Crying in Front of Strangers / PT. II How I Gave Up Alcohol
Wake up and look at your life.
Look at it long and hard until it looks back at you.
This is PT. II in a series. In PT. I I described what my relationship to alcohol looked like. I encourage you to read that one first. It helps set the stage before I discuss the nitty gritty of what it actually took to quit.
There are a great many steps one must take to invite radical change into their life (in my case to quit drinking), but I found it all comes down to this: Growing sick of your own shit. Not meaning you have to hit rock bottom or lose everything. But there comes a day where remaining the same feels worse than embracing the changes that need to be made. This is a very big day, although you don't realize it at the time.
This is the day you start to wake up. Literally, you wake up one day, hungover, thirsty, trying to recall the events from the night before. But once again you can't remember the events from last night because you were blacked out. Thankfully you don't work today, so you stare at your ceiling for a long while. Your mind races, your heart aches almost as much as your body. It feels like months you've been staring at your ceiling thinking about how much you loathe yourself. And it has. Years even.
This shame gaze into the distance isn't unfamiliar territory. But today you sit in it because honestly, there’s no where left to go. You stare in the big, blurry hole you've created, and this time, it starts staring back at you. You stay fixated in this glare until there‘s nothing left to declare but: I MUST BE MORE THAN SPACE DUST WITH A DRINKING PROBLEM! I MUST'VE COME INTO CONSCIOUSNESS FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN TO BLACK IT ALL OUT!
I wasn’t sure what this meant at the time, or if it was even entirely true, but I rolled with it like it was. And over the next few months, which turned into years, all this accountability flooded in. I let it drown me. I surrendered. I still continue to. I admitted that yes, some shitty things happened to me that I didn’t necessarily deserve or ask for. But I also played a role in holding the door open for much of it. And regardless if any of it was fair, or more me or more them, it was suddenly my duty to “deal” with all of it.
How to deal.
I used to question what it meant to deal with something. I’d sip (chug) my third, fourth, fifth glass of wine and ponder, how does one deal. What even is dealing? I see now my heart was in the right place to ask. But my mind had all it wrong. My mind was conditioned to soothe instead of confront, which involved lots of burying and ignoring. And drunk crying. So. Much. Drunk. Crying. Looking back I see part of why I drank was a way to release everything I was holding in, and it showed.
I learned "dealing" is the opposite of suppressing. Dealing is opening, exposing, and admitting. It's all the things you don't want to do. It's all the things we're often taught not to do. It's about honesty, patience, and softening. And while I'm only 6 months into my sobriety from alcohol and by no means an expert, I know a thing or two about dealing these days. And I'm not going to say if I can do it, anyone can. But if I learned to believe in myself that I could quit, I believe others can learn to believe in themselves too. Because that's what it really comes down to.
YOU can quit alcohol in just 8 easy* steps!:
I guess you could say the first step in quitting drinking (or anything really) is to first begin! It helps if you make it a habit. This is fairly easy to achieve with addictive substances, so bottoms up buckaroo!
In step two this lovely, little habit will start to make a mess of things. The events of your life will begin to blur, and your head will pound much of the time, including against walls. I'll let you in on a secret; this phase can last as long or as little as you’d like regardless of how hopeless you feel. But for the sake of this blog, let's just say you chose to drink for a solid 15 years.
Step three is where shit gets weird. In this phase you begin to question your relationship to alcohol. You've been at it heavily for a while now, so this seems odd. You don't quite know where this is coming from. Had you read something? Heard something? Perhaps it was your intuition that's been screaming at the top of its lungs. Whatever it is, it really pisses your ego off who's grown quite comfortable in the nervous/avoidant/addicted you.
Don't go down that road, your ego will say.
Don't you fucking do it.
You know who you are.
You're a drinker.
And a (socially acceptable) druggie.
And you're sad.
And you cry at bars, all the time.
AND YOU LIKE IT.
But you usually can't even remember anything. So you figure what's the harm in just considering life another way? And of course the harm is that it will eventually be the demise of that identity. The ego was right to fear this consideration.
Step four involves agreeing to 30 days of no booze. We must put our thoughts into action for anything to actually change. During this time you find a therapist with the last name Grace, and she just so happens to offer you a dose of it. Things start opening up. You start crying in front of this stranger, who you paid money to, to watch you cry, and it’s powerful.
