Holly Lovett* (name changed) grew up in a loving family and never dreamed she could become an alcoholic. For her, that word—alcoholic—conjured visions of a friendless, homeless person. Or worse, a raging, violent drunk—like Holly’s granddaddy had been before he got sober.
“Drinking hadn’t affected my life that way,” 58-year-old Holly explains. “Sure, I’d missed some days of work due to my drinking, but I’d never lost a job,” she says. “Sure, I’d been pulled over, but I’d never gotten a DUI. I didn’t think that was alcoholic.”
Looking back through the lens of nearly 16 years of sobriety, Holly shakes her head, acknowledging her logic was misguided.
“I’d been on a mission to get drunk or high most of my adult life, trying to numb the pain of my past,” she says. “Pain took me farther than I ever thought I’d go.” It took years for her to recognize alcohol was her prisoner. But, Holly says God’s grace was the key to her freedom.
Holly’s collision course with the bottle began long before she picked up her first drink. She experienced traumatic experiences early—between the ages of 6 and 9, Holly was sexually abused. Then, at 17, she was raped and conceived a baby.
“As horrific as the rape was, I knew I’d carry my child to term,” Holly says. “Even in the middle of my mess, God gave me that clarity.”
Though she says she knew it was the best decision in her circumstances, it was gut-wrenching to place her daughter for adoption. Holly even lied, saying she was going to keep her so the nurses would let her hold the baby.
“I felt like damaged goods. If someone looked closely enough at my face, I felt like it would just crumble away. That’s how hollowed out I was with shame and worthlessness,” she explains. “It was almost as if I didn’t even exist.”
She went on to college and held an administrative job with a respected company. But Holly’s painful past always threatened just beneath the surface. And the drinking she’d started as a teenager accelerated when she discovered it numbed her feelings.
“My goal was to stay numb while I was awake,” Holly recalls. “Then, as soon as I got home from work, I reached for my tequila. Alcohol knocked me out for the night,” Holly says.
She was also using sleep deprivation to get a mellow high. She later learned it is a common way rape survivors attempt to cope.
It wasn’t living. It wasn’t really even surviving. Holly was dying inside a little every day.
Edge of the Bad Stuff
Holly married, hoping she could fill the void she felt inside. But the marriage ended in divorce, leaving Holly a single mom. Her drinking increased.
She began seeing a psychiatrist. “I’d tell them the edge of the bad stuff,” she remembers. “But then all these awful feelings would come up from the rape and the abuse. I’d go home and drink until I didn’t feel anything.”
At work, she always claimed her throat was sore, thinking cough drops masked the smell of alcohol.
“I didn’t think anyone knew how much I drank,” Holly says. “At family functions, I’d have a glass of wine, then go home and drink half a bottle of tequila.”
Holly got remarried. “He was good to my child, and I honestly thought we had a chance,” she says.
But Holly’s flashbacks and other symptoms associated with what was later diagnosed as post traumatic stress disorder worsened. Doctors and psychiatrists prescribed anti-anxiety medications, which Holly added to her regimen of sleeping pills and booze.
“Pretty soon, I was addicted and doctor-shopping so I wouldn’t run out of my prescribed medication,” Holly recalls.
Her second marriage crumbled when her husband confronted her drinking. “I quit cold turkey for three years. But I couldn’t stop abusing prescription meds,” Holly says.
“When we divorced, I remember thinking, ‘Now there’s no one to interfere with my getting drunk.’ I knew I was going to ride that dubious privilege into the ground or the grave,” she says. “But, as long as I was numb along the way, I didn’t care.”
Between the fall of 1999 and 2000, Holly emotionally crashed and burned. At night, panic set in when she imagined she heard the voice of her childhood abuser.
“I was terrified I was losing my mind,” Holly says. She was having so many blackouts, she started writing down what she was wearing. “That way, when I came to, I’d have some idea if I’d gone somewhere or done something that I couldn’t recall,” she explains. “It’s a miracle I didn’t kill someone driving drunk.”
One of her lowest moments came when a work colleague noticed something in her hair. “I reached up, thinking it was a leaf. And, my hand came away with dried vomit,” Holly remembers burning with shame. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God. This is how I’m going to be found out.’ ”
She had a tiny circle of friends who drank as much as she did. “Once in a while, we’d go out to listen to a band together. But, even with others, I felt disconnected,” Holly says. “Tears would stream down my face, and I didn’t know why. I was so incredibly lonely.”
Holly remembers dressing for church one day during this time. “I had my cross necklace in one hand and a drink in the other. I couldn’t be a hypocrite, so I put the cross in my drawer,” she says. “I wanted someone to love me, but I didn’t love myself. I was convinced I was dirty and unlovable,” Holly recalls. “I’d prayed for God’s help. But, when I didn’t feel relief from my insecurities and fear, I decided God must not love me very much either.”
