Hello There (My first blog post, ever.)
“if you deny your story, it owns you. If you own your story, you get to write the ending”. - Brene Brown
The day I quit drinking for good is the day I finally owned my story.
I just listened to Brene Brown’s audio book, and it inspired me to write what Anne Lamont calls the SFD (The shitty first draft). My SFD, so far, is this website, and this blog . What it will turn into, I don’t know. But it feels like it is time to start telling my story. It needs to get out on (virtual) paper. It needs to exist.
I was (and still am) addicted to self help and personal development writers. I had red wine stains inside so many self help books, books that promised to help me find true happiness, it’s astonishing I didn’t put the pieces together earlier. In fact, I have been addicted to that search for as long as I can remember. I remember a rumbling inside of me that existed from the day I could notice such things. It was in an undefinable inner compartment, I couldn’t get to it but I was longing to. As I aged, I found ways to numb the rumbling. I found ways to connect to myself and others that were much faster and instantly gratifying (albeit, artificial). I spent nearly two decades burying my feelings and ignoring the inner rumblings, or only addressing them when intoxicated. Tears would pour of me when drunk, anger would fly at those I loved most. For two decades I worked as hard as humanly possible to prove my worthiness to others and to myself during the days in exhausting displays of perfectionism, and then in the evenings I attempted to drink away the disconnect and frustration, the boredom and dissatisfaction with life, my inability to prove my worthiness through achievements. I didn’t yet realize that we are born worthy. We can’t lose worthiness. We are worthiness. It is there inside of us, and it always was.
I could never quite define the rumbling, only that as far as I knew it was something deeper than surface feelings. It was a longing for meaning and purpose. I now recognize it as simply the human condition. We are blessed with the ability to think and feel, which also leaves us with a deep longing to find meaning and connection, to solve the mystery of why we are here, what we are meant to be doing. Religion and spirituality help people with this. Alcohol pretends to help too, as it quiets the questions and offers an instant sense of connection to yourself and others. But alcohol also quiets just about everything else, including the joy. And over time that creates such a chasm between you and the meaning and purpose you were initially trying to find. The advertising companies won’t tell you about this numb-ness, this increased disconnect, but it is so very real.
When I finally became sober the rumbling grew louder. I knew I would have to face it, now that I was no longer numb. Most 12 step programs offer some sort of spiritual journey, a path designed to reconnect you with the self that you lost somewhere along the way. Which is why they often claim that you will fail if you don’t “work the steps”. I agree with this idea, well with the thinking behind it, anyway. You do have to do a lot more than putting down the bottle, you do have to do a kind of transformation. You do have to create a life that you no longer want to escape from. While I didn’t follow a 12 step model, I did finally attempt to embark on a path to find connection to myself, to get to know myself. Some experts claim that our emotional growth is stunted from the moment that our addiction starts.
My search for purpose and meaning thus far, has led me to decide that there may be no meaning except the classic to love and be loved. To be real, authentic and in the moment. To be open to the mystery of life. To stop running at top speed trying to accomplish things. To slow down and feel the real-ness of life. This blog, this attempt at creativity and meaning, is me owning the ending of my story. I’m going to go back 37 years to where my story began. Don’t worry, every entry won’t be about me, but I do think it’s important to tell you my story and where I come from, before I share some things I have learned along the way.
I was born in a small city full of hard working people, to a hard working upper middle class family, to parents who came from modest upbringings and were able to give me so much. They loved me and my childhood was blessed. If love alone could prevent suffering, I would not have suffered (this is paraphrased from a book I read recently by Glennon Doyle - I highly recommend her writing and wise, wise words.) Like many of us, I came from a world where drinking in high school was a rite of passage, it meant growing up, it meant excitement and fun. In the world where I grew up, alcohol equaled pleasure, and people worked hard and earned that pleasure, without a doubt. There was no talk about it’s negative effects, there was no mention of it being an addictive drug. From a young age, we were taught to say no to drugs, but alcohol was not included. Alcohol was also a helpful antidote to life’s stresses, life’s questions and life’s boredom. I had no reason to question alcohol’s validity as a constant in mine and so many other people’s lives. It was “normal”. (Stay tuned for an entire - hopefully not too angry- post about the normalizing of alcohol in our culture, that subject really gets me going.). I wouldn’t question alcohol as a part of my life for nearly two decades. I blacked out for the first time in my teens, I continued to black out until my mid 30’s, as a mother of 3. I never questioned forgetting large swaths of my evenings, of my life. Something always felt a little off, in retrospect, but alcohol was just so darn normal that I really wouldn’t spend much time dwelling on it all. I picked myself back up, brushed off my missteps and binges, and kept trudging forward. In my 20’s, I drove my car while intoxicated many times (and knew so many other people who did too - “normal”, right?). I even got caught, and that wasn’t reason for me to stop and question the usefulness of pouring ethanol down my throat. Drinking away the human condition. Work hard, play hard. Reward yourself.
