By Nina Gabianelli
VOICES Radio Hour
I saw the blue and red lights flashing in my rearview mirror, then I heard the “whoop whoop” of the siren signaling me to pull over. My heart began beating very fast, and somewhere, deep inside me, I knew this was a moment of change.
A “way too” familiar feeling overwhelmed me — I was engulfed in fear and shame.
My first memory of this feeling of dread was at the age of 14. My best friend Anne and I were the clean-up crew for my older brother’s high school football team’s championship party. There were lots of parents and children at this party. Our job was to pick up all the empty glasses and dishes. Well, there were several glasses that were not completely empty, so Anne and I emptied them. We drank wine, beer, and any unfinished cocktails. Needless to say, the evening did not end well.
That evening DID scare me away from drinking, but only until I reached college. Then all bets were off. I drank like everyone around me drank. The only problem is, after about 10 years of drinking to excess, I crossed a line and could no longer stop when everyone around me stopped. I could not imagine a life without alcohol. And, for me, that was okay. I had a job, a roof over my head and this was the life I was resigned to live. It was a fact, much like I am 5’ 8” — I am an alcoholic.
Along the way, I lost the dreams “12-year-old Nina” had for herself.
I graduated from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and went straight to New York City and worked in the theater quite successfully. I produced and performed my own shows in the cabaret circuit and began spending more time in the piano bar and restaurant world — I might add, a very smart choice for an alcoholic. As the manager of a French bistro, my job entailed sitting at the end of the bar smoking cigarettes and drinking wine. Life was good! At least, that’s what I told myself.
By the time I hit 35, I was still working in theater, but the gigs were fewer and farther between. It was then that I decided eating SpaghettiOs and paying rent with American Express was not my destiny. A life in the theater — my lifelong dream — was not my destiny.
Leaving New York, I settled for a life as a restaurant manager. I found an ad in the back of a trade magazine calling for managers with the Chart House Corporation. They had restaurants all over the U.S. In 1998, I was hired, and paid, to move to Sausalito, California.
Friends of mine still say one of the saddest days was the day I gave away all of my theater and music books.
In hindsight, I thought this move, this career change, would be what I needed to be happy, and if I was happy I could stop drinking… as much.
It was only two short months after I was in California that I got my first DUI. Not much had changed except the locale. Things were still spinning out of control. I managed about 30 days dry, as we like to say, before I began drinking again.
Then the opportunity to go to Aspen with the Chart House became available. I knew this was the answer to my happiness. I loved Aspen! I had vacationed here many times, and it was a drinking town.
I arrived in Aspen in the fall of 1999. I spent a year and half working and drinking in this town, and I was no more happy or content. I proved to myself the saying, “no matter where you go, there you are.”
This brings me to the night of June 16, 2001. I was six months shy of my 40th birthday, and I was about to be arrested for driving while under the influence.
“This was not part of the plan.” “I am not a criminal.” “I cannot go to jail.” These were the thoughts spinning through my head as I pulled over to the side of the road.
When the officer asked me to get out of the car, I knew I was done. When asked to recite the alphabet, I was unable to get past “G-H-I” without singing. They were not amused. And that is about all I truly remember about the night.
I surrendered that evening: to myself and to the disease of alcoholism. That is not to say I quit drinking immediately. however. Twelve days later, I took my last drink of alcohol.
Now, 21 years, 10 months and 11 days later, I stand before you an advocate for recovery.
When I gave myself over to the “dismal” life of sobriety, I found a community of smart, funny, talented individuals who shared with me a way to live, happily and often content, without the use of mind altering substances.
My fabulous life of hangovers, debt, tears and unending loneliness was over. There was a glimmer of hope for the first time in close to 15 years. That feeling alone was enough to keep me from picking up a drink for quite a while.
After about six months I found myself auditioning for Aspen Community Theatre. They helped reignite my “childhood” passion. Within a year, I was cast in a show and getting paid to perform. I was also able to buy the condo in Woody Creek and was realizing dreams beyond my imagination.
Then, 18 months sober, I landed a dream job as general manager and performer at the Crystal Palace Theater Restaurant. I had auditioned for this same job right out of college in 1985. No openings, I was told. I often wonder what would have happened had things played out differently, and I am reminded that my journey is exactly as it was supposed to be.
By staying sober, and helping others find sobriety I can say, without reservation, I am happy and content.
“Life on life’s terms” means that there are times when I am sad, there are times when I am lonely, but no more do I find myself alone or without hope. That is the greatest gift a sober life can bring – HOPE!
Tune in for VOICES Radio Hour, a collaboration with Circa 71 Production, on KDNK this Friday, May 12, at 6pm. The May episode is a Mother’s Day special: “The Moment I Found Out I Was Becoming a Mother!” Visit www.voicesrfv.org to listen to archives.