When I first stopped drinking for good, I had no idea what to do with myself. I remember thinking, like right out of a movie script, I don’t know who I am anymore. I didn’t know how to act in a group of friends. I didn’t even know what I liked to do. (Well, I did know, but drinking was no longer an option.)
My identify had been stolen.
I’d had it stolen before. Just a few years out of college, someone took my MasterCard, or more likely, I left it at a bar, and they just picked it up. I reported it missing a few days later, and then got a call from a man who said he was investigating my claim. He began asking me about certain charges I’d made, and since I didn’t have a new statement, I couldn’t be sure if I’d made them or not.
He asked about a charge of $300 at a liquor store. I told him, “No, definitely not my charge.” I didn’t drink liquor at the time, nor could I have afforded to stock it in such quantity.
Then he asked about a charge at the wine store I frequented. “Yes, that was probably my charge,” I said.
“The wine store charge was made after you said your card was stolen,” he said triumphantly.
“Well then it couldn’t have been me,” I answered.
There was a long silence on the phone. I realized he didn’t believe me. He started questioning earlier charges, but without giving me the dates. I was easily confused because it appears the perpetrator frequented the same stores I did. The man’s voice became more and more accusing, and then he explained he would be sending this case to the fraud department for investigation. He clarified that they would be investigating me, not the person who took the card. He reminded me that falsely reporting a stolen credit card was a crime, punishable by jail time.
I got off the phone feeling horrible. I’d been treated like a criminal. I was being accused of falsely reporting a stolen card, then charging thousand of dollars on it. I probably fit some kind of profile: young woman, frequently late on her credit card payments, and with frequent charges to wine stores.
Drinking is like that too. It steals your identify, and then you have to answer for its crimes. And you feel awful because you would never say such things, argue so loudly, or forget where you parked your car. But you would, under the influence. We all do, under the influence. We become less than honest, even if it’s just about how much we drink.
Once I stopped drinking, it took some time before I no longer felt accused, even subtly, by the people around me. It took even longer to stop accusing myself.
Back to the fraud investigation: I was questioned about a month later, and it appears the person using the card had taken off across the country on a spending spree. I was then accused of giving the card to one of my thieving, lying friends. It wasn’t until there were charges made in Wyoming while I was getting married in North Carolina that somebody believed me, a little. Later, the perpetrator was linked to several stolen cards, and I was off the hook. The bank sent me a letter of apology. I cancelled the card the same day.
And I stopped enabling that other stealer of my identity, alcohol, a couple of years back.
After the first few wobbly months, it was fun getting to know myself again … to be present with the people around me. I get to find out who I am, no longer under the influence of anything.