I would ignore red flags, I would ignore the “off” feeling for as long as humanly possible. I tried every moderation technique I knew (and failed them all). I tried desperately to keep my oldest and dearest friend, my constant confidant, alcohol, a part of my life. I came from a place that implied that there was something wrong with you if you weren’t “good” at drinking. Those “messed up people” spent weekends in church basements attempting to atone for their sins. It was dour and sad, and I wanted no part of it. It didn’t feel like me, at all. And then there was the stigma and the shame, those were things I was going to stay far away from for as long as possible. The first time I quit I told people I was training for a marathon, because I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t drink in moderation, that I failed at something that society (and the advertising industry - more on that insanity later too) deemed so glamorous and so necessary for a full life, for sophistication. I never delved into the reasons that I drank that first time I quit. I just knew I needed to try quitting because something really wasn’t right. But I wasn’t ready to go deeper - not yet. I wasn’t ready to own my story. So it wouldn’t last. As it so often goes, after awhile I convinced myself that I could moderate. With a year of sobriety under my belt, I was now capable of controlling this substance that had controlled me for so long. After all, my parents, my friends, and nearly everyone I know drinks, and they all seem to really enjoy it. So I had to find a way to keep it under control. But I couldn’t and didn’t control it. It’s astonishing that I worked so hard to keep it around, it truly blows my mind, now that I am on the other side of it. And that’s where I write to you today, from what I am calling “The Other Side”. Excuse the cheesy metaphor, I will try to keep them to a minimum. But this one is dear to my heart and it remains the best way for me to articulate where I am today, and what this journey feels like. If you’re reading a blog about sobriety, you’re likely already at the questioning stage. That questioning stage lasted a long time for me, most of my drinking career if I’m being truthful, I never really had a healthy relationship with it. I always knew I liked it a little too much, more than others around me, but I could find others like me to join my parties - and OH did I find them! Everywhere I went I bonded with the life of the party types. I found the ones who would close down the bar, dance on the bar, get kicked out of the bar. I gravitated towards the so called crazy ones. In fact, I defined myself as a crazy one. We were living it up, and we had nothing to apologize for. Life is short, right? (Now that rationale seems so irrational to me - life is short so black out and get hungover?! The cognitive dissonance surrounding alcohol is uniquely shocking sometimes.)
My story goes as many break up with alcohol stories do. I tried making rules, moderating, then breaking my rules and not moderating. Repeat. Repeat again. Hate myself. Shame. Repeat. More shame. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I enjoy a civilized glass of wine?! It was frustrating, and kind of soul destroying, but it never occurred to me that it might be simpler and easier to quit alcohol. To simply remove it from the equation. I knew that I couldn’t stop altogether. What would my life be like? A boring mess, right? People wouldn’t invite me to things, surely. I would be labelled, stigmatized, ostracized, left out of the “tribe”. There’s a true primal fear of being left out, dating back to our evolutionary days. We needed to belong, to survive. I needed to belong. I needed my identity. I didn’t know any other way to fit in without my identity. And I tried so hard to hold on to it. But there comes a time for many, a true blessing, when you either hit rock bottom (which isn’t necessary - and that’s going to be another detailed blog post, this idea of “how bad do I need to be to stop?”), or the time when you simply say “enough”. When you’re done with the BS, when you’re exhausted. Because attempting to control an addictive substance is beyond exhausting. So I decided to truly change my life. And I wasn’t excited, it was more of a ‘throwing in of the towel’ moment. I had no idea what lay ahead and I suspected it would likely be boring, but I had decided that I just didn’t deserve all that fun anymore. I had used my quota of fun up. Half my life would be fun (hey, I had a better run than most, right?), and the other half would be some kind of boring punishment for the first half.
I was losing my identity as the crazy fun one, and I had no idea who I would be instead. But I was just so damn tired. So I started crossing that rickety bridge on my sobriety journey (here’s the metaphor coming at you strong). And I turned back a few times, because it’s shaky and scary and so unknown. So unfamiliar. And you have no idea what’s on the other side, so why bother with the scary bridge, right? THIS side is familiar, the other side could be anything! It could be horrible! But eventually something inside you knows you need to get across. And it’s slow and shaky and all of that, like the shaky bridge. And you go to parties and lie to people about why you’re not drinking and it sucks and you leave early. You spend way too much energy trying to prove to yourself and others that you haven’t changed, that you are still fun, but it’s hard and exhausting. You have to ignore that inner voice that claims that one or two won’t hurt - over and over and over. And you eat copious amounts of brownies to make sure you won’t drink and wonder how this could possibly be better for your body. And you obsessively work out to exhaust your body and mind (and this helps with the brownie problem). And you are so awkward at book clubs, dinner parties, camping weekends, ladies nights, wine and cheese nights (yup, I still tried to do those at first)..... it’s all so darn awkward and shaky and you really feel like turning back. But you keep going forward. One day, you just keep going forward. Thank goodness, you keep putting one foot in front of the other, not thinking about the other side yet, just moving forward however you can. And things slowly get easier. And waking up hangover free, watching sunrises, having this super clear mind, feeling hints towards a baseline level of peace that hasn’t existed since you were a child, being surprised at how optimism starts winning over pessimism more and more often, finding hobbies you forgot that you forgot about, realizing your sober jokes are super funny at parties....this stuff starts to seep in. And one day you realize, you’re on the other side. You. Made. It. Across.
And there’s a whole huge expanse of forest in front of you. Full of potential, full of life. Full of beautiful mystery. And there’s no way you’re turning back and taking that stupid bridge back to the other side, because this forest is huge and such a HUGE surprise. And you start to explore the new found forest. And you can’t believe you didn’t know this forest existed on the other side of the bridge. This whole time, this was HERE! I’m here to tell you the forest is real. From the biggest cynic out there, who thought my fun life was over.... I am here to tell you it’s so much more and so much better here on the other side.
I will share stories from this side, the other side of that bridge. As I explore and learn on this other side, I will do my best to help you find you way here too (if that’s what you’re working towards).
Much love and so much gratitude.