Space Dust With a Drinking Problem PT. I How I Gave Up Alcohol
It’s true. I gave up on alcohol in 2018, just around 6 months ago.
It may seem a tad early in my “recovery*” to be qualified to speak on the subject, but fuck it. I’m optimistic I’m here to stay. And should I ever drink again, this will be a powerful reference point from which I can review why I quit in the first place. You don’t have to proclaim anything as forever, you know? You don’t have to know for a fact that you’ll always be alcohol or drug (alcohol is a drug FYI) free to decide to quit for now.
Roughly two years ago I committed to 30 days of no booze. Something kept telling me I needed a break. Little did I know then that was the beginning of my journey to quitting foreseeably. Turns out breaking/stopping/pausing for any amount of time was a powerful step towards my healing. It allowed my mind and body a chance to clear the fog alcohol had unknowingly cast over my life. And once the fog cleared, even slightly, even briefly, things began shifting.
With more time I started to get clear. And when things got clear, I was able to get honest. I sat myself down and admitted I had to quit fucking with alcohol because it was fucking with me. And I don’t just mean physically, though I’m sure it took a toll. I mean mentally. I was an anxious, depressed, insecure mess to say the least. And the worst part is I was very good at hiding it. Even some of my closest friends and family don’t know the extent of how bad it really was. How could they? I kept my shame hidden, and the parts I revealed were always coated with sarcasm and self-deprecating humor. I didn’t want to reveal just how problematic my drinking was, and how it’d become a very close, very real ordeal for me and my sanity. So I sat with it, mostly in private, everyday. Feeling worse. Everyday.
Just because I quit drinking does not mean you have to quit drinking. Your life is your life, and we are all on our own journey, on our own time. Your relationship to alcohol is entirely your own to ponder/consider/debate. Sharing how and why I gave up alcohol is not a way for me to cast stones or condemn others who still engage. Sharing my story holds me accountable, and offers me the opportunity to connect with others who have a similar, or maybe totally different experience. It’s not my intention to make anyone feel badly about their decision to drink. I am however going to be speaking my truth from its fiery core. I allowed alcohol to rob me of time, money, and relationships, and I have a lot of not nice things to say about it.
Before I can dive into how I quit drinking, it’s important I explain what my relationship to alcohol looked like. If you know me personally, the fact I gave up alcohol may come as a shock. And if you don’t know me, this blog (PT.I) will help paint you a picture. A drunk, sloppy picture of an insecure girl who had the best intentions.
But first, let’s discuss what gives us the right to quit. Does one have to be an alcoholic to quit drinking? I know the popular question that arises when contemplating quitting drinking is: “Am I an alcoholic?” But what makes someone an alcoholic? The internet says: “a person suffering from alcoholism,” well, okay. What is alcoholism then? Internet:“An addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol dependency.” We all hold different narratives in our minds about what we believe an alcoholic is, regardless of what science or the internet deem. There’s too much nuance involving our interpersonal relationships with alcohol that I feel a mere sentence of words couldn’t fully convey its complexity.
I used to believe alcoholism meant you suffered a total loss of control. Like needing alcohol upon waking, which would continue into the day regardless of work. Essentially, if you were physically addicted to alcohol, then you’re an alcoholic. But if you just binge drank (meaning drink too much when you drink, but not necessarily every day), then you were not an alcoholic. And since I didn’t drink upon hitting snooze (on work days anyway) I wasn’t completely out of control (debatable given the time frame), and therefore wasn’t an alcoholic. I suppose I had some alcoholic tendencies, but for all intents and purposes, I mostly had my shit together. At least on the surface. I kept my jobs (mostly), my friends (mostly), and my reputation as a carefree party girl. Mostly. Of course until I didn’t. I kept the surface more or less calm for quite some time, but inside I was collapsing.
The interesting thing about my experience with booze is it didn’t necessarily get worse with time. Not to say it got better, but it wove in and out of being better and worse, which gave me a false sense of hope in my drinking. After high school, my life never seemed to completely collapse from booze, so I figured there was no need to quit — Right! Right? I told myself this for many years. But this convo of if I was “truly” an alcoholic only perpetuated my drinking. I felt I was an acceptable drinker, that my drinking was “fine” because at least I wasn’t like “them”. The ones who beat their wives, or abandoned their kids, or lost their jobs. By constantly comparing myself with those who had it worse, I made myself feel better about my situation. Which was a really great way for me to perpetuate my bullshit and take 0 accountability. You see, even if others were making worse decisions than me, my decisions were still my responsibility.
Maybe I hadn’t lost it all (yet), but there was this hole in my life I couldn’t seem to fill nor escape. It just kept growing. Each year. Each blackout. Each mistake. So the more I drank. But no amount of alcohol or drugs or even sex could fill it. I began to wonder if I really had to lose everything to feel entitled to quit drinking, or if this hole would suffice? And if I quit drinking, would the hole still be there? Turns out, the hole is still there. But it’s shrinking. I’m able to wrap my arms around it at this point. Before I did all I could to ignore it, but the echoes of my fears and anxieties were deafening.
I remember my first encounter with alcohol fondly.
