped working after awhile. I went in for a new Psychiatrist evaluation before trying a 3rd medication. I had a Psychologist I met with every other week but he couldn’t prescribe medication so he set up a meeting with a Psychiatrist in his practice.

The doctor asks a bunch of questions to better understand the mechanics of the depression to determine the best medication fit. We arrived at Effexor because it treated 2 brain chemicals instead of just serotonin like the first 2 had been limited to. Nothing is ever simple with me. I can’t just have one misfiring brain chemical, it had to be the combination of 2 which is why it took so long to regulate it. I have been on Effexor ever since. Every few years we have to adjust the dosage but, overall, it works.

I also have PTSD which I got from the Boston Marathon bombing. I am going to skip a couple “stories” here and fast forward to when I needed assistance from the Victim Compensation Fund. In order to be considered, I had to submit a whole slew of medical paperwork from multiple doctors in order to cover the full scope of what I was up against and the myriad of treatments I needed but couldn’t afford with medical insurance alone.

The documentation included notes from every therapy session as well as notes from my Psychiatric medication evaluation. In the Psychiatrist’s notes, there was a list of diagnoses I was familiar with. But there was a new one listed which I hadn’t seen before…”Alcoholism.” I remember being really confused because at no point had I referred to myself that way. I had answered questions about my drinking habits and I was very honest. I had assumed alcohol was an ingredient which needed to be considered in terms of side effects with certain medications.

Then I got really mad. My grandfather was an alcoholic. The kind that went to AA and whose children experienced different childhoods depending upon the before and after of his sobriety. My father grew up with the “before” and while I had never heard any stories about it, I knew for certain it impacted him. One of his brothers also had a significant problem with chemical dependency when I was just a baby. I did hear stories of him getting kicked out of his house and then sleeping in his car in front of our house. My parents would allow him to use the bathroom and shower there but not in my presence, which is why he had to sleep in his car. I was deeply aware of how this disease runs in families, especially Irish ones like us.

I have extremely strong feelings about the word. I don’t believe that anyone is allowed to characterize another person as an alcoholic. I think only the drinker himself/herself can ever truly know it or give words to it. Anyone else is generalizing, even a doctor. That’s my personal belief and I don’t refer to myself as an alcoholic. I think it’s way more complicated than that. I am happy to talk about my drinking with anyone who asks. You just don’t get to label something I haven’t labeled because you can never truly know me and what it’s like to feel my feelings, both physically and emotionally. You don’t have my brain chemistry. You don’t share my blood. You haven’t got my history or my memories. You don’t get to label me. Ever.

I am going to skip a lot of stories again here. Think of this writing more as a preface or introduction as you might see in a book before the chapters start. I might start writing in “chapters” following this but right now, the actual stories haven’t really separated themselves yet. I trust that will come as I embark on this potential writing project.

December 2019, I got to take my team of roughly 20 associates out for a celebratory dinner. I was their Manager and they had just come off a tumultuous period of team changes and upheaval, while delivering their best results yet which earned the team a few hundred bucks. Kind of the leadership I am also proud of known for. I also had regular budget money so I could actually afford more than just a token pizza lunch. I took them to a restaurant with great food and tons of beer choices. We had a blast. I let them order whatever they wanted and we only went about 100$ above budget which I paid from my own credit card. That said, it was a snowy night out so I watched their drinking very carefully to ensure they were all making safe decisions. They didn’t know I had ever been arrested for drunk driving but I knew it and it made me hyper aware of everyone else’s safety at all times.

They did great. They all stopped at 2 drinks which felt reasonable. I knew that was also my limit but I grabbed a third anyway. That’s what I do. When I start, it hits my bloodstream and brain so fast, I don’t have time to stop for reasoning; an unintended consequence of weight loss surgery 9 years before. They warn you post-op about the dangers of alcoholism and I think I went about 2 years after that surgery without drinking. It just wasn’t something which moved me. I overdid it in college….typical, cliched reaction to a strict upbringing. Once college was over, it wasn’t a big deal. I drank for fun in my 20s with friends but very rarely to excess. I just didn’t care that much about it. After surgery, once I tried it again, I didn’t stand a chance. The physical changes in my digestive system created quite the short cut strait to my brain and it was like someone else became in control of me.

