I made the decision to stop drinking quietly and privately.
It was the day after New Years, January 2, 2016, and I woke up with a beating headache and serious regret. If this was a once in awhile thing then I could've written it off as "the holidays" where everyone laughs about how much they drank and how much weight they gained for the festivities. But it wasn't.
I woke up, popped a couple of Excederin, probably drank another couple cups of coffee and headed to a very late breakfast with my husband. I could tell he was annoyed with me. This was also a regular occurrence. Drink too much, be fun for like thirty minutes and then Matt would be doing damage control. I'd wake up the next day, one eye open, to see if he was sleeping next to me or not. If not, it usually meant I said something terrible to him.
This unfortunately wasn't an anomaly of a day and for some reason it was finally clear to me that it was time to stop.
Alcohol had always been a part of my life. Growing up in the Midwest it was ever present at any social function and my brother and I were even told that we had "the gene" and had to be careful. But we weren't careful and I didn't know any adult who didn't drink so why would I even question it?
From my first sips of alcohol at thirteen in a friend's basement to the gallons of keg beer I consumed in college, I loved, loved, loved alcohol. Alcohol for me helped quiet the noise in my head, it helped me getting over my deep desire to be at home reading and instead close down a bar with friend, it relaxed my tense body and my rampant insecurities. Alcohol was rose colored glasses. Alcohol meant we had no idea what would happen and the night held so much "possibility." It was my salve to all within me that ached. It momentarily filled the God-shaped hole that I had no idea how to fix myself.
I honestly thought this was normal. That it was 100 percent normal to drink every single day. To not remember things I said or did. My friends and I laughed it off, egging one another on or enabling this behavior in the vein of "just having fun" or living life to the fullest. (Cue eye roll.)
And perhaps while they continued to have fun, my relationship with alcohol got darker. I sought out situations and relationships where drinking was present or even celebrated. I lied about how much I drank, often pouring myself a couple of cocktails before a party or a dinner out. I took Excederin several times a week to combat a massive hangover. My husband would send me blog posts from women who had stopped drinking and my defensive reply was "Do you really think I'm like them?"
To anyone on the outside I was thriving. I was newly married, living in a Venice Beach cottage, always dressed in bright colors and hi-tops and laughing. My career was fairly successful and I had created some things I was really proud of. But inside I was absolutely falling apart.
It's now been almost 2 1/2 years since I took my last drink. It was some sort of hodgepodge of booze with my little brother who was visiting. Everyone else had stopped drinking, but I still was. I fell asleep on the couch and when I woke up something in me said, "Enough."
I didn't tell anyone what I was doing. I let everyone think I was “cleansing” for a couple of months, and for the first time in my life I truly, truly was. I started to see clearly again. I'd wake up early to make my coffee, completely headache-free, and smell the ocean wafting several blocks into our backyard. I saw every 11:11 possible for weeks at a time. I heard encouragement from within, most often "you are no longer dulling your shine." Weight fell off my body, as I continued to indulge in every food I loved, but no longer drank and inflamed my entire body. I enjoyed staying in on a Friday night, reading my book, meeting my friends for breakfast instead. I could hear my thoughts and my feelings and I had the space and capacity to process them.
I will never forget the moment I told my husband. We were on a walk in our Venice neighborhood on a cold, overcast evening and I said, “I think I'm going to stop drinking.”
"Oh yeah? For how long?,” he replied, thinking this was another foray into Whole30 territory, another time he'd be free of my antics for at least a month. “Forever, I hope.”
He turned and looked at me with his eyes full of tears and wrapped me in a giant bear hug. We talked about how. We already knew why.
What I didn’t notice was that in that moment was that he had been eating a tangerine and he had quietly slipped the seeds into his pocket. Later that evening I saw the seeds on the counter and tossed them into the trash which was later taken out the to bins. Late, late that evening my husband comes in from outside covered in dirt and holding the seeds wrapped in paper towels.
"What, why?", I asked.
Because this is the day you chose us, he replied. I want to watch them grow.
Well, these are the seeds my friends. And they are plants now. Tender and still fragile, but standing tall and reaching for the light. Just like me.
These 2 1/2 years have been filled with more life and introspection and growth and joy than I ever could've imagined. I had a problem. And from that problem came an opportunity to change my entire life. I feel no shame in this. I was doing the best I could with what I knew. I now see how little that was and how much more growing I still have to do.
What an absolute privilege to walk this path alongside so many others who have made this same brave choice.
The best decision I've ever made.
I chose us.
