The question I always get from people who’ve read about my alcohol recovery is “How did you start?”

And I get why. Every journey begins with the first step. And, for so many of us, the first step is terrifying.

I do not attend AA, but I understand their mantra “One day at a time” with every part of me. Because that is how my recovery began. It’s how everyone’s recovery begins—the one day that changes everything.

My story starts on a melancholy Monday in December of 2017. It was the third week of the month, with weeks of holiday party hangovers under my belt. And I was just getting started. The holidays were especially triggering for me as all my family came to town, the beer tap opened, and champagne started popping.

I sat at my computer at work, nursing a subtle hangover. Hangovers were common for me, and although the previous evening’s party wasn’t particularly boozy, my body was recovering from three consecutive days of drinking.

Not that I ever needed a party as an excuse to drink. Drinking felt earned for pretty much everything: stress, boredom, parenting struggles. I got very good at finding reasons to drink.

Drinking felt earned for pretty much everything: stress, boredom, parenting struggles. I got very good at finding reasons to drink.

And year after year, my drinking seemed to grow steadier, stronger, and more determined as if it had a mind of its own. The days of wine with friends now started with wine before meeting with those friends, and wrapped with a nightcap. When you start drinking like this, you have to start getting sneaky. Two glasses of wine? No one bats an eyelash. But a night during which people only saw me drink two glasses in front of them was easily a four-glass night.

Because four? People start whispering. And, as I approached my 40th birthday, the goal was to minimize whispers. The strategy was to be sneaky. And it worked like a charm.

That day, I sat in my office chair and felt my heart flutter like it was skipping beats. I put my hand to my chest and could feel it: bu-dum… bu-dum… pause… bu-dum. Panic set in fast. I knew something was very wrong and I was certain that I was having a stroke. I was 38 years old and I was having a stroke.

This self-diagnosis sounds extreme, I know. But it’s important that you know that my father, a serious alcoholic, suffered from a debilitating stroke at 50. My dad—the most athletic, handsome, life-of-the-party guy—almost lost his life at a young 50. And although he didn’t die that day, he was permanently disabled.

“Mom,” I whispered, looking down at the white tile floor. “I think I’m an alcoholic.”

I rushed myself to the ER, knowing full well I shouldn’t have been driving at all. I was woozy and slightly nauseated. My heart was racing: I was having a stroke. A stroke. A stroke.  

I checked myself in and told the nurse my symptoms. Trouble breathing. Heart pounding. “It’s a stroke…” I mumbled. The nurse took my vitals and ran a few tests. Then she sent me to the waiting room, where I sat for nearly an hour while I texted my mom to meet me. At that point, it’d become quite clear that I wasn’t having a stroke or a heart attack. It was a panic attack, and realizing this wasn’t my time, reality set in. My heart had settled down. My breathing was stable again. Here, as we sat on these cold plastic chairs in the ER, the truth of this moment had never been more clear.

“Mom,” I whispered, looking down at the white tile floor. “I think I’m an alcoholic.”

This is the moment that defines the start of my journey.

I knew that moment these words crossed my lips, I was forever pivoting. I knew this was altering the course of everything from this moment forward.

My mom became my accountability partner at that moment. For the next week, as I struggled with withdrawal and doubts, she held my hand not just with an I’ve got you grip. She held it with a I’m not letting go until we get through this and the waves settle death grasp, one that only a parent can.

The first day was the hardest, of course. Explaining my ER trip to my husband was brief and awkward. But supportive. Completely supportive.

The next few days were just as hard as Christmas came and the relatives swarmed with no clue the battle I was fighting in my head. I tried to go on as if nothing had changed, but, inside, I just wanted to lay in bed and drug myself to sleep with Tylenol PM until the days passed and things settled down. On New Years Eve, we even went out with friends, much to my chagrin.

I’m determined to never start back at day one. I will never go back to day one.

“Aren’t you drinking?” my friend asked as several bottles for the table were ordered.

“No,” I said. “I’m taking a break.”

Surprised, she responded “You picked a bad day to take a break. We just ordered some amazing wine.”

And maybe I did pick a bad time to quit drinking—although what even is a “good” time? But there’s never a better time to quit drinking. Now is the best time to quit drinking.

I remember that evening, white-knuckling the table while everyone around me drank and drank. I remember everything. I drove my husband and me home safely. I went to sleep and slept well. I even woke up with energy and clarity. I was two weeks into my sober journey, but waking up that New Year’s day actually felt like the first day of my new life.

Once I got through those first few weeks of sobriety, I went full-throttle and I haven’t looked back. I’m determined to never start back at day one. I will never go back to day one.

And for the people who ask me how I started, I tell them the first step was to tell someone who would hold me accountable. “I think I am an alcoholic,” I said to my mother that strange day in the ER.

The first step was telling my mom.