“I Understood Myself Only After I Destroyed Myself. And Only In The Process Of Fixing Myself, Did I Know Who I Really Was.”- Sade Andria Zabala
I wasn’t aware of it when I was growing up, but my Dad was a sober alcoholic. He was a “closet” drinker, according to my mom, in the way that no one really knew he had a drinking problem. He hid it. My mom didn't even know for a long time that this was the case. I hope he is ok with me sharing this, as he passed away 3 years ago this month. I think the reason he hid his drinking was that he was embarrassed. He knew he had a problem, but had a hard time admitting to it. He had a lot of heavy shit happen to him in his life, and maybe drinking helped to numb the feelings that shit brought up. Luckily, with the support of my mama, he got sober before I was born, and continued to be sober up until his death.
His mother also had a drinking problem. Before she moved to Texas, she had a pretty successful career on the radio in Denver, Colorado. Then her husband, my grandfather, moved her to small town Texas, ending her career in radio. One thing led to another, they divorced, and, from what I understand, her drinking became a problem. She ended up dying from it.
Alcoholism and addiction runs in my blood. We also have an Irish and German heritage, and maybe that has something to do with it too? Addiction is 50% genetic predisposition and 50% poor coping skills. Maybe a little bit of mental health issues mixed in there too.
Having known this growing up, I avoided drinking really until later in college. I lived in a house with a few others, and the ritual became: get off work, go to school, come home and drink beer and hang outside. It was seen as a way of relieving stress, of relaxing, of taking a load off. I am pretty sure this is how most people experience drinking when they first start. Parties, get togethers, shows, end of a work day, etc. We also live in the USA, and beer and drinking are seen as fundamental to being “American”. Maybe you only drank on the weekend, but you drank A LOT (that’s called binging). Maybe you only drink on special occasions. But from my experience, soon enough, anything that is considered “fun” is really only “fun” if there is drinking involved. This is where two things can happen: 1) you can continue this because you have control over your actions or 2) you start to use drinking as a way of coping with life, and soon enough you are having to drink more and more. This is when it becomes a problem.
Alcohol and drugs can often seem like pretty quick fixes to the heavy weight of life. It feels good to relax, to not worry, to numb those feelings away for a moment. It can also be pretty cheap too (at least beer is). But for me personally, I was using drinking as a way of ignoring the feelings I didn’t want to face, the hard parts of myself and my past and my present that I didn't want to acknowledge. Self reflection and internal work is hard, and it takes time, and can be extremely uncomfortable. I think a lot of us aren't taught how to EVEN do this, let alone cope with our feelings. “Get over it”, “time heals all wounds”, etc. This wasn’t the case for me.
Living in Austin, Texas, music + drinking + eating are what we do here. I have noticed people deciding that they can’t keep living that kind of vicious cycle any more, which I think is wonderful and hard. Working in the food industry for so long can often turn most people into alcoholics or addicts of some sort, just read any of Anthony Bourdain's’ books (one of my HEROES). Long, late hours, fast paced, high stress, being on your feet all day/night….you can see how that might happen.
If I had to pinpoint when my drinking problem started, it would be 2013? I was doing exactly that: long hours on my feet, fast paced, stress, etc. Plus, I had just gotten out of a very long relationship, and was not dealing with it well (although that wasn’t obvious to me. I thought I was just fine). Plenty of bad shit happened that I won't bore you with, which all led to one REALLY bad thing which led to my sobriety in December of 2018.
You don’t realize how much alcohol is involved in your life until you stop. You don’t realize how boring some of the things you were doing were until you stop. You don’t realize how toxic your friendships are until you stop. You don’t realize how shitty you feel until you stop. You don't realize how bad you are at coping with things until you stop. You don’t realize how much of your life is centered on drinking until you stop. You don't realize the wreckage drinking has caused until you stop.
Alcohol is literally poison for your body. It is a toxin. It poisons your body, your mind, and usually your life if things get out of hand.
