Once you see something in a whole new light, it is really hard to go back to your previous way of thinking. This is what has happened to me with my (so far) two months of alcohol abstention. When people ask me how I am doing, I really mean it when I say, GREAT. I compare it to when, back in my early 20s, I was on a management track with the Hyatt hotels, and so I did a brief stint in various positions in the hotel. For a few months, I had the night shift. I would work from 11pm to 7am. I didn’t realize until I switched back to days, how weird I had become. My activities and routines had become weird, from when and how I slept, to when and how I ate (and drank), to how I socialized and exercised. It wasn’t until I was back in the “normal” world that I realized how odd I had become, which had impacted my body and my outlook on the world. The same thing has happened now that I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in two months. I know this clean living is still a new thing, so what the hell do I know, but I figured I would list right now the FAQ’s & comments people often send my way, and my response, as it is today.
1. “I never saw you as having a drinking problem. You don’t drink, as far as I know, any more than anyone else, or more than me. Are you sure you need to do this? Isn’t it a little drastic?”
Smoking used to be the Thing To Do. Fortunately, that is not the case any more. Imagine if the people who first started to kick that nasty habit used the same logic as you are using here. We would have a lot more lung cancer and stinky breath than we do today.
There are lots of different opinions out there as far as what constitutes a “problem.” The more I learn, and contemplate, about alcohol, the more I believe that most people who drink “moderately” aren’t being honest with themselves. I know, because I was there myself. There is no blood test or MRI to show whether or not your drinking is a source of suffering, so for now, deciding to acknowledge a problem, is pretty much up to each of us. And, like all of these “individual choices,” this is a choice that has an impact on our loved ones and community – the same way that smoking does. If someone smokes “only” one cigarette a day, or “only Friday and Saturday,” are they a smoker or a non-smoker?
2. “How has this affected your social life?”
I have generally tried to be intentional with my social schedule, even before I quit drinking, limiting my socializing to activities and people I find a source of valuable connection and entertainment. In other words, if I needed alcohol to have fun, I didn’t do it. So, my social life hasn’t really changed in terms of what I do or how often I go out. What abstention has done for me is actually made my social life more meaningful, and certainly more memorable. I am more focused in my conversations, I remember them, I am less impulsive (i.e. I don’t commit to stuff I later regret!). In fact, I think I have a more robust social life now because I’ve certainly had a lot of wonderful chats with women who read my blog and wanted to share their own stories with me. I guess I am lucky in that I am not shy, so alcohol was never a social lubricant for me. I still have fun at parties, and I give myself permission before even going, to leave if I ever feel uncomfortable or worse yet – bored.
3. “Do you feel different now? How?”
Hell yeah! I already felt mostly decent because I eat well, exercise daily, etc. But now I feel a whole other level of wellness. My brain is clear. I sleep great. I am no longer bloated. I am not adding the extra hundreds or thousands of calories each week. When I do the spinal twist moves in yoga, which are detox moves, it feels great to know that I am no longer praying the alcohol is wringed out of my liver. The clarity is exhilarating. I also feel incredibly relieved, because I have found freedom. I don’t have to make choices in terms of what should I drink, how much, when, etc. I know I am speaking with full integrity when I tell my kids that drinking is bad for your brain and body. When I explain to them that alcohol shrinks your brain, which impairs your intelligence but also makes you feel sick, I am not sending mixed signals because I am no longer following up the discussion with a glass of wine.
4. “Do you go to AA?”
Yes, I have gone to a few meetings. I recommend 12 step meetings, certainly if you have just reached the decision that you are hurting yourself with your consumption and you want to start a new life. There are certain things about AA that I don’t feel apply to me, but then, I have never found any philosophy or belief that I agreed with 100% in any subject. Like with church, I look around, find the one I feel most inspired by, take what feels right and leave the rest. I have been to a few AA meetings and really liked the sense of acceptance and openness and lack of shame. I believe that the fact you can find a meeting in every town, several times of the day, every day, all over the world, is pretty amazing. When people open up at the meetings and share their stories, I feel the power in the sharing. When you share something that has been eating at you, perhaps for years, there is an incredible freedom that comes about, since once it is shared, it is no longer holding you prisoner. AA provides this, as well as structure, steps to work on, and should you choose, a sponsor who will guide you and provide accountability. And it’s free!
I also just went to my first Women For Sobriety (WFS) meeting and I loved that. It is a support group also, with some valuable resources, but the meeting I went to was different from the AA meetings I’ve been to as the WFS meeting allowed for feedback from other participants, while the woman is sharing. (The AA meetings I have been to are less of a dialogue, more of a monologue). Also, when you introduce yourself at WFS you don’t say “I’m an alcoholic” but rather, “I’m a competent woman” or some other positive adjective from the WFS motto. I admit that sit better with me. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I shy away from labels and while for some people lumping their issues into the self-definition of “alcoholic” may be helpful in their view, in my particular case, it feels inaccurate and defeating.
WFS, unfortunately, is rather far for me (their meetings are at 9am on Saturdays up in Farmington), but I hope to go as often as my schedule allows.
13 affirmations in Women For Sobriety's New Life Acceptance Program:
5. “I think AA or another group can help me but I’m scared to go in case I see someone I know. I can’t risk that, professionally.”
I totally get that. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding any admission of addiction. I, personally, see it differently. If I see someone I know at one of these meetings, I actually have an ever higher level of respect for them because they are choosing to commit to their health and wellness, whereas I know most of their peers are still stuck in denial. I really don’t think that people who go to these meetings look around the room and think, “holy crap, SHE’S here?! She’s a hot mess and I have lost all respect for her!” Instead, I think, most people in the rooms feel a deeper sense of connection with other members, which is free of judgment. I mean, seriously, who are we to judge?
