Exactly one month ago, I woke up with a hangover. 35 years old, caring for my one-year old son, and not even feeling like I had a buzz while at the wedding the night before. One month ago, I peeled myself out of bed when I heard my son start to cry himself awake. I wished I could sleep longer, but relinquishing the chore to my husband would mean that I would have to admit, at least to myself, that I couldn’t handle my relationship with alcohol, and that was not a notion I was going to concede to.
One month ago, I dragged myself and my son to the grocery store to shop for the upcoming week. I picked up 3 bottles of bloody mary mix, but probably forgot some key grocery item, like bread. Upon returning home, I knew I didn’t have anywhere else to drive, so I fixed myself a bloody mary while I did my “chores”: unpacking the groceries, making lunches for the week, doing laundry. I poured a 2nd and 3rd bloody mary to help make the chores and the thought of work the next day more bearable.
So that I could call myself a good mother, I brought the baby outside to pick some apples in the cool, crisp, fall air. One month ago, I poured myself a pint of craft beer from our kegerator, something I was very proud to own. I lifted the baby to the tree and let him snap off his apple of choice, and as he settled his little teeth into the skin, his face beamed with pure delight. From an apple.
One month ago, I finished two or three more beers and then switched to wine because the beer was starting to fill me up. The thought of work the next day was filling me with dread. A feeling that more alcohol could surely numb. My husband and I ate dinner and watched Netflix. The next morning, 30 days ago, I woke up to an alarm at 5:15am, and like most mornings, I ran through my head all the excuses I could think of to call in to work. I always dragged myself out of bed anyway because calling in would mean I have an alcohol problem. I grabbed a Pedialyte, which I only kept stocked in the pantry for my hangovers, not because I had a child who may need them during an illness…
30 days ago, I grabbed my phone from the charger and saw that my husband had sent me a video. I hit play and saw my lifeless body laying across the couch. My husband’s hand was pulling up my arm and letting it fall, over and over again. He kept calling my name and saying it was time to go to bed, but it was clear I was not waking up. I didn’t remember any of this. In fact, I didn’t remember going to bed at all. I didn’t remember if I had brushed my teeth, taken my medication, or checked on the baby. After watching the video, I contritely walked into the kitchen where my husband was eating his breakfast. I said thanks for the video, and he replied with, “That wasn’t the best part. All of a sudden, you flew up off the couch, ran into the nursery and started yelling that it was time for the beach, we had to get to the beach! I had to pull you out of his room.” Again, something I did not remember.
30 days ago, I arrived at work and purchased a greasy bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich to absorb some of the previous day’s alcohol. I hadn’t even felt drunk the day before. Why. Why was I doing this. Why was I doing this? If I don’t feel drunk when I drink, and I feel like complete crap after I drink, why do I keep drinking? And why am I even trying to get drunk? And then, 30 days ago, I stumbled upon Annie Grace’s, This Naked Mind. This book answered those questions for me. Why? Because when we drink, the pleasure center in our brain, the nucleus accumbens, is artificially stimulated- giving us that 20 or so minute high. Stimulation of dopamine, the “craving” molecule, makes us feel good, telling our brain to “keep doing what you’re doing!!” However, to maintain homeostasis, our brain then releases dynorphin, a chemical downer. When the alcohol wears off, we are left feeling more down than when we started drinking. So, we beat ourselves up for partaking in the drinks… OR, we grab another drink to numb our feelings of disgust and give in to that itch that dopamine has created.
Knowing that there was nothing wrong with me, and that alcohol was just doing what alcohol was supposed to be doing made my desire for alcohol completely shift.
30 days ago was Day 1 of an alcohol-free life for me.
In the past 30 days, I’ve learned that chores aren’t chores if you think about them as planning a healthy week for you and your loved ones. Completing tasks that your family depends on you for can actually feel good, a natural release of dopamine. In the past 30 days, I’ve realized that work doesn’t have to be dreaded if you aren’t showing up with a hangover. In fact, it’s adult time where you can have conversations with coworkers, drink your coffee while it’s hot and go to the bathroom in private without worrying that your toddler is licking an electrical socket. Weekends can be spent enjoying activities with your family and friends, not consumed with thoughts of where your next drink will come from. I now don’t have to worry about needing to drive somewhere in the evening and not being able to because I’ve been drinking. I can just go- it’s so freeing. And I notice little things that I have never noticed before, like how happy an apple makes my son, and that apple doesn’t have a lick of alcohol in it. I can now see, with a clear mind, the difference between pure joy and artificial stimulation.