Many people enjoy a beer or a glass of wine from time to time. But what happens when a woman’s drinking starts affecting the rest of her life? Maybe it’s causing problems at work or school or in her relationships. She may even have legal or financial problems if she drinks and drives.
That was the case for Markella Prather. Like many people with alcohol problems, Markella didn’t realize her drinking was out of control. That’s why she wants to share her story. She wants to spread the word that drinking problems can affect anyone and that treatment can help you regain control of your life. Markella talks about her choice to quit and what it’s like staying sober.
Q: How did your drinking habits change over time?
A: I went from drinking at special events to drinking all the time for any reason. It started as an occasional thing at parties and celebrations to an everyday thing. It became a part of my life and diet.
Q: When did you realize you had a problem?
A: The first time was when I got arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). That was my first embarrassing moment where I realized I had a problem. Everyone saw me get in trouble.
The second time I realized I had a problem was through a class I had to go to because of my DUI. At the class, the instructor gave me an assignment. He wanted me to go out with my friends, leave after one drink, and write down exactly how I felt. After I left and starting writing, I cried. I felt like I was missing out. I wasn’t sure if it was because I wanted to be with my friends or if I wanted to drink. I wasn’t sure which one it was, but I knew I was sad.
Q: Why did you decide to get help?
A: I decided to get help for my health. Around the time I got my DUI, I had also just gotten out of the hospital. I have congenital heart disease, and I’m always in and out of the hospital. This particular time, I had fluid around my heart. I knew I shouldn’t have gone out drinking, but I went anyway. After my DUI, I realized I had a decision to make: my health or drinking. I chose my health.
Q: What was it like quitting drinking?
A: It was the most difficult, saddest, and loneliest times of my life. I experienced every emotion that I ever had in my life, all at once. So much was happening. One minute I’d be laughing, and the next I’d be crying. It was also one of the easiest times of my life as I focused on taking care of myself in all ways.
Q: What was your approach to quitting?
A: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and church. I also read motivational books. They helped a lot, and so did AA. When I started going to AA, I just wanted to see if I had anything in common with the people there — I did.
Through AA, I did a 12-step recovery program.
Q: How long have you been sober, and what’s it like staying sober?
A: I just celebrated two years sober. I went hiking.
Being sober is a breath of fresh air. I operate differently now. I see things more clearly. A lot of the problems that I used to have, I dealt with them in my program. I’m not suppressing any issues anymore. Life is easier now.
When you’re getting sober, you have to go back and deal with why you thought it was okay to start drinking in the first place. I dealt with those issues. I have a whole new set of eyes because I dealt with those issues that made me want to first start drinking.
Q: Did your drinking affect your personal life or your career?
A: Yes. It affected everything in my life. First, it affected my health. It affected my relationships with my kids and my relationship with my ex-boyfriend.
It did affect my job, but I was still able to do the work. I could function with hangovers and all those things.
It was my family and personal life that were in tatters. I lost my relationship with my boyfriend of 10 years. I no longer have any of my friends that I had when I was drinking.
Quitting drinking changed me as a person. I have a whole new group of people that I spend time with. I had to isolate myself from a lot of the people I used to spend time with. I had to focus on taking care of myself. I choose to be around nothing but positive energy.
Q: What’s your advice for people who want to quit drinking but are worried about how it will change their social lives?
A: When you stop drinking, it will change not only your social life, but your entire life. You don’t have to give up being social. I’m still very social, but the places I hang out have changed. Now I go to places that help me stick to my new life. Instead of drinking, I enjoy shows, movies, painting, and hiking. It is hard in the beginning, but I promise, once you’re on the other side, it’s wonderful. What’s great about quitting drinking is that you really don't change; you go back to doing what you used to enjoy. I always loved movies and all that stuff, but my life was so focused on drinking and partying that I forgot what I really love doing.
Q: What advice would you give to others who think they may have a drinking problem?
A: Be honest with yourself at all times. Honesty will help you. When you abuse alcohol, you’re in denial. Alcohol is legal. It’s there for you. It’s accepted.
The majority of the time, especially with women, we can hang onto pain and personal issues. If there’s something that makes you want to go and have a drink, be honest with yourself. If you need to turn to any kind of substance, speak your own truth. Don’t suppress the feeling. You drink to numb yourself. If you’re not drinking to celebrate, you’re numbing yourself. You need to figure out why.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
A: It’s very important for all of us to show up for our lives. If you show up, you can do so much. We’re often scared to show up, because we don’t know what’s waiting for us. If you’re suffering from an addiction, take control of it. Show up. Deal with it. Take back your life. It’s yours, and if you don’t show up for your life, it’s a waste of a soul.
For more information on causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol problems, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website.
To find help near you, use the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator or call the 24-hour Help Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Your doctor may ask you about alcohol use at your regular doctor’s visit. Under the Affordable Care Act and Medicare Part B, this screening is one of the fully covered preventive services for all adults in most health plans.
The statements and opinions in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.