It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I don’t have a hangover. I’m sitting here eating pumpkin bread, sipping coffee and thinking of Thanksgivings past. I quit drinking February of 2018, making this my third alcohol-free holiday season. Every year on Thanksgiving I’d start drinking in the early afternoon, my elegant wine glass close at hand for delightful sips between all the chopping, mixing and stuffing. Each refill making the time in the kitchen a little more fun and not such a chore. By the time the meal was ready, I wasn’t that interested in the food, or the company for that matter. My devotion was to my wine glass and my mission was to keep it full.
That first alcohol-free holiday season back in 2018 I was 9 months into my sobriety. I was feeling a little pouty about going without my Thanksgiving drinking ritual. I wasn’t sure why I missed it really. By then I was feeling pretty good and happy to be free of the vice-like grip of alcohol. So why would I have that gnawing feeling that I was missing out? That it wasn’t fair? Why was I feeling that holidays without alcohol would not be as enjoyable?
This year I began formal academic study on addiction and recovery. As I’ve been in my Addiction Studies program and learned more about the mechanics of our brains, I have a better understanding of the process of addiction and why that first alcohol-free holiday season was so challenging for me even at 9 months sober. I can see now why thoughts that make no rational sense outside of addiction seem thoroughly convincing as absolute truth when in the grips of a substance use disorder. Our addiction lies to us because it wants to survive. It whispers in our ear that we need it to enjoy ourselves, to feel better, to relieve anxiety, depression and dull pain. If we ignore the whispers, it turns up the volume and comes up with more convincing arguments. It seduces our emotions and survival instincts as extra leverage in it’s fight against our better judgement. Eventually it tells us we cannot live without it. The unrelenting demands tire us out, and we give in, again.
The thing is though, we can stop drinking. But it takes some work. Well, let’s be honest, it takes quite a bit of work. I know it is daunting to start. It can seem like too much to handle and we are not strong enough. I can tell you this–the people I’ve met in recovery, here on BOOM and in my own community, are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Like, superhero strong. Like jumping over buildings in a single bound strong. We didn’t start out that way. Many of us felt broken. I felt broken. Now I look around and see joyous, happy, grateful people. I’m not saying our lives are perfect and without trials. I am saying that at almost 3 years of sobriety I’ve found a couple of my favorite quotes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to be true “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.” “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.” When challenges come my way, like enjoying my holidays alcohol-free while the world around me seems happily saturated in booze, I’m able to handle them with the skills I’ve learned in recovery. Skills of how to navigate life without alcohol, and not just bear it but actually enjoy it! It takes some time and work to rewire the brain and all the neurotransmitters that got out of whack, but thankfully it can be done. We can learn to manage our thoughts and emotions. Again, it takes a little time. But it can be done.
My own story isn’t unique but may not be what most people think of when they think of someone with a “drinking problem” or “alcoholic.” I wasn’t drunk all the time. I still had my job and my family. I hadn’t been arrested. I wasn’t one of the stories of someone losing everything to addiction. I can tell you this though–I was miserable and I was stuck. Stuck in an endless cycle of quitting every morning and starting again at 3 o’clock, every damn day. Stuck in a web of lies and deceit. Stuck on the proverbial elevator that was going only down. I’d ask myself why almost every day. Why was I doing this? Why was I standing in a bathroom stall, chugging down minis? Why was I pouring wine into tumblers? Why was I sneaking off to the store or to my secret stash so I could top off? I just needed to feel a little better–just a little less emptiness. I was trying to find happiness in a bottle. Filling a void by pouring alcohol into it. It kept promising to deliver. I thought I’d be okay. I thought I’d find a way out. There is nothing wrong with me! I’d think. I’m strong! And… I can stop, I just don’t want to! But I did want to.
In 2018 I was about to turn 50. I was determined that turning 50 was it, I was going to stop drinking! (no really, really this time, for sure!) I was motivated and I was just going to have a last hoorah at my birthday party on Feb 10, a few days before my actual birthday. I’d have a fun party and that would be my last time. It turns out that was true! Sadly, not because of my motivation and willpower. What happened was I lost track of how much I was drinking and drank too much. This would happen occasionally but not often. However, it was happening with a little more frequency. As I was preparing food for the party, I realized all of a sudden I was drunk. I thought oh no, the gig was up. I could not hide it. There was no way I’d be able to have my party in the state I was in. I went upstairs threw myself on the bed and started crying my eyes out. My husband had to call the guests and cancel, thinking I’d just lost my mind. Because of course I lied about drinking. He asked me 3 times if I’d been drinking and I said no every time. I went into full dramatic meltdown to the point my husband took me to the hospital, had to admit the drinking, and I stayed the night there. I had to meet with a social worker before I could leave because I’d made threats to harm myself, which I didn’t remember. In fact to this day I don’t remember much of that night. My dad was was already at our house and witnessed all of this. I still cringe a little thinking about that, even though I’ve made amends. It’s in the past.
For me, that was enough to convince me I really was out of control and needed to stop. Pretty much every tool available in recovery I used. I utilized BOOM, counseling, 12-step, a sponsor, podcasts, books, self help, you name it. I became fully immersed in the job of recovery. I considered it a job. It needed to be done. Sobriety became number 1 on my priority list. Everything else was secondary. People said follow these steps and you will get well. So I did. And it worked. I didn’t love all of it, but I did it anyway. I’d get pretty angry as a matter of fact. I learned to deal with that too. I don’t think there is any one way to go. But I do think we need to question our resistance to do things because we don’t like them or they seem silly or too hard. You don’t have to do everything you are told, but I would just encourage an open mind. I told my sponsor the 12 steps were BS about a dozen times. I still did them. They helped me immensely. But so did community and counseling and exercise and family. It’s usually not a single magic bullet to wellness. It’s a built up and well stocked arsenal.
I sit here now, still drinking my coffee and wondering if all I just wrote will resonate with someone. For me, the most important thing has been realizing I am not alone and I am not broken. I’m part of a community of incredible survivors and I love every one of them. I admire every one of them. My heart aches for those still suffering. I know the struggle. I remember how I suffered. My hope is that by sharing I can instill hope in someone else. Because there is hope and there is a life after alcohol.
As 2020 comes to an end and you look back over this difficult year, have you found more often than not that you drank too much and woke the next morning thinking – never again! Or are you newly sober and feeling a bit like a square peg in a round hole? We’re right here at the touch of a finger – Boom Rethink the Drink – simply a community of peers talking it through. Come join us for a joyful alcohol-free holday season and a New Year full of promise.
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