‘Lindsey, you have a problem.’ I shuddered in fear. I was lying on the bathroom floor. ‘No, no, no. Not again. Is this really happening?’: Woman 401 days sober after grueling addiction to alcohol, ‘I promise you, life gets easier’

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“‘Lindsey, I think you have a drinking problem. You may need to take a break from drinking.’ My current boyfriend said these words to me as I was sitting on the bathroom floor gazing at him from the shower. We had a lot of our tough conversations in the bathroom, while one of us was showering and the other person sat on the floor. The date was December 17, 2018, and I was twenty-nine years old. That time, I was on the receiving end. My head was pounding, I felt sick and filled with anxiety.

As I heard those words, I shuddered in fear. ‘No, no not again. Is this really happening again?’ I thought to myself. I felt like someone took my heart and ripped it out of my chest. The night before, I endured a binge-drinking escapade that led my boyfriend and I into a terrible fight. One of our personal worst. Unfortunately, this was nothing compared to the ones in the past with my previous exes. As I heard these words from my boyfriend, I thought to myself, ‘How can I give up alcohol? Alcohol makes me feel alive and free. The best friend that numbs you after a hard day. The liquid that allows you to be transparent with people. The courage booster that takes away your social anxiety. The joy that makes everything more fun. No, no. I can’t have a problem. This surely is his fault. I know it is. It has to be.’

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

Nonetheless, this was not the first time I had heard these words. ‘Lindsey, you have a drinking problem.’ Throughout my twenties, it had been the same dialogue, time and time again. I heard those words from previous exes, I heard it from my naturopathic doctor, and I heard it from that little voice called ‘my intuition.’ Despite all of this, I could never face the truth. I did not want to believe I had a problem. How could I have a problem? I am a successful registered nurse with a BS degree in nursing. I pay my bills on time. I am able to provide for myself. I go to work. I had never gotten a DUI. ‘I have it all together,’ I would think to myself.

There was never a ‘need’ to stop drinking. It wasn’t enough to stop drinking when I drove completely blacked out on the highway and couldn’t remember the drive home. It wasn’t enough when I cheated on a few of my boyfriends. It wasn’t a problem when I was arrested by my university police for public intoxication and spent a few hours in a holding cell until my mom had to pick me up in the middle of the night. It wasn’t enough when I got in an awful fight with my boyfriend at the time, at a country club on my twenty-first birthday, and the cops had to break us up. It wasn’t enough when I threw up in a bar while living in Denver and had to get escorted out of the bar because my friends and I took an insane amount of pickle shots. That night, a stranger had to help take me home because my friend was unable to do it alone. It wasn’t enough when I got angry and emotional more often than not when I drank. It wasn’t enough when my actions or words hurt my friends and loved ones. It wasn’t enough when I started craving alcohol in the morning and I couldn’t wait for the evening to come, so I could drink. It wasn’t enough to stop drinking. NONE OF IT WAS ENOUGH. Until one day, it was.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

On the exterior, I was thriving in my career. I was healthy. I was traveling frequently to tropical locations. I was an avid runner and completed a few half marathons. I was an inspiration to others with my endeavors and accomplishments. I began my pursuit of travel nursing and was able to live in Denver, Colorado. However, I had a dark side that no one really knew about. No one knew I struggled with anxiety or using alcohol to numb and hide my problems. Nobody knew I would drink close to a bottle of wine after a hard nursing shift. No one knew I would show up to work hungover, a few times with the patients’ lives in my hands. No one knew I was on a destructive, self-sabotaging path.

I loved self-sabotaging because it meant I didn’t have to deal with the problems I was struggling with. No one knew I was insecure, lost, anxious, and in pain. The only people who REALLY knew this were the people I dated and those who first hand experienced my self-destructive behaviors. A lot of times, my boyfriends would ask, ‘Is this the real you? Is this how you really are?’ For whatever reason, they stayed. Perhaps they knew, deep down, the potential that was inside of me. However, it was hard for me to envision the potential. I struggled with insecurity, jealousy, feelings of guilt and shame, inadequacy, and pain. All of these feelings were intensified by the substance I thought was helping me. I’ve come to the conclusion, it never helped me. It hindered me in all forms: mentally, physically, and spiritually. It was affecting my relationships, friendships, and most importantly, the relationship with myself. I was a self-loathing monster.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