I chose a vibrant life.
And most importantly, I chose me.
I have received countless messages over the past year asking me to tell my story and answer questions about how I did this. Whether you identify with having a serious problem with alcohol or you just know it's holding you back, quitting drinking is a brave, noble path. I abhor the stigma around alcoholism and the judgement that you are either one way of the other. (As I once believed.) We all have our own demons and darkness and by bravely, vulnerably sharing our stories, we create a space where we don't feel alone.
I asked people to send me their questions via social media and received almost fifty messages. Here are my answers to a few of your questions. I'll do another post in the future and answer more.
Do you miss alcohol?
I don't. I honestly can't stand the smell. I've done a lot of work around how I idealized certain moments or situations as fun or special because alcohol was present. I have now spoken at my brother's wedding, danced at bars and been to plenty of parties and know that moments are special because of our presence. Alcohol made me less present and basically a ticking time bomb.
What's the hardest part?
I felt lonely. I have no family members or best friends who don't drink so I felt alone in it in the beginning. I sought out new friends and support and that was extremely helpful. And when I felt left out I let myself feel it.
Do you identify as "sober" or any other labels that we float around for people who choose not to drink?
I don't. I don't engage in anything that would make me not sober but I just don't love labels. But if someone needs to label me for their own understanding then yes, I'm sober.
How do you tell your partner you don't want to drink anymore?
My husband is a total social drinker. Like gets drunk off sake like a little girl (Love you babe!) but he doesn't have a problem with alcohol. I was lucky to be in relationship with someone who absolutely supported me and offered to quit drinking entirely as well. I just didn't feel it was necessary.
Get your partner enrolled in why this is good for you. Why it's necessary. Why it can be more fun. (Sober sex is way better than inebriated sex, for sure.) And if it's really important to you and they don't get it.. well, that's another conversation and I'll be more than happy to have it with you.
How did you work with the residual stuff quitting drinking brings up?
I worked with a therapeutic life coach. I went to meetings. I meditated. I cried, a lot, which hadn't happened sober in a long time. I talked it out with people I trusted.
Did you feel the need to tell everyone at one time?
No. I told the people I trusted the most then slowly told more people. Now I feel like it's just a part of me. Like my bio. Female, 34, foster mom, doesn't drink. Just a part but not the whole story by any means. I don't feel it's loaded when I tell someone where as in the beginning I felt like I was going to pass out. It's an ADMIRABLE path. I wish I would've been proud of myself right from the get go.
Has it affected your relationships in any negative ways?
Regarding my marriage: Imagine the biggest, boldest no possible. It has strengthened my relationship in so many ways. We have rebuilt our marriage from the ground up and fostered such a sense of respect. We have way more fun than we did then.
Regarding my friendships: There were a few friendships that were strained but as people saw that this was my path and not just for a moment in time, my friends really truly supported me and all say they like me way better this way. I'm sure they occasionally miss the drama of me taking over a dive bar though. It really was a sight!
How would you navigate the current dating landscape if you made this decision before meeting Matt?
This wasn't my reality so it's hard to answer. I will say that alcohol kept me dating people or staying in relationships that didn't serve me longer than I should have. Without alcohol my perspective is different and honestly my frequency is higher. I'd spend more time doing social "day" things rather than looking for a guy in a bar. I'd ask to be set up. And honestly, I made my "not drinking" such a big deal in the beginning and for the most part no one cares! If anything they respect you. And if they don't, they might need to look at their own relationship with alcohol.
How did you maintain friendships where so much of the social elements involve "going out" / drinking in general?
I'm lucky and most of my friends are totally down to go out for dinner, hang at coffee shops, sit in a park, make dinner, go to yoga, go hiking. Nobody wants to be hungover. And I will occasionally go to a bar or a brewery and drink soda water and hang and I truly enjoy the social interaction and leave when I feel like it. If I meet a new friend and they suggest going out for a drink I will suggest a place with food and then not drink. Or suggest something different.
How was being in the wellness community during this time?
I honestly don't know how I did it. I thought I was practicing, I thought I was teaching but there were a lot of lies happening internally that had to be projected externally. I am so proud of now say: I walk my talk. 100 fucking percent.
What has inspired and helped me along the way:
The Sober Glow
Holly Glenn Whitaker
Aidan Donnelley Rowley/The Drybe Club
Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp
Lit, by Mary Karr
Blackout, by Sarah Hepola
Refuge Recovery, by Noah Levine
Between Breaths, by Elizabeth Vargas
Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie