Having one drink makes me want two, having two drinks makes me want four, and so on, never reaching the point of satisfaction, only dull images that serve for memories accompanied by remorse and a hangover. It is easier to just stay off the merry-go-round.
How is it that we can grow up with our parents’ drinking problem ruining our childhood, and then fall into the same habit they did? Traditionally, we’re told that it’s hereditary, but wouldn’t I be less likely to be an alcoholic after spending my whole childhood in fear of my father’s drunken rage? Knowing he was laying naked in his own feces- asking my mother and sister to get him another bottle? And witnessing his detox, which included seeing bloody moose heads on the wall when I was 13 years old.. Wouldn’t this put me at the very opposite end of the “likely to become an alcoholic” pendulum because I have observed alcohol’s negative effects first hand? Alcoholism isn’t hereditary. We are all one bad situation from becoming reliant on alcohol’s numbing effects. Because we’re all wired differently, that bad situation looks different to everyone. For some it’s the stress of studying for a test or showing up to work, for others it’s losing a spouse or child and not having the resources to help grieve properly. We can call it hereditary, we can call it a disease, but the reality is that everyone is susceptible, and knowing why is the only way to combat the issue.
What do you do for me, alcohol?
Give me a drink, the sight of it brings me excitement. Give me a sip, the first 20 minutes make me feel euphoric. Give me 30 minutes and my mind is consumed with thinking about the next drink. Give me another drink and another and all I want is that first 20 minutes back. It must be in one of these bottles.. I keep searching but I can’t find it. I don’t feel drunk, just restless for that next drink. I say things that hurt others or embarrass myself, but another drink will push my shame away. Until the morning. That is when it all floods over me, drowning me, pulling me deeper and deeper. The only way to get air is to say, “Give me a drink.”
It’s funny how one can recall every detail of a super embarrassing situation, but we forget the very details of truly important moments. I cannot, for the life of me, remember how Annie Grace’s book graced my computer screen, but I do know it was put there because it was exactly what I needed when I needed it.
As I write this, I am sitting at my dining room table with a box of hard seltzers and a mix of pumpkin beers and blue moons in front of me. Ten minutes ago, I realized the temperature outside had dropped below freezing and I began emptying out our outdoor refrigerator. I placed everything on my dining room table. With the computer in front of me, my eyes glaze over the hard seltzer flavors while I think of how to word my next sentence. It hits me. “Oh my god, the thought of opening one of these cans has not even crossed my mind.” Two months ago, there would have been a 100% chance that on my day off, while the baby napped and the only thing on my agenda was a concert at 8pm, I would have started drinking as soon as my hands were free. The only thing I can say is, this book really freaking works.
But when did I fall into the pitcher plant?
Ten years ago, I was four months into a marriage that I knew I should not have gotten into. Sadly, I remember telling myself that being “in love” isn’t realistic for adults. It is infatuation meant for teenagers and who aren’t bound to each other with vows, mortgages, and offspring. I thought that at the age you were “supposed to” be married, you married who you happened to be with, like spinning the wheel on The Price is Right. “It landed on 60, do you want to spin again?”, “No, Bob, it seems safer to stick with this.”
When I was 22, I got a DWI. Shortly before that, I broke my wrist while falling on ice after drinking, needing surgery. I wasn’t consciously aware of this at the time, but I do think subconsciously, I was telling myself that getting engaged would take the attention off of my poor decisions and distract my friends and family from dwelling on my issues with alcohol. If I did something that “normal” people do, like get married, then I wouldn’t seem like such a fuck up.
Isn’t it crazy how heavy the load is when we put a deposit on a reception hall and notify Facebook Land we are engaged? You might as well sign the marriage certificate when you hit “Post” on your engagement announcement. I felt that going through with the wedding and possibly a divorce would be an easier pill to swallow than calling off the wedding, declaring my failure to Facebook followers, and losing a deposit.
It didn’t take long for this poor decision to catch up to me. I fell into a deep depression and alcohol was the only friend that I could rely on to help me forget about being unhappy, even if only for the evening. I remember my first therapy session, asking the therapist if she could “make me love my husband.” Therapy and alcohol were a big part of my life during this time. I spoke openly about my drinking in my therapy sessions, but I think because I was articulate, witty, held a good job, and even insightful about my shortcomings, my descent into the pitcher plant we call alcoholism was masked, even to professionals.
Because I am one of those people who easily feels left out, I always sought to be in a relationship. There’s no place for an outsider when there’s only two of you. I remember calling my mother to tell her how unhappy I was in my marriage. “If he’s not beating you or cheating on you, there’s really no reason to leave.” There are very few times in my life that I’ve opened up to my mother, and this was one of them. Any holiday in my twenties where I happened to be single, my mom would tilt her head to the side, purse her lips and say, “well maybe by next Christmas you’ll have someone.” As much as I want to blame my mother for my fucked up frame of mind around relationships, and trust me- I have spent 35 years blaming her for things, I know someone fucked her up too. And that’s not her fault. It doesn’t, however, change the fact that it gave me a really unhealthy understanding of how to find happiness, which contributed to why I tried to find my happiness in the bottle.
