Guilt is a strong force to be reckoned with. I should know. If I let this disease have its way, there are more reasons for me to drink than not. I have a crazy tug of war inside my head every day between what I want to do, and what I should do. Alcoholism is relentless and my addiction does not rest and my guilt played a major role in keeping me down.
As a “newcomer” I made the mistake of letting my guilt assume a role in my recovery. I allowed my past to dictate my future by listening to a voice inside of my mind telling me that I was a lousy mom, a drunk and a complete waste. It was hard for me to shut it off. It was hard to forgive what I had done.
On January 10th 2010 I drove drunk with my five and seven year old children in the back seat. I blacked out behind the wheel and drove head first into a tree going sixty miles per hour. The details of that day haunt me. My actions, decisions and disease all helped to shape my guilt. For a long time after the accident I was consumed with shame because I felt it was the only way to prove that I was sorry. But was I really sorry for the drinking? In order for me to accept the things I could not change, I needed to get real with myself and ask the hard question…was I sorry for my decision to drive drunk or was I sorry that I had had an accident?
Two very different responses came out while I took the time to understand the direction my life had taken. I was lost in the chaos of my compulsion. I could not make a reasonable or rational decision yet I was absolutely convinced that I did not have a drinking problem. My guilt and shame tortured me as a mother but for some reason, no matter how much I tried to resist, my alcoholism manipulated my mind into believing that drinking was the only way to relieve my conscience. I wanted to forget. I wanted to feel “normal”. I denied the truth about my drinking for so long, I didn’t know what being honest and accountable meant.
The truth was, I had gotten in an accident, my drinking had finally caught up with me and now there was absolutely no way of denying that I had a problem. “How stupid of me”, I thought. I was angry, angry at the thought of how my entire life was going to change. Irritated at the thought of how boring my life would be without booze. I was annoyed because my secret was out. For months I grieved the inability to have a good time, the ‘good ole days’ when my nights out didn’t end in an argument, a physical altercation or a car accident. Where had those days gone? Where was that girl? The one who could handle her booze and have fun doing it? When did I become this person?
I whole-heartedly wanted to believe that I alone could take on the evils of addiction and all its might. I underestimated the magnitude of my regrets. I spent 21 days in a drug and alcohol facility getting sober and learning the tools to stay clean and I drank 30 days after the near fatal car accident that put me in there.
I had been given all the tools, knew all of the steps to take, who to call and where to go for a meeting yet still I drank.I had carefully crafted a mental block that was constructed over many years as a means of protection from my circumstances. The same mental block that hindered my ability to make any kind of sound or logical decisions about my life, my children or my marriage.The one crafted piece by piece, block by block and drink by drink each time I retreated inside of myself out of fear.
What I learned in those 21 days was that I drank because I was scared. I was afraid of my past and uncertain about my future. So, I let my fear consume me and totally swallow up any confidence I had in myself that I could live a happy life. It was daunting, Guilt was my fear. It was too much to handle and I quickly found myself seeking refuge from a bottle of Captain Morgan. It had won again.
It was crazy of me to think that I alone had the strength to battle this affliction. I was no match. I let guilt fester inside of me until; ultimately, I was met with its gripping force. The urge was so fast, so sudden. I hardly had time to respond and gather my thoughts and the tools I learned for my defense. It was clear to me that I was in trouble and that this disease was a beast that could not be slayed. I understood just how powerful and cunning this disease called alcoholism was. It took on many forms and disguised itself in many ways; Guilt, Shame, Fear, Uncertainly, Loneliness, Insecurity, Pain, Failure all spelled out my ADDICTION. Sitting on my dining room floor and drinking from that bottle of Whiskey eight days after leaving rehab taught me one thing. I needed to learn how to have these types of emotions and then let them go if I was ever going to survive my addiction. I could NOT allow them to rankle inside of me.
Watch Amy give herself permission to move beyond her guilt on Oprah:
What was I going to do, I wondered? I thought about my life and what I wanted, and then made the decision. If I was going to survive this and if my children were ever going to have a chance for me to be there mother then I had to turn my will over to a high power, something greater than myself, whatever was out there and was willing help me, guide me, save me from myself, from my drinking. It wasn’t easy and I certainly struggled with the idea of NEVER having a drink again. I slowly and gracefully let the idea of living sober take shape in my life. I took baby steps and constantly reminded myself of my new mantra that Living sober is the best amends!
Eventually, my fears started to fade and I began to view my life differently. I no longer saw myself as a drunk, the chatter filling me with negative thoughts stopped and I gave myself permission to move forward. I didn’t hold on to resentment, and I said good bye to my past.
As one month turned into one year, then two years into four years my entire outlook on sobriety shifted. It was reinforced with the simple rewards I get in recovery. My perception on my alcoholism shifted and I thought…. am I willing to give up everything wonderful in my life for this one thing – this one act of drinking? Or can I give up this one thing for everything else wonderful in my life? When I think about it in these terms, my choice is pretty easy.
Amy had the opportunity to share her story on Oprah Winfrey’s Life Class on July 29, 2012 and hasn’t stopped sharing her truth since. Matt and Amy have used this platform to start a non-profit called The 4Give Foundation which helps individuals in substance abuse treatment finish treatment once the primary funding source has been exhausted.
Latest posts by Amy Baumgardner (see all)
- Let Go of Your Guilt to Stay Sober - April 12, 2017