I’m 16 months booze-free. Almost 500 continuous days without alcohol. The best part about those numbers is that I had to look them up this morning. For anyone who has tried to get sober, you know how long those first few months can go. <…Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick…> Now, the days soar by and I’m grateful that the obsession is gone.
But sometimes I think I miss alcohol. Booze is a tricky bastard. Thankfully, through connection and knowledge, I quickly remember that it’s not Vodka I miss. I miss only the dopamine hit ethanol delivers in under 15 minutes. That manufactured (and deftly marketed) quick fix to stress or anxiety or boredom or anger or any other uncomfortable feeling. Today I know that, for some people, booze is a short cut. A dangerous lie.
Now…this is the point when many jump in (barely suppressing an eye roll) and say, “But I don’t drink when I’m angry” or “I’m a ‘happy drunk’” or “I don’t drink every day” or “I’d never drink in the morning” or “DUIs are for suckers who get caught.” (The list is long. I know. I used half of it.) So, you don’t drink to take the edge off. I believe you.
The kicker is that alcohol lies in the other direction, too. It becomes the way to celebrate. Can you imagine not earning your drinks? For example:
- You finished that amazing workout and burned a massive amount of calories. Time for wine o’clock! You earned it.
- You landed that huge project, so…SPONTANEOUS MARGARITAS with the team! You earned it.
- Here’s a big one: Can you imagine that all-inclusive tropical vacation without drinks at the swim-up bar? No?
Same issue…different direction. And neither leads to anything 100% real.
It isn’t the booze that makes the boat day fun. It’s not what makes the holidays bright. It’s not necessary to liven up a concert, that vacation, or a girls’ night out. It’s not essential in fostering actual friendships or lasting bonds. In fact, you can be 100% certain that it’s only getting in the way of genuine connection.
I know…I know…I sound uber preachy. Most days, I check this behavior and chalk it up to the passing frustration that my go-to coping skill is a thing of the past. But that’s just the thing. Drinking alcohol – first to fit in and celebrate, then to relax, deal and numb – became a learned behavior. And TV, funny memes, mommy wine culture, and every Facebook post of a shimmering glass of cabernet against a lovely, blurred background perpetuates the idea that booze should be a celebratory part of our life. And that’s when the trouble really starts. At least it did for me. And I lost myself …slowly but surely.
For so many, alcohol becomes the only way to cope. It’s the only way some know how to transition from a hectic workday to sitting on the couch with a beloved pet. For some, it’s the only way to ease social anxiety when faced with a night out. And more and more since COVID, it’s the saving grace for moms who count the minutes until bedtime, when they can put their little ones down. The house is finally quiet, and although these young mothers know they need to sleep, they stay up (way too late) drinking wine and watching Grey’s Anatomy…just to feel normal for a bit.
I lived so many of these moments. And in full transparency, many of them felt wonderful. There were the glasses of wine I drank while snuggled up on my soft yellow couch in MY Southie condo with my silly dog, Rusty. I was newly single and full of hope. There was that time, right after we started dating, that Adam and I went to Water Country. We had a hilarious afternoon of day-drinking Coronas and racing each other on the waterslides. Or when we went to Rome on a whim, got caught in the rain one night, and found shelter under the canopy of an outdoor patio. We kissed, drank Italian wine and listened to the rain fall for hours. The day he proposed in the backyard of our new home? Drinks at the Black Cow. Our wedding day? Champagne while my hairdresser did my hair and makeup at 9AM. New baby on the way? Waited it out 9 months, and then went to The Grog for the first beer in a while. Second baby…same waiting period as the first (but strangely difficult this time). Stressful new job in Boston with two little kids while my husband’s business took off? Box of wine purchased by 4PM. Boxes are better because the recycling is easier to hide…and so is the fact that I drank 3 glasses last night, instead of two, which is no longer doing the trick. Meeting new friends in the neighborhood for Halloween? Bring the kids’ wagon filled with booze to ease social anxiety and the fear they’ll think I’m stupid. Feeling like the Default Parent but had no model for healthy communication? Another couple glasses of wine to give me the liquid courage to say what’s on my mind. (THAT went well). Promise to drink only on weekends or work trips? Sure, I’ll cut back. Until that doesn’t stick. To find that I’m now wondering when the next drink can come to kill the noise, and stress, and anxiety I feel. When did my fuse shorten? Did I just yell at Danny for accidentally spilling water on the floor? Wait…what is COVID? Things are shutting down? The schools are closing? Will I be able to buy the small bottles of vodka that I’ve now been hiding because I “don’t drink” but actually “do drink” because how else would I deal with all this STRESS?????
