This Is Virginia Kerr

How I outed myself to find accountability, freedom and joy. A life without alcohol.

I only write here on the days I have the discipline, strength and guts to do it. Everytime I write I get a vulnerability hangover.

I go back. Reread what I wrote. And always want to delete it.

Why did you say that? What will people think? I leave it be.

So it stays. Sits here for all to see. Dirty laundry flapping in the wind.

I thought this season was depression, then I was afraid it was self-sabotaging isolation then I was again convinced it was depression.

I just couldn’t catch the feeling. I couldn’t put my head around it. I’m not sad. Just aware.

The other night I took my son to a movie. We ordered hamburgers and were both looking forward to sitting in the big fancy chairs. The kind that recline.

As I took a bite of my burger I was confused. Why did it seem as though I’d never eaten this before? I knew it had been a while. But this was my fourth or fifth time here and we always ordered burgers. Every time.

Then it hit me. I always ordered my son a burger but no food for me. Instead I would get a double Chardonnay to start and maybe eat a few fries of his. Wouldn’t want a full stomach to prevent my buzz.

As sick as that was, when I realized that while chewing my bite of burger – I was so proud of myself. So proud of how far I’ve come.

“I would never drive my son while under the influence.” That was a rule of mine. One I broke last year.

For someone who has a relationship with alcohol like I do: drinking rules will always be broken..eventually.

And in that moment I realized I had not even thought about the theater bar or drinking the entire day until then. I didn’t want to drink. I was ecstatic to be present with my son. And thankful that I could be.

Ditching alcohol has cleared my mind but the not-running has quieted my head. Tuned out the white noise. I don’t just feel- I listen too. I hear the voice I was trying to drown out for so long. The voice of self reflection. The real me buried under denial.

Quitting drinking opened up a pathway to something that I’ve been avoiding for so long.

I was on the phone with a man this summer. It was a business call. He said something that may sound like a compliment but it seared into my brain as a harsh judgement.

“You’re not typical.” He said. “You do big things. You don’t stop until you reach your goal.”

I took it as though he was saying I was not approachable, relatable or accessible.

I didn’t know how to respond. I accepted his description. After all he doesn’t really know me. I simply replied, “yes, when I believe in something I go full throttle to see it through.”

And that is true. But is that completely true?

Or is their another reason I run so much. Juggle? Do? Fix?

Yes. Quite a few reasons I believe. Fear. Shame. Anxiety. Self doubt. Pride. They’re under piles of rubble. They are what lie beneath.

Reach another goal…you will be happier.. gain another title..you will be admired. Complete another project…you will be content.

But I never was. There was always another project. Another goal. And the thought of not reaching them..well I didn’t let that happen.

I said yes to everything and everybody…because I didn’t want to let them down. I kept myself so busy that I was numbed out morning to night. And then the wine would shut my mind off so I could sleep.

Last year when I failed to quit drinking something inside me changed. I didn’t see it as a failure, I saw it as practice for when I really quit. I knew deep down that a switch was flipped. That the game was over.

This life of running and chasing and wishing and hoping. Denying. Was winding down. In fact the motor was off..the mental hamster wheel was losing its momentum. The train was slowing to a stop.

The energy to run was dwindling. Pair that with the fact I stopped drowning my thoughts each night in alcohol.. I now had nothing but time and truth.

I really don’t know who I am. I’ve been so consumed with making sure everyone else approves or is impressed..that my reputation as a doer and achiever is intact..that I never really asked what I think about me..because I didn’t want to know the answer.

And so I am here. In the purest, rawest most vulnerable state I’ve ever been. And while it is extremely uncomfortable and confusing and quite frightening..I’m excited.

This is what rebuilding is all about. I had to turn off the sound machine of distractions. I had to be still.

I had to get down far enough to reach my foundation. That’s where I have to start. With the Core. With my soul.

Everyday I lay another brick of clarity and make sure it’s securely layered in grace and forgiveness.

Funny thing is, I’m anything but lonely. I’m enjoying this time. I don’t allow pressure. No expectations. No deadlines.

God is preparing me for something.

He has greater plans. They may not be significant in the world’s eyes but they will be meaningful nevertheless.

I had to look up what day I am on. When I set out to quit drinking I told myself. 90 days. Give your mind 90 days without alcohol and see what happens.

