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      Sober Nation

      Putting Recovery On The Map

      Name: Victoria Frances Burns

      Age: 38

      Sober Since: 11 / 23 / 2013

      Sober For: 9 Years & 78 Days

      What it was like?

      Alcoholism runs deep on both sides of my family. I had my first taste of alcohol when I was five years old. On camping trips, Dad would give me sips of his beer. Despite the bitter taste and skunky smell, as the middle child, I loved the extra attention. I got drunk for the first time when I was 13. Ironically, by the time I hit high school I rarely drank. I was too busy being a “good girl” perfectionist, overachiever. It was a mask I wore well. When n I turned 18 and moved to France. I had always been a self-conscious nerdy kid; teased about my physical appearance. When I arrived to France, I discovered booze, coffee, smoking cigarettes, and bulimia. I lost weight within the first few months. For the first time in my life, I felt popular; desired; like I finally belonged. I was partying three to four times per week with different groups of international students. Each one introducing me to their regional spirits, beers and wines. I tasted and loved them all. Alcohol was not only an effective social lubricant, it was a reliable elixir, the solution to all my troubles. I spent the next decade chasing that euphoric feeling; but never quite getting it right, and almost dying in the process. . I dedicated 15 years of my life trying to figure out how to safely control and enjoy my drug of choice.

      What happened?

      Over my drinking career, stopping completely was never part of the plan, but I tried everything to “control” my drinking. I tried all the classic tactics, swearing off hard liquor, switching from wine to beer, drinking water in between drinks, only drinking at home, only drinking with my husband, only drinking socially, you name it. My bookshelves were stacked with addiction memoirs. I had three therapists, prayed and meditated, started attending church, took prescription medication. Nothing worked. As soon as one drink entered in my system, all bets were off. I thought my shocking 2011 diagnosis of Type-One Diabetes (T1D) would finally be the antidote to my alcoholism. I was told by my endocrinologist that my body could no longer tolerate my usual amounts of alcohol, that it would kill me. Unfortunately, addiction doesn’t work that way. It defies all logic. It didn’t take long to figure out that alcohol naturally lowered my blood sugar. This is why non-diabetics who drink too much can go into diabetic comas. Within a few months of my diagnosis, I started using booze as insulin. I would drink a couple bottles of $9 Argentinian red wine, binge on chips, cheese and bread, and wake up the next morning with a hangover from hell, but a blood sugar of 7 mmol/L. I thought I had found the Holy Grail! Ultimately, diabetes changed my drinking trajectory. The stakes got higher. The hospitalizations more frequent. Ironically, I am grateful for T1D because it brought me to my final bottom sooner. If I didn’t have diabetes, I honestly don’t think I’d be alive today. I had my last drunk on my 32nd birthday. By this point, I was officially leading a double life that was getting more difficult to manage. By day, I was a wife, PhD student, responsible home owner, dog mom, writer, and sessional instructor. By night, I was a raging, out-of-control drunk. The morning of my last drunk, I taught an undergraduate class. On my way home, I bought a celebratory birthday dress. What was supposed to be a couple of beers out with friends and my husband, turned into a 16-hour black out followed by an emergency room visit. I remember being at the hospital, looking in the mirror, and not recognizing myself. I was terrified. I couldn’t understand how this happened again. Full of shame, remorse, and self-loathing, I knew I could no longer live this way. I was emotionally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. A hollow shell. I knew in that moment I was completely powerless over alcohol and that something had to change, or I would die.

      What it is like now?

      Since November 23, 2013, I never picked up a drink again. Since becoming sober, I finished my PhD, a post-doctorate, and moved across the country for a full-time tenure-track professor position. I am still happily married and a proud dog mom. I will not pretend that sobriety has been a cake walk. The beginning was particularly brutal. It took me at least 2 years to shift from “I can’t drink” to “I don’t want to drink.” As Caroline Knapp writes in her addiction memoir, Drinking a Love Story, when I got sober, I felt an intense sense of loss and grief when alcohol was no longer a part of my life. I’ve been able to slowly move through this grief with help of several tools, including a 12-step program and therapy. Sharing my experience in order to help others has also been key to accepting myself as a person in long-term recovery from addiction. I am coming up on 7 years sober and am finally letting go of my shame. Coming out of the “addiction shame closet” has been a gradual, non-linear process. Today I can honestly say that I have no regrets and am grateful to be sober!

      Reboot Your Recovery

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