I drank to treat myself, to express myself, and soothe myself, but when I put down the wine I was doing it to save my life. Self-care, self-awareness, and self-realization are not what I expected to find when I stopped drinking, I just stopped because I had to. I was drinking considerably more than the glass of wine a day that is “recommended” as ” part of a healthy moderate drinking lifestyle” and I was losing myself to blackouts when I inevitably drank more than a bottle in an evening. It is concerning to read that in the UK in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, alcoholic liver deaths increased by 21%. Statistics coming from the United States, Australia, and Canada have been similarly frightening and show that the trend of thinking of “drinking as self-care for over-stressed adults”, has begun to take a deadly toll.
Self-Care isn’t some sort of flowery nice-to-do thing as it’s often interpreted to be. Self-care is BIG. It’s assertive badass stuff. Self-care is stopping drinking when you know you are drinking too much. Going for a manicure, calling that self-care, and then overdrinking when we get home, is not. The desire to look after yourself has to mean something real in order to stop drinking. And in order to want to care for ourselves, we need to love ourselves – at least a bit. Even just a tiny morsel. We need to put down the shame that is associated with “losing control” of our drinking and say – I DESERVE to be FREE of this ball and chain and I have the strength to fight for that freedom. And yet drinking too much is self-harmful and creates self-hatred. So our starting point to be alcohol-free is usually self-doubt.
No wonder we think it’s impossible to stop drinking or that we just can’t do it. To do an act of kindness towards a stranger can feel easier than doing it for ourselves. So we have to take the brave decision to care for ourselves at a time when the person in question; the person in the mirror isn’t someone we think really deserves it.
That transition, from self-harm and hatred to self-care and love is tricky. Because we teeter in between for a while. That self-care and love cycle is in its infancy. So you have to keep up this act of self-care while not necessarily seeing the benefits. Fake it till you make it! And the time it takes to break the pattern seems different for everyone. For some people, it’s weeks or months for others much longer. Logically, slipping back to drinking will make it all take longer, because slipping sends you back down the hole of shame, self-hatred, and hangxiety .
In the beginning of sobriety, self-care is a strange and foreign concept. Take a bath? Use essential oils? Treat myself to tea and a good book in bed? Go to bed at 7:30 pm? For me, this felt like a suit that didn’t fit quite right, things that I was supposed to be doing, but didn’t understand exactly why.
But I did them.
Slowly the idea of maybe, just maybe putting myself first in certain situations became something I’d consider on a semi-regular basis. I could say no to a night out if it felt too trigger-y. I could opt out of cooking dinner because it just felt too arduous. I could take a day off work because….well, because I was really really tired. Gradually the guilt and shame and just-do-it mentality softened, and I learned to listen to what I needed.
I drank to express my SELF. Drinking was sold to me as something that would make me larger than life but drinking made me small. This quote from Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection explains THE biggest gift I have been given from sobriety. Self Realization.
“Whenever I’m faced with a vulnerable situation, I get deliberate with my intentions by repeating this to myself: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. stand your sacred ground.” Saying this little mantra helps me remember not to get too small so other people are comfortable and not throw up my armor as a way to protect myself.”
Standing brave in my space, I used to think I was doing that all the time, going around fighting battles, arguing for the greater good, squashing those who didn’t see things my way. But now, it’s a much quieter life, albeit full of stressors and imperfection, but my foundation is from a stable solid place in sobriety. Real and true and kinder than the dramatic roller coaster of emotional instability I was on while drinking. When I drank as self-care my only tool to deal with stress was alcohol. Now when discomfort rolls in, I can see it approaching and pull out my sober toolbox to deal with it. Sometimes that looks like pulling over to the side of the road and getting out to watch a stream roll by, other times it’s writing in my journal and then getting on with my day. The solutions are quiet, and as a result, my mind is more settled, more true.
I can spit out lots of disturbing statistics about the damage that binge drinking is doing to my generation, my parent’s generation, and our daughter’s and son’s. I can also show you a paper trail of evidence that many of the clinical trials done over the past 30 years to show the health benefits of moderate drinking were funded by people connected to the alcohol industry. I can remind you that back in 1988 the same wine that became healthy in 2000 was declared a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). I can do all of that but it will likely have little effect on you if you have bought into the idea that daily drinking is self-care. A safe haven in a cold hard world.
If you’ve decided to TRY to live life alcohol-free because you have accepted that drinking is no longer working well for you, it’s a big challenge. It shows self-awareness which is the biggest and most important first step. It’s a bold and beautiful act of self-care to then honour that awareness.
Do I wish I could have a nice drink now and then, of course, I do. Do I miss the revelry and fun times of drinking with friends before I had too many, hell yeah. But there is this quiet storm of self that has emerged over the last year, and she is my true warrior princess, the true me that was just starting to form as a young girl. It’s like a long arm reaching back to my youth, grabbing the younger me by the hand and saying, join me, we are together again. It’s so hard to explain the feeling, but I feel like my self is back, when I didn’t even know she was gone for so many years.
This sobriety thing is hard, it’s constant, it takes regular and repetitive work.
But the rewards, oh my.
More Reading :
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The C word. Another reason to cut down on drinking or cut alcohol out completely!
My 60 year old friend had surgery yesterday for cancer. I started looking up possible causes/risks.
She is a very healthy vegetarian, green smoothies, all organic etc. and ( self-admitted ) functioning alcoholic. She goes to bikram yoga, and swims laps in the ocean or at the pool. She is not overweight. So it is a mystery…but I did come across this article-
Don’t let the shame of the stigma of addiction keep you from saying
“I think I have a problem with drinking”