Posts Tagged ‘addiction’

Between Breaths

I just finished reading a memoir titled Between Breaths A Memoir Of Panic And Addiction by Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News’ 20/20. I first heard of it when I saw her give an interview about a year ago. I finally found the novel, on sale, during Amazon’s Black Friday Kindle sale. I didn’t get a chance to read it until now.  I will start by saying that I recommend it highly to anyone that has an interest in alcoholism, panic disorders, or celebrity memoirs.

I was interested in it because she, Elizabeth Vargas, has long been a favorite of mine. She is intelligent, compassionate, professional, and genuine. I have also always had a fascination with literature about alcoholics and memoirs of alcoholics. I think my readers will remember that I have relatives that have suffered through this horrible, debilitating disease.  In this expertly written memoir, Vargas minces no words. The writing is beautiful and poetic at times, yet always genuine and always baffling. She goes through her childhood filled with bullying and anxiety which led to a lifetime of anxiety, panic, and a feeling of not being worthy. This is the background that led her to begin drinking and keep drinking until she lost everything and had to rebuild what she could. I won’t go into a lot of details about the book because I would hope that at least some of you would grab it and read it. It is enlightening for all of us, whether we have a history of addiction in ourselves or in our families. I urge you to read it.

I will also take this time to explain another link, one I haven’t previously written about. It’s kind of my secret.

It happened when I was a college student. It was in the early fall of my third year of college. I was at an elite private school on a full ride scholarship. I had always enjoyed being a top student and excelling at everything I did. Then when I got to this west coast ivy covered campus amid the tall trees of California, everything fell apart. I was away from home for the first time and for the first time, I wasn’t the smartest or the brightest. I was just so-so. There were people telling me that I didn’t belong there. I had only gotten into that school because of Affirmative Action, they told me. I was unhappy but should have been very happy. I was fighting to keep things from falling apart. I was fighting to keep being myself, the bubbly girl with the infectious laugh. But I was losing the battle. I found myself drinking a lot. First it was just to loosen up then it was to be able to face people. I had been having a lot of stomach problems ever since my freshman year. It seemed that my stomach would tighten up as soon as I got to the dining hall and I wouldn’t be able to eat. I was losing a lot of weight. I eventually discovered that if I had a swig of tequila (no chardonnay for me) before I walked out the door and headed for the dining hall, I would be able to enjoy dinner and be my bubbly self throughout the meal. The need for the booze was getting worse. I realize in retrospect that I was at the point of “needing” a swig from that bottle every time I left the room.

One Friday night, a friend was visiting from her out of state job. She had graduated the previous year and had been working in New Mexico but had come to town for a visit. We had a lot of mutual friends and we decided to have a party in the dorm. Not a party for everyone but one just up in one of the rooms. One of the people coming to the party was a young man I was trying to impress. I remember it being a little before seven o’clock and people were starting to arrive. I had bought some wine and had also brought in my bottle of tequila to share. And I drank. The music was on and the lights were low and this young man that I was trying to impress arrived from his fraternity with a girl hanging on to his hand. I danced and laughed and pretended not to care. I remember it being just after seven. Then the next thing I knew, I was waking up in a bed with white sheets and white curtains around my bed and I was wearing a hospital gown. There was a young man sitting at the foot of my bed reading. I asked where I was and he said I was at the health center and he buzzed for a nurse. After an examination, the nurse filled me in on some of my questions. I had been brought in by concerned friends on Friday evening. They had to carry me in. I had been put on medications to detox from the alcohol. I had slept Friday night, all day and night Saturday, and it was Sunday afternoon. So I had lost almost forty-eight hours! I couldn’t believe it. They gave me my clothes and sent in a student volunteer to help me get dressed as I was still very wobbly and they called my friends to come get me. They came to walk with me back to the dorm (which was literally the building across from my dorm but of course there were huge grassy areas between them. I walked home…barefoot. Apparently I had not had my shoes on when I was taken to the health center and none of my friends could answer where they were or where the clothes was that I had been wearing when that little party started. I never found those clothes or the shoes, either.

This was the wake up call I needed. I knew that with a history of alcoholism in my family and how the booze made me feel good and happy and brave enough to face anything, I couldn’t drink anymore. I couldn’t risk it. So I quit cold turkey. I had a friend go in my room and take out all the booze and get rid of it for me. And then I didn’t drink again. That lasted over a year and then I was very careful not to drink alone and not to drink when I was sad or when I felt like I “needed” to drink. It has been over forty years and I have not sank into those depths again. In fact, I have rarely drank to excess in those years. I’ve gone through marriage, a horrible divorce, single parenting of my three children, holding down three jobs at once, and some pretty horrible illnesses and rejections. I’ve managed to do it all without sinking into that bottle. I enjoy drinking. I drink beer and wine and I love Margaritas. I also love a dash of Kahlua in my coffee. But I don’t drink more than I should and I don’t wake up hung over.

I learned my lesson. It cost me humiliation. It cost me a lot of self-doubt but it also led me to examine my life and any future I hoped to have. And I came out of it. I was strong enough. Not everyone is. Many people have no support and many have one problem piled on top of another and another and another. Some people are just not as lucky as I have been.

So now you know my deep, dark secret.

One of them, anyway!

Cheers! 🙂

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