Learning to Fly

By Carrie Coleman

I went unplugged for six weeks in the spring of 2016, but I didn’t go about it in the most orthodox of ways. And it wasn’t at all by choice.

I was 41 years old, balancing a killer new sales job with the usual challenges that come with marriage and being a mother of two. I was at the top of my game.

And I was an alcoholic.

I was standing in my bedroom moments after an intervention with less than 45 minutes to pack my bags before heading off to a treatment facility.

This wasn’t the first time the word rehab had been mentioned to me. Years before, my husband brought it up in one of his many conversations with me about “my problem.” I believe his direct quote was, “I hope I don’t ever have to look our children in the eye and tell them that we can’t afford to send them to college because we spent that money to send Mommy to rehab.”

That comment didn’t exactly inspire immediate sobriety. It did, however, spawn behavior that would spiral for years. Instead of quitting, I became determined to prove him wrong. Because I was fine, thank you very much.

My life became an obsession with pacing myself, making sure I drank slowly enough and ate frequently enough that intoxication wouldn’t creep up on me. What did creep up on me was a little voice inside my head that kept whispering, “He’s right.”

I blocked that voice out for a long time. Usually by taking another drink or with another night of getting away with my charade. But the “better” I got at it, the more invincible I thought I was, and the louder that whisper got. Eventually the whisper became a deafening scream that literally began to hold me hostage. I felt like a bird in a cage, and I wanted so badly to fly away — to be able to live life without constantly looking over my shoulder to see if I was getting away with it. I just wanted to be free.  

Eventually trying to stay happy in my little cage became too difficult, and I jumped at any chance I got to spread my wings. I thought I was doing something that would make things better at home. If my husband didn’t want to go anywhere with me, I would just go out with other friends for the night, have my fun and then we’d all be happy. I longed so much for life outside of the cage that when I finally found opportunities to soar, I literally forgot how to fly. I just didn’t know when to stop, which turned into friends and family members having to take care of me every time I drank — and witnessing unbearable behavior that I don’t even remember.

But that’s the thing — somehow there was always someone there to take care of me. Always someone to pick me up when I was too drunk to walk. Always someone to drive me home because I was too drunk to drive. Always someone to help me justify my behavior because they understood that trying to survive in that cage was slowly killing me.

All of this created a woman who went from being a social drinker to someone who couldn’t get through the day without drinking a whole bottle of wine. But I kept justifying all of it because I’d never hit rock bottom, right?

Wrong. There were so many moments that should have been rock bottom for me, but they weren’t, because I didn’t get arrested or thrown in jail or wrap my car around a telephone pole. Every single one of those things should have happened to me. Multiple times. But they didn’t. So a bad night out could make me feel really bad the next day (in more ways than one), but since I wasn’t dead or incarcerated I didn’t consider it to be a problem.

Then my husband staged the intervention, and by the grace of God I agreed to get help. I got to the treatment facility, and after signing all the paperwork and going through interviews with nurses and doctors and CT techs, I was given a handful of pills and put in a detox room. Then I curled up in the bed and cried myself to sleep.

I didn’t wake up until almost lunchtime the next day. I was exhausted but alert enough to open my eyes and realize it hadn’t been a dream. I heard voices outside my window and opened the curtain to peek out.

There were so many reasons I’d fought going to rehab. I didn’t have six weeks of my life to give up for treatment. I had a job and children and things to do, for Pete’s sake! But more than anything, I’m ashamed to say that I fought it because of the stigma. I had this vision in my head of what people who went to rehab looked like. You probably have it, too. People who wind up in rehab are losers, right? They look like losers. They act like losers. They ARE losers. And dammit, that wasn’t me.

But there I was. Staring out the window from behind a white curtain in the detox ward of an addiction treatment facility. And I couldn’t believe what I saw. A group of about eight women, just sitting around, relaxing and enjoying life. They were laughing. They were joking. They were smiling. They seemed so … free.

And they looked just like me.

Right at that moment, a bird flew in front of my window. It looked me in the eye, almost like it wanted to say something, and then it flew away.

All of a sudden it occurred to me — I’d hit rock bottom. And I’d hit it in the most beautiful way possible. Somehow, in the midst of my shame and fear and feeling of defeat, I knew that I was free. And I was about to fly.


Carrie lives in Spartanburg, S.C., with husband Mark and their two children. When she isn’t mommying she teaches Pilates at Converse College and Pure Barre Spartanburg. She recently celebrated her 17th month of sobriety.

Editor’s note: skirt! magazine publishes selected essay submissions each month as part of our mission to amplify women’s voices and issues women care about.