What will I drink if I can’t drink alcohol?

Lovely post!

And Everything Afterwards

One of the things that I worried about, before I stopped drinking, is what on earth I would drink if I didn’t drink alcohol. It’s a common query; all the sober communities I know of have this question as a recurring topic, and we trade tips about sparkling elderflower cordial and dry ginger ale.

These days, conversations like that seem, if not boring, at least completely irrelevant.

Last night, LH and I had a ‘date night’ dinner of nice cheese, olives, smoked salmon and other nibbles on a platter. He drank red wine and made me a complicated mocktail of pomegranate juice, freshly squeezed lime and tonic water. He’s a sweetheart, my LH, but it made me realise how unimportant the whole ‘what to drink’ thing has become. I drink a lot of Diet Coke, these days, because it’s the only diet soda that doesn’t taste entirely of aspartame, and…

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Day 2: buh-bye perfectionism, hello vulnerability and play!

Today I embarked upon two new journeys: 1) My renewed commitment to sobriety, 2) a brand new (and first) job in the field I recently earned my master’s degree in. Apparently I like to do everything at once. No pressure, self! Have fun making two huge changes in ONE day!

In reality, I’m sure my decision to become sober was very much related to my entering this new phase of my career. Although I am 36 years old and have technically been considered an adult for 15 years now- somehow having my first well-paying career has given my self-image that additional boost. You’d think having a child would have done that but ironically the process of motherhood continues to make me feel more inept and clueless by the day. But that’s another blog post altogether. Anyhoo, to summarize: having a real grown-up job has inspired me to finally grow the f*ck up.

When I say “grow the f*ck” up I mean that in the most self-compassionate way possible of course. And also in the most light-hearted way. Because if I learned anything from my previous long and temporary period of sobriety, it is that I need to keep the sense of fun and rebellion in my life if this sobriety business is going to stick. I need to continue to “escape”. I just can’t escape through alcohol (or extra value meals…or chocolate cake…or Indian food buffets…is it dinner time yet?). Because much of what led me to drink again was the immensely heavy burden of my self-imposed perfectionist expectations, and my failure to meet those expectations (i.e. my failure to be perfect).

So as I see it there are a few ways I can feed my need to rebel….

1) Prevent the need to rebel by letting go of perfectionism. This means coming to believe on a gut level that I really do NOT have to be perfect. Perfectionism is exhausting. I’ve been trying to be perfect for 36 years now and it has frankly gotten really old.  In those 36 years I have tragically never achieved a perfect body, a perfect relationship, or perfect job performance.  Nor have I figured out how to make every single person in my life happy 100% of the time.  But I have enjoyed a lot of wonderful experiences that I would have enjoyed even more had I not been so distracted by trying to be so damn perfect.

So, enter self-help hero #1, Brene Brown (though sadly she is not wearing a cape in this slightly corny Oprah interview).   Brene (first name basis) is all about letting go of perfectionism by being vulnerable as an antidote to shame, anxiety, and depression.  I have been trying to embrace vulnerability at my new job by asking for help instead of faking it.  Being vulnerable in this way has allowed me to move beyond the imposter syndrome (e.g. “If only people knew that I have no idea what I’m talking about!”) and make genuine connections with more experienced colleagues by saying “I have no idea what I’m doing!”.  They have welcomed me with open arms and without fail have provided support and empathy.  In a previous time (e.g 4 days ago) I would have have faked it, freaked out, had an anxiety attack, and then gone home to drink a whole bottle of wine to escape the weight of my need to be perfect at something I could never be perfect at.

2) Find other ways to let loose that are less harmful.  Although I have grand aspirations of being a zen Buddhist queen of sobriety, the reality is that I hate meditating.  I do like having fun.  I often drank to just have that sense of “fun”- and I still need to have fun.  Off the top of my head there are a few ways to live a spontaneous and fun life without booz: dance classes, frolicking with my child, watching stand-up comedy, paddleboarding (??), skinny dipping, running, performing in local music theater, learning to play the ukelele that has been collecting dust in my room for over a year…any other ideas?  How do YOU have fun?

