“My name is Janie, and I’m an alcoholic.”

I faced the Alcoholics Anonymous group I was meeting for the first time. It was my first day out of rehab, and I was strongly advised to regularly attend meetings and find a sponsor to help keep me sober. When I’d first gotten home, and seen how empty it looked without all the bottles and mess I was used to, I immediately wanted to drink, but found a meeting instead. I faced the group, gathered on folding chairs in a church, with the requisite doughnuts and coffee on a card table. I took a steadying breath and told them my story.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My name is Janie, and I’m an alcoholic. I’m probably not what you picture when you think of an alcoholic. To me, that word brings up the image of a grizzly old homeless man in dirty clothes, drinking out of a paper bag by a dumpster fire, panhandling and hurling unintelligible insults at people on the street.

I’m 33 years old and live alone in a studio apartment in Chicago. I am single, no kids, and have a gorgeous Pomeranian named Princess. I work as a fifth-grade teacher at a public school. My students, their parents, my coworkers; they don’t know my secret, and wouldn’t be able to guess it by looking at me. They don’t know that I used to keep a bottle of wine and a thermos in the trunk of my car so that I could start “happy hour” immediately after work on the drive home. Yes, I used to drink while I drove. But don’t worry, my tolerance was so high that one thermos of wine barely made a dent in my sobriety. And let me be very clear – I NEVER drink at work, and never bring alcohol into the school. I realized later that this was part of my denial; boundaries I’d set for myself so that I could justify my behavior as “reasonable.”

I want to share my story because if it could happen to me, if I could sink to this place, and begin to crawl back out of it, then anyone can. And I believe more people than you might suspect are the same way. If you see yourself, or someone you know, in what you’ve read so far, then keep reading.