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“Not your stereotypical alcoholic”: A retired sergeant’s journey through addiction

April 28, 2023  By Miriam Dickson

Photo credit: Miriam Dickson

Hello, my name is Mim, and I am an alcoholic. My last drink was on June 2, 2012. That night can be not only described as my absolute rock bottom, but most certainly as the worst, most disgraceful, dishonorable and appalling moments of my life. While it was my worst night, one that to this day I feel crushing remorse for, it was also the best thing that could have happened to me.

Commonly, alcoholism is associated with daily drinking and habitual intoxication. I didn’t fit the stereotype, so I and those close to me assumed I was not an alcoholic. I could abstain from drinking for days, weeks and months, and frequently did. I never missed a day of work, any special occasions or a date with a friend. My drinking didn’t cause me to be lazy or blunder my daily responsibilities. My drinking was sporadic and not always to excess. I wasn’t an alcoholic, right?

The first drink of alcohol I had was just before the end of high school. I had gone for a sleepover at a friend’s, and we had gone out to meet some more friends at the park. I had never had alcohol, and despite growing up in a household where neither of my parents drank, I was curious.  I can’t recall what it was we were drinking, but it was my first experience with a blackout. The only thing I can remember is being separated from my friend and physically fighting off his so-called friends who were trying to assault me. Other than those moments, I don’t recall a thing from that night.

My real drinking days began when I was in college, and almost always involved drinking to blackout. This, I have come to learn, was the start of my binge drinking cycle. Drinking every day was not my alcoholism tell; drinking a lot in a short time, to complete blackout levels was my pattern. Furthermore, and yet another conflict according to the alcoholic stereotype, I didn’t do this every time I drank. I drank reasonably and responsibly on many occasions. I have a 24-year history of this kind of drinking pattern. Sounds like a large percentage of the population, doesn’t it? How on earth could I be an alcoholic?


Following my rock bottom, I was sent for an Alcohol Addiction Assessment. Still believing I was not an alcoholic, I was actually terrified it would be confirmed that I wasn’t. I knew I needed help, and I wanted it. Following the assessment, I expressed this fear to the person who had conducted it. He laughed, and replied, “Oh no, you are definitely an alcoholic.” I felt relief from his response. Shortly after, I was sent to a treatment centre where I spent four and a half months.  I absolutely hated every moment. I am, however, extremely grateful for the experience and the knowledge I gained; knowledge that has ultimately formed the foundation of who I am today.

What I came to learn was that, while I was often able to control my drinking, alcohol actually controlled me. Every time I raised a glass of alcohol to my lips, no matter the kind, it came with a tremendous amount of pre-planning. This pre-planning might have been a few minutes or hours prior, but often days and weeks in advance. Every opportunity to drink was carefully planned out. The drinking window: would I have an hour or several hours? From there, how would I drink: a glass of water or a pop between each drink, and/or bring a limited amount to control how much I consumed? What I would drink: experience told me what kind of drink had quicker and more negative results, and I would try to avoid those. Controlling my drinking was obsessive and extreme. I thought it was how everyone dealt with their drinking; I thought it was normal.

I now recognize that I had two distinct patterns. One where my “normal” drinking slowly crept up to drinking excessively, leading to – almost inevitably – embarrassing myself, to then abstaining for a period of time. The other distinguishable pattern was of self-sabotage. If I had a good thing happening in my life, it was almost always followed by a very bad night of drinking. This drinking was not fuelled by a feeling of celebration, but of feelings of not wanting to wait for the bad that will inevitably follow. Subconsciously this allowed me to control the narrative; it allowed me to accelerate the path to pain, as it were.

I’m not perfect and not every day is filled with feelings of joy and happiness. My days are filled with the usual ups and downs.

My excessive drinking was always to blackout, and I was not a good drunk. I was either angry, spewing my rage upon those around me, or distraught, hysterically crying in the arms of whomever was patient enough to listen. The next morning, I would wake up with little memory of the previous night’s events. I would gently snuggle up to my husband and kiss my son, watching for reactions that may hint at how bad the night before had been. I would check my phone for evidence of drunk calls or texts, then I would ask the hard questions. Often these binge drinking sessions would “cure” me of drinking, for a time, sometimes weeks or months. I even abstained from drinking for 5 years in my late twenties. At the time, I didn’t see, or perhaps, didn’t want to see that these “drink free” stretches became closer and closer together with time.  In the last few months of drinking, I did drink every day. Even then I tried to control it, going so far as to teaching fitness classes three days a week so I didn’t have enough time to drink the entire bottle of wine before bed.

Unlike many other alcoholics, I hated the feeling of being drunk. I believe this fed my drunken angry tirades, and most certainly increased the feelings of shame that continued to grow within me, creating an endless cycle of self-loathing and sorrow. I constantly chased that happy buzz you get when you drink just enough. That little feel-good, giddy feeling of simple happiness. I recall very distinctly one of my brothers once saying to me, “Everything in moderation”. While I am certain to this day, he believes that I ignored or disregarded his advice, I didn’t. Each time I drank, I strived for moderation, but I have 24 years of drinking versus 10 years of sobriety as evidence that this is simply not possible for me.

As I stated above, that last night of drinking was the best thing that could have happened to me. Not only did I receive the diagnosis of what is now commonly referred to as Substance Abuse Disorder, I was also diagnosed with PTSD, Situational Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Over the last 10 years I have worked, and continue to work, diligently on not only my sobriety but also my mental health; for me, they go hand in hand. I’m not perfect and not every day is filled with feelings of joy and happiness. My days are filled with the usual ups and downs; I still have my very low periods, anxiety attacks, nightmares and excessive irrational worry, but through it all I remain sober. I can wake without the fear of having unknowingly caused harm to others. I am mentally and physically healthier, I love myself more and am more accepting of my faults. Overall, I am happier and able to enjoy life without the pressure of having to control what I drink. I am a sober alcoholic, and very proud to be.

It’s not an easy task to admit one’s mistakes, shortfalls and failures. After all, no one was forcing me to drink those beers, that wine, or whatever my poison of choice was. Admittance, however, is the essential part of the journey.

I share my story with the hope and desire to help others where I can. If it resonates with you or, should it feel or sound familiar (even in the slightest way), please remember that none of us fit a certain mold.

Addiction manifests itself in many ways and if you think there might be a problem, there very well might be. Don’t wait until you have hit your rock bottom to find out, like I did. Reach out, realize that you are not alone and that you can rise above addiction and substance abuse. Most importantly, know that you are worth it. We cannot erase the mistakes we have made, we can only move forward, working hard every day, to make sure we don’t repeat them.

Miriam Dickson grew up in Montreal, Que., and joined the RCMP in 1991 at the age of 21. Her first posting was in Humboldt, Sask., and she was later transferred to E Division (B.C. Lower mainland), where she served the remainder of her 23-year career, retiring at the rank of Sergeant. Miriam is a wife and mother to one son, Andrew. Following her retirement from the RCMP, Miriam followed a lifelong dream and was employed by WestJet as a flight attendant, where she worked for the last seven years. She is now a Public Service Employee working part time at the RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa.

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