So here I was, standing outside in my trendy, fake, white fur coat walking to my car as snowflakes landed on my hair. I knew I probably shouldn’t drive but was going to take my chances. Plus, I was going to kill time at the gas station…..buying cigarettes which I had quit 15 years before. I had been dabbling with it whenever I traveled in Europe and sometimes at concerts but never committed to it. I bummed butts from other people, didn’t buy my own. For whatever reason, I decided to do it that night. There is literally no rhyme or reason to that decision. I killed time ripping butts in the snow and eventually drove home with no issues.

That was the last time I drank.

I didn’t know then it would be my last round of Blue Moons. I had no intentions of quitting. Winters tended to be slightly less imbibing for me. I didn’t drink alone at home and went out less often in the winters. I had a couple concerts coming up in late January and late February which I figured would be drinking nights but a pretty tame season ahead. Drinking, bar hopping would start back up in the Spring.

What ended up happening is that I got really, really sick towards the end of January and most of February. When I went to the January concert, I only drank Diet Pepsi because I didn’t feel well. The next show in late February, I was still recovering from bronchitis and a sinus infection. Plus, word of Covid had just begun circulating and was all over the West Coast. Being the nerd and wannabe epidemiologist that I am, I was stressed about being in a concert venue in Boston. I just wanted to enjoy the show, keep people away from me and get the hell out of there. I almost didn’t go because I just wasn’t exactly sure the timing of when Covid would hit Boston and felt this show was cutting it close. It ended up being my last outing because Biogen started going wild with Covid just days later and next thing I knew, someone at work told me on 3/12 she might have exposed me to Covid so HR sent me home immediately to wait on symptoms. Next day, 3/13, the whole company got sent home and we were in quarantine indefinitely.

A few months into quarantine, as the weather got warmer, I was thinking about beer again. I thought it might be cool to treat myself to some good brewery beer and ended up perusing the Battery Steele website. I had been to that brewery the summer before when visiting my friend, Mark, in Portland and really liked their stuff. As I was looking for the kind I liked, I had also thought about how much weight I had lost since March…effortlessly. One of my friends thought it was the drop in stress cortisol because working from home turned out to be an unexpected blessing for me. While I am sure cortisol had a lot to do with it, secretly, I knew I also hadn’t been drinking since December and I’m pretty sure that also had a lot to do with it. Plus, I was approaching 6 months alcohol free which felt like an accomplishment I hadn’t planned on. I shut down the website and decided to wait and see.

That was over a year ago and I still haven’t had a drink. In total, it’s now been 19 months. I also haven’t had a depressive episode since working from home and my PTSD is triggered far less often. By the end of last year, I knew something significant was happening with my mental health in that I felt healthy for the first time in my life. While my job wasn’t the reason for my depression or PTSD, it was apparently a major trigger for frequent episodes of each….until I didn’t have to go into the office anymore. Absent the depressive episodes, daily anxiety attacks and alcohol, I had turned into the person I think I was always meant to be and I liked it. So did my family, my friends and co-workers. It even was the catalyst for the most productive, most successful period of my career.

When I read memoirs of former drinkers, each story is full of a range of horrific examples of negative drinking incidents for several chapters. Embarrassment, arrests, car wrecks, blackouts, lost loves, resentful children, lost jobs, bankruptcy….you name it. What they also all seem to have in common is the moment it stopped and they came out the other side. I don’t think any of them promise they won’t drink again but it’s kind of assumed in the way the write and celebrate their revelations and new lives.

I’m very uncomfortable with that. Throughout this entire period of sobriety, I have not once pretended I won’t go back to drinking. Nor do I refer to myself as an alcoholic. Binge drinker, absolutely. You won’t get any arguments from me on that aspect. But the door is still open and I think that’s not supposed to be the case for problem drinkers who have “quit.” I think you are supposed to reassure everyone that sobriety is what you always want from now on. Not to say there aren’t relapses in an alcoholic’s journey. There are and I think that’s an accepted danger everyone needs to be hyper vigilant about. I just can’t give you that, nor can I promise myself that level of optimism or shame myself for life changes and future choices I cannot predict.

