Two years ago, I quit alcohol for good. I don’t know that I knew at the time it was for good though. I had every intention of giving up alcohol completely a handful of times before, but it always found its way back, or rather I found my way back to it.
Here’s the deal, at the time I decided to quit, I wasn’t drinking daily. Not even weekly at that time. But the issue for me was that I had a dangerous and complicated relationship with alcohol in the past. It got better over time, but it still made me uncomfortable.
I’d often turn to alcohol to drown out thoughts and feelings I didn’t want to sit with them or deal with them. Many times, once I started drinking, I struggled to stop. Always, I felt so much guilt and shame, no matter how much or how little I drank.
Now let’s take it back even further, when my drinking was a much bigger issue, about 14-15 years ago. Even back then I wasn’t drinking daily, but it was much more often. Definitely weekly. I was definitely drinking too much. I definitely blacked out at times. I definitely got sick, that night and into the next day. I definitely made some incredibly selfish, dangerous, and embarrassing decisions while intoxicated, some that I remember, some that others had to tell me about.
I’m thankful I’m alive and that I didn’t end up seriously hurting or killing anyone else.
The guilt. The shame. The embarrassment. It all ate at me. And because I was already in this vicious cycle of drowning out the ‘noise’ (thoughts + feelings) with substances, it was a cycle I just couldn’t get out of, and most often didn’t care too.
Then I found myself admitted into a neuropsychiatric institute. AKA a mental hospital. During that intake interview I let it ALL out. For the first time in years I was 100% honest, with myself and others. It was the first time my parents heard a lot of truths too. It was a dark and scary time for all of us.
After I was discharged I transitioned to a intensive outpatient program (IOP). It was four nights a week for a few hours each night, for about three months. Basically it was group therapy and education all wrapped up into one.
It was during my time in this program I decided I wanted to become a substance abuse counselor, which I did many years later. This program played a large part in saving my life. But it was also in this program that one of the counselors told me that my problem wasn’t with substances, but with depression and anxiety. That if I could just get my mental health under control I’d be good to go. Not only was that message wrong, it was dangerous.
I used it as an excuse to keep drinking on occasion, though I gave up all other substances no problem.
While I drank less than before, it was still a problem. One that I kept denying. I told myself all 20-somethings drink and party on the weekends. That it was normal. That I was fine.
But the guilt and the shame were still there, eating me alive. I was still using alcohol as a way to self-medicate and numb myself, even if it was less than before.
The more I worked on myself, the less and less I would drink. The more I did yoga, learned to accept me for me, worked on loving myself, developed more coping skills, the less I drank. But alcohol was still there, like some sort of fucked up safety net. So even though things were improving, alcohol was still lingering.
Then two years ago, I remember being out to dinner with family and having a couple of drinks. I wasn’t drunk, I remember the whole night, I had a good time. But that guilt and shame came back with a vengeance. This huge moment of clarity came over me and I realized that nothing would REALLY change unless I quit drinking. But because I’d tried quitting multiple times in the past and because I have commitment issues, I didn’t say it was for good.
I just told myself, I’m done for now. Now here I am two years later,. Sober. Feeling my best damn self. And proud.
It was hard in the beginning. It was hard being around others who were drinking. It was hard seeing all these messages promoting drinking everywhere you go. I mean, just the other day I was walking through Target and there was a shirt that said “Rose all day”, another one that said “Irish you were beer”, and another “drinking wine, feeling fine”. Our society is plagued with messages of drinking. It’s everywhere (and it’s definitely a topic worth discussing in greater depth on another day).
But the further I got from that last drink, the easier it got. The more I made my mental health a priority, the easier it got. The more I explored how alcohol and drinking made me feel, the easier it got.
Two years later and life and health can still be a struggle at times (I mean, it’s life after all) but I feel free. I feel more creative. I feel stronger. I feel healthier. I feel empowered. I feel thankful. I feel whole.
Some people don’t understand why I quit and why it’s a big deal to me since I didn’t fit their idea of what an alcoholic or what someone with a drinking problem looked like. That’s fine. I didn’t do this for them. I don’t need them to understand. I did this for me and me alone.
Not everyone struggling with substance abuse looks the same. Their stories and struggles aren’t the same. Not everyone or everything needs to fit in a perfectly labeled box.
I know what’s best for me. And not drinking is best for me. Honestly, I can’t imagine ever drinking again. Not weekly. Not socially. Not to unwind after a long day. Not ever.
I don't judge others who choose to drink. It’s just not for me. And I’m okay with that.
Not drinking means no more wasting money, no more hangovers, no more making myself sick, no more soul sucking guilt and shame over drinking.
Not drinking means more time to do the things I love.
Not drinking means feeling whole, healthy, happy, thankful, empowered.