Alcohol addiction is no respecter of persons.

She stood up on the last day of the Christian women’s retreat I was attending and shared with us how she was celebrating two years of sobriety. Up until then she shared her struggle only with her husband and a few close friends who, thank God, gave her the support and encouragement she needed. She has a relationship with God who was her main help through her struggle with alcohol. In this interview you’ll meet Elizabeth Overman, Christ-follower, wife, and Mom to three boys. She has been gracious enough to answer some very direct and raw questions about her struggle with alcoholism. She shares for the purpose of bringing glory to God and helping others. May we read with a humility of spirit and a willingness to see ourselves in her story even though our struggle may look completely different. Even greater than this will be our ability to see the grace of God in her story. And may this lead us to look for his grace in our own lives. 

Do you remember your first drink, how old were you?

My junior year in highschool

If so, where and what was it?

A friend of mine’s family had a lake house, so we went up there for the weekend with the specific plan to drink.  For a couple of us it was the first time.  We had jello shots and beer.  I didn’t drink too much because I was just kind of scared of what it meant to be “drunk.”

Can you tell us what happened with your drinking after that? (next drink, age, where)

I drank a couple more times in highschool but I was always the “responsible one,”  even when drinking.  I was always more worried about watching out for my drunk friends than I was about getting drunk myself.  Once I got to college, I drank more frequently but I still always felt liable for my friends I was out drinking with.

Does anyone in your family drink?

I remember my dad drinking beer when I was little because sometimes he would have me throw his beer can away and as soon as I rounded the corner to the trash can I would take a sip of flat backwash beer.  I think I just wanted to see what this “adult drink” was like.  I don’t remember him ever drinking to excess.  I accepted Jesus into my heart at age 9 and when I walked down the aisle to talk the pastor, my dad was right behind me, also having asked Jesus into his heart.  I don’t remember him ever drinking after that.  I’m told that I have uncles and great grandfathers who struggled with alcohol, but no one that I knew personally growing up.

Although you take full responsibility for your own choices in your alcohol addiction do you look back on any early contributing factors?

I struggled a lot with social anxiety.  I’m very tall and always felt uncomfortable in social situations.  I recognized that a few drinks helped me relax and be more “fun” when I was around others.  I think it was an early indicator of using to alcohol to self-medicate for my anxiety.

Were you aware at the time your behavior might have indicated you had a problem?

My drinking appeared to be “normal drinking” to me throughout my 20s.  I had 3 children in 4 years and in between the pregnancies, the drinking seemed to increase after each pregnancy ended.  My first son had colic and I remember the pediatrician telling me to pour myself a glass of wine to drink during my son’s last feeding of the evening to calm myself.  I just remember feeling like that gave me permission to use alcohol to handle my nerves.  By the time I was pregnant with my 3rd child, I kept telling myself that since I could go the whole pregnancy without drinking, I just wouldn’t start up again after I had him.  I think the mere fact that I was negotiating this with myself meant that on some level I was beginning to recognize that it was a problem.

What were your thoughts?

There was definitely a time in the last few years of my drinking that I just couldn’t fathom going a night without alcohol. And while I knew that wasn’t normal, I told myself that I wasn’t hurting anyone.

What age and situation was your drinking obviously increasing?

By the time I had my 3rd child my drinking really began to pick up. I would set rules for myself. For example I wouldn’t drink until after the boys were in bed. And then it became I wouldn’t drink until 5pm. Occasionally I would try to only drink on weekend nights, but that wouldn’t last past Tuesday. And plenty of times I didn’t even make it through Monday.

How did your drinking impact your family?

It made me emotionally cut off. Even though I could talk and “act” sober in the evenings with my husband, we would get into a lot of little arguments. When I went to bed I was basically passing out (Whereas now we lay in bed for a while and watch a show together or talk) When I started drinking in the evenings to “calm myself” I would ironically notice that it just made me more irritable with my kids. And even though I recognized that, it didn’t stop me. Thankfully I never hurt my kids, physically or emotionally, but having a mother who was trying to numb her life meant that I wasn’t the best mom that could be for them. You can’t numb the bad things in life without numbing the good.

Did anyone ever mention you might be drinking too much?

My husband would say things like “why don’t we just drink on the weekends.”  (he said “we” instead of “you” just to be kind.  He rarely drank)  Every now and then he would start a conversation about it and I would immediately get defensive and storm out.

Were there times you ever wished someone had approached you in a loving, grace-filled way about your drinking?

I honestly think that anyone who would have talked to me about it would have just pissed me off.  That’s just the place I was in.  I was full of so much shame myself that if anyone else had brought it up to me, my armor would have been immediately thrown on and defenses up.

Did you hide your drinking?

Absolutely.  I had a cooler in my closet, extra beer and wine hidden in the back of a kitchen cabinet.

Did you do drugs?

Honestly, not even once.

Was your family concerned?

My husband was, but I think he felt like his hands were tied as far as expressing his concern.

What was it like just before your quit?

I quit in September of 2014 and the summer leading up to that date I had begun to drink during the day.  (Up until then I had only drank at night)  I was no longer able to fool myself into thinking I didn’t really have a problem.

What made you quit?

