When I was in my second year sober I realized that binge drinking, for me, had become a defense mechanism
I am vulnerable in my job. I sit on a stage with 40 to 80 people and perform for hundreds, or thousands, depending on the program. Sometimes I play completely alone in my orchestra and sometimes with my team, in a duet or trio or quartet, accompanied by a sea of strings.
It can be terrifying to play a single note entirely alone within an orchestra in front of an audience. Sometimes orchestral wind players develop nerves of steel and sometimes they end up taking beta-blockers to keep their hearts from jumping out of their chests.
Over the 30 years that I’ve been performing professionally, I’ve become accustomed to vulnerability. I’ve learned how to enter a sort of essential in the moment, pure concentration, that doesn’t allow doubt to enter….most of the time. Dealing with that vulnerability is all about focusing on the right thing at the right time, but all performers know that the membrane between absolute focus and caos is thin.
When I was in my second year sober I realized that binge drinking, for me, had become a defense mechanism. It had been a way of entering a zone where I felt invulnerable to the chaos of life. It allowed me to shut out my present and my past and just disappear. It allowed me to go to an empty space where no one expected anything of me and I didn’t expect anything of myself, because I simply wasn’t there.
When I stopped drinking it felt like that dream you have when you have to perform or speak publicly and you realize you’re buck naked.
I found myself raw and exposed like a baby bird with no feathers.
In my first weeks alcohol-free I wrapped myself tightly in a protective bubble because I could not risk anything triggering me. I knew that any feelings of added exposure, or vulnerability, or stress, would be an excuse to drink because then I would NEED to defend myself and I knew that if I drank again I would lose my sober momentum.
I had tried and failed to stop drinking so many times, I wasn’t sure I could start again.
I remember coming home from work my first week sober, sitting down at the kitchen table, looking at my kids and thinking “help… I need my wine”, not because there was anything challenging going on, but simply because entering that invulnerability zone the minute I walked in the door at the end of the day, was my routine.
Wine had become my buffer against a world that actually meant me no harm.
The truly amazing thing that I have completely internalized now in my fourth sober year is that my life is NOT a performance and it doesn’t NEED to be. No one NEEDS me to be perfect and it’s just fine if I’m buck naked on that stage letting my imperfections show.
But I didn’t know yet how to face my early evening world without my buffer, when I first put down the wine.
I realized pretty quickly after I stopped drinking, that my fantasy of sitting around the table after school playing games with my kids while I sipped tea was going to take a while to achieve. I wasn’t ready to be that exposed. In my first weeks AF ( alcohol-free) I was so raw without my buffer that all I could reliably do at wine o’ clock was read inspiring stories of recovery , in the bathtub or in bed. Safe and warm.
But my kids were so happy to have me be truly present, NEVER drunk, NEVER vacant, NEVER gone behind unfocused eyes, that they were just fine with me moving to the safety of the bathtub and a book for a couple of weeks.
That early sobriety vulnerability is long gone now.
After I stopped drinking, I can shop anytime of day without worry that a bottle or two of wine will find its way into my cart.
I can deal with any stress at any hour without feeling like I NEED to drink or even want to.
I can have fun sober, be bored sober, relax sober and socialize sober.
But first I had to acknowledge that I was vulnerable, that I needed to find a healthier buffer against the world while I stabilized, and I had to build myself a bubble . A soft space to land in the evening that did not include unnecessary stress.
That’s what many of us we’re trying to do when we drink. We were trying to take care of ourselves. Pamper ourselves. Protect ourselves.
There are many tips and tricks in this post to help you figure out how to build a bubble for yourself: Simple Solutions to Beat the Binge Drinking Routine
I recently watched Brene Brown’s first Ted Talk and I started thinking about vulnerability, how important allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is. I realized that one of the reasons I was able to put up the walls that I needed to protect my addiction, the disconnection from my family and friends that allowed me to sink much deeper into drinking than anyone knew, was that I have learned how to shut down my vulnerability in my job.
The courage to change begins with allowing yourself to admit to your vulnerability. Don’t try to drown your vulnerability or bury your vulnerability or erect a wall to protect you from yourself. Raise your hand and ask for help. Life is not a performance. Talk to Us –
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
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“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
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