“As of the day I’m writing this, I’m 80 days sober. If you had told me last year, six months ago, or even 85 days ago I would be proclaiming sobriety and proud of it, I’d have taken a shot and laughed. As long as I can remember, I’ve been known as a drinker. The girl who can drink long past most people. Someone who is in love with vodka, tequila, beer, wine, rum and everything else except gin (I didn’t have many limits, but I did with that one). I lauded the fact my liver would take a beating and be able to take more the next day and the day that followed. The abuse I’d put it through was all in the name of fun. Or for the sake of chasing away a bad day. Of avoiding an unpleasant situation. Escaping anxiety, suppressing depression, avoiding life for just a few hours. Yet, all those things I was avoiding always seemed to come back the next day. Along with a wicked headache I’d laugh about. Pouring hair of the dog that would turn into a whole puppy.
I painted my drinking as normal. It’s just something everyone does and I was better at it than most. Deep down, I knew I was a functioning alcoholic. That most of my creeping health problems were due to my heavy drinking. That my depressive episodes were heavily influenced by nights (and days of drinking). I’ve always been self-aware of my addictive behaviors. I made excuses for them. Most of what I have done is abusive to my body, including an eating disorder I’ve had since I was 15. But over the years I had fine-tuned my ability to rationalize my choices. I wasn’t as bad as some. I still held down a job, parented my kids and had strong friendships.
One of the things I used as rationale to make it easier for me to ignore my drinking or it being problematic is the stereotype of what people think of as a drunk or an alcoholic. But there are so many degrees of having a problem with drinking (or any addiction, really). I was functional. I waited to get home from work to drink (well, unless there was any type of office party or approval to drink.). I day drank on weekends if I wasn’t driving anywhere. But isn’t that what all the fun people do? I’d swear I was going to cut back after this day or that day. I was only going to drink every other day. I was only going to drink on weekends. I was only going to drink on days that had an 8 in the date. I was only going to have one drink. Or two. Yet somehow, I never seemed to make it to any of those goals. There were always excuses. It was a shitty day at work. I was upset with my current relationship and just needed to avoid it for the time being. My kids were being difficult. I was sad. I was happy. The sky was blue.
There are a variety of reasons I stopped. But honestly, one day I woke up, unsure of the night before. Panicked because I wasn’t sure what I had done. Don’t get me wrong, this was something that happened on a regular basis by the time it got to the weekends. But this time felt different. I suddenly knew. I was never going to be able to moderate my drinking. I was always going to go out and be the one to push shots on people. The one to brag about how many I could take. I wore my tolerance like a badge, yet never realized it was a bandage covering a gaping wound I refused to address. I had mornings where my kids would remind me of things I had said or promised, and I didn’t fully remember them. The shame of all of it would overwhelm me, my depression would plunge and I would ultimately and ironically suppress the resulting feelings by drinking again. Additionally, the non-stop drinking was creating weight gain and bloating which in turn would trigger my eating disorder and my body dysmorphia. I was irritable, short-fused and sad on a regular basis and on a never-ending cycle of drunk munchies and punishing restriction to counteract the indulgences.
Yet, as I said, I was fully functional. The most people knew was I enjoyed drinking. I could drink a lot. I would get liquor as gifts. Beer as thank yous. Wine to improve a bad day. I was the girl who could keep up, who would always go out for drinks and who seemed okay with it. It was a large piece of my identity. Both to myself and others. Those who know me well know I struggled with the effects. They know I kept trying to quit. They’d listen to my laments over another foolish night. But what Jessica wants to do in the end is always what Jessica is going to do.
When I quit, it felt different than all the other times I had ‘quit.’ It felt like the time I truly needed to. Over the first few weeks, my depression was completely manageable, with very few depressive episodes. The dark circles under my eyes started to fade. Stomach pain I had been experiencing disappeared (which I had even gone to the doctor for and pretended I had no clue what it was. But deep down, I knew). But my anxiety, life, my feelings, oh boy. I had clearly been chasing my anxious nature away with bottomless glasses of Absolut. High strung as a natural tendency, my anxiety was along for the ride like the drunk guy you have to cart home at the end of the night, puking in your backseat and passing out before you get to his place. There’s something I learned about in sobriety called the ‘pink cloud’ and it’s essentially a feeling of euphoria as the weighted effects of alcohol leave your system. It’s when you start to feel all the things you’ve been avoiding, you learn happiness and everything is just there and intense. I have that. But I also now have the lows. The lows of realizing I have to learn how to face my anxiety without running away from it. When something makes me sad or mad or scared, I can’t avoid it with Cabernet. I have to break down each piece and understand what I can change and what I can’t. I have to be in control of my reaction and how I let it take me over or if I even let it into my mind in the first place.
Tequila no longer gives me reprieve from feeling lonely. I’ve started tearing up at movies again because my emotions are becoming richer. A bad day sometimes leaves me with a full blown panic attack I have to suppress completely so no one knows. Because I still have to function. I have to fight my addiction, carry on like a ‘normal’ adult, be a parent, pay my bills, keep us all fed and clothed and safe. Sober. I can’t buy vodka on the way home. Funny story, I used to stop and buy myself alcohol for later, on the way to get my kids, I would pick up some juice for them at the same time. You know, to be nice to all of us. It was also to suppress the guilt I had over the stop I was making to begin with.
I fear future social settings as the novelty of my sobriety wears off and becomes a wet blanket to some. Don’t get me wrong my friends have been phenomenal. It truly is a part of this that has been much easier than I expected. One of my primary fears was losing people who would no longer see me as fun. Who wouldn’t get to know the sober Jessica. Who would have to find alternate presents to liquor. I luckily have surrounded myself with amazing people. Who are supportive and kind and loving and who don’t give a shit if I order a shirley temple at dinner. (And I don’t care if they order drinks.) Someday, though, there might be a situation where they may not know if I’m comfortable at an event and I may be omitted from the invites. But I’ve made this choice for my own personal health and path and I have to be okay with that. While dating has essentially fallen off the radar in the early part of sobriety as I’m learning who I am, and how to face the intricacies of the nuances of life, I do get lonely and it will come up. (But lesson from sobriety is dating inspired by loneliness is never the right kind.) Yet, I know from a long history of dating that almost every meeting opener is ‘want to go have a drink?’ As a result, I’m weary and curious how many will end before they’re even planned when I say ‘I don’t drink.’ I mean, I’m well aware I’m fun sober, but alcohol has been welcomed as that social lubricant to the point of it being abnormal if you DON’T need it. But again, as with friends, I know it’s best to surround myself with those who understand my choices, support them and don’t try to dissuade me from doing what’s right for me. I’m sure there will be more land mines along the way I wasn’t expecting as I traverse this new trail. I’m going to trip, I’m going to be disappointed and I’m going to see all the things with new eyes.
The key to my success isn’t allowing fear to change my course. Because ultimately, I know fear is what got me here. Fear is what drove me to avoid everything I possibly could. Fear is how I no longer know who I was. Some days of sobriety are a struggle and some just come naturally and are easy to get through. I’ve had to reach out for support on the days where it just sounds good. But it’s also made my days better. I’m learning how to manage my anxiety much better and my depressive episodes have diminished. I even have a healthier relationship with my body and food. I have more pride in my parenting and navigate the tricky days better. Overall, one day at a time is a true sentiment and how I gladly live now.”
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