Once you see something in a whole new light, it is really hard to go back to your previous way of thinking. This is what has happened to me with my (so far) two months of alcohol abstention. When people ask me how I am doing, I really mean it when I say, GREAT. I compare it to when, back in my early 20s, I was on a management track with the Hyatt hotels, and so I did a brief stint in various positions in the hotel. For a few months, I had the night shift. I would work from 11pm to 7am. I didn’t realize until I switched back to days, how weird I had become. My activities and routines had become weird, from when and how I slept, to when and how I ate (and drank), to how I socialized and exercised. It wasn’t until I was back in the “normal” world that I realized how odd I had become, which had impacted my body and my outlook on the world. The same thing has happened now that I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in two months. I know this clean living is still a new thing, so what the hell do I know, but I figured I would list right now the FAQ’s & comments people often send my way, and my response, as it is today.
1. “I never saw you as having a drinking problem. You don’t drink, as far as I know, any more than anyone else, or more than me. Are you sure you need to do this? Isn’t it a little drastic?”
Smoking used to be the Thing To Do. Fortunately, that is not the case any more. Imagine if the people who first started to kick that nasty habit used the same logic as you are using here. We would have a lot more lung cancer and stinky breath than we do today.
There are lots of different opinions out there as far as what constitutes a “problem.” The more I learn, and contemplate, about alcohol, the more I believe that most people who drink “moderately” aren’t being honest with themselves. I know, because I was there myself. There is no blood test or MRI to show whether or not your drinking is a source of suffering, so for now, deciding to acknowledge a problem, is pretty much up to each of us. And, like all of these “individual choices,” this is a choice that has an impact on our loved ones and community – the same way that smoking does. If someone smokes “only” one cigarette a day, or “only Friday and Saturday,” are they a smoker or a non-smoker?
2. “How has this affected your social life?”
I have generally tried to be intentional with my social schedule, even before I quit drinking, limiting my socializing to activities and people I find a source of valuable connection and entertainment. In other words, if I needed alcohol to have fun, I didn’t do it. So, my social life hasn’t really changed in terms of what I do or how often I go out. What abstention has done for me is actually made my social life more meaningful, and certainly more memorable. I am more focused in my conversations, I remember them, I am less impulsive (i.e. I don’t commit to stuff I later regret!). In fact, I think I have a more robust social life now because I’ve certainly had a lot of wonderful chats with women who read my blog and wanted to share their own stories with me. I guess I am lucky in that I am not shy, so alcohol was never a social lubricant for me. I still have fun at parties, and I give myself permission before even going, to leave if I ever feel uncomfortable or worse yet – bored.
3. “Do you feel different now? How?”
Hell yeah! I already felt mostly decent because I eat well, exercise daily, etc. But now I feel a whole other level of wellness. My brain is clear. I sleep great. I am no longer bloated. I am not adding the extra hundreds or thousands of calories each week. When I do the spinal twist moves in yoga, which are detox moves, it feels great to know that I am no longer praying the alcohol is wringed out of my liver. The clarity is exhilarating. I also feel incredibly relieved, because I have found freedom. I don’t have to make choices in terms of what should I drink, how much, when, etc. I know I am speaking with full integrity when I tell my kids that drinking is bad for your brain and body. When I explain to them that alcohol shrinks your brain, which impairs your intelligence but also makes you feel sick, I am not sending mixed signals because I am no longer following up the discussion with a glass of wine.
4. “Do you go to AA?”
Yes, I have gone to a few meetings. I recommend 12 step meetings, certainly if you have just reached the decision that you are hurting yourself with your consumption and you want to start a new life. There are certain things about AA that I don’t feel apply to me, but then, I have never found any philosophy or belief that I agreed with 100% in any subject. Like with church, I look around, find the one I feel most inspired by, take what feels right and leave the rest. I have been to a few AA meetings and really liked the sense of acceptance and openness and lack of shame. I believe that the fact you can find a meeting in every town, several times of the day, every day, all over the world, is pretty amazing. When people open up at the meetings and share their stories, I feel the power in the sharing. When you share something that has been eating at you, perhaps for years, there is an incredible freedom that comes about, since once it is shared, it is no longer holding you prisoner. AA provides this, as well as structure, steps to work on, and should you choose, a sponsor who will guide you and provide accountability. And it’s free!
I also just went to my first Women For Sobriety (WFS) meeting and I loved that. It is a support group also, with some valuable resources, but the meeting I went to was different from the AA meetings I’ve been to as the WFS meeting allowed for feedback from other participants, while the woman is sharing. (The AA meetings I have been to are less of a dialogue, more of a monologue). Also, when you introduce yourself at WFS you don’t say “I’m an alcoholic” but rather, “I’m a competent woman” or some other positive adjective from the WFS motto. I admit that sit better with me. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I shy away from labels and while for some people lumping their issues into the self-definition of “alcoholic” may be helpful in their view, in my particular case, it feels inaccurate and defeating.