I ruined a lot of really great opportunities when I was drinking. I lost jobs, friends, relationships, etc. I physically hurt myself, and emotionally. I hurt other people too. I did things I would NEVER do sober. There are moments I don't even remember. How scary is that?
I think I also thought that my creativity, my writing, my music, my sense of humor, my charm would disappear when I stopped drinking; like magic elixir; like the "Felix Felicis" in Harry Potter.
My drinking problem looked like this: I didn't know my limits until it was too late. I thought people only liked me when I have been drinking. I didn't think I would be fun or interesting without it. I was hurt, and it HURT, and drinking seemed to make me forget about it for a moment. IRONICALLY, I just ended up adding more hurt to my life by DRINKING. I ended up screwing things up even more by drinking. It was very masochistic. I tend to lean in that direction. When things aren't going the way I had planned, sometimes I will just LIGHT IT ALL ON FIRE.
Was I addicted? That is hard to say. I don’t believe I was addicted to the actual substance. I could take a break and not feel withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t drink during the day (most of the time). I have, and I am going to be honest about this, tried to drink during this almost 3 year sober period. It never went well, and it always reminded me why I am choosing to be sober.
Why do I choose to be sober:
My brain feels so good every day (unless I have allergies)
My health is super important and has improved since quitting
My sleeping habits have improved so much
I have more energy
I save money, and TIME
I found other ways to cope with my feelings
I don't want to hurt myself or others
I want to be present in my life, and to all the opportunities that arise
I want to be the best version I can be of myself, and I can’t do that when I am drinking
I don't feel depressed or as anxious anymore
I have been able to face myself and do a lot of digging to understand myself more
My relationships have IMPROVED so much
I am more selective on what I allow into my life now
Now, I am talking specifically about alcohol. There are a lot of other forms of addiction, even ones we don’t often hear about. For example: drugs, shopping, exercise, gambling, sex, food, cigs, coffee, etc.
Addiction can be substances OR behaviors. OR BOTH. From personal experience, the thing you are addicted to can be as hard to stop as WHAT you're doing when you are doing the thing you are addicted to, if that makes sense. They go hand in hand. When you quit smoking, it’s not the cigarettes you are addicted to, but the behaviors surrounding the cigarette (after dinner/coffee, when you are stressed out, after work, etc.)
I have also noticed that oftentimes, when someone is trying to kick a habit/addiction, they replace one with another. Short term, I think this is ok because you have to find something else to distract you or take away your attention. But long term, you might have just created another addiction.
How do you know if you are addicted to something? Here are some signs and symptoms:
You continue to do it even though you are fully aware of the negative consequences
You try to hide it
You gradually need more and more in order to feel satisfied
You have no self control when it comes down to it
You engage in risky behavior that you never would have when sober
You make up excuses when other people ask you about your “perceived” problem. (DENIAL)
You claim to “need” it in order to function or deal with your problems
“It” is taking up more and more of your time than you had initially planned (this also included recovering the next day(s))
You feel anxious when you aren't able to do it
It is disrupting your life in every way: your relationships, your daily practices/errands/chores, your job, your sleep, your hobbies, your health, your responsibilities, your finances, etc.
Always thinking about when to stop but always coming up with a reason not to (“its not a good time”)
Physical changes including: weight changes, sleeping patterns, poor appearance/personal hygiene, etc.