In the beginning, the number was a big deal. “Holy Cow, I actually went a week without drinking.” “I cannot believe it’s been two weekends since I drank.”

Now the number is really just an indicator of how much time I’ve given my brain to heal. I’m realizing that my recovery didn’t start the day I quit drinking. It started the day I started to get curious about why I drank the way I did. It started when I suspected I had a problem.

But it wasn’t until I stayed off alcohol that I began to see my life through clear lenses. I can actually identify why I drank. I can see the self sabotage. The co dependency. The people pleasing. The need for approval. The desire to numb out what I didn’t and who I didn’t want to address. I had to allow the fog to lift.

It’s about taking the time to feel all the emotions you blocked out for so many years. Your brain needs to remember how to function on a normal level. And you need to see your life and yourself in the raw, unfiltered state so you can make the changes necessary to want to live without checking out everyday.

I don’t need the number of days to prove I am ok. I need the time off alcohol so my brain can heal.

I’ve read that alcohol stays in your blood for up to 6 hours. 12-24 hours in your breath and saliva and up to 90 days in your hair. But it’s how it restructures the brain overtime that affects your memory, emotional well being and senses. In my case, I have been drinking since high school. Every day for the last 5+ years. Plenty of time to do some damage.

Just two weeks of sobriety after alcohol abuse can begin to reverse brain injury..the first two weeks I noticed extreme mood swings and irritability. It took a good 4 weeks for this to calm down but I still experience it in certain situations. That’s why a routine and planning my day is key. Exit strategies, self care and a support system who truly understands.

Alcohol literally shrinks your brain and causes cognitive damage. That affects memory and emotional stability.  History of depression or other mental illnesses? Childhood trauma? Then you’re even more susceptible.

Alcohol doesn’t just numb your feelings it numbs your senses too. Food tastes differently to me now.. smells are much more potent since I have quit.

They say the first 90 days is crucial when it comes to social interaction. For someone who has drank almost her entire life..I don’t know how to socialize comfortably without alcohol. Maybe it’s social anxiety. Maybe it’s insecurity. Maybe it’s being an introvert. But what I know for sure is that my brain assumes I will drink when I’m doing certain things, with certain people and at certain places. Socializing sober is like learning a new language.  Drinking is my socializing mother tongue.

I find that it’s way easier to “speak sober” or socialize with sober people as opposed to drinkers. People who also are in recovery from alcohol abuse.  They get it. They get me. I get them.

But when I throw myself into a social situation with drinkers… I forget my socializing sober language. I’m stumbling to find the right words..I’m self conscious, awkward..quiet.

My native socializing language is drinking. My brain says if I drink I will feel comfortable. The brain wants to respond with the easiest route. It’s doing what it was taught to do.

But that’s not forever. When I talk to people who have been sober for over a year..they tell me that it’s not hard anymore. That they can speak the sober socializing language around drinkers with no problem.

Researchers say your brain has to restructure. Learn the new “Language” and it can..but it takes time. They say that’s why it’s smart to stay away from triggers in the first 90 days especially.

That’s why the two trips I have taken in the last few weeks were so hard and in many ways painful. The restructuring wasn’t completed. My brain wasn’t there. I wasn’t ready.

I read every night trying to figure out the why, the how and the what next. I don’t crave a drink every day anymore. I do crave knowing the real me. The stronger version of me. Some days I think I have found her. Other days she’s nowhere in sight.

 

 

 

 

It’s been a while. To catch you up..I was celebrating the holidays, traveling home and back and coming the closest to drinking that I have since I quit. But I didn’t drink. I didn’t write either.

And the not writing slowed down my recovery. I wasn’t a fan of the word recovery.  Just like I didn’t love the word alcoholic or sobriety..but all three words found me and revealed their true meaning. To me.

Alcoholic…to me means I am a person who can never just have one drink. I don’t want a glass of wine. I want 8. I use alcohol to avoid people and feelings that make me uncomfortable. I use it to remove myself from life. To check out from responsibilities. To numb.

Sobriety. Well that just means I don’t drink anymore. Not a glass, not a sip. I just don’t.

Recovery. That’s the part of this whole process that carries the biggest meaning. The one that brings the most gifts. It’s also the one that will slap you upside the head…and that hurts. Most times.

