My name is Shay and I am an alcoholic.
I have said that sentence many times over the years, but the significance of it never changes. I got sober just before my 27th birthday. At the time, I was a binge drinker, not a daily drinker, so it was easy to convince myself that I had it under control. I had been a messy drunk back in college, but I wasn’t that girl anymore. I was a responsible woman. I had a husband and a little girl and a job and a house. I did not have a drinking problem. I was changed. I was going to church. I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 5, and recommitted my life to Him in my 20s. I was all set, thankyouverymuch.
My version of the story was idyllic and cobbled together with denial. The truth, however, was that the pain inside me had never left. The shame over all I had done was a heavy burden that I held deep. And being a Christian did not make me immune to addiction. I was profoundly sick and doing quite a job of keeping it a secret.
My husband and I attended a barbecue at a friend’s house, a fun family event. As it got later, my husband said he thought we should go home, as the baby was tired. But I was having such a great time! He unselfishly let me stay, and he took our daughter home and put her to bed. I arrived home a bit later, thankful for my perfect little life, and went to bed.
That’s one version of the story. The reality was that I drank nonstop all that day. The reality was that I didn’t feel like I’d had enough to drink, and I stayed in order to drink more. The reality was that my husband was less than pleased that I wouldn’t leave. The reality was that although I know I didn’t drive, since my husband had the car, I have no memory of how I got home that night. What I do remember is what happened when I walked into my house. My family was asleep. I went into the kitchen. In that moment, out of nowhere, God slapped me awake. I suddenly was fully aware of the truth of that day. I felt God speak to my heart and say, “I gave you everything you ever asked Me for. This stops today.” Why He chose that moment in time, I don’t know, but I fell to my knees and sobbed on my kitchen floor. I couldn’t hide from the truth. My version of the story was crumbling. I had prayed for a husband, and I had prayed for a child, and here I was drinking them away. I went to the liquor cabinet and pulled out bottle after bottle. I carried them all to the kitchen sink, and emptied each one. I wept as I watched them swirl down the drain. I could not keep living like this but I had no idea how I could live without alcohol to numb my pain. All I knew was that God had me in His hands, and I was going to have to trust Him.
Getting sober was the hardest thing I have ever done. I made it harder on myself by taking a really long time to seek outside help. I share my story with others now to encourage them to seek that help, and to help break the stigma of addiction. I have no magic answers on how to lift the stigma of addiction, but for me the choice to share my story, and to openly talk about recovery, is the way to work towards this. There are varied reasons why people don’t seek help, but making it safer to ask for help is a good start. Whether you believe that addiction is a choice or a disease or a moral failing, it really doesn’t matter. The need for help is the same; the need for compassion, community, and support is the same.
I have been sober for 19 years by the grace of God, and I have been blessed with family and friends who have supported me. I was afraid of what people would think and how they would judge me if they knew the truth. I’m not afraid of that anymore. I know the life that was waiting on the other side for me. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (ESV). I am free, God says so, and I don’t need to live in shame anymore. His version of the story will always be better than mine.