December 6, 2015 was (up until now) the day I hit rock bottom in parenting. Out of utter exhaustion and self-disgust, I behaved toward my family in a way that completely goes against the mother and wife I aspire to be. I was cruel and irrational. I was filled with shame and remorse, even as I unraveled out of control. That was the day I decided that December 5th was to be my last drink.
I wasn’t drunk when I fell apart. I wasn’t even hungover. I drove my 11-year-old son to the skating rink, knowing my verbal trainwreck had deeply wounded him. I apologized and admitted that my behavior had been completely unacceptable and shameful and any fury that left my mouth was a reflection of my own weakness and self-hatred, it had nothing to do with him. He is such a sweet, loving, tender soul and he swiftly forgave me, excited that I was about to skate with him. During this drive was when I decided. ENOUGH.
As I write this, I am on day 24 of sobriety. Not many people know of my decision, as this is the first time I put it out anywhere public. Typically, this has been people’s reactions: “Are you abstaining forever?” “Wow, nice timing to quit drinking, right before the holidays!” “Are you going to AA?” “Wow. That’s a big decision. Did you go on a bender?” “That’s awesome. My own recovery journey is the best thing I’ve ever done. I have met the most amazing people.” “Do you think you’ll be able to have a drink now and then?” “Wow. Maybe I need to do the same thing.”
Quite frankly, I don’t know if I’m going to abstain forever. It’s not like I come from a family line of disordered drinkers (though on my mom’s side everyone has or has had an eating disorder). It’s not like I would consider myself a stereotypical alcoholic, in fact I don’t think I drink any more than most moms. I do have that thought cross my mind every day now – no more wine? Ever? What about my trip to ----- or ------- event or when I hang out with -------? As soon as I have those thoughts, I immediately think, One day at a time.
“Abstaining sounds demanding and inflexible, so people assume that they’re Moderators, even if they’ve never successfully followed that strategy. But counterintuitively, for many people abstaining is easier… Cravings are more provoked by possibility than by denial.” - Gretchen Rubin
Timing is always the interesting thing, when it comes to any changes in life. I often say that timing is EVERYTHING. Whether or not a relationship works out, or a lesson sticks, or an opportunity presents itself, so often has to do with timing. Choosing to begin my abstention during the holiday season may to many seem unusually poor timing. I won’t lie, it has impacted my holiday experience this year. I love egg nog and coquito and I haven’t had any. Wrapping gifts is less tedious when accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine. Socially, I am sure I have been less available (I skipped one party because I wasn’t going to arrive until after 10pm and I didn’t feel like dealing with people who were a few cocktails in). This week we have a couple of holiday/New Year’s Eve gatherings and the part of me that loves hedonistic behavior now and then pops up and says, hey! What about me?!
The thing is, I don’t think of myself as an alcoholic. I think of myself as a Slippery Slope Drinker. I will set rules for myself: no booze Sunday through Thursday. When I do drink, max 2. No drinking alone. And then… there is an occasion. There is a special meal. There is a stressful day. There is a happy day. And the part of me that is The Justification Queen joyfully takes over and the journey down the slippery slope begins. A bottle of wine can’t be re-corked with a glass still in it, may as well polish it off. So what if it’s Tuesday. You only live once! When you have the guts to sit and think about when the last time was that you didn’t have a drink for a few days, you realize it’s been a long time, but JQ (Justification Queen) reminds you that you love to enjoy life, your health is great, so-and-so drinks at least as much so it must be okay, and so on. When people say, I need to make ---- change but I’m going to wait until after the holidays/my birthday/my trip/my anniversary/my divorce/my grief/etc – well, let’s just say that my JQ totally gets that. And it’s part of the Slippery Slope journey. The timing is never right to let go of something that numbs discomfort and do the work it takes to be healthier.
I am a life coach, and I teach mindful living, I help people embrace new, healthy habits, I coach running and triathlon, I teach Poga. I am considered someone who walks the walk in health, positive parenting, compassionate living. When I had my crise de conscience on December 6th, my self-hatred came from that part of me that recognized that I was not living with integrity. My body and mind had become toxic. Alcohol had affected the quality and quantity of my sleep. Physically, I was bloated. I cherish authenticity in my interactions with others, and I recognized that I far prefer to run with someone than to drink with them, since alcohol gives the false impression that you are being less inhibited therefore more authentic, when really, it is just giving you a false sense of confidence.
