Dedication: I dedicate this to my cousins and nieces, who I love and care about more than I can say.
I had an amazing breakthrough a few months ago, and it completely changed my life, but let me start with some backstory, explaining why this decision became so instrumental in helping me become the person I always wanted to be.
Growing up, I was always surrounded by people drinking alcohol in excess. It really bothered me most of the time. I would watch my family completely change their behavior- become embarrassing, angry, unable to walk or speak normally, and I would think to myself, I never want to act like that, I never want to lose control of myself. I was puzzled by the fact that a drink could really be so enticing that it would create such a need and let people allow themselves to become so lost. But, it didn’t take long for me to lose that inner voice, and hear the outer voices of my peers inviting me to “join the party” and just try it out. The first night I drank, it was excessive, very excessive. I had no personal experience with alcohol and I allowed the same peers that led me toward this poison to instruct me on how much I should drink. I spent the entire next day throwing up and regretting the decision. But it didn’t stop me. I was now a drinker.
Throughout the next 20 years, I would continue drinking, even when it almost killed me on my 21st birthday, when my boyfriend woke me up at 3am because I was choking on my vomit in my sleep. It’s hard to say he saved my life, since he was also one of the peers that encouraged me to take my first drink. I continued even after that relationship ended, leaving me single and on my own. Drinking while dating seemed to be necessary, because I led myself to believe that there was no way that I would ever loosen up around these new, strange men without a couple drinks to “take the edge off”. By this point, my drinking had become uncontrollable. I didn’t know when to stop. I would drink so much that my memory would shut off. I would wake up the next morning in a strange place with a strange person, not remembering what brought me there or what exactly happened there. Other times, I would wake up in my own bed, and not remember how I got there. Once in a lifetime experiences I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to attend: concerts, sporting events, milestones in my life and in the lives of people I love, I don’t remember them. I remember getting there, having a drink or two, and then, besides photos or videos that were taken, some of them so humiliating, I don’t remember how I felt or what I saw. Wake up calls were ringing off the hook, but I never picked up.
I don’t have a grand experience that led me to finally drop the bottle. I’m lucky in that sense. I was never in a car accident, I never got a DUI, I never got seriously hurt. Sexual assault, however, became a norm in my life, and that should never have happened. I am a strong woman. I know how to defend myself. I know how to speak up. Nobody tells me what I can or can’t do. I am powerful. Except, when alcohol takes over my body, it takes my power away from me. It makes me frail, and weak willed. It creates the opportunity for people to take advantage of me… and they will. The day I decided to stop drinking alcohol was the day after I attended a concert. Not a rock concert, or some grand festival where everyone is partying all night. I was watching an orchestra. I was attending the performance of the composer for Game of Thrones, and the guy I was seeing got us front row seats. This is not the type of event one gets completely trashed at, but I did. I don’t remember what happened after intermission, but I took lots of videos. Watching those videos the next day was heart wrenching. I kept them, in case I needed to see them again, but so far I haven’t. The guy I was with expressed embarrassment for my behavior, in the front row yelling and even booing the musicians at one point (not for their music, more for my dislike of the final season of the show, but it was still entirely unnecessary). He also said that he felt sorry for me. Earlier in the day, I was so excited for this show, I had been looking forward to it for so long, and by the end of the show, I was just angry… for no reason, just extremely emotional and angry. I don’t even remember.
That was almost 5 months ago. I haven’t had a drink since. I hoped that no longer drinking would eliminate the blackouts, stop my embarrassing behavior, and make me feel safer. My hopes were met 10 fold. I have my power back. I always used to complain that no one took me seriously, and I was often the butt of jokes. I am no longer a joke, I always have my wits and the only time people are laughing at me is when I’m laughing too. I worried that the removal of alcohol would alienate me from many people in my life, and it really hasn’t. Relationships have changed, and there was a lot to get used to, but it wasn’t at all what I imagined. Quitting drinking is the best decision I’ve ever made, and as much as I regret what happened when I used to drink, without that, I might not have such a definitive decision to never even have one drink again. Let me now tell you how much my life has changed in more ways that I could imagine since that random, not so special day in September of 2019.
Let’s start with the not so great stuff. When I say “not so great”, I obviously don’t mean bad… because nothing was so bad that I have been tempted to drink, or regretted my decision to stop. Drinking is what many people do to escape their problems. I don’t have that escape anymore. Instead, I have to deal with them, I have to think about them, and I have to do something about them. This is not easy, and it often creates anxiety. However, as the days pass, the anxiety eases up, and in the process, I’m learning how to ease my anxieties in natural and healthy ways. I dance, I meditate, sometimes I beat my punching bag with so much fury that I am sore for 3 days after. I have learned how to breathe, which is something I can do anywhere- at work, in my car, at functions, absolutely anywhere. If I stop for a second, realize what is causing my anxiety, and figure out how to eliminate it with my mind instead of a substance, I can actually solve the problem instead of running away from it.
The anxiety also tends to creep up in those social situations where I used to drink, often in excess. At a family party, or going on a date, playing in my darts league, watching football on Sundays, going out dancing, New Years Eve, my birthday, Christmas and Thanksgiving. I used to show up to these gatherings at times thinking, “okay, I’ve got to get that first drink in my system and then I’ll be fine”. You know what I realized? Taking that 15-30 minutes to become comfortable is necessary in all of these situations. It wasn’t the drink that made me comfortable, it was just the time. Everyone is nervous at first, and everyone can become comfortable in a little bit of time without the alcohol. If not, then simply leave. Can you imagine that? If I am in a place where I do not feel comfortable after some time, I can just leave. My body is trying to tell me something, and instead of drowning out that inner voice, I listen to it.
I thought that alcohol made me fun, and entertaining, and funny. It didn’t. I’m still all of those things. It took me awhile to realize that. In fact, I have an even quicker wit than I thought. And, instead of people laughing at me because of my drunkenness, they are laughing at me because I am naturally hilarious. I don’t become the punchline anymore, because I took that power back by keeping my consciousness. I am fully aware of everything that is happening around me, and not only am I super fun and entertaining, but I am also helping to keep others safe in their less than conscious states. I have inspired many to drink less, I offer to drive people home when they are not able to do so, I can help someone to think twice before leaving with that stranger. I am fun, funny, and protecting my friends.
Quitting alcohol has not solved all of my problems, and it has not cured my lack of motivation or created the ability to ignore red flags while dating, but it has opened the door of opportunity for me to focus solely on getting those priorities to the forefront. So far, that one decision has made my skin brighter, I feel much healthier and rarely get sick, my mind is sharper, and I have lost over 20 pounds, without changing anything else about my lifestyle (yet!). I still have not created the exercise or meditation habit that I strive for. My nutrition still leaves much to be desired, and I am just starting to drink plenty of water everyday to stay hydrated. But my life feels brand new.
Not everyone struggles with addiction to alcohol the way I did, but everyone struggles with something. It takes dedication and strength, but once you figure out that big struggle that underlies everything that you’re missing out on in life, you have to fix it. It took me so long to find that strength, but now that I have, I have changed my entire life and I have so much to look forward to and much less dread than I did in the past. I have the ability to “Be Here Now” and to shine as a beacon of strength to those around me, especially the women and girls in my life. I have always wanted to be that positive role model for all of my cousins’ daughters (all 25 of them!) and my nieces, and now, I believe that’s exactly what life was calling me to do, and what I truly am. And I am so excited for what life has in store for me in the future, both the struggles, and the triumphs.