It was almost a year ago that I first broke up with alcohol. Like many unhealthy relationships it was an on-again, off-again affair for a while. I vacillated between “Get out of my life! I’m done with you” and “Actually I do love you and I don’t want you out of my life. I’ll take you back!”
I told myself that I didn’t need to give up alcohol, I just needed to change my relationship with it and set healthier boundaries. But like many unhealthy relationships, the boundaries kept being broken.
I have now officially broken up with alcohol, and I am so happy about it! I would have once thought it unfathomable to imagine life without alcohol in it. I truly couldn’t wrap my mind around it. No social lubricant at parties and events? No visiting wineries and breweries and going out for drinks with friends? No relaxing buzz to unwind at the end of the day? What kind of a life is that?
As it turns out, it’s a pretty great one. An even better life than I lived when I was in a relationship with alcohol (and I’ll share more on that later).
It may seem weird to talk about alcohol in relational terms, but it really was a relationship for me. Because alcohol had been there for me through some of the hardest times of my life. Alcohol comforted me. It was how I coped. It was a reliable part of my daily routine.
I doubt anyone even realized I had a problem. For a long time, I didn’t even realize I had a problem. Because it kind of seemed normal. A drinking problem is very easy to hide in plain sight these days. It may be right there beneath the wine o’clock hashtags and the “mommy’s sippy cup” memes. And I didn’t really get drunk so how could I have a problem?
I honestly cannot pinpoint when exactly it happened – when my drinking came to be too much or when the dependence on alcohol began. I think it was a very slow and steady progression. What started as an occasional glass or two of wine at the end of the day or with friends eventually turned into a glass of wine every night. My “victory lap” I would call it, after a long day of parenting. That glass of wine eventually turned into two, eventually turned into three, and eventually transpired into four glasses – an entire bottle of wine each day. Sometimes I felt a little inkling that perhaps that was too much and I really needed to cut back. But my tolerance had gotten pretty high and I needed more wine to feel the buzz that I was looking for. That buzz was what I believed got me through this consuming season of having young children. It was what calmed my nerves and relieved my stress. I looked forward to it every single day and counted down the hours until I could feel the wine work its magic through my body.
But I started to find that drinking was taking up a lot of space in my thought life. I would wonder how early was too early to have a glass of wine. I would come home from work in the afternoon and pour a glass telling myself, “A lot of people do this. It’s been a hard day at work and the kids are coming home soon, I’m just going to unwind for a bit.” Except that it often wasn’t just one glass. I always want more. Often I would sort of sneak a second glass – but I would pour it before my first glass was gone so that I could tell myself it wasn’t really two glasses – it was one and a half. Then when it came time to start cooking dinner, I would pour another glass of wine because it’s relaxing to have a glass of wine while cooking, and that’s what a lot of normal people do. But then it would come time for dinner, and I needed a glass of wine to pair with whatever meal I had crafted! That’s just a normal, regular person thing to do, right? But then we would put the kids to bed, and well at that point it was time for TV and my “victory lap” glass (or two) of wine.
One of the things that stands out the most to me here was the constant conversation I was having with myself about this, to try and justify it and talk myself into believing there was no problem. I was always looking for excuses and opportunities to drink.
It was Memorial Day 2019 that ushered me to the point where I would finally confront this reality. We had friends over and I had a steady stream of drinks throughout the day. It was the best excuse I could hope for. And I wasn’t hiding anything!
By the end of the night I found myself sitting on the couch googling, “Am I an alcoholic?” Several things that popped up said something along the lines of, “If you are asking if you are an alcoholic, then you probably are.” Same with “Do I have a drinking problem?” I found something that said “People who don’t have a drinking problem don’t wonder if they have a drinking problem.” Hmm… makes sense.
The next day I talked to my husband about it. He admitted that there were times he felt like perhaps I was drinking a bit too frequently. But he had no idea it had gotten to the point that it had. Mostly because I had become great at hiding it. I was the master of pouring just a little more, and then just a little more, and then just a little more – whenever he wasn’t looking or was in the bathroom or had gone upstairs to get something. And he doesn’t drink wine, so it’s not like he was paying close attention to what wine we had in the house and how much of it was missing. I had also become the master of hiding empty wine bottles in the bottom of the recycling bin.
These seemingly small behaviors started adding up and began sounding out a siren in my subconscious. But I had gotten into the habit of minimizing it in my mind and deceiving myself. I would tell myself that since Jordan isn’t a wine drinker, he just doesn’t understand my tolerance level being high. I thought, “I can’t let him see this because he doesn’t get it. I’m completely fine, but he might worry.” Again, I thought it was normal. Especially when I am surrounded by a world that laughs about this and just says, “cheers!”
After talking to my husband, I got into counseling. At first, we tried putting boundaries around alcohol for me. I could only have a couple of drinks a month, and only with other people. Well it didn’t take long for me to drop the “only a couple of drinks a month” part and decide that as long as I was drinking with other people, I would be fine. This introvert became very social that month! I found myself searching for and creating opportunities to get together with people where wine would be involved, as often as I could. And I would tell myself I would only have one glass, but then I would have two. Instead of seeing that as concerning, I felt celebratory because it was less than I used to drink, and I wasn’t drinking every day. “See! I don’t have a problem!” I thought. Until my therapist pointed out that it was problematic that I couldn’t stick to my original boundary of only two drinks per month.
So, not quite willing to say a full goodbye to wine yet, I set a new boundary. Only ONE glass of wine, ONCE a month.