I did end up divorcing my husband. It’s crazy that something that takes so much mental exertion can be summed up in one small sentence. Even after my divorce was finalized and I was free to become the person I wanted to be, drinking still remained by closest confidant. It never asked questions, it never pushed me to think about my mistakes, it just lifted the burdens that lay on my shoulders and the next day when the burdens multiplied, weighing heavier and heavier, it lifted them again, so loyally.
In the last 3 years, I remarried and became a mother. I spent the first year of my son’s life hiding in the alcohol blur. I am sad that I lost precious memories and didn’t take advantage of potential precious memories during that year because my mind was obsessed with alcohol. But I am fortunate to have given up the poison that stole these treasures from me before I lost more than just his first year.
I started my alcohol free journey on September 16th, 2019. Life is good without hangovers and without my brain constantly nagging me about my next cocktail. My mind isn’t running on a treadmill going nowhere anymore, it’s taking a leisurely walk and actually experiencing life.
Since I stopped drinking, I have gone to two concerts that I was mildly concerned about going to alcohol free. When I was pregnant, I went to a concert and it was miserable. Being pregnant means you can’t drink. This time, I was choosing not to. I went to both of these concerts without drinking and had an amazing time. Thinking back, the concert that I had a miserable time at while pregnant was because I didn’t enjoy the music, and not drinking wasn’t exactly my choice. The concert I went to this weekend was at a small, beautiful venue in upstate New York, with so much history. The band had five amazing musicians who write their own music and discussed the meaning behind the songs before they performed them. We had front row seats and sitting there, witnessing this extremely talented group of individuals bring their hard work to me, just for my shear enjoyment, it literally brought tears to my eyes. I was so happy that I was not under the influence for this incredible experience. If I was drinking, I would have been late to my seat because the line for drinks was so long. I would have been thinking about how I can keep my buzz going, likely missing more of the show while in line, and not noticing the talented finger movements of the bass player, guitarist, violinist, banjoist and the guy who played an instrument I can’t even identify! I wouldn’t have noticed their looks to one another, having a conversation with just their eyes, which told me how close these band members really are. I’m not saying that the drunk or high people weren’t enjoying themselves. I saw some high as a kite hippies off in the corner dancing, throwing their head and arms around, and they were having a blast! But they weren’t taking away the same experience I was. I will remember this night forever. The hippies could have easily had their experience in their living room with music coming from the speakers.
Sure, there are hard moments, days, months… In fact, I went into my bedroom this morning and screamed into a pillow. But it’s important to remember that alcohol won’t make the hard times go away. They’ll be there when the booze wears off and the hangover sets in. Even being alcohol free, I notice that I snap at my husband more than I ever did when I was drinking. And I actually do like this husband! But there are feelings that I swept under the rug when I was drinking, I was too busy mixing a cocktail to bother dealing with real feelings, or God forbid, I bring something up that bothers me and he responds by complaining about my drinking. Life without alcohol isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it has many moments of sunshine and rainbows, rainbows you actually take the time to notice and enjoy. When the cloudy days come, you deal with them because you’re present, and once the storm has passed, it’s likely that more and more sunny days will come.
Instead of saying, “give me a drink,” it’s important to find new ways to deal with stress. Breathing. Taking five minutes to feel the feels: whether it be anger, frustration, jealousy, something you feel bad about even being mad at- feel it, and think about what benefits alcohol would actually bring to you in this given moment and then consider what alcohol will make you feel like tomorrow morning. Find a show on Netflix you can immerse yourself in. Read a good book, listen to Annie’s podcast, re-listen to Annie’s book on audio, find another podcast you may enjoy (I recommend Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert. He is also sober, although the podcast is not directly about that), take a walk, meditate, relax in a bath, scream into a pillow, get a pedicure, hell- lock yourself in the bathroom and just listen to music that made you happy when you were a teenager, infatuated and in love.
In the beginning of this article, I stated that Annie Grace’s book, titled This Naked Mind, really works. And it does, but it’s a constant effort to recondition your mind and keep your informed perspective on alcohol. Alcohol artificially releases dopamine, and your body’s response to this artificial surge is to counter it with dynorphin. This brings you down. By the end, you’re left feeling more down than when you began. This is science. It’s fact. Freedom from alcohol is attainable and knowing the facts behind it are the key. We all have pasts that are more easy to deal with if we drown our feelings with the bottle. But I promise you, the rewards from being sober and present are far greater than any experience that begins with “give me a drink.”