Today I’m celebrating two years of alcohol-free life. In that time I experienced my best friend’s death, the effects of withdrawal from years of benzodiazepine dependence, major surgery, and the upheavals of a world-wide pandemic. And as hard as many of these events were and continue to be, I’m proud that I got through them all without alcohol.
I’ve already said that what kept me drinking almost every day for nearly 25 years was self-medication for body pain and anxiety. I’ve written about how I started meditating pretty regularly about a year before I stopped drinking, and how that budding mindfulness practice finally made it impossible for me to keep deluding myself that drinking, which was beginning to make me physically sick, added anything positive to my life.
Although I’d fooled around with moderation off and on (and failed at it) for more than ten years, the morning that I finally decided to stop drinking for good, I just stopped. Because I have family members and friends who have been involved in 12-step programs, I knew all about ODAAT, and because I had about a year of meditating under my belt, I was better at remaining in the moment than at any other time in my life. But my goal was to never drink alcohol again, ever.
“What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart. Pay no mind to the vision that the commission made up. It’s up to you to make your life. Take what you have and stack it up like a tower of teetering blocks. Build your dream around that.”
― Cheryl Strayed
Finding my way to the BOOM community around my fifth alcohol-free day, I learned a lot about how to get through the creepy-crawly-itchy-scratchy feelings that would hit every day for several hours. I used what I recently saw described perfectly as “mindless persistence,” something I was already pretty good at in other aspects of my life. I didn’t think deeply about what I was doing. I felt like I was in training for a big, important event and that BOOM was my coach.
After almost three weeks, when my anxiety suddenly got so bad that I was practically jumping out of my skin, I found a therapist to help me with rescue strategies. I just assumed that my lifelong struggles with generalized anxiety disorder had come back because I wasn’t drinking or taking medication, and that I was stuck with it.
But then a miracle happened. As my brain healed from the effects of alcohol, I became calmer than I’d felt at any time in my life (except during the last trimesters of my pregnancies). And for the most part I’ve stayed that way. The people closest to me have remarked that I’m more “present” than I used to be. I’m more in touch with my feelings, more rational and even-tempered, and much more likely to speak my mind assertively, rather than resort to angry outbursts, tears, or sarcasm.
With the exception of the events already mentioned, my life has been good . I no longer crave alcohol at all, and even when I feel triggered, it doesn’t take me long to locate the reason and calmly direct my energy elsewhere. I’ve spent plenty of time around people who drink, and the smell of booze nauseates me now, as it did when I was a child. I don’t like hanging out with people who slur their words and lose track of what they’re talking about. It’s boring. If it starts to bug me too much, I excuse myself and find something else to do.
I’m not as active on BOOM as I used to be, but I check in regularly to the community that was my sober coach, to read and sometimes comment on new posts and return to the archive of useful advice when I need inspiration. This community continues to keep me going in the right direction.
Although I haven’t yet taken a big vacation, attended a wedding, or traveled long distances alcohol-free, I feel confident that I’ll be able to when the opportunities arise. I’m healthier, happier, eight pounds lighter, and nearly $11,000 richer. My skin and eyes are clearer. My blood pressure and glucose levels are down. It’s not the Fountain of Youth by any means, but I’ll take it! I am CELEBRATING LIFE at two years alcohol-free.
Each year I re-read a little book of daily thoughts from a Buddhist perspective. Here’s the one for July 29, the last day I drank two years ago:
“If we do not try, we will not know.” –Ayya Khema
Simple, but true. Not easy, but true. You won’t know what you’re capable of until you try. I broke a destructive, burdensome habit that held me in thrall for 25 years. If I can do it, so can you! I hope you’ll join me alcohol-free today.
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