While I have not been to any AA meetings, I have explored the Smart Recovery website, and been reading their handbook and working through their exercises. I am reading The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery. I read Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, which reinforced my decision to abstain (versus moderation), and gives some great advice on making and breaking habits. I downloaded the smartphone app, I Am Sober, which keeps track of how many days, which milestones I hit, and how much money I am saving by not drinking. I have rekindled my love of knitting and crochet, and I realized a couple of days ago how powerful this simple activity has been for my sobriety. (I even had a thought – should I bring my knitting project to parties? Happy hour?) Once the kids are back in school I will probably check out an AA meeting. I fully believe in the power of a social network when we are creating change in our lives, especially when it comes to something counter-cultural.
Much of my drinking had been mindless and habitual. Cooking a good meal – "requires" a glass of wine. Friday night – pour the wine. Home from ultimate Frisbee – open a beer. Once I committed to a Day-By-Day Abstention, these habitual traditions often trigger an urge, but as taught in mindfulness practice, urges are feelings, and feelings are always temporary. Rather than pouring spirits, I brew a tea or pour a probiotic-rich Kombucha, and before I know it, the urge is gone. On the times that my mind is crossed by self-doubt, or “what a bummer,” I quickly remember the list I had made when doing the Cost-Benefit Analysis worksheet with Smart Recovery. The benefits of my abstention far outweigh in quantity and meaning, the benefits of consumption. The mental clarity I now have, as that warm haze no longer dulls my senses, the sense of self-control, the satisfaction of knowing that when I put my kids down at night my breath doesn’t smell of alcohol (do you know how much that stinks?!), are just some of the benefits I listed. I also feel more joyful and optimistic, since I no longer am consuming a depressant.
When thinking of the timing, with the holidays, I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that Christmas time was the perfect time to be present (ha!). If I am not buzzed, or regretting a buzz, or planning a buzz, I am more present for my family.
“I don’t want habit to deaden me to Jamie’s presence. I don’t want to take him for granted, to listen to him with only half my attention, to look at him without seeing him. I want my habits to help free me to pay more attention to him, and to everything else that’s important to me.” – Gretchen Rubin
So, this is how I’m entering 2016. I will continue, indefinitely, to abstain. Abstention does not solve all our problems. In fact, for many people it makes life much harder, at least at first, because no more mental haze means facing certain feelings and thoughts they’d rather not. I still say and do stuff I am not proud of. Removing that layer of toxicity has not turned my life into rainbows and unicorns. Having more clarity and presence means seeing one’s self, relationships, and overall direction in life without a filter like the ones everyone uses to beautify their mediocre photos. On the other hand, it also means a new awareness that those filters are not real, and are not as helpful as we may think.
In the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course I took at the beginning of this year, our instructor said that mindfulness must be practiced regularly and consistently, because then, when you find yourself in a situation of extreme stress of any kind, your mindfulness muscle will be ready to kick in and support you. Indeed, having a pretty good practice of deep breathing, of grounding myself through body scan meditations, of uplifting myself through loving kindness meditations, of losing myself in mindful, solitary runs, of practicing self-forgiveness and compassion, have been an enormous source of support for me.
I hesitated to post something publicly about my decision and my still-new journey in abstention. There is the vulnerability factor – this is very personal, after all, and people may be shocked that a healthy role model was a fake all along (actually, that's harsh - but I think all leaders fear being discovered for who we really are). Admittedly, knowing that some people may have that reaction and knock me off the pedestal and high standards they held me on, is actually a relief. Then there’s the self-doubt, the “is this going to be some passing fad for me? I don’t dare make myself so accountable to others by putting this out publicly, especially when it’s so new!” Yes, that’s a risk I am taking. In Rising Strong, Brené Brown talks about how our culture loves the victorious hero, yet we don’t really tell or share stories until they get to the part where the obstacles have been overcome. We gloss over the messy middle part, to avoid discomfort and awkwardness, to avoid the fear and anxiety provoked by the acknowledgement that success isn't guaranteed, and many times the outcome may be unpredictable. That’s the part I’m in, and a part of me wants to wait until the Hollywood moment of “hey, guess what, I’ve been abstaining for --- years!” Well, this is my Rising Strong blogpost and I am sharing it because I suspect a lot of you may relate to something in this story and I hope it helps you to feel more self-compassion and to know you’re not alone. I hope that the resources I linked here may help you. I also hope that I am giving you permission to let go of habits, and perhaps even relationships, that are only feeding your toxicity.
“Life was too solemn, too splendid to be frittered away in such trivial concerns. But while concentrating on my habits might seem small-minded, in the end, mastering those habits would allow me to put these questions out of my mind, to transcend them. I could turn all my attention to worthier matters, and yet be assured of the solidity of the architecture of my everyday life.” - Gretchen Rubin
Here is to a new year. A new day. A new chance. A new, fresh, delightful breath.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.