Behavioral changes including: mood changes (irritability, agitation, aggression), depression/anxiety, criminal activity, lack of motivation, no energy, loss of interest in hobbies/friends/family/work, priorities change
Here are some facts (cited from the NCDAS) on addiction and substance abuse:
In 2018, nearly 140 million Americans over the age of 12 were regular alcohol users
67.1 million regularly engaged in binge drinking
16.6 million were heavy drinkers
2.2 million adolescents (between 12 and 17 years of age) drank alcohol regularly
1.2 million adolescents were regular binge drinkers
In 2018, 20.3 million people in the US age 12 or older had a substance abuse disorder
In 2018, 51.3% of Americans obtained their illegal pain medication from a friend or relative
In 2018, 2.1% or 5.7 million people in the US reported misuse of prescription tranquilizers
In 2018, 0.4% or 1 million people in the US reported misuse of prescription sedatives
In 2018, 0.7% or 1.8 million persons in the US 12 years and older reported meth use in the past year
In 2018, 2% or 5.5 million persons in the US reported having used cocaine in the past year
Here are some of my tips for getting and staying sober (obviously, I am sober from alcohol, but I believe these could be helpful for any addiction you're trying to break):
Avoid old routines and habits: it is important to reorganize your life so that you don't relapse. The things you used to do, at least for the time being, arent going to work if you're trying to get sober (example: going to shows, parties, etc). After you feel comfortable enough with your will power, you can get back to doing these things, but SOBER
Build healthy relationships: Most likely, most of the friends that you have have similar habits to yours. It is important to analyze those relationships, whether they are real and healthy, or toxic. This might be uncomfortable and kind of painful at first, but will pay off down the road. Surround yourself with positive, supportive, sober people if possible (going to Group meetings can be helpful in finding new friends. Everyone there is so AWESOME, in my opinion)
Build a structured schedule: for me, the end of the day would get away from me because I started drinking as soon as I got home. Planning a structured schedule can help avoid triggers and keep you on track to your goals (including sobriety)
Shift towards healthier living: for me, when I got sober, I kind of dove head first into being healthy. I wanted to feel my best. If I was going to do something hard, I had to make up for all the damage I had done to my body and mind and eating healthy, exercising daily (or frequently), getting more sleep, meditation/yoga, and getting back to my hobbies I had been neglecting! You'll find you have more time for these things when you get sober, which is awesome.
Download an addiction app (I use I Am Sober): It will send you reminders every day of your progress, and let you know your milestones, and will send you daily motivations, and pledges! It will let you know how much money and time you have saved as well. You can keep a diary too about how you are feeling and such. It is a nice accountability partner! There is also a community chat where you can see what other people are going through and you can interact as well
Identify your triggers: External triggers are people, places, things, and situations that elicit thoughts or cravings. But also your internal triggers like feelings, thoughts, or emotions. They can be pretty sneaky sometimes, and often are the reasons you got addicted to begin with. Finding new coping mechanisms and talking to a therapist can be SO helpful for handling AND understanding triggers
See a therapist/Go to group meetings: it is important that you talk with someone about your problems in a safe environment. You are not alone, as so many people struggle with addiction. I think it’s also important to find out your root cause for your addiction (maybe something buried you aren't dealing with?).
Learn new “active” coping mechanisms to replace your old “avoidant” coping ones (habits/addictions):
Engaging in progressive muscle relaxation
Listening to music
Going to the movies
Working on puzzles or playing games/CRAFTS!/ART
Going for a leisurely walk
Going to the gym/exercise class
Relaxing in a steam room or sauna
Spending time alone
Participating in some form of recreational activity you enjoy
Doing some yard work
Socializing with friends
Sitting outside and relaxing
Engaging in a hobby you enjoy
Learn something new! Take a class!
Celebrate MILESTONES! THEY LOOK SO GOOD ON YOU, and your hard work and commitment deserve to be celebrated and recognized!
Take control of your finances: I know that I had some shit go down before deciding to get sober. Part of me wanted to ignore it, hoping it would go away. But, trust me, IT WONT. I know its hard and kind of frightening, but DEAL WITH IT NOW.
Avoid transferring addictions: I spoke about this earlier. Yes, it's great to include new rituals in your life, but remember to remain balanced and not accidentally create a new addiction. Any kind of addiction can have negative consequences
Face your past/mistakes: Your addiction, your mistakes, your past does not define who you are. You DID those things, but you AREN'T those things. Take responsibility for your actions in any way that feels good (apologize, talk with others about your actions, work through them together). I felt so ashamed for having a problem to begin with, but please remember, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. DO NOT SHAME YOURSELF. Don’t ignore it or pretend like it didn't happen, rather, face it for what it was, and decide you DESERVE BETTER.
