My Name is Lisa

Five of us, including me and Derek, doing the can-can with our coats on before heading out to a party.

and I’m an alcoholic.

I don’t belong to Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve been to meetings and where some find comfort in the rituals, I get impatient. However, I believe in the program and the 12 steps, but I’m more of a one-on-one kind of gal. I went my own way to deal with my addiction.

I quit drinking in 1988-89. For me, smoking and drinking went together, and I had already quit smoking. I did have one Red Stripe beer in Jamaica in the late 90s, mostly to distract myself from the awful trip. After the beer, I danced around the room like a crazy person and flopped face-first onto the bed. I sprang back up just as quickly because of a foul smell. I pulled the case off the pillow to discover it was covered in black mold spots. Did I mention that it was a horrible trip?

How it Started

Even though I quit when I was relatively young, I’d already had enough booze to pickle my organs. My “rock bottom” memories still bring up feelings of humiliation. I started drinking around age 14. It was a different time then. I could get into a certain hotel bar by showing up with my cousin, and flashing her ID to the doorman, who was a high school classmate of hers!

It was easy for an underage drinker to find a place where no one cared. We didn’t have the Internet, but word spread about who would look the other way and serve you until – in some cases – you drove yourself home. It’s nothing to be proud of and some people in every part of the machine were complicit. Kids like me, bar owners, servers, even cops in some cases. “Are you close to home young lady? Well, then you go straight there and sleep it off.”

When I was in high school, an older man on a country road had a side business. He’d pick up cases of beer and then resell them to underage drinkers at a 100% markup. It was supply and demand. We didn’t care what it cost. You could simply drive up, knock on the door, and he’d sell you a case or two. This came second only to the couple in town who offered their home as a “safe place to drink”. I look back now and wonder why this married couple in their thirties let high school kids hang out in their house. We thought they were cool. Now, it makes me shudder.

When I struck out on my own, booze was perfect for covering up how lonely and insecure I felt. I’d moved from Ontario to Alberta and then BC. Drinking brought me friends, courage, terribly awkward moments, and exceptionally bad decisions. I thought a social drinker was an amateur. Blackouts and uncertainty about how I’d behaved became my normal, even after coming back to Ontario. Drinking made me feel like I fit in.

I moved to Toronto when I was still in the throes of withdrawal. Did I mention that I was also trying to maintain an unrealistic weight? I recall Dan Williamson at CKFM asking me whether I had jaundice. My skin had turned yellow from eating so many carrot sticks, my substitute for cigarettes. I accepted that I was not a rabbit and eased up on the crunchy vegetables.

So, why am I telling you this?

Over the years, I’ve had strong cravings for cigarettes. Dreams that I smoked that were so vivid, I was sure they were real. Cigarette smoke disgusts me and prompts a mild allergic reaction, but in my dream life, I can’t wait to light up again.

But I hadn’t craved booze until last weekend. Sometimes, I miss the taste of a nice, cold beer so I’ll have an O’Doul’s or whatever 0% beer is available. But this time, in my grief over Miss Sugar, I wanted to DRINK. I wanted that feeling of being drunk, silly, and sloppy. It was a physical feeling. Almost a need. Relief from the pain in my heart.

There’s no alcohol in this house and even if there were, I wouldn’t have gone for it. The losses would be too great. Years of sobriety. Dignity. Derek. I know for sure that I can’t stop until I’m stopped – by sleep or by running out of booze. So I won’t do it. But it was a revelation to find that the desire could return so strongly after being dormant for so long.

This is why alcoholics don’t say, I used to be an alcoholic. Because the tendencies never go away. Getting sober is a process of recovery, and it never ends. It begins with one day, one moment of being fed up with the way life is going and deciding to make a change. And then making that same decision every day that follows. No matter what life throws your way. And no matter how much easier, in the moment, it might seem if you could drink again.

32 thoughts on “My Name is Lisa”

    1. Was it an old picture, and did I have a lampshade on my head? Seriously, thank you Linda, I appreciate your visits here more than you know.

