Over the weekend I did one of my favorite things- I took myself to a movie. Solo.
Solitary adventures are one of my most treasured pastimes. Not only do I have the opportunity to recharge my introvert self, I gain an immense amount of inspiration from mindfully roaming through the city, finding new hidden gems, and taking in the beauty around me.
I went to go to “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” partially due to my love for Cate Blanchett. I seem to be one of the few who didn’t read the book, but I went in intuitively know I’d enjoy the film.
As I watched a fellow introvert self destruct, I realized an important message:
Creators are meant to create.
I remembered that not only is my precious solo time beneficial to maintaining my energy, it’s crucial to my creations.
With each photo I take, piece I write, and lesson I learn, my creations are keeping me sane. They’re keeping me grounded. They’re keeping me connected.
Without a sense of purpose, there’s no way I can stay sober.
Sharing what I see and what I have learned with the world keeps me going. Being able to carry a message to another person or using my own experience as wisdom or lessons for others is a purpose I know I was meant to fill. Self destruction is inevitable when one doesn’t feel a sense of purpose, passion, or belonging- so I am glad to be reminded to live beautifully and create each and every day.
Unlike many others, I didn’t grow up with people drinking around me. In fact, I never saw my mom drink. On holidays we had sparkling grape juice in pretty cups and toasted to non-alcoholic champagne.
This wasn’t because my family was in recovery- it was because they weren’t alcoholics. They didn’t even like to drink! (I find this so hard to wrap my head around)
On the contrary, my father’s side of the family are alcoholics; but I didn’t grow up with them. That’s how fierce the disease of addiction is. Although I didn’t grow up with drinkers, I got the gene.
My mother, who can drink one glass of wine or leave a glass half consumed (unlike me) celebrated a birthday over the weekend. In one of the photos she sent me, she had a raised glass of homemade wine in her hand.
I didn’t think anything of it- yet in the past I may have felt resentful. I may have longed to be able to just have that one glass of wine.
But today, I’ve accepted that I can’t.
I was pleased to see that many Boston restaurants have mocktail lists, among other options for non alcoholic drinks that are just as desirable as a spirit. Just last week, I had appetizers at Wit’s End in Inman Square, accompanied with hibiscus, mint, lime, and soda concoction. It was delicious, too.
Celebration isn’t all about getting inebriated, and today I’m glad to enjoy the moment and be present in my everyday interactions.
Sobriety doesn’t just consist of coffee and support groups (even though those things are important to me)- there’s a lot to celebrate while simply living in today.
I was in San Francisco at the time- the first big city I had ever lived in. It was the place I found my freedom, my wings, my adulthood, and my alcoholism.
After numerous embarrassments, falls on the Nob Hill streets, and losses of friendships, I knew I had to make a change. At 26 years old, I was naive to think I would never experience the “yets;” the detoxes, the legal issues, and the evictions. I had never been married and I didn’t have children, but even though I didn’t have outside things to lose, I was losing the most important thing of all: myself.
It took me several months that year to begin to want a life of recovery, and it took a few serious consequences to get me there. Nevertheless, I moved back to Michigan that summer, and found myself back on the wagon. This time, it was for two years.
I don’t know exactly what happened in 2013; it was a combination of factors. I began dating again, I lived alone, and had my life seemingly together. Financially stable and on the verge of turning 29, I started drinking again- and eventually moved to New York City.
All bets were off once I landed in NYC. It was socially acceptable to go to bars by yourself, and TVs all over the Upper West Side played sports around the clock. Even if I didn’t understand what was going on (which I usually didn’t), there was always a beer to be ordered and a cute guy to talk to.
I found a whole new freedom in the New York bar scene. I mingled with artists and writers, small time celebrities and entrepreneurs. Our ideas never seemed to leave the bar stool, but the grandiosity was enough to keep me coming back.
I later met a boyfriend who drank the way I did, and got me into morning beers and late night Vodka shots. At 115 pounds, I couldn’t keep up with him- and it’s no surprise that his liver shut down just a few short years later.
After his death, I asked myself, how didn’t he make it and I did? How did my body endure such damage and reckless behavior?
Eventually, I realized I needed to stop. A weekend of self-detoxing and sickness lead me back to sobriety for a short time, only to find myself experiencing the “yets” I had dreaded years earlier.
In 2016, I went to a 30-day treatment center in Southaven, Mississippi- which lead me to Boston.
I moved here with every intention of staying sober, yet I just couldn’t seem to stick to it. I tried again and again, finally discovering this past year what the missing link was:
I couldn’t stay sober alone.
My default state is to do everything myself and to disconnect from those around me. When people suggested I get help, I scoffed and tried to think of every possible alternative. I didn’t want to be vulnerable, and I definitely didn’t want to get hurt.
Over time, I began to let people in. I began to trust- and I even started to love.
Recovery today doesn’t look like I thought it would when I began my journey back in 2011. I have made it my own. I have learned to open up to people, to own my recovery, and shameless write about my experiences.