I do know that I love being clear headed at all times. I’m smart and I like doing smart things. I’m an avid reader. I need to do crossword puzzles or word searches every night while watching tv. I’m a social justice warrior (title used in jest as it’s typically applied as something bad but I could give 2 shits if me caring about other people’s rights makes me a snowflake, SJW, tree hugger or whatever negative nickname selfish people have for it.) I enjoy not feeling like shit the next morning or wondering who I need to apologize to after checking my text messages and Facebook posts. I also very much enjoy dropping 2 pant sizes without any effort. I’m thinner than I have ever been, including high school. Every guy I have ever dated gave up way too soon because now I look like the girl you wish you were with and I am vain enough to gloat in that.

There’s a lot ahead. Getting back to seeing friends will be a new challenge because I don’t want to drink right now and all friends usually do is meet up for dinner and drinks. I will eventually get back to traveling. Trying new, international beers in foreign, local bars is a favorite part of my trips. It’s when I get to meet interesting people and, as an introvert, that’s not something I am terribly comfortable with. But I can do it in another country with strangers if I have a drink in my hands. My trip to Belgium was heavily focused on Belgian beer which I am most partial to. Spain, my favorite things in Spain are tapas and chiringuitos (sp.) on their beaches. My living room is literally deigned based off a beach bar we went to in Spain. And, I want to go back to Spain. Part of the tapas fun is getting a free appetizer for every round of drinks you order. What an insanely cool way to sample new foods and eat in the portion control way I am accustomed to.

Dates, assuming I ever have one again…what do I do on those? I’ve been on 1 sober date in my life and it was a daytime bike ride where I was unbelievably awkward the whole time. Ahead of it, I had to ask a friend for pointers on what to do and talk about because I had no idea. It was then the last date with that guy who married the next girl he dated. I have an ex who pops in and out throughout the years. Our last conversation didn’t go well when I insisted I didn’t want to have drinks with him. Haven’t heard from him since. I want to do concerts again eventually, when it’s safe. Who does a Lucero concert without drinking? The 2 don’t go together.

I’d like to focus on more daytime, physical activities but need a hip replacement first. That said, I am picturing myself as more of an organic, vegan eater. My kitchen is finally renovated and designed to cook in all day. I had my first experience growing my own vegetables this summer and managed to feed myself many dinner salads from that. Thing is, I don’t know how to cook too many things. I don’t have those kitchen instincts of knowing what can go together and I’m also a fussy eater which makes palate expansion a challenge. I also can see myself planning trips that don’t focus on alcohol. I want to do an African safari. I want to do a 3 week road trip through Australia. I want to do Norway and some hiking. If I can get a new hip, all those plans are on and I think I can do them without booze. But, it’s a question mark.

I am in perpetual recovery from binge drinking and major recurrent depression. I feel good about the trajectory of my depression but I also know, it takes literally nothing more than a gust of wind to alter it. It’s highly outside my control. I forever have images of Chris Cornell and Anthony Bourdain in the back of my mind. You can have everything and your depression can still get you. I look at alcohol the same way. I really don’t think any of us can ever do more than living in an actual moment and make choices in that moment. Accepting that tenet is frightening for people because it means there really isn’t a whole lot of control you have and lots of people actually believe they participate in behaviors which make them in control. Not true. Ever. Everyone has one thing that can slay them. It’s a just a question of if and when and sometimes it doesn’t happen for people. That doesn’t mean they prevented it. It just means it didn’t happen for them, but it could have.

That’s where I am. Not recovered because I don’t believe that’s a thing. There is no such thing as “coming out the other side for me.” It’s just where is I ve was and where I am now. Perpetual stages of recovery and making good choices when my brain allows for it is more what I can get behind. That level of unpredictably is hard for others to live with when considering my place in their lives but for me, it’s the calmest, most realistic place I have ever been.

I start with intentions but I can’t promise you what choices I will make. I cannot put that pressure and judgment on myself. I just need to live in the day I am in and trust my process which doesn’t include labels, promises or platitudes. It’s just a journey I’m on and I want to be open to writing about it because I need to be writing every day. It’s just something I need to commit to and throwing a little “preamble” out here today allows me the freedom to go back and relive all the little stories in whatever sequence they come back to me….which will not be in order of time or importance.