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Self-Discovery in Sobriety

On a mild day in March of 2019, with complete and utter defeat, I surrendered. After a 21 year toxic love affair with alcohol, I knew that I had two choices left: to either continue on the path that had led me to such emptiness, and sacrifice everything that I had worked for and everyone that I loved, or to admit to myself that this problem I had with alcohol was one that needed to be addressed with priority. I knew that the time had come where I needed a divorce from it. No more temporary separations; no more running into the arms of a substance that gaslit me for so many years. No more empty promises of a love that would never exist.

woman not drinking
After a 21 year toxic love affair with alcohol, I knew that I had two choices left...

I sat anxiously in my car, alone and broken, watching as man after man walked into the basement of a nearly dilapidated church for a noontime AA meeting.  I was flooded with visions of my own actions that had gotten me to this place both physically and emotionally.  No one knew where I was; I could leave and just go back to my perfectly normal looking life, but the message I had received just the morning before haunted me. “I knew it was only a matter of time before the alcohol caught up to us.” I shuddered at the thought of the chaos I had caused in the lives of those I loved the most. Just the morning prior, at 36 years old, professionally dressed on my way to teach a class at a reputable school, I slept for an hour in my car on the side of a busy highway because I was so physically and spiritually depleted; I had let alcohol become my master and I had finally been totally consumed by it. Despite being a successful business-owner, educator, wife, mother, contributing community member, and typical suburban woman, I had reached a breaking point. I had to change but I wasn’t sure how or what that even meant, and I was scared beyond belief. I wasn’t sure that I was even capable of whatever that change entailed. I had more self-doubt and loathing than I did hope; more fear than faith.

As I watched these men walk into the meeting hall, I thought, ‘I don’t belong here. I can manage this myself’ and I drove away. But I knew the truth. I had tried to manage my drinking by myself for years. I had made rules for myself to follow about what I would consume and how often, but I couldn’t follow the rules to my own game. So, I returned. I parked and I made a deal with the universe: If I see a woman going in, I will go in, too. Almost on cue, a blonde woman I later came to know as Lisa emerged from the passenger seat of a car. As she walked towards the building, I knew I had to make good on my promise. I got out of my car and approached her. Shaking, I asked, “Excuse me. Are you here for the meeting?” She nodded and observed my visible unease. I was paralyzed; totally overwhelmed with emotion, and she sensed it. She linked her arm with mine and this stranger led me into the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous I would ever attend. And she helped save my life.

I slept for an hour in my car on the side of a busy highway because I was so physically and spiritually depleted; I had let alcohol become my master and I had finally been totally consumed by it.

It has been over five years since that day and I have not had a drink since. My life as I now know it, despite feeling so heavy and horrible at that time, truly began that day. 

Early sobriety was the most all-encompassing, mind-boggling, life-altering phase of life I have ever experienced. I would sit among men and women in meetings who would proudly proclaim that they were “grateful alcoholics” and I would swear my ears were deceiving me. How anyone feeling like I was feeling could be grateful was beyond me. I was longing for an escape I no longer had access to and was hyper focused on everything I was “giving up”, therefore a grateful heart was not what I was experiencing. I believed that my life as I knew it was over, and I was mourning the loss of all the things to come that I believed I wouldn’t be able to be part of if alcohol wasn’t invited along with me. How would I attend weddings or go on vacations without alcohol? How would I relax, celebrate, mourn without it? I had never, and I imagined a life without alcohol in it to be dull. I was afraid I, too, would become dull. But I listened to those who had given up a substance and gained more than they ever anticipated in exchange and I could not doubt that they were on to something. I wanted what they had, so I tried what they suggested. I prayed to a God that I didn’t believe in, I went to meetings, I talked with people who had been where I was, and I listened. 

One day at a time has led me to over five years of continued sobriety but saying goodbye to alcohol has been the smallest part of what happened to me. What I didn’t expect was that being sober wasn’t the big picture. The big picture was that in my sobriety, in the real soul-searching I began to find myself. I first picked up alcohol at the age of fifteen, and from the start, I drank for effect, and I drank in excess. I

absolutely abused alcohol, but because I was what we have come to refer to as a “functioning alcoholic”; because I worked, was married, had a beautiful home; because you wouldn’t find me begging on a street corner or stealing money to support a habit, my drinking was socially accepted. But because of these factors, I never allowed myself to become who I was meant to be. I had begun poisoning my brain and my body at such a young age, had gained a reputation as a “party girl”, and even built much of my identity around my love for wine and other cocktails. But the truth was bleak: I hadn’t invented a true version of the woman I was meant to be while I was drinking. So, at 36, I had to figure out who the hell I was.

women thinking
I absolutely abused alcohol, but because I was what we have come to refer to as a “functioning alcoholic”

Just recently, I threw a surprise party for my husband in a bar. There was amazing music and I danced all night long with friends. I sipped on a cranberry and ginger ale (with a lime! Always with a lime!) and had a few moments where I was so overcome with true joy that I almost cried. I realized that I was truly happy, free and completely authentic and it was an epiphany. I recognized that my former self would have never believed that I could be having genuine fun, being comfortable in my own skin without drinking, and it came with a wave of mixed feelings. 

While I felt some genuine pride for coming so far, I also experienced some sadness. I wish that I could have gone back to tell my young, developing self that I didn’t need a substance to be comfortable, to be accepted, to have fun. I wish that I had known then that special moments in my life like weddings and birthdays didn’t need to be “celebrated” with a substance that wouldn’t allow me to clearly remember them all. Had I known that I was strong enough and capable enough to face life’s most heavy challenges with a clear mind, and to “feel and deal”, I’d have been surprised at my own resilience.

I do not believe in regret and I do not believe in coincidence. I cannot return to the past knowing what I now know to tell myself these truths but what I can and will continue to do is help others who are feeling stuck in similar situations. I have been asked if I am embarrassed to share my story about getting sober. I am not; not at all. I would be embarrassed to be armed with experience and the ability to serve others and not give that gift to this world. Rather than letting the pain in my discovery bring me shame, I have allowed it to provide purpose. I trained to be a Certified Professional Recovery Coach as my true passion lies in helping anyone who is struggling with their alcohol abuse to unlock potential and to show them that a better life is fully available for them.

No shame. No dirty stigma. We all know someone whose life is affected by alcohol or drugs. These substances do not discriminate. They are equal opportunity destroyers. 

woman smiling
You are worth it.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse, or you are looking to change your relationship with alcohol, please know this: getting sober comes with an array of feelings and emotions, but no one I’ve met yet who has given up drinking wishes that they hadn’t. The life that lies on the other side of that decision is limitless.

I am Vanessa, and I too, am now a grateful alcoholic. Perhaps the greatest gift I have ever given myself and my loved ones is the gift of sobriety, and if you’re looking for it, I’d love to share that gift with you. One day at a time, it does get better. You are worth it, and I believe in you. 

If you need some inspiration, motivation, or help, follow The Sobriety Buzz on social media. 


Meet the expert:

Vanessa Lagoa with Her Nation Magazine
Vanessa Lagoa | Certified Recovery Coach & Hope Dealer

Vanessa Lagoa abused alcohol for 21 years and discovered a whole new life in  sobriety, she has made it her life’s purpose to guide others from struggle to greatness.  Instead of being ashamed or embarrassed of the life she led while actively drinking, she speaks loudly and shares her story in hopes of inspiring others. With personal experience

and an internationally recognized Professional Recovery Coach certification, she continues to help people see that they can not only survive but thrive in sobriety.



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