I never thought a hug could change my life but on January 19, 2013, that’s exactly what happened.

A stranger asked me my name and what brought me to that support group. I told her, and immediately started crying. She held me for five minutes as I let it all out. In those moments of releasing so much sadness and loneliness, I saw that I hadn’t fully realized how far gone I was. That connection that day with someone who truly knew my struggles snapped me out of the dark place I’d been living in for more than a couple years.

It all started a few weeks prior. I had been traveling to a Caribbean island for work when my wakeup call hit, telling me it was really time to quit drinking. It was 6ish in the evening, and I’d already had too many drinks to drive (or appear normal in public). Over the past few months, I’d been recording voice memos on my phone, trying to hear if I was slurring. Of course, in my drunkenness, I could never know for sure. Most mornings, I’d been rinsing out my coffee mug and refilling it with Chardonnay around 11 a.m. I was spending a lot of time at home, unaware that depression had slowly taken hold.

That night on the island, I didn’t fall on my face —although, trust me,

I’ve stumbled off stages I was dancing on and fallen onto curbs that came out of nowhere. But I knew I was drunk. I felt unbalanced and just so out of control. Spinning on so many levels.

I was so ashamed of how

Quickly I’d become drunk, as had been my pattern for years, that I didn’t dare enjoy the sunset outside lest someone see me and judge me with their eyes for being so drunk. And so I spent the evening in my hotel room, restless, irritable and discontent. I remember that nothing was on TV, save for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which I ended up plopping down in front of, berating myself for being so lame while I could have been out enjoying this amazing tropical island that most Americans will never see. (Clearly, my self-compassion and self-love needed some work, too.)

I drew a bath and continued reading the book I’d packed for the trip,  “Unhooked” by Dr. Fred Woolverton.

It was about quitting addictions. I was enjoying his words, but, ironically, I was also enjoying wine as I read (always the Chardonnay). That night, inhibitions lowered by booze, I emailed the good doctor. I’d been a patient of the therapy center in New York City that he owned, and so I was familiar with his name, although we’d never met. I told him that I had a problem with drinking, asking if he would please help me

I was scared, not knowing what would happen next.

But I also felt a little less alone knowing there was one person on the planet who knew I needed help.

He emailed back the next day,

and within a few more days, we set up a Skype therapy session. Within our first couple sessions, he suggested I join a support group. Ugh. I didn’t want to go. Who does? But I’m a people-pleaser, and I agreed to go once to appease him.

I hated it.

One woman shared immediately about her son and his drinking, and how he was making her life miserable. The shares that followed seemed to focus on dealing with adult children and family.

I remember feeling so lost and so uncomfortable, and I couldn’t understand how listening to this woman vent was supposed to help get me sober.

When the hour was up, I couldn’t exit soon enough. That is, if it hadn’t been for that short redhead blocking my path and asking my name.

Thank God she did.

It was the first time I felt that I was in a safe enough place to say my truth. To admit that I was struggling with my drinking. This woman didn’t judge or pity me. 

She just held me. Her kindness was such a comfort, such a relief.

I’d been holding in so much emotion, so much unhappiness and frustration, pent up, well, from high school when I’d started drinking.

Looking back on that day, I think it was the first time in months that anyone had truly listened.

I hadn’t felt love like that in years. When I finally let go of that woman, she gave me two simple instructions: “Don’t drink and come back tomorrow.” I did just that, and have been doing that ever since. I’ve been clean since January 19, 2013.