As I approach my 100th day of being alcohol free, I’d like to be shouting from the rooftops how wonderful I feel, how vibrant and alive I am, how I couldn’t imagine life any other way. But, I’m sort of a realist, and I have to be honest that sobriety doesn’t mean you are swinging from light posts while dancing in the rain. It’s tough. I’m still tired, I’m still cranky, I am especially irritable with my husband, and I’ve gained weight because I eat ice cream every night now (okay, and probably a few cookies and donuts in between that).
But, what I can say is that life has more meaning now. I always try to look at situations with, “on my deathbed, will this have mattered?” When that time comes, will the people around me be there because they feel obligated to, counting down the minutes til I croak so they can get on with their lives, or will they be there because they want to absorb every last moment with me that they can, savoring every last memory? What I’ve come up with is that a life consumed by alcohol; being buzzed, drunk, hungover, and thinking about the next drink, is most likely not going to create relationships that leave people wanting more of you.
I am 35 and have a one year old child. You’ve heard it before. The white, middle class American woman who does well at her job, has friends, seems successful, but downs her bottle of wine or two a night. While all of our stories differ when you open the book, the summary on the back is the same for a lot of us. Most of the time, alcohol didn’t create any outright problems, other than ruining my organs and consuming all my thoughts, but there were a few times my husband couldn’t wake me when the baby was crying uncontrollably during the night, and hearing this the next morning scared me.
A few things happened in the last year that I could say spiraled my drinking, but I don’t really know if my drinking itself changed, or the reasons why I drank changed. Instead of being my normal pastime, part of my party-girl routine, it became a reason to numb the thoughts and quiet the fear.
Another thing most of us have in common is that it’s never just one thing that leads us to want to stop drinking. There are a series of catalysts that get us to that point. Just as there were a series of catalysts that caused us to become alcoholics.. sorry- what are we now? Members of the Alcohol Use Disorder tribe? No matter what we call it; we liked being drunk, we liked that alcohol took away our negative emotions, but then we realized that alcohol started creating more problems than it took away.
In the past year, the same thought kept occurring- where does this go for me? Will I cut back once the stress is over? Probably not because new stress will come. Will I cut back when I have more on my plate and won’t have the time to drink? Probably not because I have a lot on my plate now and still find time to down martinis and pop open wine bottles. Will I have an eye opening experience that will remove the craving of alcohol from me so that I only drink on weekends and holidays and always stop at two or three? Get back to me if that has actually worked for you. So do I stop drinking all together? What about vacations? What about retirement on the beaches of Aruba at all-inclusive resorts? Surely, it is not possible to do those things without drinking and enjoy it, is it? New Year’s Eves, my birthdays, hell- my kid’s football games when he’s older.
In the last 100 days, I have found that these big occasions, like open bar weddings and Christmas parties, are the easier places to not drink; more anxiety up front and mourning the loss of anticipation of a night filled with drinking and the unpredictable that comes along with it. However, I have found that the hardest part of not drinking is when I’m at home and have a list of chores; laundry, dishes, groceries, meal prep, and I just want a drink or four to quiet the never ending list in my head of what I have to get done next. These are the times I miss my friend, alcohol, the most.
When I was pregnant, a friend of mine was also expecting. She was loving every moment of her pregnancy, and I was miserable. She went around rubbing her belly and staying away from all lunchmeat, rare steak and alcohol. I hid my pregnant belly and as long as I knew where the meat came from, I indulged and also allowed myself one glass of wine a day in the third trimester, probably a little in the second, too.
After she had her baby, she said she missed being pregnant and couldn’t wait to start trying again. I thought she was nuts, I believe I said on more than one occasion, “People who love being pregnant are people who must not have lives.” My baby was born a few months later and we enjoyed exchanging stories, and even a short trip to the beach in Maine.
Four months ago, when her daughter was 17 months old, I saw on Facebook that a collection was being raised in her daughter’s name. I immediately contacted my friend and asked what was wrong. Her reply was, “She’s brain-dead. We are pulling the plug tomorrow so we can donate her organs. I’m in hell.”
Her beautiful daughter, Violet, suffered a horrific crib accident where she pulled a canvas picture off the wall and it landed on her neck, pinning her between the canvas and the crib rail, leaving her unable to breathe.
This was my catalyst to drink more, as it provoked a fear in me of the unimaginable, plus it numbed the pain and sorrow I felt for my dear friends. But this was also my catalyst to stop drinking. There were drunk nights after I learned of Violet’s death. There were more drunk nights after her funeral. And there were nights I crawled in my son’s crib to lay with him because I was scared he could so easily be taken from me.
After my husband sent me a video of myself passed out on the couch on a Sunday night, unable to be awoken as he called my name and lifted my arm up repeatedly, I knew something had to change. I was drinking to numb the fear that my son could be taken from me, but what I didn’t realize is that I was slowly being taken from my son.
There are two things I know. One: I cannot protect my child from everything. And two: if I continue to drink, I will only increase the chances of something bad happening to him.
I don’t know why Violet died and my son is still alive. I took for granted being pregnant and I spent almost every day of his first year under the influence of at least a glass or two of wine, sometimes more, much more. Maybe we are in some sort of virtual reality world where people don’t exist unless they’re right in front of me and the terrible events that happen to them are just lessons for me to learn… Anything to ease my grief of knowing how much my friends are suffering.
The only thing I can do is change what I put out in the world, and I decided that I don’t want to put a version of me that is under alcohol’s firm grasp. I want to help, not hinder. I want to be dependable, not dependent on. I want to give energy, not steal it. I want to love, and I want to be loved.
Being alcohol free isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing is easy. Is it easy to get a degree? Is it easy going to work every day? Is exercising easy? What about fighting cancer? No. None of it is easy, but it’s all worth it. Sometimes I think, “It’s just a little wine, a beverage, how can it be so bad, deadly even?” But then I think, “It was just a canvas.”
If we spend our dear time on this planet numbing every feeling we have, then what was it all for? Learn from the reasons that caused you to drink and recognize the reasons that will unleash you from the grasp. We’re all here for a reason, but you can’t find it if you’re numb.
Thank you, and I wish you all the best.