WEST JEFFERSON — As a part of the Ashe County Public Library’s Good Neighbor Project, Dana Bowman, author of “Bottled,” a personal memoir of alcoholism and recovery, shared her story with a large crowd at Hensley Hall Wednesday, Oct. 30.
An English teacher for more than 20 years, Bowman decided to take up a writing career while raising two children, Ashe County librarian Suzanne Moore said while introducing Bowman at the start of the discussion.
Born in Kansas, Bowman, along with her brother and two sisters, grew up with a father in recovery. Her father had gotten sober before she was born, Bowman said, so she had never seen him drink.
“My life was pretty basic and not fraught with too much turmoil and trauma,” Bowman said.
Having a father in recovery presented a few problems for her, Bowman added. Children of alcoholics are highly co-dependent, meaning they want everyone around them to be happy, Bowman said.
“I wanted to be a perfect kid, make everyone around me happy, namely my father,” Bowman said.
All the way through college, Bowman said she received straight A’s, graduated first in her class with honors.
“I don’t tell you all of this to make you go, ‘how awesome,’” Bowman said. “Dudes, I’m an alcoholic.”
She added that constantly pushing herself was something she had always done, and she thought that was how everyone lived. She compared herself to an antique car, perfectly maintained on the exterior, but in terrible condition on the interior.
“I was able to maintain a perfect, shiny exterior, but on the inside I was a trembling, sad little girl that just wanted people to love her and didn’t know how to tell people that,” Bowman said.
Bowman explained that she didn’t start drinking until she went to college, but never partied hard and didn’t fall in line with the stereotypical college party lifestyle. She wanted to keep it controlled, and said that between her 20s and 30s, when she did drink, she was at home on her couch with a glass of one, two, three or four glasses of wine.
“I basically was able to use that as arsenal for ‘I don’t have a problem,’” Bowman said.
But looking back on her journals, she said there was an underlying theme that maybe she had a problem with alcohol. Every now and then, she said she would try to get rid of the alcohol, but within another week or so, she would get another bottle of wine.
“I was what you would term on my way to highly functioning myself into a corner,” Bowman said. “Highly functioning is highly dangerous.”
Bowman added that highly functioning alcoholics are the ones that catch people off guard. No one expects them to be an alcoholic, she said.
“When we think alcoholic, I think we still visualize the guy on the corner with the brown paper bag,” Bowman said. “Well, the guy on the corner with the brown paper bag might have been at one point in time a CEO. We don’t know.”
She added that for those who are highly functioning, they can only keep up with it for so long for they reach a breaking point. Eventually, she said, the wheels are going to fall off.
According to data that Bowman referenced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking for women is considered to be at an epidemic level, at a rate of 83 percent among women between 2002 and 2013.
“We’re dealing with some real problems here,” Bowman said.
In addition, Bowman referenced a statistic her father used to always tell her, which was that 50 percent of children of alcoholics become alcoholics themselves. Bowman said she is a walking poster child of that statistic — she herself as a recovering alcoholic, and her brother, who passed away due to alcoholism, making that 50 percent among her siblings.
“Here’s why I became an alcoholic: I’m became an alcoholic because...I don’t know,” Bowman said. “That’s what drives people crazy about alcoholism. They just want to know why.”
She added that are some precursors, such as her father, saying that alcoholism is stitched through the family tree. There were some definite triggers, but she said she was an alcoholic since her 20s.
“My drinking always had some sort of strings attached to it,” Bowman said, later adding that those strings eventually became chains.
As time went on and her drinking increased within a five-month period, Bowman said she started to feel shame, adding that shame is circular and silent. She said she would fall apart daily, then try to put herself back together again, setting goals that she would never end up reaching.
“Shame is what was trapping me,” Bowman said. “I wasn’t able to deal with it, and so I drank.”
Ultimately, she said she surrendered in a deeply spiritual experience that she didn’t want to go into too much detail about, mostly because she didn’t know how to explain it aside from saying that she felt God finally say ‘I love you so much.’
“I just had a moment where I really felt like he was reaching out to me,” Bowman said.
After the surrendering experience, she finally sought help and stopped drinking.
“I thought it would be impossible to do it,” Bowman said. “I will still continue to be on this journey forever until I die, and that’s good, and that’s a blessing, and I love it. I love this life because it’s actually given me the ability to say, ‘Hi, my name is Dana, and I’m an alcoholic,’ and I’m grateful because being an alcoholic, in itself, is awful — but being an alcoholic in recovery is awesome. It eliminates so many things about me I never thought possible.”