I got goosebumps. I randomly saw this on FB on January 27th 2017:
So I took the book I was reading, Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins and read this:
“When we do something for the first time, we create a physical connection, a thin neural strand that allows us to access that emotion or behaviour again in the future.”
You see I was on day 27 of a 365 day challenge I had given myself.
I began to drink (more than occasionally) when I met my ex husband. That’s now 13 years ago. It was all pretty innocent enough. During the courtship phase it was fun to enjoy dinners together over a bottle of wine.
What I found odd, even then, was that we did this every day. And as the relationship got more settled and familiar, I saw the pattern that was emerging. Wine and beer were a part of every day life. I would take breaks, not drinking every day with him, but it was weird to be sober while he was “relaxing” with a glass or two. So most of the time I joined him. Over the 7 years we spent together, the amount of alcohol we both consumed gradually increased. By the end I alone was drinking a full bottle of wine every night, and regularly enough, a couple beers too.
When we split up I was sure that I was now going to kick that habit. I was convinced that it was his habit, and not my own. I mean I didn’t drink before I met him, so it was his influence that put me there, right?
And so began a long and painful process. At first I still drank most days because I enjoyed it. I even felt it was a part of my emotional healing from the breakup. Then a year passed. And two. I found myself in a new relationship, with a man who doesn’t drink AT ALL. Not socially, not occasionally, not at all!
Admittedly, when we first met I had a moment’s hesitation. Could I really be with someone who couldn’t enjoy a drink with me, even just now and again? The hesitation was brief though. I already knew that that was not an acceptable reason for me in my life to reject someone as wonderful as he.
During the 4 years we’ve been together, his constant sobriety (can we call it that, if he’s never partaking? Isn’t he just, himself, not a sober version of himself?) became a mirror for what was really happening in my own world. My drinking wasn’t just a habit I picked up from someone else. It was my own habit now.
I drank to relax. To unwind from a long day. To manage hard emotions. I drank to celebrate. Celebrate a birthday, good news, or a hot summer evening. I drank with friends, I drank on my own. But most frightening, I thought about drinking all the time.
Here’s the pattern:
- I wake up after a less than restful night’s sleep. And I think to myself, “Christine, you need some good proper rest. Don’t drink today, ok?” and I would agree with myself. Confident that I am in control of this situation and that I can recognize what I need and give it to myself.
- Then after a coffee or two, I start to feel pretty good. I hadn’t drank that much the night before and it seems to have not really affected me all that much. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a glass tonight? I mean white wine is refreshing/red wine is cozy/a beer while cooking is festive/it’s the weekend etc.
- So now I wonder “what shall I have tonight? Red, white or beer? Where will I pick it up? On my way home or do I have to leave the house to go pick it up? Will Alex remark on how much I’m drinking? Nah, he’s so good about it, he won’t say anything. That’s practically permission, right?” And so now I buy the drink of choice. Have a-not-so-hot night of sleep. And wake up swearing I won’t do it again today.
I don’t like the term “alcoholic”. Not even “high functioning alcoholic”. I don’t like it because it implies that something is wrong with me. That somehow I am weaker than others who drink without thought or care. I don’t like it because I am a powerful, self aware, and clear headed woman. I was not under the spell of some demonic drug, I wasn’t ruining my life with my habit. I believe I had simply let a habit go too far (for my taste) with a substance that no one wants to admit is highly addictive.
When I first began talking about my desire to change my relationship with alcohol with my coach last year she shared that she could 100% relate to what I was experiencing. Only for her it was food. Then I told my BFF about my desire for change and she said it sounded a lot like her relationship to sugar.
We can become addicted to many things. Food, sugar, substances, shopping, sex, attention…. I was in a cycle with alcohol.
I didn’t drink much anymore. During those days with my ex husband I drank at least a bottle of wine to myself, plus a beer or two every night. More recently my drink of choice was one of those mini bottles of wine. I knew I could still polish off a regular bottle to myself, but I also knew it really messed me up for the day after. So I portioned myself out on an amount that would get me the feelings I desired, with as little impact as possible. So I wasn’t “drunk” or hungover. I would still go out and teach yoga, I completed my Life Coach Training, and began running my own business, while drinking some alcohol most nights.
What bothered me was the ongoing dialogue in my head. The constant preoccupation with alcohol. And the judgement I was now putting onto myself for not living the life that I truly desired.