……… <breathe in, breathe out>……….
Alcohol is a lying mother fucker that will eventually take your spirit, mind, and body. In that order. The trajectory happens faster for some than others, especially if you win the genetic lottery that predisposes you to addiction (Grandpa, I admire your sobriety today more than ever. I love and miss you and thank you for showing me it can be done).
The beautiful thing about sobriety is that you can have it all back. All of it…and more. Sobriety gives back everything alcohol steals, but in reverse order. Ditching vodka gave me my Body back first. Organs healed, bloating vanished, vitamins were replenished, hydration stuck around, skin glowed, hair and nails grew back. Then my Mind turned on. Right before I stopped drinking, it was operating at a low hum. Brain fog. After a month without booze, I felt (ironically) like I was on NZT. My work got more productive. Dare I say, I started to enjoy the job. I could hold things in my mind longer. The boys’ schedules and homework seemed less daunting. My fuse grew back; and I was more patient and present. Dealing with…well, fuck, just LIFE…felt manageable. Beautiful even. And that’s when Spirit started to grow. It was a warm tangible light in my chest that allowed me to be there when my Dad was dying. Actually be there. I didn’t numb one second of the pain of his dying, and eventual death, with alcohol. I held his hand, and my chest hurt, but I knew I was honoring him, and will continue genuinely to feel the ups and downs of his being gone. I love you, Dad.
Here’s the dirty little secret Budweiser, Stoli, Jameson, and all the other assholes don’t want you to know: Alcohol numbs the bad…and the good. It stole from me years’ worth of tiny moments I didn’t know were happening all around me. Adam turning on the tea kettle for me before the chaos of the day starts. Danny hugging his little brother in the next room for no reason. Will pronouncing the word “singular” like “sing-GLEE-errr”. I knew stuff like that was sweet and meant for the memory bank. But I didn’t know how much they could fill me up. Today, these moments bring me to my knees with gratitude. Fine – I’ll say it: HASHTAG BLESSED. Because I fucking am. Because I got out of the hamster wheel shitstorm that is Gray Area Drinking. Look that term up. Addiction isn’t binary. It’s not “people who can drink” vs. “homeless people living under a bridge drinking mouthwash from a paper bag”. It’s a scary-wide spectrum. And both nature and nurture dictate your spot on it.
Whew…I’m stepping off the soapbox now. I realize some folks reading this dropped off eight paragraphs ago. Fair enough. But to those still reading, some may be thinking, “Good for you, Steph. It’s not my journey, but well done.” They’re telling the truth and I appreciate your reading my thoughts. (You’re called ‘normies’ in the recovery community, by the way. Good on ya!)
Others may read this, and find all the differences, and not see the similarities. I get that. I really, really get that. One thing I do want to make crystal clear is that my choice not to drink does not mean I’m judging your choice to drink. That’s the God’s honest truth.
But, if you’re anything like I was 16 months ago, you’re scared. So, I’d like to offer one thing I wish I knew and believed back then: You are not alone. But you can’t do this alone.
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s Connection.” ~Johann Hari
I tried to get sober alone so many times over the course of two years (probably longer if I’m honest). But this time, I knew I had to do something different. So, I connected. I found a group called Women for Sobriety (WFS) and started pandemic Zooming with them every Wednesday. (God, I love those warriors). I found online support groups and I’m a member of three of them. One has 8,500 members; the other 11,500; the last one 6,500 members. Every single one of these individuals is struggling, succeeding, failing, coming back, growing, learning, helping, sharing, and supporting. Given those numbers, I’m guessing at least one person reading this is struggling, just like I did, to figure out how to get yourself back. You’re in there, sweetheart. And you’re braver than you think.
Alcohol lied to me. But today, I know better. It wasn’t the wine that made my snuggle time with Rusty special. It was the hope and potential for new love and a family someday. And it wasn’t the Corona, champagne or Italian wine that made those days with Adam unforgettable. It was that I found the real love I was looking for in his laugh. And together, we made the family I dreamed of. Alcohol was taking it away; and I was letting it. Sure, I didn’t hit that stereotypical rock bottom, but that’s not the issue. I realized I had to ask the real question, “Is alcohol bringing anything of value into my life?” The answer was a resounding No. It never did.
Because for some of us, alcohol is a gaslighting mother fucker.