Gale Weathered the Storm

Hippie Salem (Clearly he’s the new Southern Aristocracy blog mascot. And my blogging break didn’t last as long as I expected, so the meme fits for that reason as well.)

“I think it began with a drink before dinner. A little wine. Then a harder drink. Maybe a vodka martini. Then a drink after dinner. Very civilized. Then a drink before lunch. Even more civilized. Then a drink after lunch. Or when I came home from work–or Lee came home from work. Everyone’s entitled to relax with a drink after work, right? Then I found myself waking up in the middle of the night needing a drink. I’d sneak downstairs and have a drink or two of vodka–straight. Then I found myself needing a drink when I woke up in the morning. So I had a drink before breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. It just got away from me. Before I knew it, I was drinking all the time.”–Gale Storm, page 3

I’d never heard of Gale Storm before she was mentioned as being Diane Keaton’s hero in Keaton’s autobiography. Keaton also mentioned in the book that Storm–of 50s television fame–was an alcoholic who’d overcome her addiction. Even before I’d finished Keaton’s book, I ordered Storm’s 1981 autobiography called I Ain’t Down Yet. Once I was able to sit down long enough and concentrate on the book, I enjoyed reading Gale Storm’s life story. It was a bit difficult for me to relate to some of the anecdotes, as I’d never heard of her before. But her 1952 TV show My Little Margie essentially started as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy, and it was such a hit that it ran for four seasons and immediately seguewayed into The Gale Storm Show, later retitled Oh, Susanna!

Storm won a national radio talent competition during her senior year of high school, and the prize was not only the showbiz name of Gale Storm (she was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle in Texas), but the male counterpart to her female winner of the talent contest is the man she married, Lee Bonnell. Storm and Bonnell had four children and raised them all in church, just as they’d been raised. In her book, Storm repeatedly credits her faith with being the key ingredient to overcoming alcoholism. That, and the Raleigh Hills Treatment Centre, which she did a series of commercials for in the 1980s once she reclaimed her sobriety via being intensively treated there.

Per usual, below are some quotes which I gleaned from the book. I like that even though I had no knowledge of Gail Storm’s claim-to-fame before reading the book, I could relate to her struggle against the vodka bottle(s). She and her co-writer did a remarkable job of making the reader feel like they’re listening to Storm audibly tell her story; she was very honest and forthcoming with details, which I appreciate as a fellow addict.

“[The doctor’s] tests showed that my liver had become enlarged to three or four times its normal size. I looked as though I were six months pregnant. His tests proved that I was drinking myself to death. […] I was an alcoholic. I could no longer hide it. I was told I had to stop drinking, but I knew I couldn’t. I had tried and I couldn’t. I had to have a drink. I hated myself for it. I was sick of myself. I was no good and I knew it. […] For a long time nothing worked; there was no help for me. How could this be happening to me? Lee asked me to pray with him. Not for forgiveness; it never occurred to me that God wouldn’t forgive me. But for help. […] Every morning when we woke up and dressed, before we did anything else, we went into the kitchen and sat down and help hands and prayed to God for help. […] I didn’t want to ask God to forgive me, because I couldn’t forgive myself.” (page 8)

“I think the secret to happiness is being surrounded by people you love and having work that you look forward to doing.” (page 75)

“By the middle 1970s I was hiding bottles around the house and getting up in the middle of the night to drink and waking up in the morning to have a drink before breakfast. Sometimes I skipped breakfast. And lunch. Vodka has calories, and I was drinking a quart a day and starting to put on weight. […] I tried not to let Lee see how much I was drinking. I drank from different bottles than the ones he’d checked. […] I left all the decisions of my life and our life to him. […] I left everything to him because I didn’t want to be bothered, because I was concerned only with drinking and seeing that the world didn’t see how much I was drinking. If he had told anyone I had a drinking problem, I would have died. By then I knew. By then I had started to dislike myself. I was doing something I didn’t want to do, but I didn’t want to stop. I was not driven to drink by desperation; I was driven to desperation by drink.” (page 100)

“I came back [from the UCLA Centre] terribly proud of myself of having spent a weekend sober–and my doctor knocked me right off my perch. He announced that I was a liar, that all alcoholics are liars, and that tests showed my liver was diseased from drink. He said I had to face the fact that I was a drunk, and that I had to either stop drinking, get help to stop drinking, or die from drinking, but he doubted that I could stop, because alcoholics can’t stop on their own. […] I saw I had to have help. I didn’t want to die. I was killing myself and I couldn’t stop myself. I felt so worthless. I loathed myself. By now, I was drinking to drown my sorrows over my drinking. I wanted to forget what my life was, but the alcohol couldn’t kill my thoughts for me–it only confused me. I went to bed and passed out drunk every night.” (page 102-3)