I could go without it. I would take a few days off. Do a cleanse and take a couple weeks off, or even a month. And it was nice when I did. But I always looked forward to the day when I would get back to it.
Last summer I began working with a coach. One who specializes in addiction. I was ready to figure out how to deal with this. With her guidance I read a SERIOUSLY impactful book, This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. Holy shit was my mind opened up.
I see alcohol in a very different way now. And I realize that I was experiencing a cognitive dissonance. My conscious mind was clear that it wanted change. My subconscious mind was still caught in all the excuses and desires to keep the comfortable habit I had engaged with for over a decade. The only way out of cognitive dissonance is to make a hard and fast choice. To eliminate any conversation or debate. This is what happens when you hear of those who can quit something cold turkey, and they never look back. They made a choice, that was non-negotiable.
So after some long and hard meditation I decided to do the same.
I decided that 2017 would be dry. All 365 days of it. No debate. No negotiation. No “just one drink”, “just when socializing”, “just when life feels tough”, or “because it’s a celebration!” Just, No. Always. For 365 days.
I know that this journey is going to be long and hard. I figure the harder part will be at the beginning, and then it’ll get easier. But I also know that there are layers to be uncovered.
Here are a few layers I’ve already started to peel away:
- Avoidance: I’ve been avoiding social engagements that involve alcohol. I can’t do this forever. But I feel that at the beginning of this journey this is a safety net that I need.
- Substitution: I have begun to drink A LOT OF TEA. Every evening we make a pot of chamomile and I sip that while relaxing. It puts me into a restful sleep so I still get to unwind and chill out, and its even better since it doesn’t ruin my sleep (unless I drink too much and have to run the bathroom all night long LOL)
- Disconnection: I’ve discovered that pizza is not as enjoyable as I thought it was. I used to love pizza with red wine, or beer as an end of the week treat. Now I’m realizing, that was my way of getting Alex to join in on something “festive” for the weekend. But the pizza itself is just ok. What I really desired was time to reconnect with him after a week of focusing on our respective projects.
- Anger: Thursdays are a bitch. My “weekend” is Friday and Saturday, so Thursday nights have been when I would start the weekend and that ALWAYS including a drink. Even if I hadn’t had a drink all week, Thursday night I would indulge. Now Thursdays feel terribly NOT special. I’m going to have to find a way to change that. Because so far it just means that even though I know I’m not going to have a drink on Thursday for several more months, I still think about it. The association is powerful. And since I don’t think about alcohol at all anymore, the fact that I start thinking about it every Thursday is pissing me off.
- Resentment: Now that my patterns are broken, I “just want to have a drink” like “normal people”. I saw this one coming. I knew at some point I’d feel strong enough that a full year would feel tediously long. However, that’s the commitment I made and I’m not backing down.
- Boredom: I didn’t realize how much of my mind was filled with alcohol that now that it’s gone I’ve got a bit of an empty space up there. I feel like I’m too “good” and I want to be a bit bad. Who knew I was such a a rebel? I desire excitement. Alcohol didn’t give me that though. But it filled the space that my desire for excitement now lives.
Inevitably, when I share with someone that I’m cutting out alcohol for a full year the response is always the same. “Wow! I could never do that!” Maybe we should be more curious about why that is?
Alcohol is the only drug (yes, it’s a drug. It alters your state of being, and is addictive.) that is socially acceptable, encouraged, and endorsed. In fact we routinely try to encourage the one sober person at a table to have “just one glass”. We have advertisements for it everywhere, and menus often pair it with our food. Alcohol is celebrated and accepted in many environments.
And yet, we pity the drunk street person who has let their addiction ruin their life. We have an image of alcoholism that shows us rage, violence, irresponsibility, health issues and even death.
Does it have to get that bad before we see that it has control over our lives? What if we were to take a step away from it? We don’t “need” it. It doesn’t enhance our lives in any way.
Whether or not you can agree with that last statement, doesn’t matter. I don’t write these words to try and convince you to do the same thing I am. This is my path, my choice, and my journey. However, I do hope that by exposing this part of myself, that perhaps even one person will begin to ask more questions about the place that alcohol has in their life and within our society.
I’m only at the beginning. And I do hope that it gets easier. I’m willing to bet that it does. I already feel so much better.