WFS, unfortunately, is rather far for me (their meetings are at 9am on Saturdays up in Farmington), but I hope to go as often as my schedule allows.
13 affirmations in Women For Sobriety's New Life Acceptance Program:
5. “I think AA or another group can help me but I’m scared to go in case I see someone I know. I can’t risk that, professionally.”
I totally get that. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding any admission of addiction. I, personally, see it differently. If I see someone I know at one of these meetings, I actually have an ever higher level of respect for them because they are choosing to commit to their health and wellness, whereas I know most of their peers are still stuck in denial. I really don’t think that people who go to these meetings look around the room and think, “holy crap, SHE’S here?! She’s a hot mess and I have lost all respect for her!” Instead, I think, most people in the rooms feel a deeper sense of connection with other members, which is free of judgment. I mean, seriously, who are we to judge?
6. “Do you judge me for drinking?”
I know this is a big concern to people who are now socializing with their friend who just gave up drinking. How do we act now, and what do you think of me? When I am with others who are continuing to drink, it really doesn’t bother me. I notice that you are drinking, but don’t judge you for it and I do not feel uncomfortable. That being said, like I said earlier, I am very selective with my social activities. If you’re a messy lush and you don’t contribute in some way to my day, I am not going to hang out with you in the first place. But that has been my MO for years, so that’s nothing to do with my abstention. If you are worried about tempting me, you need not worry. I know what wine and beer and mojitos taste like and I don’t need to taste another one. I know what clarity and clean feel like and I want more of that.
7. “Are you going to never have another drink? Ever? I couldn’t do that!”
As AA says, I take it one day at a time. When I first decided to quit the drink, I couldn’t think very far ahead. I have always believed for myself that if you tell me I can’t do or have something, then I MUST do or have it, and obsess about it. So I didn’t want to create that sort of tension and stress for myself. Rather, I focused on how crappy I felt the day I made my decision, and on how I never wanted to feel that way again. So I would go day by day. Then week by week. Then month by month. Mindfulness training has certainly helped as it’s automatic that I remind myself to stay in the moment. That feelings and urges are temporary and do not define me.
8. “I really admire you. I know I should probably stop too. But I am not there yet.”
Trust me, I was in the holding pattern you are in, probably for a couple of years. I totally get it. If and when you decide to do what I’m doing, I’m here for you if you want to talk about it. I’m here for you now too, while you stay in your ambivalence. I won't try to convince you of anything, because I know that change needs to come from within. I can't "fix" anyone.
9. “I am afraid that if I don’t drink, I will have to face the fact that maybe I don’t like my friends/spouse so much. And then what?”
Yeah, that one sucks. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several of the sober women I have met ended up with a divorce somewhere in their sobriety journey. Social circles certainly change too. It’s really eye-opening to suddenly have the clarity you get from being sober, and you are forced to see the stuff you were trying to numb out or throw a blinder toward. The way I see it, though, is that if you are continuing in your mediocre status quo, hiding in a wine daze, you are hurting yourself and others far more than the pain of perhaps ripping off the Denial bandage and facing the truth. Alcohol can seem like your best friend, but it’s actually your enemy. It’s like the Mean Girl who pretends to be all sweet but as soon as you turn your back she’s undermining you and creating an extremely toxic environment for you. If you have this fear, then alcohol isn’t truly fooling you, so cleaning up your act will lead to inevitable pain but this is far more temporary than living indefinitely with the Mean Girl. And guess what – whatever truths you uncover, you do not have to face them alone! Relying on alcohol is as isolating as any abusive relationship is. Don’t believe what the Mean Girl says – you have a lot of resources to help you through this stage of growth.
10. “I stopped drinking five years ago and I have a really hard time socially because everyone is posting their drinking on Facebook, and social activities always center around alcohol.”
Yeah, that’s another sucky one. Especially if sobriety is new, so you’re still shaky and volatile. The best thing is to set yourself up for success by avoiding tempting situations. This may include going to every drinking friend’s Facebook profile and clicking “unfollow.” Given the proliferation and acceptance of this liquid drug in our culture, this may mean that your Facebook feed is pretty empty, sigh. That’s something that has been an interesting observation to me – how mindlessly we, as a culture, promote and celebrate a substance that makes many companies wealthy while destroying millions of lives. It’s part of what I stated at the start of this blogpost – about how once your eyes have been open to something, it’s hard if not impossible, to not see it. I often thought it was absurd that people and organizations held fundraisers for cancer and diabetes causes, that included sugar-filled baked goods; now I also find it insane that these same efforts, as well as fundraisers for organizations that work with people with addictions and other brain health issues, often if not usually include alcohol. Organizations that support kids hold wine tastings as fundraisers. How about all those breast cancer fundraisers that are based on wine tasting or run, and then guzzle beer? Did you know that alcohol consumption has been directly linked to breast cancer? Craziness.