I took my first sip of alcohol at the tender age of sixteen years old. Unknowing to me, I was hooked from the very first sip. Over the years, those sips grew into gulps, then cups, which then became shots and lastly, bottles. In college, I was a huge partier. I partied so much my first semester that my GPA was around a 2.0. I eventually got myself together and focused on obtaining my goal of becoming a registered nurse.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves
Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

My drinking waxed and waned over the years. I became engrossed with my health, fitness, and spirituality after I graduated from nursing school. What an oxymoron: health and fitness, but still boozing. More or less, alcohol always found a way to seep back into my veins. It was there to greet me after a bad break-up. It was waving at me from across the room at a party. It was waiting patiently after a stressful day at work. Alcohol was my best friend when I wanted to let loose and party hard! It served as my anti-depressant when I was stressed and anxious. It became a part of my identity. I struggled to know who I was without alcohol because, for so long, it was so close to me. It was there in college, during nursing school, post-graduation, on vacations and holidays, birthdays, weddings, girl’s night, break ups, beach days. Alcohol was my crutch. ‘Lindsey, let’s go out,’ became my favorite words.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves
Courtesy of Lindsey Graves
Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

Growing up, alcohol was extremely prevalent in my household. Both my mother and father are from New Orleans. I lived in New Orleans for 7 years of my life. There is a famous quote that we New Orleanians say: ‘You can take the people out of New Orleans, but you can’t take the New Orleans out of the people.’ We love to drink and party. My father, whom I have the utmost respect and love for, was a heavy drinker. My dad instilled many wonderful values and lessons during my upbringing that led me to be the amazing, determined, and successful woman I am today. I am a nurse because of him. My father was a provider and is an electrical engineer. He is hardworking, funny, and kind of a tough-ass, all in one. However, my father is a heavy drinker. I will leave it at that because I don’t want to expose my family much. The focus is on me. I will end on this note–I began repeating the same behaviors my father modeled while I was growing up and I naturally emulated some of them.

Fast forward to the day my boyfriend and I were having the ‘Lindsey, I think you have a drinking problem’ conversation. I woke up the next morning and had an epiphany. ‘You cannot keep living like this. You will lose everything–your man, the important things in life. It will get worse. This man, and YOU, are worth it.’ Something inside of me struck a nerve and I decided to give up alcohol for one month. Here I am, typing this at 401 DAYS OF NO ALCOHOL. I decided to give up alcohol for one month because I believed I could never stop drinking.

I will never forget New Year’s Eve 2018. My boyfriend and I went to a house party and I went SOBER. Initially, I wasn’t going to go. I thought, ‘Who goes to a New Year’s Eve party and doesn’t drink?’ I was so close to not going. However, I put on a cute outfit and felt sexy and begrudgingly went to the party. I had a BLAST without alcohol. This event single-handily changed my thoughts surrounding alcohol. I woke up hangover free. I also went to work the next morning and was able to safely care for my patients.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

During that month, I obsessively read articles and researched the truths and harms surrounding alcohol. My therapist recommended a book called ‘Alcohol Lied to Me.’ After finishing this book, I was not ready to begin drinking alcohol yet. My anxiety started to decrease, my brain fog was lifting, and my mental clarity improved. In hindsight, my body and brain were rejecting alcohol. Moreover, I am competitive and began to challenge myself to continue this alcohol-free journey. I completed two months and proceeded on my first SOBER girls’ trip to Palm Springs. The trip was difficult for me, I will not lie. I remember my girlfriends’ expressions when I told them I was not going to drink on this trip. I got blank stares and, ‘Really? Not even one?’ On the contrary, a friend who joined us on this trip was incredibly supportive and said, ‘That is awesome Lindsey. I am proud of you.’ Due to her support, I was able to stay sober on our Palm Springs trip. Thank you, Alexa. It was on that trip, I realized I am goofy and a klutz without alcohol. I slipped and fell a few times. ‘My goodness,’ I exclaimed, ‘It may not have been the alcohol that always made me fall.’ I had a WONDERFUL time on my first sober girls’ trip.