I had wrestled with the idea of quitting for a long time, but one Sunday my pastor was preaching on “slaying your giant” and in the middle of that sermon I just broke.  I began crying and I knew without a doubt that I HAD to stop.  Everybody’s rock bottom is different and I am so thankful that mine was more shallow than so many others who struggle with alcohol addiction.  I didn’t lose a spouse or my kids or get a DUI, but emotionally, I was absolutely bottomed out.  My shame and self-loathing was a weight I could no longer bear.

How did you quit?

After that sermon, I went home and looked up a local AA meeting for that night.  From then I just had to take it one day at a time.  Some days it was one minute at a time.

Was it difficult and for how long?

It wasn’t easy, but it was simple.  My only focus for a while was to simply not drink.  Everything else came second.  I took a lot of walks and started taking yoga classes.  My husband and a few close friends who I had shared this with were instrumental in helping me stay sober.  They were all so supportive.

What did treatment look like for you? As a program how would you describe it to readers?

I attended AA religiously for the first 6 months, going to 3-4 meetings a week.  After about 6 months I was only going to 1 a week and it eventually got to where I only attended about once a month.  I never felt like I needed to jump all into AA like others may need to.  I had my husband and friends supporting me, I felt strong in my own God-given power to stay sober.  I think AA, and many other recovery programs, are extremely helpful, and AA kept me sober those first few months, I have no doubt.  I will be forever grateful for that, but I don’t feel the need to attend meetings any more.  I know it’s there if I ever need it again though.

What do you do today to not drink?

At 3 years sober now, it’s just not something I think about much anymore.  At times I’ll think “oh, it would be nice to have a glass of wine right now” but it’s so immediately followed by the thought that one glass of wine would turn into two would turn into 6 and I just know I can’t go there.  I don’t want to go there.  It’s taken a while, but I have learned how to lean into my feelings of anxiety and depression and other feelings that used to trigger me wanting to drink.  I had to learn how to feel those feelings and deal with them in a healthy way.  That’s something that I’m still learning how to do better every single day.

How do you handle going out with friends who drink socially? Do you?

Thankfully none of my friends are really people who drink a lot, but it wouldn’t have been uncommon for them to get a glass of wine at dinner.  First the first several month, my friends just wouldn’t drink when we were together, which I appreciated more than they’ll ever know.  I eventually assured them that I was totally ok with them drinking around me.  In the rare cases that I’m in a social situation where people are drinking a lot, it honestly just makes me thankful that I don’t drink anymore.  I just know I will wake up feeling a lot better than they will!

Would it help if your Christian friends who normally drink socially withheld from drinking when they go out with you?

It definitely did help in the beginning!  Now I’m completely ok with it.  In the beginning, the fact that they wouldn’t drink around me just showed me that they respected and loved me.  It represented that I was more important to them than a glass of wine.  It may sound silly, but at the time it meant everything to me.

What advice would you give to a Christ follower who is still struggling with an alcohol addiction?

Find someone you trust, someone who has earned the right to hold your secret with you and confess to them that you are struggling.  Don’t make any promised to them that you are going to quit, just let them know it’s a struggle for you and ask them to pray for you.  To check up on you from time to time to see if you need to talk anymore.  Don’t be scared to ask a friend for something that you need from them.  If this person is a true friend, he or she will value being “your person” for this and want to help you in whatever capacity you need.  If you don’t feel like you have someone like this in your life, tell a pastor or email me!  You’d be amazed at how much just saying the words out loud can lighten your heart.

What advice would you give a Christ follower who does not struggle with an alcohol addiction but wants to help those who do?

Just be there for them.  Love and encourage them with words and actions.  Shaming someone for their addiction rarely works.  Help that person feel loved and worthy of recovery.  Lift them up, point out their beautiful qualities, help them know they are worth treating themselves better than they do.  And let them know they are not alone in struggling in this life.  Compassion is the biggest word I can think of for this question.  So many of us have addictions, it just might not be alcohol.  It may be watching the scale or numbing with food.  It may be excess exercising or over working.  It may be people pleasing or purposely pushing people away.   So many of us have feelings we want to avoid and numb and alcohol is just one way to do that.  Unfortunately it’s a coping mechanism that can come with more dire consequences that others, but at the root, the pain is the same.

Do you find it hard to attend social gatherings where alcohol is served?

I did for a while.  My husband would always be with me though and he wouldn’t drink, which helped me tremendously.  Now it doesn’t bother me at all.

How long has it been since you had a drink?

September 8th was my 3 year sobriety date.

What do you attribute most of this to?

God, my husband, my friends and yoga.  And believing that I’m strong enough to do it and worthy enough to do it.   Letting go of the shame of drinking for years and now turning my mess into my message.  A message of God’s grace and love, power and strength that he gives to us freely.  We are so dearly loved and cherished by our Father.

Elizabeth, thank you for sharing so candidly with us. I appreciate the courage and humility it took to do so. It’s a gift to us. 

You can hear more from Elizabeth’s heart on her blog Simply Grace. You’ll laugh and come away encouraged and inspired by her wisdom. She has a little something for everyone.

Also, if you are in the middle of an addiction struggle and want to reach out to someone you heard Elizabeth say you can email her. She means that. If you have trouble finding her email on her blog email me and I’ll give it to you. I’m also available if you just need someone to pray with. If you need help to the tune of a program I want you to look at a ministry in my town in NC. I know the Director personally. She’s “been there, done that, has the tshirt” and has now opened a facility to help women in the midst of their addiction. You can see more about this ministry at Genesis Ministry. It’s never too late to get help. 

 

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