Why I got sober
Do you remember your first drink? I do. I was two years old and would waddle around, grabbing my Dad's old beer cans to sip whatever was left. I think my Dad thought it was funny and I remember the taste being so salty. I was a Daddy's girl and wanted to do everything he was doing, including throwing back a cold one. Technically, this was the beginning of my drinking "career", although it didn't reach a next step until I was a little bit older.
My next foray into drinking was another stolen sip. It was my freshman or sophomore year of high school and I was at a sleep over with my two best friends. The three of us snuck into my friends parents' garage and stole one of her Dad's beers. It was a similar brand to what my Dad used to drink--Millers light or Coors light, something of that ilk. We cracked open the can with eyes wide and ears perked for any sound of parental footsteps on the hardwood floors inside. We quietly passed around the beer, hands shaking and quietly terrified of getting caught. As I took my sip, it still had that salty taste I remembered. I don't think any of us swallowed those stolen sips and we all squealed with disgust as we spat out the contraband in the sink. The three of us didn't talk/think about drinking again until we started to drive. It is scary to say this but, driving is what led me to drinking regularly. Suddenly, I had a small amount of freedom and a midnight curfew. My best friend and I went to our first party shortly after I got my license and got introduced to Smirnoff Ice. We only needed one and felt instantly wasted. I will never forget us laughing endlessly about words like "tennis shoes" and other silly things. From then on, every weekend we would get a six pack of Smirnoff to split and rage with the older boys. It felt so grownup and so cool to be out drinking.
My drinking felt pretty "normal" in terms of teenage rebellion. We got drunk but mostly kept ourselves together. My first blackout was the end of my junior year. We went to a party and I had jungle juice for the first time. Jungle juice is basically a long island iced tea but with more alcohol and fruit punch. I thought it was delicious. At the end of the night, and one too many jungle juices, my best friend and some boys had to carry me back to the car because I was unable to walk by myself. Back at my best friends house, she had to undress me and put me to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night and puked bright red punch all over my poor friends bed and then hung out with her toilet for the rest of the early morning. I wish I could say my first experience with not being able to remember the night before scared me but, it didn't. I thought it was part of the fun. It was also around this time that I got my first panic attack. Although, I didn't realize it was a panic attack until much later. I had always been an anxious kid and I worried endlessly. I was consumed, as most are at that age, of what my peers thought of me. Was I cool enough? Was I pretty enough? Did people like me? Etc, etc. Drinking started as a way to quiet that voice and fade out to a point that I wasn't worried about anything anymore.
As I went off to college, drinking became even easier. Now, everyone was partying and there weren't any parents to hide it from. My freshman year I lived in an apartment complex that had been converted into off campus dorms. We had Resident Advisors who were supposed to be monitoring us but, they were often partying the hardest. On the weekends, everyone would leave their apartment doors open and stock their living rooms with cheap vodka, cherry sodas and beer. I can still taste the sting of the vodka and the sweet relief of cherry chemicals on my throat. Drinking became the best way to feel brave in situations that made me feel awkward. It was a bonding tool for new friends and new boyfriends. It was the numbing technique as I stepped into the cold world of casual sex for the first time. It dulled the ache of gossip or a bad test score. Plus, it was fucking fun. It still felt so grown up and cool to be drinking. I had my second panic attack the second semester of my freshman year. It lasted all day and ended with me going to the hospital before I could calm down. I didn't slow down to ask why or what was brining these on, I just pushed it aside and kept rolling.
My partying was pretty tame, in that I kept it to the weekends and wasn't blacking out, until I turned 21. 21 obviously kicked off a whole new spree of getting drunk. Going out to bars was now a full time hobby and my drinking caught up to speed. When I first turned 21, I would have 3-4 long island iced teas in a night, plus shots. I eventually graduated to vodka sodas because someone told me there were 2,000 calories in one long island! I found the high calorie count appalling and immediately switched to a less caloric drink. I thought nothing of the amount of alcohol I was consuming (everyone was doing it!) and still have 3-4 drinks every weekend and some week nights too. I loved the ritual of going out- getting gussied up with my friends and picking out our outfits together. I loved getting to the bar and the sip of that first drink. It was like an instant relaxer. I would worry less what people thought of me. I was more bold with guys. I was brave enough to make out with the hot bartender. Needless to say, all the alcohol I was consuming meant I was blacking out on a more regular basis.
At the time, it seemed harmless. I was always surrounded by a gaggle of girls. We took care of whomever was the messiest. I would wake up and not remember the night or what I said and there was gnawing in the back of my mind that blacking out wasn't "okay". Again, I didn't slow down to look at why this was happening. I pushed each instance aside and kept doing what I was doing. My anxiety was getting worse and I had a lot of fear about nearly everything. I went through a phase where anytime it rained I thought the world would end..seriously. I would stay up all night worrying to try and keep the planet alive. Typing it out sounds ridiculous, which is why I told NO ONE about it, but it felt VERY real to me. I was in a state of pure terror nearly all of the time by this point. And then I moved to NYC.
Moving to New York was my life long dream. I moved here at 25 and this is embarrassing to admit but, I was most excited about the party scene. I had always worried about being "cool enough" and New York seemed like the place to finally prove I was. I started going out every night of the week and weekends. I also started using more drugs. I had experimented a little in college but, New York was the big leagues! I started smoking weed every day. I had a short fling with cocaine but I couldn't handle the severe depression when it wore off. It also really screwed with my nose and breathing. I stuck to other party drugs. As my drinking and partying got wilder so did my anxiety.