Recovery is the act of recovering. Recovering your true self. The person God sees you as. The person you were meant to be. But you got stuck. Your emotional growth was stunted. That same person never learned to cope, never learned to effectively deal with negative, painful feelings. Never learned to care for herself, to protect herself. She is lost. She is scared.

A little girl buried in years of neglect.

Some days you don’t want to find her and help her.

Some days you’re just there. Sitting with feelings. You’re hurting because of something someone said about you behind your back.

Some days you get into an argument because you vowed to stop being a people pleaser and to stand up for yourself but you don’t do a great job at communicating. Because you’re still learning.

Some days you just don’t know how to do the next right thing…so some days you just want to drink. Because that’s what you know how to do.

You don’t want to recover her, you want to drink her back to where she came from. You want to leave her. Again.

Then there are days you chisel away at a fear, at an unhealthy pattern. You write out your thoughts.

The writing is crucial to recovery for me. I honestly don’t know what I think until I write it down. I don’t know how drinking affects me or how sobriety is changing me until I write it down. Organize my thoughts. Recognize my- self.

Other days you talk with a friend who gets it. And there are days when you not only do the next right thing, you surrender all the worries and what ifs. You let God take you through the impossible.

That was last night. Last night was January 5th. A date that was on my calendar before I decided to quit drinking. My preacher asked me and my friend to speak at church. I said yes on behalf of both of us without a plan. Without an inkling of what we would talk about.

I eventually told Preacher Man that I was newly sober and asked if he still wanted me to speak. He said yes. He said he wanted me to share my experience.

That’s when I knew that God and I were getting in a better place. Because I knew there was no way I could do that unless I just gave it to Him.

So I asked God on a father daughter date night. No. I really did. I looked at January 5th at 5pm as our first official date since I got sober.

I put on a dress, curled my hair and jotted down a couple notes. Little notes that I felt He’d sent me along this journey.

I put together a simple slide show of video clips with my friend’s help.

But most importantly I pulled out all the thoughts of how I don’t belong on that stage, of how I am a fake, of how I don’t deserve to share my story…yet.

I also pulled out all of the whispers and assumptions of what other people thought of me. I threw them off to the side and let them rest on top of the shame I had boxed up and moved out for the night …

During the worship..God reminded me that He was on my side. He is for me. Not against me. That’s when I reminded myself that this was His night..He’s leading this dance.

God went up on stage with me. He did His thing. He carried me through the impossible.

Last night, I not only shared my biggest secret, I told on my addiction. I gave ugly details. I told my church I was broken.

That I showed up on Sundays, got Baptised, went to small groups, hung out with church leaders…and all along I was drinking bottles of wine behind closed doors.

When I got in my car I reached for the phone to call a friend to share this feeling I’d never felt. I wasn’t just proud. I wasn’t just happy. I was full. Full of joy. And I mean JOY.

FREEDOM. Not wanting for anything.

The feeling alcohol promised to give me all along….but never did.

My friend didn’t answer. Alone in the car, I heard myself giggle. Like a little girl. I sat there and just smiled before starting the car. I helped her last night. I helped recover that lost girl . She’s getting bigger. She’s getting stronger.

Later I would pile up in bed with my husband and little boy to watch a movie. Sandwiched in together watching Benji and laughing. I never thought about drinking. Not once. I thought about how amazing this life of mine is in that very moment.

Today my son asked me to promise him that I would never drink again. I said, “I can’t. All I can promise is that I won’t drink today.”

Because today I am recovering her.

The last two days have been good. Really good. Eye opening.

Yesterday was like a day long Facebook Memories of my drinking secrets. Places, faces and stories piled up to reveal that this struggle has been going on for years. I wasn’t as oblivious as I thought. Just in the throes of addiction. Denial.

When I look at all of the memories at once I cannot believe it took me this long to quit. I cannot believe I let it get this bad.

First up, I was on my way to a coffee shop in St Louis that I go to on a regular basis..but it was the first morning I remembered meeting a woman there 4 years ago to talk about a tv show idea I had…she shared with me that she had recently quit drinking..and somewhere in the conversation I broke down and told her I thought I had a drinking problem but wasn’t sure.

