I have not had an alcoholic beverage since December 27th, 2013. On January 4th, 2014 I went in front a room of strangers and declared that I was an alcoholic. This declaration was important. A public reality check of sorts that helped me create a final ending of a specific pattern of behaviour and start a new one. It helped me find a community of similarly minded people and feel less alone in my experience. It provided me with access to resources as I started to live my life without alcohol as a part of it – without my culturally celebrated pacifier.
While I am now at ease with calling myself an alcoholic (it wasn’t easy at first), I do not think of myself as an addict. When I stopped drinking I did not experience any physical withdrawal. It was much more of a MIND thing than a BODY thing (though my excessive drinking was greatly affecting my health – something I will write about another time). I didn’t crave alcohol or feel compelled to drink. I did think about it a lot the first month, but it was all part of figuring out new ways to manage my time and energy now that I wasn’t dulled by booze, messily drunk or hungover.
Yes, alcohol consumption for me was a destructive and near impossible thing for me to control (especially once I get started) because I associated it with stress relief, avoiding pain and coping with anxiety. I thought of drinking as “relaxation”, as something owed to me for being so “good” or working hard. Rather than a physical addiction drinking was a habit forming activity based on faulty associations.
Booze numbed me and allowed me (for a short time) to feel comfortable and be social. I didn’t drink every day and there were times I handled suffering without it, went to events without drinking, but I couldn’t predict which times those would be. As the years progressed I couldn’t manage my drinking and subsequently I got worse and worse at managing my life. What I believe I had is a learning disorder around alcohol and emotional well-being.
Here is an article that looks at drinking through that lens. I found it really interesting and helpful.
This learning disorder began early for me. When I was younger, from childhood until age 40 (ah!!! half a lifetime!!!), I had very little tolerance for my suffering. Especially related to fear, anger and disappointing others. I also had messed up beliefs like if I was perfect (whatever that was) I would never feel pain, everyone would accept me, and I would always be happy. Read more about this, my old way of thinking, here. Then I entered therapy and learned new ways of approaching my anxiety and fear. I think if it had not been for therapy and working on my skills to observe, accept and view my feelings with loving kindness I would never have been able to stop drinking.
I really wished I had learned earlier how to manage my uncomfortable feelings in a healthy way. I think instead I learned to deny my difficult feelings by having beliefs like: look on the brighter side, other people have it worse than me, and the classic don’t cry out loud and keep it inside.
If I look back – before alcohol was even part of the picture – I was an escape artist more than an addict. I was an avid user of not-so-healthy and sometimes even quite destructive coping mechanisms to soothe myself. The choice of strategies changed through out the years (hitting myself and others in my family when I was a child, cutting as an early teen, picking as a late teen and young adult *, then trying to be as disciplined and controlled as my ex-husband in my 30s). All very different things, but they were my attempt to make awful feelings go away.
I have stopped trying to find something outside of myself to deal with my fears, anxiety and struggles. The suffering will always be there and I allow myself to feel what I feel. No longer am I questing for perfection in hopes of it making me happy and pain free, to be accepted by others. I am now in a place of equanimity and resilience. With my mindful and compassionate practices AND my sobriety I am no longer twirling around in the vicious circle of trying to be perfect because I felt like a failure for being less than perfect.