List some words that describe you…
Artist, grandmother, ultra-liberal, health-conscious vegetarian, lover of nature, immigrant.
How old were you when you had your first drink?
I was in my early twenties, I was working as a children’s nurse at a hospital in the city. People smoked and drank. I did it, too.
What was your favorite drink?
I was never really hot for drinking. The only time I liked to drink was when I was on vacation with my girlfriends–we drank a lot of wine and other stuff in Greece and Spain, and I got a taste for it.
Did your parents or siblings drink?
My older brother drank (I am the youngest of 5). My other brother drank only on special occasions. Not my sisters or my mother. In those days (Europe in the 1940s and 50s) it wasn’t fashionable for women to drink. Men and boys drank, but mostly on special occasions, and at dances. I don’t know if my father drank. [He left the family when she was one.]
Was there alcoholism in your family?
According to a family tree that my oldest brother researched and made, one guy a long, long time ago was put in jail for drunken behavior. I have a picture of my father, in a Teetotaler’s Club.
When did your drinking cross a line? Were you aware that you had crossed a line?
In my early 40s. I had been socially drinking before then. I bought a gallon of wine and I drank all day long. I always had liquor in the house, mostly wine–Ernest & Julio Gallo was my favorite–because it was cheaper, and I thought wine wasn’t so bad.
Did anyone notice you were drinking too much?
My husband was nice, but he said things. Some of my friends noticed. Once, on vacation, [the husband of a friend] said, “You don’t have to drink everything there is.” I guess I drank all the beer in the house. He bawled me out, and it was traumatic.
How was it raising two kids while drinking?
Miraculously, I could function–I don’t remember who made breakfast, or who made the lunches, but I always had dinner on the table.
What was the low point?
We went to Mexico City with our two children and stayed with a friend who had a huge property, like the Garden of Eden, surrounded by a high wall. I got so upset because there was a flood, and I felt like the Garden of Eden was being lost, so I drank myself into oblivion, and ended up in bed. In Mexico, I drank from beginning to end. When we came home, my husband said, “You have to do something about your drinking.” I got scared when he got serious. It’s hard even to think straight when you’re drunk all the time.
How did you get sober?
I was detoxed in a hospital. A lot of people do it themselves. I was in the care of a doctor, and I was in the hospital for at least a week, and then I went to a group for a long time, a therapy group run by this doctor, who was also a psychiatrist and a [recovered] alcoholic. He was the right guy for me. I also went to AA at least twice a week. I made all my friends there. I went to AA for many, many years–20 to 25 years.
Do you have any advice to someone trying to stay sober?
In my case, I had to think about something that could replace the drinking. I was still smoking. Stopping smoking [some years later] was extremely hard.
What helped you the most?
My husband was supportive. He stopped drinking. We had no liquor in the house. If we’d had liquor in the house, I know for sure I couldn’t have made it.
What’s the best part about being sober?
Everything. I was amazed at how I felt in my head. Before, my head felt heavy, like I had cottonballs in it. After I stopped drinking, I got so light; it felt great.
Did you ever have a relapse?
Is there anything you miss about drinking?
Nothing. Sometimes, when I see people drink a little wine for dinner, I wish I could have that, but I put it far away from me. I know it’s untouchable. If I were to start drinking today, I would go back immediately to my dependence.
What’s your view of AA?
It’s great. It saved my life. If I were ever tempted, I’d go back.
Do you have a favorite quote or book or inspiration that has helped you through the years?
When I was in AA, somebody gave me a poem called “Desiderata.” When you drink, you have a lot of self doubt and guilt. It’s a three-fold illness: spiritual, emotional and physical. The poem helped because it says you shouldn’t compare yourself with others, and everybody has a right to be here on earth. Everybody who is born has a right. “The Big Book” from AA and the Twelve Steps helped very much, too. “The Big Book” helps, because it has drinking stories in it.