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Remember When I Used To Smoke And Get Drunk?

I was living a life of chaos, and my kids saw the worst.

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Sonia Pulido
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“Remember when I used to smoke cigarettes?”    

I pose the question to my daughter, now 16 years old, as we reminisce about the days when she was 8 and 9 and 10 and I would pull the car over and leave the kids locked in there as I stood outside and smoked a cigarette. Apparently, I couldn’t wait until we got to wherever we were going. Usually it was the stress of the kids fighting in the car that led me to think, God, I need a cigarette right freaking now. It was during those days, when I was an active cigarette smoker, that I also did not know how to handle stress — any of it. I was living a life of chaos, and my response to the chaos always brought about more chaos.     

“Yup, it is hard to believe you used to be a smoker,” Molly says. She then remembers something else about the old me — the breathalyzer that was in my car for years. Ugh.    

At first, it was there because the court had required me to use one after several DUIs. Later on I put the breathalyzer in my car voluntarily because, as crazy as it sounds, I just couldn’t NOT drink and drive. That’s where my alcoholism brought me — drinking and driving regularly. Risking my life and the lives of others. Putting alcohol before everything, and when I say everything I mean every little thing and every big thing, too. I drank and drove with my children in the car.     

The old me and the new me are most definitely two totally different people, though that old me will always be a part of who I am now. And I don’t want to disown her or deny her identity. I used to hate her. I used to describe her as an awful, crappy mother; a piece of sh**; a disgrace. I used to cower in shame at the thought of her. I never spoke of her, certainly not to my children, and I would get mad and defensive when others brought her up.     

But not anymore. Now the thought of her keeps me grateful and focused on doing the next right thing. Now I remember her, and she offers me the most amazing lessons. Now I have compassion for her. Now I see her as a sick and suffering woman who was in such pain. I see her as a woman who was doing the best she could at that time of her life. She didn’t know how to live sober; but my God did she try. She tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed. The pain that accompanied that failure was oh-so-heavy.   

Now I know that every failure played a role in my eventual sobriety; I embrace those failures and I own them. They all brought me to my rock bottom — a rock bottom that wasn’t one thing; it wasn’t one consequence or one night gone wrong or one person who said they just couldn’t watch me self-destruct anymore. It wasn’t my daughter’s pulling away, my DUIs or the fact that I was unemployable. It was all of these things combined, and after years of a denial so strong that no one could make sense of it, I dropped to my knees and begged God for help because this time I knew I couldn’t get sober alone. So I relied on God and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — and one day at a time, I have stayed sober for six and a half years.   

The old me gave birth to the new me, and my God I love them both so much. They have brought me to where I am now: happy, sober, fulfilled and grateful. Never in a million years did the old me think happiness, gratitude and sobriety could coexist. But they do.    

Whenever I talk with my kids about the old me, I am overwhelmed. I never underestimate the miracle that is my sobriety, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that this is what my six and a half years of sobriety is: a miracle at the hands of God. But I often wonder, Do they know? Do they understand that I simply could not stop drinking on my own? That divine intervention was at play? That without the grace and love of God and the program of AA their lives would be entirely different?    

“It is as if I have lived two completely different lives,” I say to my daughter as we laugh about the version of me that would smoke cigarettes and blow into a breathalyzer prior to starting the car. “It is almost like a miracle,” she answers.