  1. Again – so sorry for your loss. Kudos for not caving, not sure I could do the same. Seems weird to say Merry Christmas to you both when you are feeling so badly. Hope next year will be better for you.

  2. Hang in there Lisa! You are a wonderfully strong woman who has just gone through a profound loss. You WILL GET THROUGH THIS! Been there after losing my darling Francie and I know how deeply it hurts. You will do this with grace—have no fear! Stay strong! XOXO

  3. OMG (I hate those three letters but it fits here.) Being an army guy, life always involved alcohol. Getting into fights in the mess was a regular Tues night, yup, Tuesdays. We didn’t care what day it was, it was a tough guy thing, or though I thought. Well the years took their tolls, fights in the mess turned into brutal matches at home. At least I can proudly sit here and say none of these brutal matches were physical, at least not to my ex-wife. I did manage to beat up a couple of houses over the years, houses don’t hit back.
    Then I too hit rock bottom. When I came to, I was laying on the kitchen floor with a butcher knife in my hand. I had done it, at least attempted it. Luckily I was a “failure”. I gathered up all my strength, picked myself up, found the culprit, a bottle of Jameson’s, my drink of choice and went downstairs to my ex-wife and told her what had happened.
    That was Mar 2014. My last drink was 22 May, 2014. It was a celebratory (???) beer with army buddies.
    So I too classify myself as a recovering alcoholic and its a badge I wear with pride.
    Oh and thanks for the memories, that bootlegger from you know where made a lot of money from all of us high school kids.

    1. For those who don’t now, Al here is like another brother to me. He lived just down the road and he and my brother are still close friends who go riding together.
      Al, thanks for sharing. You know the life we led as kids in rural Smithville! I never got into a fight but I did ditch a car between two trees with inches to spare.
      I was an idiot and lucky to have survived, when many of our high school friends did not.

      1. Oh, and of course I’ve lost my train of thought. I lost a very close friend or in my world I would call him a brother at the beginning of Dec. He too, was fighting demons and lost his battle with it. That was the closest to “falling off the wagon” I have come. I mean I could actually taste the irish whiskey without taking a shot. But like you, my sis, we prevaled and will carry on like the steadfast warriors that we are.

  4. I Applaud you for speaking up and being so honest. A sudden loss can very quickly reignite those deep dark demons we had thought were gone and dealt with.

  5. I applaud you lisa. The struggle is real. I have friends who are in the same place. As one put it, he is always in a state of recovery. I admire your courage.

  6. Thank you for writing this Lisa. I am proud to know you (since our youthful days), and proud of you to have stayed the course. Although I am not an alcoholic, I have much experience with it in my family who have since passed on, and I know the difficult journey they had in their lives. It does take strength and courage, and I admire you for that.

  7. Thank you for your courage to share your life, Lisa. Your pain over the loss of Miss Sugar is palpable. She will always have a place in your heart. She blessed you with unfailing and love. And that love will never die. ((hugs)).

  8. Wow Lisa, I had no idea. It always struck me that you were a little tense a lot at CKFM, so now that explains it. It was fine with me at the time, no big deal, just an observation. Wish I had known you were in those throws so perhaps I could have made things somehow easier.

    It never ceases to amaze me how many strong people are going through rough stuff, and it’s not noticeable. Thanks for writing this.

    1. Pat, looking back, I can see that I WAS tense! I went from Wingham to Toronto in a straight line! I remember a former colleague from Wingham telling me that when I was PD there, I had a stick up my butt. I did! I was petrified people would realize I had no idea what I was doing. I thought I’d get fired any minute. And the culture at Standard Toronto wasn’t exactly welcoming. Coworkers didn’t cheer you on, if you know what I mean. But most of my issues were internal, not external. I didn’t write about growing up in an alcoholic family, but, that shapes everything, too. I learned a lot of lessons during that time and things improved. Hopefully, so did I. 🙂

  9. There’s a quote roving the internet from Elizabeth Gilbert (I think!) saying that her female role models are not women who have glorious lives but women who have been through the depths and risen to glorious lives that she looks up to. I clearly didn’t use quotation marks here for a reason. This sharing of our less glorious parts adds to our circles and our lives. I’m glad you’re here to share yours Lisa and I thank you for modelling with realistic grace.