She validates you. Sees you. Hears you. And agrees a lot of things were in fact your parents fault. Kidding. These tears you have feel different. These aren't drunk, black out tears. These are conscious, deliberate tears. You grow comfortable in the tears you share with her. They feel raw and cathartic, like maybe they're actually releasing some of this shame you've built up. She lets you let it out, and she always makes sure there are Kleenex next to your chair.
She ends up telling you about a book called This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. Another Grace? How interesting. Are angels speaking to you? Is this synchronicity? Fuck no. The Universe is cold, dark, and chaotic, and doesn't care about you. But you read the book and find it useful. It tells the truth about alcohol. And you quite like this tactic of unlearning. The truth. It goes into detail about all the damage alcohol does internally, especially to your brain. Suddenly, you feel bad for your brain. And your liver. Your poor fucking liver.
You begin reading more about addiction, and the brain (lots of neuroscience), and psychology. And you keep asking more questions: Who do you think you are without alcohol? Who do you think you are? Who do you think? Who? Who am I?
And you dig.
You start digging deeper than you ever cared to, and then you realize, this must be "dealing". To go to the places your mind has been trying to keep you from. To sit, with no immediate way of numbing, in it. To. Sit. In. It. "It" being your life. To sit in your life. How uncomfortable. So many icky memories. So many poor choices. So little guidance as to what to do with it all. No wonder you drank all those years. You resist this process in moments, but truths are being revealed to you that you can't un-see. Forward is the only way now, however it may wind.
Step five you start meditating. At first you approach it off and on, but you begin to realize this healing process will never stop. All the things that are good for you must be done until you die.
Step 6 gets tricky 'cause you’ve been back to drinking for a little bit now, although not quite as much and definitely with more awareness as to how it makes you feel and act. Oh, and you uproot your entire life to New York City. You move in with your best friend, start working 7 days a week, and give up completely on everything besides making enough money for rent and bills and food. And drinks. Exercise and self-care of any kind take the back burner.
You meet lots of new people, drinks are involved much of the time, but it never feels too fun anymore. Now that you know the truth about alcohol and all the damage it does to your mind/body/spirit it’s hard to throw ‘em back and feel good about it. You begin to want to stay home more and just sit in the bathtub. The bathtub becomes your sanctuary. It reminds you of a womb, warm and comforting. Has alcohol been your metaphorical womb? Yes.
But now you see the error in this dichotomy of wanting peace, yet destroying yourself to achieve it. Everything has been a lie for a long time now. Now you’re in a real pickle because you’re not sure you can give up alcohol entirely, yet it doesn’t feel good to partake in anymore. Is this hell? No this is just the process of giving up your favorite childhood addiction. You can't keep two feet in two entirely separate realms and feel sane. Nope. You know a choice must be made.
Step seven has you wondering. Wondering why you’re still engaging in something that brings you no joy. You now understand that fucking U2 song, "I can’t live With or Without you" in a whole new way. So you wonder some more. Why am I still drinking? Then you realize after careful consideration that the only reason you continue (not to be confused with the reason you started) to drink is to appease the people around you. This substance offers you nothing, hardly even a release anymore. Yet, admitting you're someone who doesn’t drink moving forward seems impossible. Everyone including yourself only knows you as a drinker. And even if the identity is shit, at least you've really honed in on it.
But wait, maybe no one around you even cares if you drink. Has anyone told you you must drink? No. Has anyone been forcing you to drink? No. Are you just holding yourself here? Yes. Your entire world flips on its head. Are you really that small? Does your life, your one precious, empty, meaningless life, mean that little to you that you would just give it away to keep a false narrative running? To let others believe in the character you’ve been playing? Yes. All this time you’ve been pretending to be someone you’re not. Your mind is about to implode. You've been the one holding you back all of this time! YOU!
But then you ask yourself, are you just gonna roll over and do nothing to keep up an act you don’t want to be anymore?! No, you say to yourself. NO.
Step eight began the morning you woke up and knew that was "the day". The day you decided to quit drinking for now. That was over 6 months ago. And each and every single one of those days that you haven't drank leaves you in awe. Because there once was a time that didn't seem possible. But with some patience, some love, some doubt, some hope, some despair, some serious reading of the proper literature, and some time, you made it. You did the thing you thought you couldn't do. And it hasn't been so bad.