The Phone Call That Changed Everything
Holly knew something had to change. “I couldn’t keep living when I was already dead inside,” she says. That’s when a phone call changed everything.
“My mom called and told me we needed to talk about the baby—which was our code word for the child I’d given up for adoption,” Holly remembers. “My birth daughter, then 23 years old, (had) reached out and wanted to talk with me.”
Holly was panic-stricken. “All these years I’d been afraid someone would knock on my door one day. They’d tell me what a horrible person I was to give up my own flesh and blood, confirming everything I already felt about myself,” Holly says. “I was prepared for them to spew hatred at me. I reached for my trusty tequila and was pouring, just as the phone rang,” she remembers.
Tears fall as Holly talks about that phone call and the words that changed her life.
“I heard this young woman’s voice and braced myself for an attack that never came. She said, ‘I want to say thank you. And there’s someone else who wants to talk to you,’ ” Holly recalls.
“Then my birth daughter’s husband came on the line and said the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard: ‘I just want to thank the woman who gave birth to the perfect woman for me.’ ”
Holly says she sobbed. “If there was a perfect script written for what a birth mother needed to hear from the child they gave up, this was it. Word for word.”
A Weight Lifted
A weight lifted from Holly’s heart. She learned her birth daughter was pregnant. “Of course, they wanted a medical history,” Holly says. “But they genuinely wanted to meet me. And more importantly, they wanted to get to know me.” Holly was overwhelmed with emotion. “They wanted a relationship with me? I didn’t feel I deserved this—but I realize now, that’s grace.”
Holly and her birth daughter talked by phone every night for a week. “We got really close, really fast,” Holly says. “I bought her maternity clothes. She and her adoptive mom included me in preparations for the grandbaby’s birth.”
But Holly still struggled with alcohol.
“Even though I was walking on air, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what had happened,” Holly says. “All of the pain from the rape and the loss of my baby erupted. I dealt with those feelings the way I always had—I drank,” she says. “But, this time, I couldn’t drink away my feelings.”
Nudges from God
“I’ve always had little intuitive thoughts—which I call nudges from God —when things just line up,” Holly explains. “And I’d been getting nudged by God a lot! God brought my birth daughter back into my life when I most needed to feel connected,” she says.
As Holly’s relationship with her birth daughter grew, another important person came into her life–the man who would show her love and point her to recovery.
A friend set Holly up on a blind date. She drank several glasses of wine at dinner. He didn’t. “He took me dancing, and I drank even more,” she says. “But, at the end of the evening, he was a perfect gentleman. He was cute and kind. And he treated me with respect. I wasn’t used to that,” she says.
After a few weeks of dating, Holly’s new man told her he was an alcoholic in recovery. “My first thought was, ‘Oh. You, poor man. You can never drink again, or you’ll be mean like my granddaddy was when he was drunk,’ ” Holly admits. “Then he invited me to a 12-step recovery meeting,” she says.
“I still was in denial about my drinking. But I remember the meeting topic was about feeling restless, irritable and discontent,” she recalls. “I certainly could relate to that!”
Holly admits it took time for her to open up to the possibility of sobriety. “It would be nice to say I instantly put down the bottle. It didn’t happen that way, but God was nudging me along,” she says.
“I was at a crossroads, riding towards recovery. Now I see how God protected me at that crossroads. I was still so fragile,” Holly says.
She began intensive therapy to work on the trauma from her sexual abuse and rape. “Until this point, I wasn’t ready to face those emotions head on,” she explains.
Freedom in Sobriety
In 2001, Holly went through a rehab program and got sober. “I had just a mustard seed of faith, but it was enough,” Holly shares. “I went to rehab because I could only string a few days together without a drink. I was still in a place where I thought pain would kill me,” she explains.
She continued therapy for her PTSD. “I finally developed a relationship with God,” Holly recalls. “Where I once felt panic, guilt and shame, God filled me with peace, acceptance and love,” she says. “I was in God’s will, and He rewarded every obedient step.”
God also lifted Holly’s obsession to drink. “I was white-knuckling it the first two years in sobriety,” Holly admits. “It might not have been a graceful sobriety early on, but I have freedom today. I‘m so unwilling to struggle anymore,” she says.
Holly and her birth daughter remain close today. “I visit with her every couple of months,” she says. “My grands are 16 and 13 years old. God is so good!” Holly exclaims.
And what about the kind, cute guy who pointed her toward recovery?
“We’ve been married for 12 years,” Holly says. “God’s in this marriage. We kneel together to pray. We put God first,” she shares.
“I believe God gives things purpose,” she states. “I still don’t understand a reason for my suffering—or anyone suffering —child abuse and rape. But I’ve learned God can give my pain healing power. I’m not damaged goods. The past doesn’t own me,” Holly says. “I’ve learned more about God in sobriety that matters to me and touches me where I live than I imagined possible. It’s a gift to walk this road of freedom.”