Forgive yourself: this is super important. We make mistakes. We are human. But, hopefully, we learn from our mistakes and we can move forward with our lives, but it's more difficult if we are constantly carrying around guilt. Please, forgive yourself.
"Sobriety was my painstaking resurrection. It was my return to wild. It was one long remembering. It was realizing that the hot electric thunder I felt buzzing and rolling inside was me—trying to get my attention, begging me to remember, insisting: I'm still in here."- Glennon Doyle (Untamed) (ONE OF MY ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOKS)
Benefits of getting sober (at least from alcohol):
Weight loss/weight gain: this is going to look different depending on what you do after you quit drinking. For me, I lost weight because I changed my eating habits and exercise routine. For some, it happens because they were taking in a LOT of extra calories (beer has a LOT of carbs and calories). For some people, you might gain a little weight because you replace drinking with foods, and maybe you haven't gone the route of exercising more. Maybe you need more rest? This will look different for everyone, and that is OK. What is important is that you've decided to stop poisoning your body
Your moods will become more balanced. This was hard for me at first because all the things I was suppressing with alcohol suddenly came floating to the top. After facing those feelings, my emotions evened out. I am able to manage my emotions, and I don't have as many ups and downs.
Your sleep will become more consistent and restorative (Alcohol affects your REM cycle), and you will start to feel more rested, which also means you will have:
Your immune system will return to normal, so your chances of getting sick are lowered in a BIG way
Your digestion will improve! The liver has been working so hard while you have been poisoning it with alcohol. Now, it can relax and recover and can get back to what it was meant to be doing.
You will be more HYDRATED. Alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you need to go to the bathroom more, whether or not you really need to. It also over works your kidneys during that process. Ditching alcohol allows you to keep hydrated for longer, by retaining liquid which is sooooo good for your body. This also leads to:
Your skin will get a MUCH NEEDED BOOST in appearance! Now that you are hydrated, sleeping better, giving your kidneys and liver a break, your skin can finally thrive again.
Your anxiety will decrease! This is kind of an odd phenomenon because alcohol is a depressant, which will throw your neurotransmitters and hormones off balance. When you quit drinking, everything will go back to the way it should be in a balanced way.
Your relationships will improve!
Your concentration will improve!
Your eyesight will improve!
Your memory will improve!
You will get back at coping with all the hard things life throws at us!
SO MANY OTHER THINGS!
One of the reasons I wanted to talk about this is because it affects so many people. It has touched so many people in my life, and so many lives have been lost due to addiction. But, I also know a lot of people who are sober, and I am so proud and inspired by the change they decided to make in their lives. If you have also made this kind of change, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. I would really like to remove the stigma that surrounds addiction so that people feel safe talking about it and getting the help that they need. I am sharing my story so that if you are reading this, and you have an addiction or know someone who does, that you can see that addiction can happen to anyone!
It takes a lot of strength to admit that you have a problem. Often, addiction is just someone's way of coping with depression or anxiety. They don’t know how to handle it themselves, so they find something that feels good or relieves it for a moment. I remember going to my OB GYN when I was younger (she was my primary doctor), and I remember telling her that I felt depressed and instead of recommending a therapist, she put me on an antidepressant. I am against this.
When you have pain because of health issues or surgery of some kind, or some mental health issues, and your doctor just gives you pills/medication without even thinking of doing a psych evaluation, I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT. They don’t see you as a whole person. They are treating your symptoms without even seeing you. Maybe you have some mental health problems and taking pain pills could be problematic without coupling it with therapy. Know what I mean?
I am sure you have heard me mention before how doctors like to provide quick fixes (usually