Most alcoholics have been warned over and over that if they don’t stop drinking and get help their partner/spouse will leave them. That’s what it took for Alison Smela to realize she had a drinking problem and eating disorder. Her marriage was in tatters and she was still in denial about the seriousness of her alcoholism when she got on a plane to rehab.
Alison had spent over 20 years climbing the corporate ladder, she thought she was a success even though her personal life was broken.
However with help not only did Alison overcome her alcoholism she also had to face up to the fact she had been anorexic most of her adult life.
11 years later her marriage is stronger than ever and she works as a coach helping other women rebuild there lives. She is active in the recovering community and her story has been featured in many different publications.
Alson’s story is one of great courage and hope, she proves that it’s never too late to save your marriage and that recovery from alcoholism and anorexia are possible.
Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
For over 30 years I was never far from a glass of wine. In January of 2002, that glass of wine and my life finally went empty.
On the day before what I hope to be my last drink, my husband left for work as usual. And as usual, after waving goodbye, I grabbed my keys to go get my wine supply at whichever store I hadn’t visited the day before. When I got home I had a few glasses of wine without eating anything and thought I’d have time for a quick nap before I began hiding what I’d just purchased. I woke up to see my husband at the foot of our bed with 16 still-full, airplane-sized wine bottles surrounding me. The next morning, as I pried my eyes open, for the first few seconds I’d forgotten what had happened the night before. And then I remembered. This time I had no idea how I was going to talk my way out of what he saw and what I had done.
All the possible scenarios quickly ran through my head. I couldn’t string together any of the words I’d used in the past to get me out of a jam … this time I doubted they would work. After he finished getting ready for work and walked into our bedroom, I studied my husband’s face. I looked for any type of body language that would give me a clue into what he was feeling. Nothing offered me a hint. As he sat down next to me, my blood ran cold. He was looking straight ahead rather than at me.
I knew from experience he was orchestrating what he wanted to say. When he finally turned to look at me I still could not read the face I’d looked at for years. There was no anger. There were no tears. There was nothing. He was emotionless. He took a deep breath and said, “Don’t be here when I get home.” He stood up, walked to the doorway and without looking back at me said, “I hope you find the help you need.” As his words resonated I heard the back door slam shut. He was not only gone, he was done. I could not move from the edge of my bed. Not knowing what else to do I went to my closet, found a self-hidden bottle, poured wine into the glass next to my bed and called a woman I’d been talking with about sobriety. In rapid fire, the story tumbled from my lips as the tears slowly fell. She listened with full intention. When I finished she gave me the phone number for a treatment center. I hung up with her and hung onto hope. I haven’t found a good enough reason to have a drink since.
What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
Sitting on the plane heading toward treatment, I remember thinking, “I have no idea what’s on the other side of this flight but whatever that may be, it’s got to be better than the life I was living up until now.” When asked how much I drank each day during the admitting process I responded with, “Oh, not that much”. The very kind and caring intake administrator said, “Um, well I have your liver count and I think you may not be telling me the truth.” Perhaps that’s why I spent the first 3-4 days of treatment in detox. Armed with a bit more clarity, I entered the mainstream program and did nothing but compare myself to the other women. I looked for differences not similarities. I resisted the truth, denied the severity of my issues and fought like hell to hang onto the long-held beliefs about myself that were beginning to shine a truth I did not want to see. The tears fell faster than the words were spoken. During one of the very rare pay phone conversations with him, my husband told me he was talking with a divorce lawyer and putting our house up for sale. That call led me to focus on all I had lost or was losing and straight to the doorway of surrender. When I emerged from treatment after 30 days I was determined never to step back through those doors again.
What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
The wonderful thing about this question is the answer has been one of the most fluid elements of my sobriety. The gifts I’ve received as the result of getting sober continue to present themselves because I remain teachable and willing to change. My recovery keeps shifting, evolving and expanding as do the awakenings to the everyday miracles surrounding me. However to answer the question directly, one of the best things for me is that the obsession to numb out from life, to escape from situations, emotions and people and to turn a blind eye to what I’m responsible for, has been lifted. The ability to face life head-on is extraordinary. Moreover, the confidence I now have believing that no matter what happens, I’ll be OK. I’ve learned and now fully understand that while there may be consequences or actions I may not want to do I need to do. I’ve gained the experience to know that which I resist will keep me stuck or worse yet, complacent. To have the willingness to accept what I want is perhaps not what I need is profound. Another significant gift for me has been the re-emergence of relationships with those I love; particularly my husband. We’ve gone from lawyers and “for sale” signs in front of our house to the mutual acknowledgement we cannot do this thing called life without each other. From the anger and emotional chaos following treatment to the rekindling of our trust for one another and being be able to accept each other as we truly are, is perhaps what one might consider a miracle. I, on the other hand, attribute this solely to my continued willingness to do whatever it takes to remain sober and honest.
If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
I’d tell myself I am enough. I’d tell myself to trust my instincts more and that I don’t need to work so hard to impress anyone. I’d tell myself how important slowing down can be, to stop reacting and start responding by taking the time to stop, breathe and then take action. I’d tell myself to see people beyond what they can do for me, give me or promise me. I’d tell myself to try not living in what’s imagined as truth but in what is the truth. I’d tell myself the more I judge others the more I feel judged. I’d tell myself people don’t think about me nearly as much as I think they do. I’d tell myself trying to change my outsides isn’t going to fix what needs changing inside.
What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I’m capable of far more than I had allowed myself to believe possible. I’m a survivor. I’m brave. I’m able to be courageously uncomfortable in order to do the right thing. And my gratitude for what I’ve been able to overcome keeps me moving forward on the path of foundational, sustainable change.
Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I was able to be fully present when my father took his last breath and then, seven months later, when my brother took his. I had the chance to talk privately, candidly and lovingly with my father moments before he lost complete clarity. I heard the words I’d longed to hear from the man I so deeply admire. I felt the love flow through his hand to mine as he looked me in the eyes and told me how proud he was of me and spoke of the hope he held for my future. There is no doubt had I not been sober I would not have remembered that conversation or the many moments of beautiful transition from life to death. I would not have recalled faces of sadness and then smiles shared as my family quietly talked about the amazing life my father led just as the machines confirmed that life over. Had I been drunk, I would have caused more emotional upset by my inconsistent and no doubt inappropriate behavior which no one in my family would have deserved.
What are your favorite recovery slogans?
You are not responsible for your first thought, only your first action.
People don’t think about you nearly as much as you think they do.
Just for today, one day at a time.
This too shall pass.
We are only as sick as our secrets,
More will be revealed.
Willingness is the key.
You are not alone.
And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Recovery has provided me the way to finally meet myself, to understand who Alison truly is and how to respect myself holistically. Recovery has provided me the pathway to feeling content no matter what chaos swirls around me. Prior to recovery I thought I knew who I was, what I wanted, where my life was going and why. Today I have a far better understanding of who I am. I’m willing to continue learning so I can find out more. I’m better in tune with what I want may not be what I need and why that’s significant. I’m leading the kind of life I never dreamed I’d be satisfied with. I found money, prestige, and power is not what will make me happy or content with my life. I’m loved, I’m respected and I’m enough just as I am. And for all this, I’m truly grateful.