11. “You are really brave to be public about this.”
Thank you. Really – I appreciate it. I also don’t really think it’s about courage, since my hesitation to share this when I first posted my blog a few weeks ago wasn’t because I was afraid of the stigma or being ridiculed. I hesitated because I felt a certain responsibility. One of the reasons addiction organizations sometimes push for anonymity is because they don’t want others to be discouraged from seeking sobriety if they hear that so-and-so was sober for X time and they relapsed. The fear is that someone who is public about their sobriety and then relapses, will show that the program doesn’t work. I do have the concern that I may be held up as a role model and then my humanity will kick in and I will fall on my face, either out of weakness or a shift in perspective, and suddenly my credibility is damaged or worse yet, I have hurt someone else. This is something that I have somewhere on my mind, every day. And I take it seriously. So, I just pray that God gives me the strength to continue in my pursuit of health and wellness, and that others may treat me with compassion and acceptance, sensitive to the fact that I am a human being who is just doing the best that she can, whatever that means on any given day.
I am not concerned about the stigma and shame associated with admitting that a drug –which alcohol is, no matter how crafty the packaging or media message- has the power to hijack my brain, value system, schedule and physical health, and so I have chosen to release it from my life. Jason Vale in his book “Kick the Drink – Easily” points out that alcohol is the only drug that when you tell people you’ve given it up, they think something is wrong with you. I am not ashamed of my weakness for Slippery Slopes. I am not embarrassed to say that I have, before my sobriety, decided not to drink on some evenings because “what’s the point of just one glass of wine? Then I might as well not drink at all!” was the thought process I would have. I am not embarrassed to say that I am taking care of myself, my marriage and my family, by choosing to do something that many regard as weird, suspicious, or in some way threatening.
I hope my honesty helps you. Thanks for being here.
In church on Sunday, it was absolutely clear to me, especially since I quit drinking and I feel the way someone must feel when they’ve been completely oblivious to the fact that their eyes after age 40 aren’t quite 20/20 and they put on a pair of cheap reading glasses and suddenly the entire world is in focus – anyway it was totally clear to me that Pastor Vicky had written the sermon just for me. Clearly she reads my blog. And that’s why she was telling me exactly what I had been learning in my sobriety journey.
The sermon was about drifting. Vicky mentioned C.S. Lewis:
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.... Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.
It’s not yet February and yet I’ll bet that most people have already drifted away from their adamant declarations to make 2016 the year they exercise every day, give up sugar, drink less, meditate more, declutter, spend less, swear less, “yes” less, etc. It’s not that we get up one day and declare, “today is the day that I am going to prove right all the naysayers in my head!” It just happens. You know, that slippery slope. Some of us suffer from alcoholism, workaholism, Facebookism… we are ALL, however, driftaholics.
We need anchors to hold us steady. Some days are outright storms, but most days are just a little bit of a current. If we aren’t anchored, we suddenly look up to see that we have imperceptibly drifted to a spot way down the beach from our towel. The sneakiness of those currents makes them much more dangerous than the occasional hurricane, because they are always there, unlike hurricane season. We coast along, believing we are in control because we are staying afloat. Until, suddenly, we realize we are really far away and not sure if we have the strength to swim back. How did I get to this point, we ask ourselves with frustration, disgust, resignation.
I am a huge fan of prevention, and nipping things in the bud. So I am going to suggest you set yourself up for success by building, and holding onto, some key anchors. These are some of the ones I recommend, but please pick whatever you think will work best for you.
Therefore, we must the more eagerly anchor our lives to the things that we have been taught lest the ship drift past the harbor and be wrecked.
This quote was read during church and I have been thinking about it all week. Choose your anchors. Tie yourself sturdily to them. At the first sign of drifting, immediately reel yourself back in. It is easier to row or swim back a few yards than to salvage a shipwreck.
Yesterday I hit 2 milestones: I hadn’t touched any alcohol in 31 days (ie a month), and I attended my first AA meeting. I guess I didn’t do the usual thing – most people, when they realize they’ve hit a Rock Bottom and decide they need to quit, probably make some calls, look up the next meeting, and get help. I didn’t do this for several reasons: 1) my realization and decision took place during December, when life is hectic enough and I don’t need more entries in my calendar; 2) I figured that my history of committing to things and following through, would hold me through at least a few weeks of Going It Alone; and 3) I wasn’t convinced that AA was for me.