Vulnerability sets us free, and accepting ourselves as we are is one of the biggest gifts of all.
Recovery may not be a linear journey, but it’s a trip worth taking.
Time and time again, I was weak. I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to explain myself. I thought, “one drink won’t be a problem.”
The offers came along regularly, and each time I froze:
“Come over for a beer.”
“Let’s go out for a drink.”
Whether it was a work event or going across the hall to chat with my neighbor, I never stopped at one- it was usually nine or ten. If I was lucky, I went home safely without any falls, bruises, or bad choices. Usually, I drank more than those around me- so I would leave, stop at the store, or go to a nearby bar.
I used to regularly have to apologize for the texts I would send or the things I would say, and I often had someone walk me home, take care of me, or let me crash on their couch.
I was a problem drinker to the tee.
As an alcoholic, I always forgot about those terrible decisions and the consequences I would inevitably face. Always thinking “this time will be different,” I proved to myself over and over that I couldn’t drink in safety- but for years, I kept trying.
I’ve been asked out for drinks this time in sobriety- but instead of accepting the offer, I suggest coffee or a different activity. I tell people I am sober. If they continue to dig, I do tell them I’m in recovery- I can no longer afford to sugarcoat my situation. I can’t pretend that just because my life appears together on the outside, that I am miraculously cured or immune to the disease.
Whatever I put before my sobriety, I will lose- and that includes my career, my friendships, and my peace of mind.
I have finally learned to make make safe choices and no longer put myself in situations where I may pick up- and I don’t allow people into my life who are not healthy for me. Although it used to seem like a good idea to go out with coworkers or head across the hall for a beer, I know where I will end up- and I love my life too much today to lose it.
It occurred to me recently that it wasn’t until my last relapse that I learned to take sobriety seriously.
For me, it wasn’t just about not drinking- it was about making my recovery a way of life.
It was about accepting myself- and to accept leaving my past behind.
It was about learning to embrace my recovery and be proud of being sober.
When you put down the drink, you may be eliminating the immediate chaos that alcohol brings, but you’re still left with you. All of you. You’re left with the good, the bad, the trauma, and the insecurities. There’s no longer anything to cover these things up, and sweeping them under the rug no longer works- at least, not if you want to recover.
I needed to let go of the reservations I had about telling people I don’t drink, and I had to learn to surround myself with people who were supportive of my sobriety. I used to try to fit in with people who drank, which inevitably caused me to lie about being sober, and even pick up a drink after short periods of sobriety.
Until I made my sobriety a way of life, I couldn’t stay sober.
Half measures didn’t work for me, and I finally accepted that I am not just here to clean up my own life- I’m here to help others, too. Whether it’s through writing, talking to others, lending a listening ear, or just being an example, my own sobriety can provide strength to others- and I am living proof that life does get better sober.
No matter where you go, there it is. Every restaurant you walk into, and at every celebration, you best believe there’s an opportunity to indulge in an alcoholic beverage. It doesn’t take much thought- drinking is a huge part of everyday culture. It’s expected, and in fact, it can even be confusing to people when you tell them you don’t drink.
As I walked through the Greenway in Boston the other day (one of my favorite urban gems), I passed not one, but two areas designated for outdoor boozing. Then, a couple of days later, I passed a beer garden in the Charles River Esplanade.
I used to absolutely love these opportunities.
However, as an ex-drinker, my days of beer gardens and brunch always began much happier than they ended- in fact, the mere idea of drinking was always better than the actual consumption.
For over 15 years, little did I know that I was quite literally drinking a depressant.
While drinking, I was snappy, agitated, and impatient. I was anything but mindful, always awaiting what was next- the next drink, the next bar, the next thrill.
Over the years I’ve realized that my drinking was directly linked to my mental health. Mental health is just as important as recognizing a physical problem. Anxiety, depression, and PTSD are serious health conditions that can be just, if not more, crippling as a physical disease.
For me, my anxiety and PTSD are heightened when I consume just one alcoholic drink. I used to think something was seriously wrong with me. I would wake up in the morning feeling empty. I was nervous about the people around me.
Then, when I stopped drinking, those nervous feelings stopped.
“I knew quite early on that hangovers affected me mentally just as much as they did physically. I’d wake up feeling on edge, like I’d done something wrong or upset someone – even though my friends all told me I’d been perfectly well behaved. Towards my late twenties, even just having a glass of champagne would make me feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Hangover anxiety began to permeate my everyday life. I lost all confidence, motivation, and some hangovers even left me bedridden; not because I was sick or tired but because my mind had gone into overdrive and I was sweating and shaking in panic.”
Our society is quick to provide “quick fixes” for mental health, including medication, material gratification, or even more alcohol to calm the nerves. Having a drink after work or popping a Xanax probably isn’t the answer for long-lasting change, but I can say from experience that meditation, spending time in nature, exercise, and- gasp- abstinence from alcohol- have provided a solace in my soul better than any quick fix.