Later in the day someone shared with me over the phone that this past weekend was her “wake up call” to quit drinking…Her story jogged my memory of 5 years ago. I was driving home from a concert and had to pull into a hotel parking lot because I was too drunk to see the road. Passed out in my car for 4 hours.

A book arrived in the mail. A book from a women I interviewed 5 and 1/2 years ago. When the cameras weren’t rolling she shared her story of alcoholism and recovery and told me she was going to write a book about her entire journey. I remember thinking..I will read her book when I am finally ready to reveal my secret. She reached out when she saw the blog.

Then today I met with my recovered alcoholic friend and shared with him the numerous times I wanted to tell him that I had a drinking problem. We started to recall the interviews we did together for our show when I would break down crying as the person shared their story. I would come so close to telling on myself…but couldn’t bare the thought of never being able to drink again.

The biggest revelation is that the drinking wasn’t my core sickness. It was a red flag of what was really going on…and had been going on for the last 30 + years.

My core addiction is perfectionism. Co dependancy.

If I can just do everything right..make sure everything is running the correct way ..make everyone happy…I’m good. If I can’t fix the people..fix the situation- then it’s my fault.

When I can’t fix it, the pressure to make it right is too great or the pace to keep it going is too much- I find ways to numb the pain. Which is everyday.

Drown out the disappointments. Muffle the voices telling me I am not enough. Stuff the feelings so I never have to deal with them.

As long as I appear strong to others..I must be ok. But all that avoiding and stuffing festered. And the more I poured alcohol on it, the more my addiction to alcohol gained traction.

In the end, Alcohol pushed out all of my other self medicating strategies. It became the only way to numb out. That’s what it does. Slowly. Over time. It moves in. Takes over.

I told my husband last night that I am in recovery for a lot of things and I am being very selective and protective with my “yeses.” I cannot go back to that way of thinking. And definitely not to that way of self medicating. I refuse.

While this is hard..it is such a huge gift. For the first time in my life I feel “light.” I’m hurling bags of guilt out the window as I drive down memory lane.

The more I tell on myself, on my addiction, the more clearly I can see how sick I was. I am.

So fortunate I got out before I hurt someone.

In my efforts to moderate, I had rules.. Limits on the number of drinks in public, limits on drinking and driving, limits on drinking around my son. The limits on how many days a week I drank were broken long, long ago. My husband told me yesterday it’s been at least 3 years of 7 days a week.

In the last few months I was breaking every rule and drinking more than ever. The addict in me still tries to justify and forget.

I will continue to log my careless acts as a reminder.

I felt like I was failing in every area of my life. But what I see now is an opportunity. A chance to heal. To be present. To be honest. To learn true self care.

That is the kind of strong I want to be. These are the memories I want to have. This is the person I am becoming.

image2Day 44.

Finished my 1000 piece puzzle. So glad to get it out of my sight. In the end I was cramming pieces to make it work. I miss it sometimes.

I started it to keep my mind off drinking. It protected my husband from random rants during the first few weeks. During the moments I was so irritable I’d snap.

It helped me work through cravings and frustrations. Showed me when to know it was time to walk away. Trust that I’d come back and discover the missing piece. Eventually see why certain parts weren’t meant to go together.

When I was in high school I never felt like I fit. Never belonged to a certain group. I hung out with cheerleaders, thespians, some jocks, band members, the super smart ones and even some cool kids. I was a social chameleon I guess.

There were only a few who got to see all of my personality parts at once. Three to be exact. Really just one. Saw him a couple years ago. Wasn’t the same. But neither was I.

Deep down. I’m strange. A dork, loner, wanna be-but not really. I mean that in the nicest way.

I think my dad was the first to see that person.

Maybe because I got it from him.

For so long I was afraid to admit we were similar because of his mental illness. It’s pretty complicated.  His mental illness that is.

But before that part of him surfaced we shared a lot. Running, country music (the Boxcar Willie Ronnie Milsap kind) the need to be extremely loud, imaginary friends, quirky characters….

Like Lucas Bryan. He came out as soon as my dad lit the charcoal in the grill and popped open his Michelob. But only then. To be clear. I was Lucas Bryan. My dad knew he arrived when I walked out the door with my ball cap on backwards.

Freaks. Happy. Freaks.