Number 3 is really the strongest and trickiest and probably most relevant reason. As I stated in my original Scary Blog Post, I didn’t identify myself with alcoholism. I wasn’t drinking every day, I often stopped after 1 glass of wine, I could go to social events and not drink if I was driving or had a race the next day. Surely that wouldn’t grant me admission to a 12 steps meeting, right? I mean, I’m just doing what most other moms and grandmothers, teachers, athletes, medical professionals, faith leaders and followers, etc. are doing. I’m not getting DUI arrests or drinking at noon (well, unless I just raced) or slurring at parties. Surely I’m not an alcoholic.
I went to yesterday’s meeting because after my Scary Blog Post, many (hundreds?) of people messaged me with their own scary admissions, and their relief at finally reading about someone who was experiencing similar struggles. So I created a private Facebook group (let me know if you want to join it) where we could support each other, ask questions, share resources, get accountability, not feel like freaks or suffer in isolation. One of the women who joined the group shared that she has been sober for several years, and she credits her all-women’s AA group with being a major part of her success. I love all-women’s anything so my curiosity was piqued.
While I was sitting in the meeting, listening to various women’s heart-wrenching, candid, shocking, hilarious, victorious, humbling stories, I thought about the whole addiction spectrum. It so happened that in this group, the first meeting of each month (they meet once per week) starts with a reading of one of the 12 steps, and then participants can, optionally, offer their story and how it relates to the step. It’s January, so yesterday we did Step 1:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”
I had a few of a-ha! Moments during the reading of Step 1. It occurred to me how much it reminded me of running. Not because of the famous runner’s high, or because it’s increasingly popular, or because according to various studies, runners are among the highest drinkers (especially of craft beers). No, it reminded me of how often I hear “I’m not a runner.” Often uttered by someone who shops at real running stores for shoes (i.e not Sports Authority or Dick’s), runs 3+ times per week and has done so for awhile, braves frigid temperatures to get in his or her run, and may even have experienced a running-related injury such as plantars fasciitis. And yet, according to them, they’re “not really a runner” because they haven’t done a marathon or a half marathon or maybe even a 5k, nor do they have the desire to do so.
Labels can be interesting, and if you ask me, not necessarily in a good way. Actually, I try to stay away from labels as much as possible, at least for myself. I find labels too constricting and limiting, and while on the plus side, they can be helpful as they help us define ourselves and our values and goals, on the negative side, we can miss opportunities to grow and to be curious, if we identify too much with a label, and what it means to us. When it comes to running, I often hear “I don’t want to run with ----- group because I’m not really a runner and I’ll feel stupid.” We have already determined what an experience will be like because we have stuck a label on others, and a different label on ourselves.
At the AA meeting, the women’s stories made me think of the runner-addict analogy because I know that like me, many people are holding back from change, from asking for help, from seeking the resources they need, because like me, they don’t identify with their idea of just how far you need to fall before surreptitiously slipping into a 12 step (or similar program) meeting. This is an excerpt from the Step 1, and I encourage you to read the whole Step (it’s short) right here.
In A.A.’s pioneering time, none but the most desperate cases could swallow and digest this unpalatable truth. Even these “last-gaspers” often had difficulty in realizing how hopeless they actually were. But a few did, and when these laid hold of A.A. principles with all the fervor with which the drowning seize life preservers, they almost invariably got well. That is why the first edition of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” published when our membership was small, dealt with low-bottom cases only. Many less desperate alcoholics tried A.A., but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness.
I know many people who once insisted “I am not a runner” in spite of their behavior showing otherwise, who now galvanize others to run, have race registrations as a separate line item on their budget, and will now classify themselves as a runner. They are grateful for the joy running has brought to their lives, especially because of the sense of accomplishment and the depth of relationships with people they may not have gotten to know otherwise. Obviously, showing up to run is vastly different from showing up to a group that unlike running groups, doesn’t have medal racks and tee shirts. Calling yourself a runner provokes admiration and envy, whereas saying “I’m an alcoholic” in many circles is probably met with dead silence, deer in headlights looks, or the typical “Really? You sure? Nah! You’re just a social drinker! Everything in moderation!”
Admittedly, I would feel much more comfortable if when you speak up at an AA meeting you could say, “Hi, I’m Susanne, and I’m a Potential Alcoholic because I have too much confidence in my ability to stop an occasional indulgence from turning into a Slippery Slope.” But I’m not going to let labels and the limits posed by semantics, keep me from my curious exploration of a healthier life. This past month of sobriety has been pretty amazing. I suspect that going to AA meetings is a helpful tool for me and introduces me to other strong, beautiful people in different shades of brokenness, which is, to me, inspiring and real.
One day at a time.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.