By the time I was 36, I lived in a self-created jail of fear and worry. I was more miserable than I’d ever been. Little did I know that I suffered from a subtle case of un-diagnosed alcoholism.
The First Crack in My Denial
Of course I was in denial; aren’t we all until we’re forced to face the problem?
But denial, when held onto for too long, can keep us from facing up to and taking responsibility for our problems.
Jane Stallings, my mentor and employer in grad school, was the first to break through my denial. At the time, I was living with John, one of several men I had either married or lived with during the past 15 years. We met almost every night at a bar, drink a few beers, and then went home, got high, and made love to the sounds of Mozart or Sibelius.
This seemed like normal behavior to me, but not to Jane. She would often phone me in the evening about some work detail and find me less than coherent. She had also witnessed my bawdy behavior as John and I drank heavily at one of her dinner parties.
A few weeks after that party, Jane gently said, “You are such a talented woman and yet there’s a piece in there that’s just . . . I don’t know, just not quite . . . ” I can’t recall her next words, but here’s what I heard: “There’s a part of you that’s broken, and it shows.”
Jane’s comment that day pierced my illusion that attracting men, earning good grades, and being well liked were hiding my problems. But I wasn’t yet ready to give up the fight.
Not Ready Yet
Later, Jane introduced me to Don, who would become my third husband. We fell in love quickly, and I moved to his home in Michigan to complete my dissertation. From the very beginning, I tried to act exactly how I felt he wanted me to–no over-drinking or pot.
After a year of living in this emotional pressure cooker, I’d had enough. I walked into my favorite tavern and chose a seat. Shafts of sunlight pierced the blinds the same way they had at my regular bar at Stanford. When a couple of guys in business suits sat near me, our small talk soon escalated into flirtation.
I called home and told Don I was out with some of my students. Then I left with the guy I’d picked up. We went to buy cocaine, drove to his home, and had sex. Only through good fortune did I make it home safely at 2:00 a.m. I told my husband more lies the next morning to cover up my misadventures.
The Final Straw
At that point, I admitted that something was seriously wrong, and sought therapy. When the counselor said I was in the early stages of alcoholism, I foolishly thought with relief, “That’s not too bad.” He then suggested I have two drinks, no more and no less, each day, and take note of my behavior.
After a few months, I realized that sometimes I could stop after two drinks; but on other occasions, I would continue drinking, find drugs or go home with a stranger, and cover up my actions with lies.
When I honestly admitted that after just one drink or drug, I couldn’t predict what I would do, I accepted that I needed to stop drinking.
I walked into my first Twelve-Step meeting one month before my thirty-eighth birthday. Ever since, I’ve been clean and sober through the support of several healthy recovering women. And my dream of being happily married has come true; my fourth husband and I recently celebrated our 30th anniversary!
Trust me, if you’re life isn’t working, if your relationships are awful, if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, if you’re a perfectionist, chances are that alcohol has been promising you relief while robbing you of an honest, happy life.
Don’t let denial get in the way. Take a long look in the mirror. You’re the only one who can do something about it.
Gigi Langer has been sober 34 years, and holds a PhD in Psychological Studies in Education from Stanford University. Formerly crowned the “Queen of Worry,” Gigi resigned her post many years ago and now lives happily in Michigan with her husband, Peter and her cat, Murphy.