How I Accidentally Quit Drinking
You ready for this? Brace yourself. I'm not sure you're going to believe me but here goes. About a year ago I had my very last drink. Don't worry. It's not contagious. And it was an accident, I swear. I don't attend meetings, I don't belong to any organizations and I'm not about to sell you on sobriety. I just don't drink anymore. I know. I can hardly believe it myself. But it's true. And it's every bit as boring as I imagined.
I became a widow two years ago when my husband died by suicide between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We had been separated for a short time and everything was slowly catching on fire. Although it was a rough time for him as well, I never thought he would take his own life. It was completely unexpected and utterly shocking. As you can imagine, the trauma showed itself in several differently ways in my body and in my mind.
I didn't exactly notice right away that I was losing a lot of my hair or that I was living on banana bread, soup and wine. I was in survival mode. I was trying to prove to myself that I would be okay. I couldn't really tell that my anxiety was growing because I was so distracted juggling my job, childcare and grief. I couldn't really tell if I was angry, sad, guilty or any other emotion because at the end of the day I could just drink it all away.
As the first anniversary of his death approached, I started to unravel just a bit. All the feelings I had pushed away and buried down deep started to surface. The overwhelm started turning into a mountain and the anxiety regularly grew into panic. As if in some form of protest, my digestive system started to revolt. I started having pain high up in my stomach, which was a little too close for comfort to my heart. The pain would cause worry, which would result in a panic attack that would have me convinced I was about to die. Or was it the other way around? I can't be sure. But I noticed it often when I drank.
I drank regularly for years. When I was happy, when I was stressed out, when I was pissed off, when I was bored. Alcohol went with everything. I always looked forward to the time of day where I could pour a glass of wine and unwind. And that always kind of bothered me. The need. The guilt. The regret. The "should" surrounding alcohol. The planning ahead. The stocking up. The measuring out. The breaking of rules. It started to become so much work.
I always secretly worried about the way I drank. I didn't drink to get drunk the way I did in my teens and twenties. I drank to calm my nerves. And because I have a deep need for control, I had a limit that I would constantly test. I didn't need to be hammered to feel like shit the next day. Hangovers don't always show up as headaches and nausea. But I definitely had a few million days where I would have been much more pleasant and productive had I not drunk quite as much the night before. I was painfully aware that I used alcohol to feel better. And I didn't like that. I grew up with alcohol and drugs in my family.
I met a couple once, years ago, when I was a Concierge on Maui. After recommending several restaurants and bars to them based on drink specials and happy hours, the woman told me they don't really drink. I remember thinking, "well, that's lame." They were young and good looking and unmarried. I figured they should be out living their best lives. She explained to me that they drank once in a great while on special occasions but that they had changed their relationship with alcohol. They had noticed the negative affects it had on them and so they limited how often they drank. This made a huge impact on me and stayed with me over the years. I was fascinated but not brave enough to give it a try.
I did my share of cleanses, detoxes and "sober Octobers" just to prove a point. It was a good excuse to reset and show myself that I didn't need to drink but if I'm being honest, it was always such a challenge. Drinking is what people do. It's how we socialize. It's how we mark the end of the day. It's how we celebrate. It's how we blow off steam. And what would we do if we didn't drink? I didn't want to know.
But here I was with this pain in my stomach and this white hot fear that something was terribly wrong. And as much as alcohol calmed my nerves initially, it left me even more anxious the following day. So I asked myself, "what if I didn't drink today?" Truth be told, the idea made me nervous. How would I sleep? What if my anxiety is out of control? How will I quiet my mind? But it just didn't seem worth it anymore. Something had to give. I decided to leave my job to focus on myself and my son and I also to put alcohol on hold. I thought it would be so good for me to quiet my mind and for once in my life be still.
I'm not going to lie. I think my mind may have cracked. My brain was like what. the fuck. is happening right now. Idon'tlikeit! What I expected to feel like and what I actually experienced were completely different worlds. I found myself googling alcohol withdrawal because I couldn't figure out why I felt so bad. I wasn't sick. I didn't have the shakes. I wasn't even craving alcohol. I just felt like I was going bananas. My anxiety actually got worse. I thought to myself, "oh God. What have I done?" Here I was thinking I was going to spend all my free time meditating on the beach but instead I was losing my marbles.
I always assumed if I quit drinking, I would miss it terribly. I thought I would see all my friends laughing and having fun without me and feel left out. I expected to be moody and emotional and totally bitchy without wine. What I didn't foresee was sleeping through the night and being clear headed. At some point I realized that I was no longer waking up anxious and in a rush in the morning. I woke up rested and solid. I also realized that I was more patient in general. I could think clearly before flying off the handle or melting down the way I did before.
Someone asked me recently if I thought I would ever drink again. I didn't hesitate in saying no and here's why: I know myself well enough to know that I'm not good at doing things half way. For good or for bad, I'm either all in or all out no matter what. In a perfect world I would have a glass of really good wine once in a while at happy hour with friends, on New Year's Eve or to toast at a wedding. But that one glass on occasion would immediately turn into a glass every night and I'd be back to stocking up, planning ahead and being consumed by alcohol all over again.
I also know that with a buffer like wine on hand, I would not be feeling my feelings, processing my emotions and working on myself the way I am now. It has taken a shitload of thought work, meditation, therapy, self care and, above all else, life coaching to work through my grief. It would be so much easier to hide from it instead. But I know for a fact that it won't go away and avoiding it will just prolong the process.
For me, I am better off without a drink in my hand. I am extremely grateful that the opportunity fell into my lap and happened by coincidence. I never would have had the balls to quit on my own, although I probably should have years ago. It's not always pretty facing my feelings. But then again, it really isn't the drama that I had worked it up to be. There has been no falling apart and never getting up again. I've never actually "lost my shit." And it turns out, the more I let out my emotions and let them pass through me, the less panic sneaks up on me when I least expect it. I'm not sure it will last forever but for now, if offered a drink, I'll have say it's a hard pass for me.