In the Shadow of Alcoholism

A woman admits her addiction and takes the first step in rebuilding her life.

February 26, 2009, 11:10 PM

March 2, 2009 -- Diana is single with an active social life and has a good career selling insurance.

She worked long hours at her job and drank alone to relax, but this soothing ritual got out of control.

Though Diana, who asked "Good Morning America" to withhold her name to protect her privacy, told herself she was only going to have one glass, she knew she wouldn't able to stop there.

"It's the bottle," she said. "It's the whole bottle."

It was an addiction she needed to keep hidden from everyone she knew.

She tried to stop drinking on her own, but she says she could not go without alcohol for more than a few days.

She admits to having endangered others with her drinking by driving while intoxicated.

"It's really scary driving home and not remembering how I got there," she said. She sees the irony of selling insurance while drinking and driving. "And the line of work that I do, I mean, shame on me, you know?"

Diana had to take that unbearably difficult step of reaching out for help.

"Yes. I am Diana and I need help, and I want help," she said. "I do."

Diana is not alone. An estimated 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a way that threatens their health, safety and general well-being, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.The effects of alcoholism on women are just as devastating, if not worse, as they are for men.

Women alcoholics are twice as likely as non-alcoholic women to be depressed and almost four times likelier than male alcoholics to be depressed, according to a study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Then there are the heart and cancer risks. Women who drink more than the recommended safe limit up their heart disease risk by 57 percent.

"GMA" arranged for Diana to meet with William Moyers of the addiction treatment center Hazelden in Minnesota. She was scared of losing her job and of what her friends would think, but she knew it was time to end all the secrets.

"I feel empty," she said. "I asked God to help me get out of this, to be done with this. I just want to completely stop."

Moyers, who is 15 years into his own recovery from alcoholism, says Diana is like all other alcoholics in one way: They are powerless over alcohol.

Moyers suggested Diana reach out to Alcoholics Anonymous and meetings for support from people who share her experience.

He understands the importance of "secrets" to an alcoholic -- and their destructive nature and most importantly, the healing power of confession.

"If you keep it a secret, you don't have to give it up," she said. "If nobody knows that you have this problem, you don't have to give it up."

One of the hardest parts of coming to terms with her addiction has been how much of her identity has been lost to drinking. She says she's ashamed to consider herself an alcoholic.

"It's not really me," she said. "I mean, in some sense it is, but I cover it up with alcohol, who I truly am. And I don't want to be like that anymore."

But what are her chances for success? Moyers is cautiously optimistic.

"I think she literally and figuratively stepped out of the shadows of her own shame, of her own despair, her own hopelessness and helplessness." Diana is now seeking treatment at the Fairbanks addiction treatment center in Indianapolis.

She still can't believe that she was finally able to take that tough first step.

"It does feel better that I know that I have hope," she said. "It's hope that I'm going to take the steps. It's one big step. And then, maybe tiny steps. And I'm going be healthy again. And that's what I want."

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