Once my dad got sick. It would be hard to share those moments.

Every episode of mania, depression, deceit…pushed those moments off until they no longer existed.

As I unthaw. Unpickle- as my mom calls it. I’m starting to get a clearer view of the past and people who were in it. In me…

I can spot a few other fellow strange ones in my life. All guys. Not boyfriends. Just friends.

They were all in tv too. Weird.

I was thinking about this as I was watching “Elf” with my son yesterday. Buddy the Elf. Watching him reminded me of one of my favorite days. With one of my favorite friends.

I couldn’t stop laughing. Tears. Stomach aches. We made up a couple of characters for a Halloween Special. No scripts. Just went for it. That was years ago.

I cannot remember a time when I was drunk that was that fun. Like belly-deep, wailing fun. Sure I can think of funny times being intoxicated…but that carefree? Candid? Unguarded…never. Not like this. If there was, I can’t remember it. Go figure.

There were other moments like these. Mostly in front of the camera. It’s a different world when you want it to be.

See. Loner.

I don’t mean sad. Just solo. Different. Odd.

My son gets it. He gets that part of me. You should see the characters that emerge when we’re together.

Fear of never fitting in. Drinking made that fear go away. It made the pieces seem to fit. Until I was the only piece left most times.

Lose the fear. Embrace the freak.

I think I need another puzzle.

image1 2

Day 41. In my early days as a TV feature reporter in St Louis I would log onto a media gossip website to see if my name was mentioned.

It was. Only members of the media were supposed to be on there and they all had code names to mask their true identity.

I remember an entire thread about my weight and “black pants.” I weighed 35+ pounds more than I do now. Carried most of my weight in my hips and thighs. Still do.

This was in the throes of my food addiction. Even though I exercised everyday there was no way I could work off all the excess sugar I was consuming during my daily binges.

As a feature reporter, you can’t hide behind a news desk. You’re head to toe, in action. I would disguise my thick, pear shaped figure with black pants. Tried to anyway.

I had lots of black pants. Various styles and sizes since my weight fluctuated. I wore them every day. It was my uniform. Bright colored, solid top. Black pants.

Obviously people had caught onto my attempt to camouflage my weight gain. Comments went back and forth about the size of my butt.

As painful as it was to read, I logged on everyday..sometimes multiple times a day to see if anyone came to my defense or had something to add. I only remember the insults.

One day I asked a veteran news anchor at the station what she thought of this gossip site. She told me she “didn’t.”

I was confused. “What do you mean?” She explained that she didn’t care what was on it. “Had no use for it.”

My mom used to say something similar. “What other people say about you is none of your business. Only you know the truth and that’s what’s most important.”

Had a reminder of that today. This time from a friend who is on her own sobriety journey.

I told her I was considering shutting down the blog. That I was concerned with what people were saying about me. Mostly my close friends.

But added “this is the one thing that’s kept me from drinking.” When I come close I picture myself having to write about it. Confess. That is the final thought I have as I stare down the picture in my head of me drinking.

I often will re-read my posts. Remind myself where I’ve come from. Why I did what I did. Why I want and need this to work.

She responded “so you’re going to stop something that is helping you because of what other people think?”

I’ve read and been told that in the early days of getting sober, you must make it your number one priority.

Stay away from people, places and things that trigger you. Do whatever it takes to keep you from drinking.

I have. I’m a nighttime hermit in constant contact with my support system.

During my binge eating days I couldn’t resist reading those hurtful comments, collecting tabloid magazines to analyze the bodies of thin celebrities. Logging onto eating disorder sites…the ones where women cheer each other on during fasts and starvations.

The never-ending negative talk in my head was fed by those sites and magazines. They would trigger my binges.

This time.. Same song and dance. Different lyrics and choreography.

My focus shifted. My obsession. Morphed.

Instead of body image and weight it was to do lists and achievements. Perfectionism of a different kind.

Fueled by social media. The comparison game.

These triggers wouldn’t result in drinking binges immediately.

The busy-ness was enough to numb out for awhile.

Must keep going. Must keep doing. Must not stop. Must not feel.

I wouldn’t become aware of this pattern for years to come.

The drinking started out as a reward. “With all this running, I DESERVE a glass or two of wine at the end of the day.”

“With all this responsibility I’ve EARNED this drink to relax.”

