In my two years of an alcohol-free life, I have learned a lot about myself and the world around me. Things I thought were true were actually never true, or no longer true. Here I list what for now, feel like the top four myths that seem to hold people back from being their better (best?) selves.
Myth #1: As long as your life hasn’t fallen apart, you don’t need to make any drastic changes.
Consider this: Every day in the recovery world, I hear “I figured that since I wasn't drinking before 5pm, or every day, or showing up to work drunk, or getting DUI’s; since I was able to be a pretty good parent, do well at my job, was going to the gym and paying my bills - I didn’t really have a problem. I just needed to get my drinking under control, tweak a few things. I mean, alcoholics are pretty much trainwrecks and I am still doing OK.” In fact, I would say, that of all of the sober people I have met in recovery, a majority had clung to this belief until for whatever reason, they chose to try a new belief. What I have learned in the past two years is that it is not the quantity or frequency of consumption that determines whether or not you fall into the “problem” zone. Your life on paper and on Facebook can look highly functional. If you want to hear an example of someone who competed in races, had a happy home life, was considered an active community leader and healthy role model - while inside, she was growing in shame and self-disgust over her inability to keep to her self-imposed limits with alcohol - well, here I am, and that is why I am writing this. Because I now know about the grey area of drinking, about how it’s not the quantity of alcohol, as much as it is the feeling, deep-down, in your soul, that you are not living with integrity. When I announced on my blog, 3 weeks after my decision to “take a break” from drinking, that I was starting on a journey to heal myself from what had become a slippery slope of drinking, many friends reacted with shock, saying “but I never saw you drunk,” or “but you don’t drink more than anyone else.” I didn’t fit the picture they had of someone who would get to the point that they would feel compelled to do something as difficult and unpopular as quitting alcohol. Perhaps I reminded them too much of themselves.
Awhile back, I wrote a blog about what I think needs to happen when we talk about alcoholism or problem drinking. If we determine that it happens in stages, and we name those stages, like we do with cancer, I think it could save lives (literally and figuratively). See here: We Need New Words. A lot of people will need to fall further down the slope before they finally surrender, but I think a lot of people would actually be proactive before getting to a crisis point, if they knew that you have a problem or are headed toward one even if your life is humming along “fine.” My mom used to say, it is much easier to lose five pounds than 50. Please read my previous blog about the stages, and if your gut is telling you that something resonates, don’t ignore it. I am profoundly grateful that I got off that elevator down, when it was still up to me (I wasn’t forced by health or legal circumstances, eg - but if you are at that point, you still need to make the choice, FYI) to stop the descent.
Myth #2: It’s not the alcohol, it’s the other stuff, that I need to control or fix.
Consider this: Alcohol is a powerful drug, that changes your brain chemistry, which you already know, because you have at some point probably enjoyed how a cocktail has “taken the edge off” a rough day, or eased you into conversations in social settings, or added a celebratory element, or caused ridiculous fights with your loved one, that you don’t even remember. When you think about actions or habits you have, that maybe you wish you could stop doing, are they often preceded by alcohol? Shopping, being impatient with kids, fighting with your significant other, eating impulsively or compulsively, cheating on your significant other, lying, gambling, breaking the law, having clumsy accidents, forgetting stuff, being unable to focus, feeling anxious and/or depressed, feeling empty, feeling lonely, feeling resentful toward others or about situations…
Alcohol is a powerful gateway drug that often (usually? Always?) leads to actions and situations that we may not even realize, or want to acknowledge, would probably not be there in the first place if we removed alcohol from the equation. My friend Stella (not her real name), now over a year sober, shared with me how she didn’t drink “more than anyone else,” so for many years, it never occurred to her that she was behaving alcoholically. She was more concerned about the fact that she had been unfaithful to her husband, and each time, alcohol had been involved. As she became more self-aware, and started to learn more about addiction, she started to acknowledge that alcohol and infidelity, while not always linked for her, were often common factors in situations when she was feeling most vulnerable. If she was angry, bored, or in any way resentful, adding alcohol could lead to the perfect storm. Eventually, Stella decided to try removing alcohol for a while, and work on recovery by joining a support network, and read recovery memoirs (including those on love and sex addiction, which she hadn’t known about before). She has remained sober and faithful since.
I think that at the root of any addiction, including the “grey areas” of addiction, is loss of connection. Individually and collectively, we are largely disconnected from our bodies, our natural environment, real sources of whole food; we lack deep, authentic connections with other human beings; and most of all, our soul is not getting the spiritual connection it craves, and by which it is sustained. Recovery from addiction, to me, means healing and nurturing all of these lost connections. And once we start to work on that, the dysfunction in our life does start to fall away. If you feel like your life is chaotic, and alcohol is a factor, try taking a break from it and find a recovery program and start working it. See what happens.
If you find yourself feeling guilty, regretful, or ashamed, because of certain actions or behavior or habits that you have tried to control or eliminate, I urge you to ask yourself the following questions:
Myth #3: If I stop drinking, I may as well become a nun.
Before I started my alcohol-free life, the only examples I had of peers who didn't drink, fell into one of two groups, as far as I could tell. 1) They were in AA, which in my mind meant they had reached a super dramatic, holy shit rock bottom or 2) they were unadventurous, uptight prudes who probably didn’t swear or let their hair down on a dance floor and never ate anything more ethnic than TexMex. My self-image did not fit into either of these groups. I did not relate to the catastrophic depths of drinking chaos, nor did I aspire to be a boring church lady. The idea of removing alcohol from my lifestyle in the long term truly challenged my identity, and I figured that if I became a teetotaler I would surely become the most boring wife and friend EVER. I mean, we travel a lot, go out to dinner, and, well, even eating pizza at home with a movie surely would totally suck without a bottle of wine, right?
