When I was drinking, and particularly as I approached the end of my drinking career, I was a faded, bloated, mess. My skin and hair were dry and dull. My nails were cracked and brittle. My eyes had no sparkle. My face was constantly puffy. I looked tired. All. The. Time. Where I was once athletic and toned, I had become extremely overweight. I would look at myself in the mirror or see pictures of myself, and just wonder where I had gone. Not only does alcohol suck the life and color out of the world, it sucks the life and color out of people, too.
It wasn’t just the physical stuff, either: my personality had become every bit as faded and dull as my face. Where I had once been a firecracker, full of fun and adventure and interesting stories, I had become an anxious, timid, “don’t rock the boat” kind of person. The bright, beautiful colors of my wardrobe had all become black, navy, or charcoal because I absolutely did not want to be noticed. Like a plant deprived of water and sunlight, I was fading more and more into the background with every passing day.
When I was drinking, I became absent from my own life. I had literal problems with absenteeism because I’d be too hung over (or still drunk) to turn up for work, and I’d bail on plans I’d made with friends or family in favor of staying home to drink. Figuratively, even when I was physically present, I wasn’t there. When I was drinking I was always struggling to function through a hangover, thinking about when I could start drinking again, drinking, or passed out. Life was going on all around me, but I certainly wasn’t part of it.
When I was drinking I tried a lot of things to become more present: I made promises, assuring myself that if I PROMISED then I HAD to do it, right? I drew up schedules for my days as though color-coding spreadsheets would magically make me be where I was supposed to be. I started going to church on Sundays. I read book after book about mindfulness and how to be in the present moment. I went through periods where I would meditate morning and night, trying to bring myself back from wherever it was I’d gone. I made deals with myself about when and how much I was allowed to drink, figuring that if I set limits, I would obey them. None of it worked.
The only thing that worked, the one thing that finally brought me back into my life, was becoming Alcohol Free. Don’t get me wrong, it took a while. I had withdrawal symptoms to deal with for the first few weeks. I felt tired, foggy, and detached most of the time. I had to keep myself distracted so I wouldn’t listen to Snidely yelling at me that it was time to go to the liquor store. I had to excuse myself and go to bed early so I could go to sleep and shut him up. Little by little, though, I’ve come back. I haven’t missed a single day of work since becoming Alcohol Free. In fact, I am usually ten minutes early. When I’m home, I am engaged. I work on projects and have long rambling conversations with my son. Sometimes we just sit together quietly and enjoy separate activities. We eat most of our meals together. If I say I am going to do something, I do it. Not only that, I enjoy doing it.
I was around seven days Alcohol Free when I started to notice that I looked better. I wasn’t as bloated anymore. The bags under my eyes were less noticeable. My skin wasn’t as dry. I didn’t look as tired, which was a miracle because I was having trouble sleeping, as is common during very early sobriety. I started to recognize myself again, and that gave me hope.
When you stop pouring poison into your body every day and start filling it with things like water and nutritious food, your body starts to bounce back, just like that little plant you forgot about and then started to care for again. Little by little you start to look better. Little by little you start to FEEL better. Losing the booze has taken about five years off my face. Every now and again I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I think, “Damn, my skin looks GREAT!” My personality is coming back, too. The other day at work I cracked a very sassy and semi-inappropriate joke without even thinking about it…it was a joke the old me would have made. I experienced a moment of pure terror when I realized what had come out of my mouth, but then my coworkers laughed and I relaxed. A tiny blossom had grown and bloomed when I least expected it, and reminded me that I am on the right path.
What a gift it is to be present for my life. Even on bad days, even when things are stressful or difficult, I am so very glad to be there for it. I’ve heard a lot of people say this, and I’ll say it, too: my worst day Alcohol Free beats my best day drinking, hands down.
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