We had friends over. I opened a bottle of rose`. “Only one glass. Only one glass. Only one glass.” It was like a quiet chant in my head as we sat outside at the dinner table. I was wrestling in my mind because I wanted another glass so badly but I wanted to prove to myself that I could stick to my boundary this time and that I didn’t have an alcohol addiction. At one point during the dinner, I got up to use the bathroom. When I had come back out, I realized (with absolute glee) that someone had refilled my glass while I was gone. Loophole! If someone else poured more wine for me and it was not my choice and I didn’t ask for it, then wasn’t I off the hook? I was elated. Until I had to tell my therapist about it.
“My biggest concern,” my therapist said, “is what will happen when tragedy or trauma hit? If wine is what you turn to, how bad might your drinking get when that awful thing happens?”
It can be tricky to recognize addiction in the time we currently live in because the indicators that point to a problem are viewed as culturally acceptable. When you think of alcohol addiction, you may picture someone with a brown paper bag in their hands who misses work while they are passed out on the couch. But the truth is that alcohol addiction may not look like that at all. It may look like functioning normally throughout the day and then pouring a drink, and then a little more, and then a little more, and then a little more in order to numb pain, cope with stress, and self-medicate.
I’ve started thinking about alcoholism as being like cancer, in a way. One person might be diagnosed with stage 4 cancer while another person is diagnosed with stage 1 cancer. What that cancer looks like is going to be different for each of those two people. But it’s still cancer. Though it may not look like much of a big of a deal at stage 1, it is a progressive disease. So you treat it, immediately.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It only gets worse and it always gets worse.
When I was finally willing to acknowledge the red flags in my life, I decided I needed to treat it, immediately. I started feeling weighed down by the hold that drinking had on me and I wanted it gone. I didn’t want this to end up ruining my life one day.
This new alcohol-free life can be tricky for me to navigate, especially because alcohol is a huge part of our culture, even in the Christian community. Much of my social life and many of the activities I participated in included alcohol. I don’t know yet quite how to navigate it.
What I do know is that I have been experiencing something amazing in this new dry life I am living, and it is way better than drinking alcohol. Though I struggled with the idea of losing wine at first, I’ve found something better on the other side. It feels like I am waking up! It’s like I’ve been asleep for awhile. Asleep to fear and pain, but also asleep to my dreams and desires. Alcohol does deliver when it comes to numbing the hard stuff in life, but it also numbs the good. It turns out I was missing out on a lot of good.
I’ve found that really feeling all of life – even the hard stuff – actually feels better than medicating it. I’ve found that pulling up that pain from my past and dealing with it is the only way to experience healing and freedom and move forward in a productive way. I’ve found that soaking up my time with my kids – even on the most chaotic of days – feels way better than just counting down to escaping the exhaustion of it. I’ve found strength.
I don’t “need” alcohol in order to do the hard things I am called to in life – I can actually just do the hard things! I’ve found that exploring more of who I am and what I want is fun and freeing, and alcohol was inhibiting that for me. I’ve found that healthy ways of relaxing – a warm bath, lavender oil, a walk outside, an early bedtime, reading in blankets, siting by a fireplace, drinking warm tea – these things all feel so much better than drinking alcohol (especially the morning after). I sleep better. I feel better. I am a better wife and mother. I am happier. Sometimes I am sad, but I am no longer afraid of that sadness. I let myself feel it, ride it like a wave, and then I keep moving. And that movement suddenly feels lighter.
It turns out I really love not drinking!
I love this excerpt from “What Being Sober Has Meant to Me” by Brene Brown:
Ten years after I got sober, my spiritual awakening started. In addition to not drinking, I had just quit sugar and bread for the first time. I thought I was going to come out of my skin. I sat across from my therapist, Diana, and said, “You need to give me something for my anxiety. I can’t take it. There’s nothing to take the edge off anymore. I’m freaking out.”
Diana calmly replied, “What do you want me to give you?”
Infuriated by her calmness, I said, “I don’t know! Medicine. Something for the anxiety! I’m like a turtle without a shell. I have NO SHELL! No booze, no muffins, nothing! I’m a turtle without a shell in a briar patch. Everything in the briar patch is poking me and jabbing me. It hurts.”
She said, “Maybe we should talk about getting out of the briar patch?”
I was pissed. “Get out of the […] briar patch? That’s your advice? Instead of giving me a new shell, you want me to live somewhere less prickly? Seriously?”
Diana said, “You don’t need to find a different place to live. Maybe we could just think about a different way to live. One that doesn’t require that heavy shell.”
This idea of a turtle shell and a briar patch has been incredibly helpful for me. Wine was my shell shielding me from prickles and thorns, but I had never considered the fact that perhaps I could remove the thorns, or find a different way that doesn’t require the “heavy shell.”
Ultimately, I’ve surrendered my shell to God and have told Him that I trust Him with my life instead. I trust that He will remove the thorns that need to be removed, and the ones He doesn’t? He will shield me through them. He provides a different way to live. I was looking to wine to serve the role in my life that only God can. And now that I’ve given that role back to God? I can honestly say that no wine tastes as good as sobriety feels.
I listened to a prayer recently that said, “God, restore my union with You. I was made for union with You. I love You. Restore my union with You.” I love that. It has become my primary prayer, every single day. When I experience restored union with God, everything else seems to fall into its rightful place. I don’t need wine when I am restored in my union with my creator. What a poor substitution wine made for God! He is far sweeter and stronger than the finest wine in the world.