“I think that by far the most important thing they did for me at Raleigh Hills Hospital was to make me see that alcoholism is a disease. Before that I thought it was a weakness, that it was a condition of my character that I had to drink for whatever reason, that I could not stop no matter how much I wanted to. I thought there had to be a reason why I drank and risked losing my love and my life even if I could not come up with a clue. I suspected I was sick mentally. That, in essence, was what I’d been told elsewhere. It was, Raleigh Hills said, an incurable disease, but it was also one that could be controlled, like diabetes. I could not tolerate alcohol in my system any more than a diabetic can tolerate excess sugar. […] Some people may be driven to drink by problems or failure or unhappiness or whatever, but only those who are allergic to alcohol will become alcoholic. Whether or not I had some hidden reason, I craved alcohol. And I could not tolerate it.” (page 128)

“The fact is, however, I still drink. Diet Dr. Pepper…I have it delivered by the case! I am never without it, even in my car or on a plane. It goes where I do. Good old Dr. P has taken the place of the villain vodka. […] An alcoholic can find all kinds of excuses for drinking–I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m glad, I’m tired, I’m frightened, I deserve a break, I don’t deserve a break, I can’t help myself, and so on and so forth. You have to go through all those stages before you realize you can get through them without turning to the bottle.” (pages 132-33)

“[Mom] didn’t like herself then. She wanted to change. But it was hard. It was a long, hard battle, and–to tell the truth–I figured she’d kill herself before she ever cured herself. I was surprised she was able to overcome her problems. I’m as proud of her as can be. […] I think she’s the answer to many people’s prayers. I don’t go out of my way to tell people my mom is an actress, but I tell them she’s an alcoholic and she’s overcome it.” (Gale Storm’s son Pete, page 158)

“I wish I could have helped her more. She suffered so. But I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just stop. When I wanted her to stop smoking, she did. I wanted her to stop drinking, but she didn’t. […] I know now that she was always there when I needed her, and she always will be. My dad, too. I know now that they gave us great guidance. Not only in obvious ways like taking us to church, but in more subtle ways, too. I think all parents and children have problems. I think it’s how we work out our problems that lets us make something of our lives. It’s important to have a family life that gives you those things you need in order to live well. And I think I’ve had that.” (Gale Storm’s daughter Susanna, page 162)

Truth be told, this blog’s taken me about a week to write, from start to finish. I wasn’t bothered when I was reading Gale Storm’s book, but I was incredibly bothered when I began typing all these quotes and saw so much of my own alcoholic experience in them. Her not being able to forgive herself, her lying to everyone about how much she was drinking, her drinking more because she felt so guilty about drinking too much, her helpless self-hatred, her doctor talking smack to her and calling her a liar, even her consuming Diet Dr. Pepper by the case…all these things have happened to me, except that I drink Diet Dr. K (shout-out to the cheap 2-litres at Kroger!). But I’ll tell you one thing: I’d never go back to the addiction specialist I saw when I was two weeks re-sober, but the harsh advice he gave me is something I’ll never, ever forget. And yes, he was a doctor and he told me what I already knew: all alcoholics are liars. We lie to ourselves about how we have to keep drinking to function, and we lie to others about how we’re not drinking when we ask them to hold us accountable. We keep lying to others and ourselves until we become honest enough to admit we need help. It’s then and only then that the healing begins and we start dealing with the issues at the root of our flawed being.

As of this blog, I’m on the cusp of being seven weeks re-sober. I had my six week re-sober mark on my half birthday on October 8th, and bought myself a cake to celebrate both milestones. (I didn’t eat the whole thing by myself…just half!) Here’s before and after pics…the “before” one was taken a week before I quit drinking, and the “after” one was taken on my half-burfday. I’ve lost 15 pounds and a ridiculous amount of belly fat. (Or maybe, like Gale Storm, my liver is just normal-sized again.)

Before (8.22, being photographed within a photo by legendary shutterbug Joel Rosales)

After (10.08, on the occasion of my 32.5th burfday)

I wrote the following caption on the “before” pic when I posted it on Facebook: “This is one of the last photos taken of me before I became re-sober. I saw this photo today for the first time since it was taken 53 days ago; that night when I saw it, I was disgusted with myself and my life. I wish I could tell that guy in the Chick-fil-A shirt what the guy who re-sobered up now knows. But enough of that…I’ve lost 15 lbs and counting! Who’s worth a million bucks now?” The “after” photo speaks for itself; I’m more and more happy every single day when I wake up now, even on those when I know it’s going to be a tough day to get through for whatever reason. And there are many of those, but life is good.

Next week’s blog will be a review of Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents. Talk about having a lot in common with someone…I devoured her life story in about four hours of reading and was left both laughing and crying. Powerful stuff, and she–like fellow female TV star Gale Storm–overcame alcoholism to take life by the horns and find true happiness without liquor. By the way, if all the alcoholic-centric posts aren’t up my readers’ alley, I’d recommend taking a one-month or so break from Southern Aristocracy. This topic and how to overcome it are very heavy on my heart these days, and I want to do my part to turn a negative into a positive. If one person is helped, it’ll all have been worth it.

Happy weekend to everyone, and thanks as always for reading!

brt

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