A New Beginning

I wrote the post below on Soberistas, but wanted to share it here as well:

Last September I joined soberistas and became Alcohol free (AF) with my husband for 5 months. The first few months were full of renewal, and the novelty of being free of poison and shame kept me going. I made it through the holidays alcohol free. In January I entered a very stressful part of my graduate program. I felt increasingly consumed by anxiety and stress about being a mom and a graduate student in am intensive and high pressure medical program. I was working around dying people each day in my clinical rotation and I wasn’t processing those emotions. I didn’t know how. My commitment to being AF began to ebb, as did my activity and connections online. I got cocky about being AF while at the same time began to doubt why I was AF to begin with.

In March our family had a surreal and bizarre near death experience when a broken water heater led to our having carbon monoxide poisoning. I woke up to my son falling out of our bed and crying. I went to get him and the carbon monoxide hit me; I passed out trying to reach my son, and my husband thankfully opened a window before he passed out- allowing me to revive and get my son and husband out of the house. We came within minutes of death, literally.

Two days later we began to drink again. I felt abandoned by a God who I thought was supposed to be rewarding me for my amazing self control. Instead of seeing our survival as a miracle, I was pissed off that the incident happened at all. I was angry and I felt that the stressors of life were simply too much to deal with. So I turned to Booz again.

I have been struggling with it ever since. I found a counselor and began to work through some of my unhealthy baggage related to the “sober lifestyle”, as I came from a more extreme and judgmental upbringing where all drinking was judged and there was tremendous social isolation as a result. This same counselor also encouraged me to try drinking in moderation, as I’ve shared about in previous posts. The goal was to break the cycle of shame and self-punishment that always led to the inner toddler crying for overindulgence.

I have tried moderation and frankly it just doesn’t work. I still have this physiological reaction to alcohol that outweighs all my mental efforts to moderate. It is exhausting and demoralizing to continue trying to moderate and fail. This counselor meant well, however she deals with more extreme addicts with severe physical addictions, so to her my 3 drink a night habit is something I can modify with a few cognitive behavioral strategies. But I haven’t found this to be true. And when it comes disk to it I realize that it is ridiculous to put so much effort into trying to control my consumption of a substance that is inherently addictive by nature. What a fruitless and exhausting endeavor. And for what? To drink when I go out with friends and have a glass of wine with dinner? I enjoyed dinner with friends and indulgent dinners just as much (perhaps more so) when I was AF. What it comes down to is that I never drank just to enjoy the “taste” of alcohol. It was always, always, always about escape. About calming my anxiety because I didn’t trust or know other methods.

So as we come back to this wonderful season of renewal and new beginnings I am here today and have decided to begin again. I want to be free again from the relentless, exhausting, and obsessive mental chatter and shame of having alcohol in my life. If I have learned anything it is that I need support. I need to be on here consistently. I need a few people who I really connect with who I can check in with. I may need an in person support group though I am still searching for what that may be.

I am going into this new beginning knowing that there will still be tragedies and difficulties and stress. On some level I think I expected God to reward me with an easy and effortless life as a reward for not drinking, and when I came off of the cloud nine of new sobriety, I didn’t have the tools to handle crisis when it arose. Being alcohol free in itself is not what will make me able to cope better when crisis comes. It is the new habits and coping mechanisms that I am committing to cultivate in place of alcohol. There may be times that I stuff a giant piece of chocolate in my face instead of praying or running or breathing. That’s OK too. The essential thing is to not go back to that endless, shameful and slippery slope of drinking. Moderation does not exist in my world. I don’t know why it does for some and not for others. Just like I don’t know why some people are born with higher IQs than others. But I know realize that just as surely as I have brown eyes and am medium height, I am not a moderate drinker. I have no desire to be. Moderation is lame. Sobriety is amazing.

So here I am, day 1. Not back where I started but starting a new path with an even greater appreciation of what is required to sustain an alcohol free life. Losing the Booz is only the first of many steps towards a happier existence and I am excited to begin this new path.

May you all be blessed in your own paths, whatever they may be.