Why I stopped drinking alcohol

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If you want the short story, here it is. The roller coaster of keeping my life looking perfect and calm on the outside with a successful career, nice car, apartment by the ocean, yet feeling utterly miserable inside became too exhausting to continue. Deep down I knew there was a better life for me. A happy life. A fulfilling life. A soulful life. A healthy life. 

If you want the longer version, keep reading. My drinking was not alcoholic in the sense that I did it every day. I was an athlete, played sports, ran marathons. I finished my college studies in three years. I never got caught driving under the influence (and thank goodness I never hurt anyone) even though I did drive drunk on occasion. I never lost a job because of my drinking. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I was inspired and successful, and alcohol was my escape to relax and let go of all the pressure I put on my self 24-7. I never ruined friendships because of my drinking. I somehow attracted terrific, loving, forgiving college girlfriends, who are still my rid or die. They always saw the real me behind the facade of my drunken chaos, and so did my family. I think that's why it was tough for me to admit my relationship with alcohol was not normal and it was even harder to quit once and for all.

Drinking alcohol was a way to numb all the feelings I was having but having no idea how to process or experience them. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was so afraid I would lose control if I felt my emotions. I did whatever I could to keep going. Studying, training, working, helping others. I burned the candle at both ends. I never slept. I didn't have menstrual cycles. I was afraid of what would happen if I stopped. Would I fall into a depression, become lazy, unfocused, lose everything, if I actually allowed myself to feel all the things inside of me? Would the feels suck me up and take over? It sounds silly but I know I am not alone because I coach women who were like me - driven and successful, too tired to keep running, but too scared to stop. 

I found myself in a cycle of controlling my drinking, abstaining from alcohol, and then I would crumble from the stress and abstinence. I'd make up for lost time, drink an entire bottle in one sitting, and through the course of a night, engage in promiscuous behavior, and create a giant embarrassing mess that I'd have to piece together and clean up the following day. The weight of shame and guilt after a night of drinking would motivate me to abstain and control myself again. I would keep it buttoned up for another three to six months, not just with alcohol, but with perfectionism in my work and personal life until I crashed again into the whirlwind of drinking and drunkenness. I get tired just writing this and my goodness, I have so much compassion for that young woman and the women that I see out there struggling with this exact challenge.  

Thirteen years ago I stopped drinking alcohol as an act of self-love. I had had enough of making an ass of myself. I remember the night so vividly. There I was, curling my hair in the Ritz Carlton bathroom, having already finished a bottle of wine while getting ready to go out. I threw on my stilettos and headed to the pre-party in the hotel lobby. After another four drinks, and already stumbling, my then boyfriend and I headed to the party with his friends. I don't even remember what I drank at that party. I don't remember much of that party other than being in a large home, and a huge dance floor in the backyard. I recall bits and pieces of a fight that I had with my boyfriend at the party. Then I was walked down a long hallway, told to leave the party, and escorted to a taxi outside the front door. 

After a night like this, I typically stumbled back to my apartment or hotel where I was staying. I would turn on the water and take a shower fully clothed and cry, sometimes for hours with the water running. That night as I fell asleep in the bathroom because I was too ashamed to come out and face my boyfriend, I knew that something had to change. I either had to die that night, or I had to wake up and do something I'd never done before - never drink again. 

The next morning when I woke up, I knew I was being given a chance to start over, and I had to keep up my end of the bargain. I opened the bathroom door, and my boyfriend told me that he was worried and that I had a drinking problem. He said wouldn't be able to be in a relationship with me unless I did something about it. It was the first time someone stood up to me and my drinking. I left that hotel room and vowed never to drink again. We returned to our apartment in Santa Monica. I called my parents, told them I was an alcoholic, I would still come home for the holidays but not to offer me anything to drink. My parents said they were relieved. 

What and how things unfolded after that is beyond my comprehension. The most aligned people started to cross my path. An acupuncturist who was studying to be a shaman supported my physical, spiritual and mental body. A therapist who encouraged me to seek spiritual solutions in addition to abstinence. A nutritionist, an integrative physician, a healer. 

Certain people in my life thought I should go to 12 Step, but it didn’t feel right for me, at least at that time. So I went on a quest, determined to find a solution outside of 12 Step. I found spiritual healing, and the safest way to process big emotions at that time through running, training for triathlons, as well as studying meditation, Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine, and Reiki. I even spent close to $20K getting a Masters in Spiritual Psychology to prove to myself that I didn't need 12 Step. I did really well for several years. 

But four years later, although still abstinent from drugs and alcohol, I was feeling emotionally hungover when it came to men and money. I had an ah-ha moment. How did I know the 12 Steps wouldn't help me if I hadn't even tried them?

I decided to do something different. I called a friend from my graduate program, who I knew was a member of 12 Step, and asked her to be my sponsor. I made a deal with her and myself - that if at the end of one year of giving the 12 Step program 100% of my focus and commit I didn't feel better or have improved life, I'd leave 12 Step and find another option. 

One of my first tasks was to find a meeting that felt in alignment with my spiritual beliefs. My goodness, that was challenging. Every time I went, I noticed differences. But I was taught to take contrary action, and look for the similarities. Low and behold it worked! 

After I started looking at the similarities between myself and others in the meetings, I saw how much I had to learn. I found a meditation meeting that fits like a comfortable sneaker I'd had for years. I found my people. White, black, Buddhist, Jewish, investment banker and gang member, and everyone in between, were, meditating, breathing and sharing about their spiritual awakening through sobriety. I attended that meeting, worked the steps with my sponsor, and found out what being sober really meant.

Back in 2004, I never thought I would be able to make it through a year without alcohol. I never thought I would be ready to go to concerts or celebrate holidays without alcohol. I never thought I'd be able to attend weddings and dance freely without alcohol. I never thought I'd be able to date with liquor to buffer the nerves. I never thought I'd be able to have sex with someone without relaxing with one glass of wine first. I never thought I'd be able to move through deaths of friends, loved ones or my mom without numbing out just a little. I never thought I'd be able to survive some of my most prominent feelings without rose to cut the edge off. So I decided to take it one day at a time, and here I am, 13 years later, still sober. 

Moral of the story: Most change happens when we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Most change occurs because we can't stand the pain or we want pleasure. Most alcoholics know that they don't drink like everyone else. Alcoholism does not care what you look like, how broken or triumphant you see from the outside. It just takes time to surrender to saying goodbye. In the interim, do your best to love yourself, forgive yourself and when you're ready, ask for help, I'm here. 

 

The ultimate lesson is that there is no immunity, no matter our age or the size of our retirement account, from going through constant cycles of integration and disintegration in which we are humbled and hopefully set right with the world again.
— David Whyte