6. “Do you judge me for drinking?”
I know this is a big concern to people who are now socializing with their friend who just gave up drinking. How do we act now, and what do you think of me? When I am with others who are continuing to drink, it really doesn’t bother me. I notice that you are drinking, but don’t judge you for it and I do not feel uncomfortable. That being said, like I said earlier, I am very selective with my social activities. If you’re a messy lush and you don’t contribute in some way to my day, I am not going to hang out with you in the first place. But that has been my MO for years, so that’s nothing to do with my abstention. If you are worried about tempting me, you need not worry. I know what wine and beer and mojitos taste like and I don’t need to taste another one. I know what clarity and clean feel like and I want more of that.
7. “Are you going to never have another drink? Ever? I couldn’t do that!”
As AA says, I take it one day at a time. When I first decided to quit the drink, I couldn’t think very far ahead. I have always believed for myself that if you tell me I can’t do or have something, then I MUST do or have it, and obsess about it. So I didn’t want to create that sort of tension and stress for myself. Rather, I focused on how crappy I felt the day I made my decision, and on how I never wanted to feel that way again. So I would go day by day. Then week by week. Then month by month. Mindfulness training has certainly helped as it’s automatic that I remind myself to stay in the moment. That feelings and urges are temporary and do not define me.
8. “I really admire you. I know I should probably stop too. But I am not there yet.”
Trust me, I was in the holding pattern you are in, probably for a couple of years. I totally get it. If and when you decide to do what I’m doing, I’m here for you if you want to talk about it. I’m here for you now too, while you stay in your ambivalence. I won't try to convince you of anything, because I know that change needs to come from within. I can't "fix" anyone.
9. “I am afraid that if I don’t drink, I will have to face the fact that maybe I don’t like my friends/spouse so much. And then what?”
Yeah, that one sucks. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several of the sober women I have met ended up with a divorce somewhere in their sobriety journey. Social circles certainly change too. It’s really eye-opening to suddenly have the clarity you get from being sober, and you are forced to see the stuff you were trying to numb out or throw a blinder toward. The way I see it, though, is that if you are continuing in your mediocre status quo, hiding in a wine daze, you are hurting yourself and others far more than the pain of perhaps ripping off the Denial bandage and facing the truth. Alcohol can seem like your best friend, but it’s actually your enemy. It’s like the Mean Girl who pretends to be all sweet but as soon as you turn your back she’s undermining you and creating an extremely toxic environment for you. If you have this fear, then alcohol isn’t truly fooling you, so cleaning up your act will lead to inevitable pain but this is far more temporary than living indefinitely with the Mean Girl. And guess what – whatever truths you uncover, you do not have to face them alone! Relying on alcohol is as isolating as any abusive relationship is. Don’t believe what the Mean Girl says – you have a lot of resources to help you through this stage of growth.
10. “I stopped drinking five years ago and I have a really hard time socially because everyone is posting their drinking on Facebook, and social activities always center around alcohol.”
Yeah, that’s another sucky one. Especially if sobriety is new, so you’re still shaky and volatile. The best thing is to set yourself up for success by avoiding tempting situations. This may include going to every drinking friend’s Facebook profile and clicking “unfollow.” Given the proliferation and acceptance of this liquid drug in our culture, this may mean that your Facebook feed is pretty empty, sigh. That’s something that has been an interesting observation to me – how mindlessly we, as a culture, promote and celebrate a substance that makes many companies wealthy while destroying millions of lives. It’s part of what I stated at the start of this blogpost – about how once your eyes have been open to something, it’s hard if not impossible, to not see it. I often thought it was absurd that people and organizations held fundraisers for cancer and diabetes causes, that included sugar-filled baked goods; now I also find it insane that these same efforts, as well as fundraisers for organizations that work with people with addictions and other brain health issues, often if not usually include alcohol. Organizations that support kids hold wine tastings as fundraisers. How about all those breast cancer fundraisers that are based on wine tasting or run, and then guzzle beer? Did you know that alcohol consumption has been directly linked to breast cancer? Craziness.
11. “You are really brave to be public about this.”
Thank you. Really – I appreciate it. I also don’t really think it’s about courage, since my hesitation to share this when I first posted my blog a few weeks ago wasn’t because I was afraid of the stigma or being ridiculed. I hesitated because I felt a certain responsibility. One of the reasons addiction organizations sometimes push for anonymity is because they don’t want others to be discouraged from seeking sobriety if they hear that so-and-so was sober for X time and they relapsed. The fear is that someone who is public about their sobriety and then relapses, will show that the program doesn’t work. I do have the concern that I may be held up as a role model and then my humanity will kick in and I will fall on my face, either out of weakness or a shift in perspective, and suddenly my credibility is damaged or worse yet, I have hurt someone else. This is something that I have somewhere on my mind, every day. And I take it seriously. So, I just pray that God gives me the strength to continue in my pursuit of health and wellness, and that others may treat me with compassion and acceptance, sensitive to the fact that I am a human being who is just doing the best that she can, whatever that means on any given day.
I am not concerned about the stigma and shame associated with admitting that a drug –which alcohol is, no matter how crafty the packaging or media message- has the power to hijack my brain, value system, schedule and physical health, and so I have chosen to release it from my life. Jason Vale in his book “Kick the Drink – Easily” points out that alcohol is the only drug that when you tell people you’ve given it up, they think something is wrong with you. I am not ashamed of my weakness for Slippery Slopes. I am not embarrassed to say that I have, before my sobriety, decided not to drink on some evenings because “what’s the point of just one glass of wine? Then I might as well not drink at all!” was the thought process I would have. I am not embarrassed to say that I am taking care of myself, my marriage and my family, by choosing to do something that many regard as weird, suspicious, or in some way threatening.
I hope my honesty helps you. Thanks for being here.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.