This was my alone time. My recharging time. My self care.

The drinking culture doesn’t help.

Today it’s normal to be a drinking mom. No need to reveal how often. Just don’t get a DUI, don’t drink during the day..unless with friends of course. Act like a lady when you do it. And you’re fine.

You can even sport a tee-shirt, hat and coffee mug to brag about it. Because drinking is so “fun.”

It took 40 days and 40 nights of me denying myself of this daily ritual to see exactly what was happening and where it came from. Two glasses a night…turned into two bottles a night over 8 years.

The first 30 + days of sobriety were so emotional. So schizophrenic. I could only see flickers of clarity.

So on this 41st day I can see that what started 8 years ago was the beginning of a slow decent. So gradual I didn’t even notice I was falling.

Last night I went to bed before my husband for the first time in years. Couldn’t wait to read and have my new kind of “alone time.” Didn’t want a glass of wine. Not that night.

Just an hour before I was on the phone with a very dear friend who asked me “so without a doubt you believe you are an alcoholic?”

My response. “100 percent.”

Went to a group meeting today. Never been. Not to this one. I was nervous but excited. A room full of people who “get it.”

I learned a new term recently. “Normies.” Normies are people who can drink just one drink. They don’t think about their next drink. They don’t question if they have an alcohol problem. They don’t always drink their entire drink. They don’t drown out their feelings and insecurities. They don’t get it.

My husband is a normie. He literally can drink one beer and be done. Cray. Zee.

At today’s meeting. They aren’t normies. These people are men. They are women. They are professionals. They are stay at home moms. They are overweight. They are thin. They are old. They are young. They are rich. They are poor. They wear designer clothes. They wear shorts and sandals on a December day. They are shy. They are loud. They cry. They laugh. They’ve had DUIs. They’ve never run into the law. They’ve lost everything. They’ve held onto everything.

They have a destructive relationship with alcohol.

They know what it’s like to have a substance that takes over your mind. Brainwashes you. Stalks you. Takes up space..crowds out loved ones.

One of the reasons I went back to drinking last year after my whopping two week break was because I went to a similar group and they all matched my stereotype of an alcoholic. Rehab, jail, DUI, divorce…

I was non of the above therefore I was not one of them. Therefore I was ok to return to my abusive stalker.

But I have had a voice telling me to run away from it for years. YEARS. It started off faint. A tiny whisper. That grew.

The voice got louder A couple years ago near the time I packed small boxes of wine in my suitcase to visit my recovered alcoholic friend’s family. We were there to shoot a special edition of our faith based tv show and celebrate his 25 years of sobriety….I drank in my bedroom both nights and then woke up to shoot and interview people who lost everything in a flood during the day.

Just a few weeks later I was at a table planning another show with my recovered alcoholic friend and co host. It was our Christmas special. I was fighting back tears. Holding my breath. Pinching myself. Doing anything and everything to keep myself from screaming across the table. I HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM AND SHOULD NOT BE ON THIS SHOW WITH YOU!!!!

I remember another extremely close recovered alcoholic friend telling me he had cancer. When I hung up the phone I CRIED OUT in my car, “God, save him and I will quit! I swear I will quit!!!”

Then last December I went to a support group meeting with my recovered alcoholic friend and co host. I finally had confessed and told him I couldn’t be on the show anymore. A few weeks later I told him I had it under control and was only drinking on the weekends…That I was managing my anxiety and would be ok. That removing myself from the show was all I needed.

I never talked to him again about my problem until 5 weeks ago. He now meets with me. Prays for me. Checks in on me. He understands. He gets it.

My other friend is cancer free. He’s who invited me to today’s meeting. Today we laughed. We cried.

Breaking free of this grip is the hardest thing I have ever done. Its claws are deep. As soon as I think its gone it rears its nasty head. Taunting me, lying to me, convincing me. Still stalking.

Most people in my life don’t get it. To normies, not drinking is not a big deal. It’s not something you would think about, much less talk about…you certainly wouldn’t write about it.

But there are plenty who do get it. They are here to help. Remind you that you cannot do this alone.

Isn’t it amazing how God plants people in your life..people to catch you when you fall. Hold you up when you’re weak. Promise you it gets better. People who can say…”I get it.”