Sure, you don't have your dream body or dream salary that you secretly believed would happen within one day of quitting, but you're learning to take things as they come in stride. And that things just take time. This unlearning will be a labor of love, but one worth committing to. Each month reveals new layers of your being to yourself, and you actually like them. Maybe even love them. And you haven't loved yourself in a long time. Does the Universe have a warm side? Is it possible the Universe loves you? As it keeps you suspended in space, is it possible it's holding you as you learn to hold yourself? Maybe. Just maybe it is. And the cold chaos that used to run your life is now fleeting. You see now it always was.
You can remember nearly everything you do and say these days. When you get on a stage at an open mic, that's you. All of you. And when you open up to someone, it's because you want to. Not because you drank too much vodka and turned the person sitting nearest into your long lost life coach. Of course, now there are no more excuses. There's nothing left to blame for your shitty behavior. But with time your behavior shifts, too. Those substances had you acting, and speaking, and operating in ways that weren't actually in alignment with who you are now. Who you didn't believe you could be then. Who you decided to commit to being anyway. Life is no fairytale, never was, never will be. That's not what sobriety (from any or all substances) entails. But it does allow your life to be yours again.
People often ask me what the hardest part of quitting was. For me, it was releasing the drinking identity. That was harder than giving up the actual alcohol. You know the identity. That voice. The one that says alcohol makes you more fun, and more funny, and more likable. I didn’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t the crazy, party girl. I honestly thought once I quit I would just cease to exist. That I’d fade away into the background of some story far away, never to be seen or heard from again.
But the opposite is true.
I’ve only gotten more present and more engaged in my own story. I’ve grabbed the quill (yes quill) and let the feather tickle my face before I free hand what it is to exist as myself, and how fucking wonderful it is. At least mostly it is. Now that I’m not poisoned. Now that I’m not numbing. Now that I believe I deserve to be in my life. Now that I feel part of my life. Not terrified or burdened by it. And there are bad days, of course. Those don’t go away. Anxiety still creeps in when I least expect it. But the nice thing about days, about moods, about time, about anything, is it all passes.
On those really shitty days sometimes I still want a glass of wine. I miss wine. My cravings haven’t fully disappeared, and I doubt they ever fully will. And that’s fine. Because I don’t drink the wine anymore regardless. I write. Or read. Or do literally anything than drink the wine. Whether its a bath, or meditating, or even just staring at my ceiling proclaiming: I must be more than space dust with a drinking problem. I don't turn to booze anymore. And all that really means is, I’ve got this. Which really just translates to: When I fall down I can get back up. When I’m sad I can cry. When I’m happy I may rejoice. And when I need help, I can ask for it.
But this is just my story. The moral of it is that you have to write your own. Or rather, you get to write your own. And honestly, there’s never a good time to give up on your drug and/or drink of choice. Or maybe, it’s always a good time depending how you look at it. Life just moves. It won't stop no matter how hard we dig our heels into the ground. We can let life drag us or let it drag us with a smile on. Whether we're ready or prepared for any of it isn't on the cosmic table.
There’s always a wedding, or a party, or hell a family dinner where the beer flows like wine. But “No Thank You” is a perfectly reasonable answer, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You get more comfortable with it the more you practice saying it. And eventually you begin to notice a shift. People start looking at you differently. Maybe they stop looking altogether. Either way, they begin to take you at your word, and you feel powerful for keeping it.
I'm keeping my word to remain alcohol free - for now. People ask me if I'll drink again. I ask myself this, too. And truth is, I don't know. I don't pretend to know the future or make promises I can't keep. I agreed to quit for now. And for now it seems I don't need alcohol to survive my life, much less enjoy it. In fact, it feels as though I am the most alive I've ever been since giving it up. Since I can remember taking that first sip of alcohol back when I was just a young, insecure girl.
I like how I feel now. I like that I can feel now. I have all my senses and an able, fit mind and body. Now is the time to feed and empower them. Now is the time to be hyper aware. Now is the time to be present, and engaged, and uproarious in my nature and my commitments. Now is the time to choose to be right fucking here for this, and no where else.
But Now is always the time... isn’t it?
If you saw this *
Has anything in your life ever been easy? No. It hasn't. Not even your access into this life was easy. Someone, a strong woman, had to push you out of her vagina. And if that didn't work, they literally cut you out of her womb. Life isn't easy. Stop wanting easy. Lean into hard. Lean into uncomfortable. And for the love of the Universe stop reading anything that says it's EASY! Unless it's in a blog who does it in a satirical way, which I'm sure is just confusing and annoying. Cheers!