I am not gonna lie. My social life definitely slowed down even before we moved to a new town (we moved when I was 1.5 years sober). But it was a really good change. Because I stopped participating in events that would have been uncomfortable without alcohol. In my first alcohol-free year, my mantra was, Sobriety First, and with this filter, what emerged was simplicity. My schedule and mental space became simplified. I limited my engagements to only what was either absolutely necessary, or truly meaningful. Yes, many evenings I was home by 10:00, if I even went out. At conferences, I skipped the happy hours and woke up well-rested and ready for a beautiful sunrise run. Sure, there was some sadness over giving up the Party Girl persona, but mostly, there was and is gratitude. I don’t need to be doing that anymore. And, I actually enjoy myself a lot more now because I am clear-headed when I am interacting with others. I am focusing on what they are saying, not on whether the waitress is ever going to come over for a refill. Recently, I was at a professional sporting event that began at 1pm and virtually every adult around me was drinking. Every time they had to visit the restroom and/or go get a refill, my daughter and I had to stand up and miss some of the game. I was thankful to no longer be inconveniencing anyone this way, or to be missing out on stuff because of my habit.
The other thing is that I have met a lot of people, online and in real life, who have also chosen to pursue alcohol-free living, and these are some of the most interesting, inspiring, beautiful people I have ever met. In fact, I believe that when someone chooses to join this club of teetotalers, it shows a certain amount of depth and strength that most people have not bothered to tap into. The recovery world right now is exciting and dynamic, as more people are choosing to be public about their decision to be sober, and not waiting till disaster hits to do so. There are fascinating and fun events, conferences, retreats, socials, workshops, and meetings all over the place. I call these forums a “bullshit-free zone.” If this is what it means to be a nun, then sign me up.
It turns out that the greatest act of rebellion, at least today, is to be sober. Sober is the new badass!
Myth #4: If I stop drinking, my life will get much easier.
Hahahahaha this one makes me laugh. I have two teenagers and we just moved to an area where a lot of their peers are putting all kinds of shit in their bodies and brains (well, I guess that happens everywhere but apparently it’s more prevalent the more affluent the community). So it’s interesting to me that as my kids and I navigate making friends and how we fit into the new social scene, we are in the same boat, because (so far) my kids, and certainly I, do not drink, do other drugs, vape, etc. It is harder to have, and live up to, values that go against the popular culture. And the reality is that everybody assumes everybody (adults) drinks. Outside of the recovery world, every adult conversation includes suggestions to check out local wineries, wine tastings, events with open bars, etc. Even in the athletic world - most races today include a beer tent at the finish line as an extra perk, because apparently, training for and finishing a race is not enough of a source of satisfaction - we also need to be “rewarded” with craft beer at 10am. Many of my race bibs, which I pin to my tee shirt on race day, include a tear-off ticket under the number, for my free beer. Lululemon, the clothing brand that wants to be associated with everything healthy about yoga and running, has its own beer, which it serves at a race in Canada. (I called their headquarters and told them how ludicrous this seemed to me, a contradiction in branding, but if they insisted on serving beer, how about also offering flavored seltzer? They were very gracious and interested, but I have no idea if that conversation led to any changes). Every store with a gift section includes special glasses, signs, tee shirts, etc that tell us that women, moms, runners - we all deserve, or will be helped by, wine, especially rosé. Depending on the day, these messages can feel annoying at best, but often it’s a reminder that if we are sober, we are “other.” A lot of us have felt a tad different our whole lives, like we didn’t quite fit in, and now we have proof. It is hard. Which is why it’s key to find or form a tribe of other people who are working on their recovery. Other badasses who are brave and smart and awake enough to live in a way that is counter-cultural.
But here’s the good news: life really is way easier, in many ways, as a sober person. It may be hard to decline an invitation to something you know will be uncomfortable to your sober self, but boy does it feel great to go to bed at a healthy time (my mom always said the most important hours of sleep are those before midnight and I fully agree with her) and wake up clear-headed the next morning! It feels great to have conversations with my kids about navigating this crazy, toxic world, knowing that I am walking the walk and speaking with integrity. Seriously, that is priceless. The other thing, maybe the biggest blessing, is that if you follow a program, and do the work on yourself, to heal the root causes that resulted in your mindless behavior (this is a daily, lifelong process, by the way), life in many ways becomes not only easier, but much more beautiful. I believe that at the very root of addiction of any kind, and mindless living in general, is a lack of deep, authentic connection - with our body, mind and soul, with other people, with nature, and most of all, with God, or whatever your higher power is. Our super fast, super stressful, super consumer-based, super digitized living today unfortunately means that unless we are super intentional about nurturing stillness, self-awareness, authentic relationships with others, being of service to others, and a relationship with a power greater than ourselves, well, we will inevitably end up careening down that slope. Alcohol, or whatever tool we use to numb, escape, intensify, “connect” - can easily become the catalyst for disaster. But once we recognize this and start doing something about it, and really work on it (not just quit and then continue as usual) - sobriety can become a beautiful jump-off point to really start living.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.