I was newly into puberty when I first tasted alcohol’s fruits. I spent my summers traveling back to Colorado from Utah to stay with my Aunt to help her and my Grandma with the family restaurant. It was a delicious Japanese sushi bar that did well for many years. But the time came to close it down, not because it was unsuccessful, but because family run restaurants can suck the soul right out of you. They had a last hurrah to finish off all the booze, and to celebrate the end of an era with the regulars and workers alike.
The evening started semi-bland. Being all of 12 I mostly just observed the grown ups socializing. But shortly into the night, one of the waitresses offered me a sip of her cocktail. I looked around nervously. I knew I was too young to be drinking, but it felt like the cool, fun thing to do. Which I’d later learn cool, fun things can often land you in hell, and uncool, boring things were maybe always the ticket to peace. But in any event, I took the fucking sip. And I fell so deeply in love. It warmed my throat down to my belly. The belly I hated so much. It was round after all. My hatred for my body started young, but this magical drink seemed to ease any feelings of disgust not just towards myself, but towards everything!
I tiptoed around on cloud 9 asking others for sips of their drinks, and before long I had the most exquisite buzz. What was this magical tonic the elders had been withholding from me? And why would they do such a thing? Who knew it was so easy to switch my overthinking mind off with only a few sips of a delightful, bubbly concoction. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like this all of the time? And that was it. It was all over for me. For my adolescence. For my innocence. For my girlhood.
My drinking and drug use spiraled out of control into my teens. I was in rehab for meth at 17. I weighed all of 90 pounds and yet I felt invincible. I don’t think I even cared for the drug so much as how thin it makes you. My goal of being so skinny I’d disappear was working. It was the ultimate fuck you. I don’t think I understood it at the time, but that fuck you was actually directed at me. I seemed to be punishing myself for something. Sure, everyone around me suffered too. My parents damn near fell apart watching me fall apart, but physically and mentally I was the one destroying myself. I was aimlessly working at existing less.
I continued down this path into my late 20’s, but I switched to more socially acceptable drugs, as one does, and remained out of rehab. Which made it all feel justified. Can you even have a drug problem if you don’t go to rehab for it? The answer is yes, yes you can. Along the way I met and fell in and out of love with a handful of men, women too. Some were less damaged than others, but we all seemed to be searching for something in those bottles. Regardless of our intentions, none of these relationships lasted.
There was always one relationship that took precedence, and that was the one with alcohol. I often blamed the men I dated for being assholes, liars, and cheaters. But truth was, I was no angel either. It was just one big, long, saga of misery loving company, and we were all fucking with each other. Sadly, we all probably wanted the same thing, but were just too scared (or inebriated) to ask for it. We were kids who drank, who became grown ups who drank, who couldn’t stop acting like kids — kicking and screaming for our needs instead of asking nicely for them.
When the laughing turns into crying, that’s when you know…
I often wonder what my life would look like had I not sipped those sips that night. Had that waitress not offered me their drink. Had I not realized so young how easy it was to numb and to ease. To soothe. I’d surely have tried alcohol at some point, but would waiting until I was older have made any difference? Who knows. As soon as I wonder about the lives I didn’t live, I remember they’re just that. There is no way to know who you never were. And there is no way to undo what was done. You just at some point accept your life for what it is and take responsibility for all of it. Unless of course, you don’t. But I did, and I do. And I’m much happier ever since I made that choice, which wouldn’t have happened if I was still drinking.
There’s a lyric from an Against Me! song that says: Sometimes the party takes you places you didn’t really plan on going. And it’s true. When you’re young and impressionable, you don’t know every (or like me) any-thing you stand for yet. You may not carry a belief in yourself or know anything you truly want. And since I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, or even what I didn’t want, I settled for fun and social acceptance. And anything that would help me lose weight.
The problem with fun is it’s all fun and games — until it absolutely isn’t. What started as a way to soften my insecurity and socialize more, evolved into a soul-sucking doom machine fueled by booze. Blacking out, crippling anxiety, self-hatred, and an ongoing identity crisis took the ‘fun’ right out of fun. At 31, after 15 years of getting loaded I felt weary and worn. I wasn’t having fun anymore. A part of me loved that life. The looking and feeling like shit, but in a tragically, hot way. But luckily for me there was a bigger part breaking down. Yes, I feel lucky I broke down. It allowed me to break-through.
In the span from my girlhood to my womanhood I managed to create a big, blurry hole. One morning I woke up and decided to stare into that hole for a while. And to my surprise it began staring back at me. Thoughts of leaving the drinking life behind started whispering to me. The longer I stared, the more the whispers became screams. I knew I had to be more than just space dust with a drinking problem! I had to be conscious for something other than blacking it all out. Even if life is empty and meaningless, and the Universe is dark and unloving, couldn’t I fill the time with literally anything better? Surely I could. Deep down I knew I wanted more. I knew I deserved more. I knew on the other side of quitting was anything but remaining. I just had to step outside of the fire. But I also had to go through the fire.
And so I did.
It’s like they say, the only way in (or out) is through.
Stay tuned for Pt. II How I Gave Up Alcohol
If you noticed this *
*When I say recovery I mean from alcohol. I smoke weed here and there, and I also still explore psychedelics. While I do keep some space for these substances in my life, I am “mostly” sober, but I do not claim to be “sober” because it is not entirely true, nor is it necessarily my end goal. Everyone must define what works for them, and that takes an immense amount of honesty and self-exploration. And it is always evolving. For me, for now, removing alcohol was the single greatest gift I ever gave to myself.