“It wasn’t serving my life anymore.”
That’s my answer to the questions I get.
It’s the most honest answer, the simple and complete answer:
“It wasn’t serving my life anymore.”
Two years ago this week, I stopped drinking. Simply stopped. Haven’t had a drop of alcohol since October 20, 2016.
Before you ask, I’m not an alcoholic though, unfortunately, I have firsthand experience with what that does look like. No, I just made the decision to stop drinking. I’ve come to define a “drinking problem” as anything that interferes with your quality of life. And drinking was interfering with mine, and it already had plenty of competition. So I just…stopped. It’s been an interesting social study, among other things, and I’ll write about that more in coming posts. For now, I want to talk about WHY it wasn’t serving me, about why running from pain never works.
I’d never been a big drinker (college does NOT count, and I remain grateful Facebook wasn’t a thing my senior year), and I’d always just enjoyed it socially. Certainly there were some nights when I was over-served, at a sales meeting or a night out with friends. The worst to ever come out of those nights was a really rough day in the next morning’s meeting or some pretty comical recordings my ex-husband made of conversations he’d had with me the night before. Those nights were always just FUN…well, the hangover wasn’t…but the rest of it was. A few drinks, lots of laughs, and funny stories to tell the next day.
But my life got pretty raw and real at the end of 2013, and I went through a lot of intense events in a short period of time. Candidly, I thought 2013 had done a fine enough number on me and we were done with the nonsense, but no…oh no, it was going to get so much worse. The next few years would prove to be THE most painful years of my life to date.
In my post Scar Tissue, I talked about how much I used to run from my pain, do anything to avoid facing it. Well, somewhere along the road of those intensely painful years, somewhere amidst the trauma upon emotional trauma, my fun relationship with alcohol changed. I used it to numb, to relieve. It snuck up on me, actually. As my pain compounded and my anxiety got worse, I gradually went from enjoying a glass of wine at night to enjoying several glasses. Several glasses occasionally turned into the whole bottle…after which, I’d usually cry myself to sleep. And when I did, I’d cry A LOT. Because pain you suppress is going to come out somewhere, sometime…and it’s gonna be ugly.
I didn’t know what to DO with my pain…there was just SO MUCH OF IT. I had let it reach such a crescendo, it was bleeding out all over the place. I started acting out of alignment with my own integrity, with my own well-being. During the height of it all, after a few glasses of wine on an empty stomach, I embarrassed myself pretty badly at an event (I was briefly featured as the image next to “Hot Mess” in the dictionary). Because I wasn’t listening to what my pain was telling me, because I kept drowning it, it resorted to SCREAMING in order to be heard.
In the second part of this series, I shared the story of my client and her cabinets, how shutting those cabinet doors turned down the pain *just enough* that she didn’t have to address the real issue. Yet the root cause was still there, waiting. If she left those cabinet doors open all the time, she’d HAVE to do something about it, because the pain would be too intense…and that’s when we finally take action. Turning down my pain wasn’t working anymore. I’d managed to blow the doors off my own metaphorical cabinets, trying to contain what was inside.
Something had to change.
I had to let my pain be the professor, no matter how hard the lesson.
My first step was to stop drinking, because I had to remove all the coping mechanisms I’d been using to numb the pain, to avoid feeling it. I had to feel it, so I could understand it, so I could start taking steps to heal it. Then I slowly stepped down off of my anti-anxiety medication. I faced my life and my pain with no filter, no anesthetic. Yeah. Shit got pretty real. Processing years of pain is not really a picnic but it sure beats the alternative. My yoga practice saved my life during that time, but that’s another series altogether.
Here’s the thing, though. It was worth it…facing the storm. I learned more about myself during that time than I had in the previous 37 years. Was it fun? Not especially. But I have an appropriate relationship with pain now, a healthy one. This last six weeks has been proof of that. I know how to welcome pain when it knocks these days, how to invite it in instead of barring the door. Turns out, it doesn’t stay that long when you just let it have its say.
I’m not saying I’ll never have a drink again. Maybe I will. But…well…now I’ve got a streak going and I’m the guy who will fork over the cash to Duolingo not to reset my 250 day Spanish streak back to zero for missing two days because: competitive.
Here’s what I do know: I’ll never again use alcohol, or anything else, as a way to avoid my feelings, numb my pain, or bypass my own healing process.
DISCLAIMER (yeah, I saved it until the end…it’s my blog, I can do whatever I want):
Now, listen VERY carefully: this post is NOT a self-righteous implication that you should abandon your nightly Pinot and pledge yourself to a life of LaCroix. It is also NOT designed to elicit anything within you beyond introspection (you hear that, Shame? Take a hike). I don’t believe alcohol is evil. What I do believe is it is our responsibility to bring awareness to what we do every day and ask questions about whether our consistent actions and activities are serving our higher good. Like anything, it’s how (and for the sake of this particular argument, WHY) we use it. If you’re drinking wine because you love the aroma, the experience, the taste….PERFECT. That’s why it’s there. If you’re drinking it as a regular analgesic, to escape from an unhappy or uncomfortable part of your life…different story. Time to ask yourself some hard questions, preferably with a clear head. Once you’ve done that work, by all means, eat, drink, and be merry, my friends!
And sparkle on…💖