The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 8

By Anne Giles 05/12/17

At 30, my life was forever changed by the words of a doctor. Twenty years later, my life would be forever changed by alcoholism. 

a baby

When I was a teenager, my grandmother saved Betty Crocker coupons for me to redeem for pans and spatulas for my future life as a married woman. On one of my visits to her Lynchburg, Virginia home, we rode the bus together to the downtown jewelry and china store, Buckingham-Flippin. She helped me select a sterling silver flatware pattern - Old Maryland Engraved by Kirk Steiff - and I used wages from my job as a salesclerk at Leggett's Department Store, now Belk, to buy my first piece, a silver teaspoon.

My father's Army footlocker served as my hope chest. At Leggett's, I watched the sales and bought the finest bath towels and tablecloths at a discount, tucking them into the footlocker with the pans and teaspoon. I also bought baby clothes: a yellow ducky-covered t-shirt with matching pants, a pale green onesie, each perfect for my first baby boy or baby girl.

My grandmother gave me one of the first Barbies, a red-headed beauty. But when the package containing Barbie's nurse outfit included a baby in a crib, I was enchanted by the tiny, blond, rubber curl on its forehead. I held Tiny Tears close when her eyes blinked with baby bottle tears. When given my choice from all the Peepul Pals dolls, I chose Rock-a-Bye Baby. Rock-a-Bye Baby came with a grandmother as a finger puppet in a tiny trunk. The grandmother was always there for the baby.

As a young married woman, when I saw the final specialist and got the final word that I would be unable to conceive a child, my husband went back to work and I went home. I dropped to my knees, then to our forest green living room rug, and rolled as if I were on fire.

For me, childlessness was not only heart-breaking, but mind-breaking. My parents were scientists. I knew about natural selection and "survival of the fittest." Nature had deemed that my traits and my genes were underserving of a future. I had been selected against. It would help the species if I were not included.

I believe I conceived once, briefly, after tests and pills and injections. My breasts plumped, my hips swayed, my face flushed. I felt swelled with vitality.

After three decades of being empty-wombed, I can say, for me, there's an unfilled and unfulfilled ache to childlessness that nothing replaces. I have felt like a straw of hay, dry and empty.

I've been as good a sport as I can be. As a teacher, I have loved other people's children. I've held baby showers for beloved friends, no longer the only woman in the room without a childbirth story, thanks to my sister, who let me be present for the birth of her third child, a gorgeous daughter. I've never been a soccer mom or a helicopter parent. I'm always in the audience, never in the show. I held on too long and my sister's children had outgrown them when I finally gave her the ducky set and green onesie. Her fertile life now holds three children, three step-children, and a grandson. I wonder if she still has the ducky set for her grandson? It doesn't seem so long ago that I was folding it into tissue paper and tucking it into the Army locker.

I've got street cred as a good person. Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizenship Award. Teacher of the Year. I've done and said lousy things, but most people who find fault with me fault me for my anti-sinning moralism. Anne, you uptight, disciplined, rule-follower, you.

I wasn't sinning when I drank alcohol prior to developing alcoholism. I was consuming a legal substance in the presence of other adults. I was participating in the social norm of communal use of this legal substance at social, business and community events.

And yet I developed alcoholism.

Truth is defined by universality. If it's true, it's always true.

The common belief about addiction, i.e., that people go bad, develop addiction, and, if they work hard and get good again, can redeem and heal themselves, isn't true about me. I didn't go bad. And my effortful attempts to get "gooder" through participating in a 12-step program for moral and spiritual improvement, although helpful as social support, didn't treat the addiction to alcohol and the co-occurring mental illnesses that caused me unbearable anguish.

In fact, I have a classic case of addiction. The data on the precursors to developing addiction, is a veritable checklist of - not how I went wrong - but what went wrong prior to me developing addiction to alcohol.

I've had to grapple like a wrestler with the belief that alcoholism, like childlessness, is the universe telling me I don't deserve to be here. Regardless of what I believe or don't believe, addiction is a brain disorder . Brain malfunctions compromise my very ability to make decisions. Responsible brain structures in need of repair can be identified at the minutest level. About this data, my beliefs are irrelevant.

My first use of the substance was voluntary and legal. One in 7 Americans is expected to develop the brain disorder of addiction, not because we came in contact with substances, but because we have pre-existing conditions that can make contact with substances catalytic. Put seeds in sand and they won't grow. Put seeds in soil and they'll sprout. Some will blossom.

A primary precursor to developing addiction is trauma. If I'm with someone with a substance use disorder, I'm likely with someone who has experienced something individually, often universally, heinous.

Having a hard mom and a softie dad doesn't cause addiction. The presence or absence of babies doesn't cause addiction. But, for me, these conditions created an intangible loam of distress in which a series of identifiable, tangible traumas could germinate into addiction. Not even my grandmother's love protected me from it.

When I was a child, my mother would light a cigarette, blow out the match, then hold the glowing match's head near my arm or leg. "Ever seen a match burnt twice?" she would ask.

I have seen my life set on fire twice. Learning at 30 that I would be unable to have a child was the first immolation. Developing alcoholism at 50 was the second.

Check out previous installments of The Last Addictions Memoir below:

Part 1 here  Part 2 here  Part 3 here Part 4 here  Part 5 here Part 6 here Part 7 here

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. She writes about addictions treatment, recovery and policy at As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder.
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Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder. You can find Anne on Linkedin and Twitter.