I drank to make myself invulnerable. At least I thought that alcohol would make me invulnerable. Each time I opened a bottle it was my intent to build a barrier between myself and stress, sorrow, loneliness, even the mundane blah that is sometimes day to day life. But the effect of alcohol was actually the opposite. There are few things that make you more genuinely vulnerable than being drunk. It is interesting to remember that when I knew that I needed to stop drinking, it was the thought of walking into an AA meeting that terrified me even more than the vulnerability of drunk. There is something about alcohol addiction, it is all too easy to think that you have control over the vulnerability that comes from drinking too much, but the vulnerability of openly admitting that you have a problem feels far more immediate and dangerous. The courage to make yourself vulnerable is the first key in getting and staying sober. But I needed an alternative to AA.
When I’d accepted on some level that alcohol had become toxic to me, my mind reeled at the thought of joining Alcoholics Anonymous, pulling into the church parking lot in my small town and being identified as at the meeting. I had to find a safe place where I could begin telling my story and making myself accountable without branding myself alcoholic for the world to see. I eventually did come out sober after a year alcohol-free, but I got there in my own way in my own time. I had to find a truly private and truly anonymous alternative to AA where I could work through my issues with alcohol, safely snuggled up at home on my computer. I have never allowed myself to become more vulnerable in a positive and productive way than when I anonymously opened up to strangers online and asked for help to stop drinking. And I have never drawn more strength from any other process than writing my way sober in a community of peers.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
― Brene Brown
Vulnerability — something many of us avoid due to fear of being judged, hurt or failing. To be vulnerable means to put ourselves in a position that could potentially hurt us. Isn’t it strange that many of us who drink to excess, think that we drink to protect ourselves? We drink to numb the difficult or painful feelings. Drinking to an increasingly dangerous degree often starts with a desire to feel protected. Many of us who find ourselves frightened by the amount that we are drinking, continue to pick up that first drink of the day because we want to be buffered from the storm of feeling what we might otherwise feel.
We all fear vulnerability to varying degrees. It’s part of our DNA and works to protect us. Our ancient ancestors wouldn’t have walked into a bear cave just ‘to see what would happen’. Ok maybe a few of us would have. I maybe fear being vulnerable a little less so than some others. And that’s ok. We are all different. I sometimes wish I was more reserved and less open book. The strong silent type. But that’s not really me 😉
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brene Brown
The interesting thing about that bear cave is that it exists, but we are creative thinkers we humans, and we can walk around it or learn to pass through it safely as long as we keep our wits about us. But if we drink to numb the fear and pain we lose the edge that we need to maneuver through life. We not only lose the survival instinct and survival skills, we create a new bear cave from the very thing that we hoped would help us cope.
And I’m not going to lie. Since I stopped drinking I’ve walked into the proverbial bear cave and been mauled more than once. I have scars to prove it. But each time I’ve learned just a little bit more and now the bears are ok. They are still bears but are less scary. Also with my sober wits about me, I learned some mental martial arts and can karate chop those suckers if they try anything funny.
“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” – Brene Brown
Stopping drinking for me, was all about finding a tribe where I could start talking through my fears rather than trying to drink them away. I stumbled over a safe space online where I could allow myself to be vulnerable. A place where I could openly and honestly look at my behavior and begin to put together a plan to live life tuned in, instead of tuned out. We need to stop trying to be perfect versions of ourselves. We deserve love, just as we are, today.
A lot of us drink to like ourselves better. See ourselves through rose-tinted glasses. To get our inner critic to shut up for a while. I know I did. With every glass of wine, my shadow dimmed. And once I stopped running from my own shadow, the size and depth of it has astounded me. Getting sober provides clarity and a starting point of strength. So we can face the shadow. But it doesn’t mean our shadow is suddenly kind and full of compassion. It can and will put us down, tell us we aren’t good enough. Compare you to a fictional version of yourself that doesn’t exist. Tell you are a failure, or that you are going to fail.
I am learning slowly to try and understand that critic, and to explain to her that whilst she is trying to be helpful, we can do this another way.
We have to get vulnerable in order to get to the truth, the real heart of the matter. To understand why we drank so much. To heal and get better. Sometimes we might think, what’s the point in opening up – it will just make me feel sad and won’t fix the problem. Fair point, but more often I find, by opening up, the solutions come easier, or that I become ok with the fact there may not be a solution today, and also sometimes just by talking about something, it loses it’s anxiety causing power over you and allows you to move away from the negative self-talk. So be vulnerable I say. We each have one go at this life and we may as well just go for it, warts and all.
For those that are afraid of opening up, I promise you it’s ok. For those getting the shit kicked out of them by life at the moment, it can’t hurt to express it. Opening up, exposing your worries, your shame, your fears – being vulnerable – it can be scary and you can feel wobbly and weird doing it. But it isn’t weak. It creates strength. As someone who opens up and is ok (ish!) with the feeling of vulnerability, I can promise you strength comes from this place.
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” – Brene Brown
Vulnerability, courage, creativity, life
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