  10. Jackie Titus-Smith

    Hi Lisa
    Thank you for sharing your story. It takes a courageous person to lay it all out for all to read. My sympathies on the loss of Miss Sugar. Healing vibes being send to you and Derek. ♥️
    Jackie

  11. I too have that problem. Although, I do recognize the desire to take a drink; I always stop myself before I take that drink. Alcoholism runs in my family…. Everyone on my grandfathers side was an alcoholic. My mom was a functional alcoholic for the 64 years that I knew her, however when she came down with dementia I made her live with me…. and that was the end of that. I do have alcohol here in the house, but I find that I buy it…. then it sits for years. Eventually I have to pour it down the drain. One day at a time, Lisa. I never went to AAA, but I cured myself the best I could. More power to you….. Dyan.

  12. This story really touched me, both my children are drinkers, their friends all did, their Dad left when they were teens, whatever it takes, both smoke, even though their Mother worked at the cancer centre. My point is your story inspires that perhaps one day they will get to that point where enough is enough and wake up each day to a new beginning. The struggle is real. As a parent I tried to shame him into stopping thinking that’s what he needed but he pulled away (one son is in deeper in than the other) then I watched the documentary “Wasted”, it taught me a lot about alcoholism and was shocking at the same time. Thank you for being so open and honest about this. You are wise and brave beyond compare and an inspiration to many, I am sure.

  13. If all this covid crap hasn’t turned you to drinking then you never will. On a serious note, thanks for your honesty about such a serious issue. Merry Christmas Lisa. I know it’s hard without Miss Sugar but we still need to find the joy each joy. Take care and stay safe.

  14. Awww Lisa, you have lost a lot in the last few years, and now with Miss Sugar gone it brings back buried grief emotions, that your heart just wants to escape from. You are a strong warrior woman, and you will feel better walking through that horrible sense of sadness to brighter days ahead. You never walk alone. Merry Christmas! Linda

  15. I don’t know the exact date of my last drink but it was in July 28 yrs ago. I never went to AA but often wondered if being in the presence of others in the same battle against drinking would be helpful.
    I just stopped drinking. I gave the rest of the beer in the case away and sold the 150 bottles of wine in my beginner wine cellar.
    I will occasionally go into the LCBO to buy wine as client gifts. I have always loved the smell of the LCBO. I even worked Christmas part-time in 2 stores (Port Credit, Yonge and St Clair). This is when the memories flood back. I get a bottle and get out as quickly as possible.
    I also find it hard if I am at a restaurant and people order Bourbon.
    I have been successful in my resolve because every time I think of having one beer or glass of wine or shot of liquor, I can still feel the wave of alcohol cover my brain like a familiar blanket and know that I won’t be able stop until I too, pass-out.
    I quit because I didn’t want my children to have less of me as a father. I didn’t want alcohol to rob them of my attention.
    In the lyrics of a fellow Sarnia home boy, Might as well go for soda…
    Keep up the good fight Lisa!
    Yours in sobriety,
    Paul

  16. Rick Vanderwoude

    Hi Lisa. What a story. I had no idea. Seems we had things in common that I didn’t know of. Blackouts were a part of my history too. I guess we all had some pain to deal with, mine stemming from years of abuse at the hands of my parents. I lost my brother, Arthur, two years ago to alcohol. I wish he had found the strength that you found. I’m sorry for your loss, but I applaud your strength. Rick

  17. I lost my dear brother to alcohol. He finally went to a treatment centre and joined A.A. Clean for 2 years…but the damaged was done !! I still miss him .

    I saw the movie “ Days of Wine and Roses. @ age 16 …that was my wake up call .

    Thanks for sharing .

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