Next, I went on my first sober vacation to the Caribbean, four months into my sober journey. My boyfriend and I embarked on a 7-day journey to St. Lucia. Initially, I hated it. I didn’t feel as if I were on vacation because I did not have an alcoholic drink in my hand. It was extremely testing. Towards the end of the trip, I was seconds away from ordering a drink. I remember how intense it felt to go back and forth in my head, ‘Drink. No, don’t drink. It’s not worth it. Wait, you are an adult. Only one drink. You will feel so good.’ I made it through the trip SOBER. I was on this magical island and realized alcohol would not have made this trip better. I was able to connect with others, recharge, and really absorb the beauty of the island. I had such a lovely time. By the end, I was not ready to go home.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves
Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

The hard times were there. I felt intense loneliness at times. I wanted to quit time and time again. I continued on my journey and told myself, ‘You can go back to drinking alcohol after your one year anniversary.’ By telling myself this dialogue, the journey did not feel as scary and permanent. I had moments where I cried for hours on end. I had moments I cried and didn’t even know why. I cried because I was releasing old wounds and pain. Throughout this time, I intermittently struggled with anxiety and depression. I was sad because I felt hopeless. I remember Day 88. I grieved the loss of alcohol. Deep down, I knew I could not go back to drinking alcohol. It felt as if I were breaking up with a toxic boyfriend. Only this time, I did not have my alcohol crutch to save me. Those were some big crocodile tears on Day 88. In retrospect, that was me breaking out of my shell and metamorphosing into a butterfly.

Moreover, as the year persisted, I found healthy ways to cope with my stress and anxiety. I found joy in the simple things again. I felt so alive. I could smell the grass and trees around me. I was extremely grateful for this moment. I felt genuine joy and peace. I decided to put myself in situations where drinking was involved. I went to a bachelorette party, weddings, house parties, bars, clubs, sport and beach events. I faced it all. I was tempted numerous times, but I frequently went back to how great I felt NOT drinking. During those events, I genuinely had a fabulous time, being sober.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

Throughout the year, my relationships with my friends and family started deepening and the old friendships were repaired. I found a new circle of friends who are also bravely navigating this world sober. I could feel my authentic self starting to blossom. All the concepts I learned over the years began to merge and make sense. I healed old traumas from my childhood and began to have more compassion for myself and others, my dad included. I no longer wake up with shame and guilt. My social anxiety decreased substantially. I began to feel confident without alcohol, which in turn has helped with my insecurities.

As I healed old wounds, I began reflecting on my past. I learned, ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ I was hurt and took my anger and rage out on those who loved me. I would wake up hating myself and the cycle would persist. After years of this, your circle begins to grow bigger and bigger. I could never truly forgive myself because I was in a damaging, self-sabotaging cycle. Without alcohol and my careless behaviors and actions, I began to forgive my mistakes. Now, I understand what it means to truly forgive yourself. While there’s no excuse for my actions, I have learned to be kind to myself. I learned I was hurt inside and used a substance that impaired my judgment and decision-making skills to cope. I now know what it means to love and respect yourself. I am filled with genuine love, joy, and compassion. I LOVE ME. My boyfriend and I are doing really well. We celebrate 2 years together on February 2. He is such a patient soul. I am a pediatric nurse and I am able to be of better service to my patients and their families. I no longer come home after a stressful day stating, ‘I need a drink.’ I AM FREE.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves
Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

I have a tattoo on my arm and it reads ‘free spirit’ above a bright colored feather. I always believed I was a free spirit. However, I thought alcohol and my chemical-induced actions made me a free spirit. Through my meditation practice one day, ‘free of spirits’ came in my spiritual space. At that moment, I discovered my calling was to inspire and lead others on a holistic and spiritual journey. After years of wishing, praying and manifesting, I am finally in alignment with my goals and dreams. I truly believe I am freer spirited without alcohol. My mission statement is ‘live a free-spirited life by being free of alcohol.’ I am enrolled to start yoga teacher training in February 2020. I am building a community of free spirits. My goal to start offering recovery-style yoga and offer to coach those who want to change their lives mentally, physically, and spiritually. I would love to start traveling and sharing my story around the world. I want to spread inspiration, hope, and joy to others.

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

In conclusion, I want you to know alcohol is not the answer to your problems. It only exasperates the issues at hand. I want you to know if you are struggling with alcohol and want to stop, YOU CAN. I want you to know you are capable of being free from alcohol and living a beautiful life where you no longer have to harm your mind, body, or spirit. I want you to know you can have a great time without alcohol. I want you to know it may be really hard in the beginning, but as time goes on, it gets easier. I want you to know simply releasing this ONE thing, your life will begin to open with limitless opportunity and potential. I want you to know you are special and worth it. YOU ARE WORTH IT. You owe it to yourself.”

Courtesy of Lindsey Graves

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsey Graves. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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