It took me a lot of effort to get out of the house each morning because my fear and paranoia about anything little thing was overwhelming. One of my nagging fears was that I would be found out for being a fraud, a nobody and uncool. The ages of 25-29 were some of the hardest of my life so far. I was dealing heavily with childhood wounds. I had ended my last serious relationship right before moving to NY; it ended badly and I carried the guilt of its failure like an albatross. I also just felt like deep, deep down I was a terrible person. I was so fucking freaked out that people would start to realize I was damaged that they would no longer want to be around me and I would be alone. So, I drank and I did drugs to push those thoughts aside. Even hanging out with friends was torturous because I was convinced that everyone actually hated me. The more I drank, the louder my anxiety got. I also started blacking out with such regularity that it finally registered there might be an issue with my drinking.
I can remember two instances that really shook me. The first, I had gone to a open bar party with friends and an open bar always meant that I was going to black out. Unlimited vodka soda's? It was rude to not black out! I did my duty and was very messy leaving the bar. My friends had to literally carry me into a cab but, didn't think to get in the cab and assist me in getting home. One of the problems in New York was I was no longer surrounded by all those girls willing to look after me anymore. Once in the cab, I vaguely remember puking everywhere and promptly got kicked out. I could barely walk and sat on a curb to call a guy I had just started seeing to come get me. I thank God he did because I could not have gotten home on my own that night. I still don't remember how he found me, as I could barely explain where I was, but he did and took me home. He was so, so, so sweet and the next morning I thanked him for his kindness by breaking up with him for a completely unavailable guy I had been sleeping with for a couple months. Solid choice younger me. Another night, I was headed to a dinner party of a photographer I sort of knew. I was very nervous, as I feel uncomfortable around large groups of people, and got high to calm my nerves. At the dinner party, I then felt too high so I started throwing back the red wine to help me calm down. In my drunken/high stupor I made a new friend and together we hit up a party another friend was throwing. The rest of the night is completely gone but, I was told later I did molly, coke and smoked more weed at the party. I woke up the next morning in my bed, all my clothes on (thank god), purse in tact and absolutely no recollection of how the fuck I got home. Or what had happened. After two years in NYC and this cycle, I knew I had to make a change. I was so sad all the time, felt so uninspired and my anxiety was so out of control I was considering getting on medication. My Mom was always telling me how worried she was about my drinking and she didn't know the half of it. After awhile, I started to think she might be right.
So, I did what anyone does when they want to turn their life around-- I signed up for a yoga teacher training! Most importantly, I decided to quit drinking during the training. It was great! I was so clear for the first time in a long time. My anxiety became slightly more manageable. I cleansed the party friends out of my life and began staying in and reading my yoga books or practicing teaching. I started to dig in deeper to my spiritual practice, which I had tossed to the side while my partying took center stage. I was feeling really good. I got peer pressured into drinking here and there but mostly I was sober for 6 months. Then I started teaching/managing full time and if you think yogis don't party, you are wrong my friend. I was very concerned with being in the inner circle at the studio I was working at and still very concerned with being "cool enough" and liked. My drinking once again resumed. I didn't really black out as much but, I was drinking regularly and smoking weed a ton. My anxiety once again felt crippling. The studio I was working at was its own sort of hell and combined with my anxiety it quite literally broke me. I eventually had to quit the studio because I burnt out. Getting out of bed was difficult. I wanted do sleep all day. I started to lose my hair and I felt like there was an elephant on my chest all the time. It got so bad that I decided not only did I need to leave the studio but, I also had to leave New York. I decided to move home to Northern California for 6 months and recollect my self. At the same time I decided enough was enough, if I really wanted to figure out my life, I had to stop drinking. I was 29.
Moving back to California for 6 months was a very pivotal decision for me. I quite literally retreated because my soul needed a break. For the first three months, I would wake up and sit on my parents porch letting the sun warm my skin. Then I would grab my dog and we would hike into the forest behind my house. I spent many hours talking to the pine trees in the forest behind my Mom's house. I told them what I thought had gone wrong in NYC. I asked for forgiveness and guidance. I whispered my dreams into their leaves, trusting the wind would take them and deliver them to Spirit. Those trees were a large part of my healing. Being that I was sequestered in a small Northern Californian town, not drinking was relatively easy. I only hung out with my family unless I was in LA visiting friends. In LA, my friends understood that I was trying out a new "no drinking thing". I would have one glass of wine max sporadically but, I made a rule to not get drunk or tipsy. I realized pretty quickly that eliminating alcohol, for the most part, helped me immensely! The dial on my anxiety turned way down. I doubled down on my spiritual practice and self work. I rolled out my yoga mat and found my self practice which helped me start to trust my own choices again. I started to turn in and deal with the things about myself that made me so uncomfortable. I stayed with that uncomfortable feeling until it would pass. I really started to show up for myself and because of that I really started to fall in love with myself for the first time. Right before my 30th birthday, I moved back to New York. I got an opportunity to manage a studio upstate and after 6 months that led me back to my city.
I came back to the city a new person. I felt raw but, completely rejuvenated. I had done a lot of personal work and was determined to not lose the momentum I felt. I stuck with my no drinking and began to make new friends. For the first time, I was making friends that really saw me and accepted me. They thought my not drinking was cool and NEVER pressured me to drink. As I got my city legs back , I started to loosen my one glass of wine rule. Up until this point, I had never identified with being sober. I was simply trying to drink less for my health and mental wellbeing. I smoked weed if it was around and would partake in other substances if they were available. It worked for a time. Then New York summer came around. New York in the summer is unlike anything else. It's so much fun! And I finally found my forever neighborhood-- shout out to Greenpoint!-- and running around Brooklyn with friends was a blast. The heat must have loosened my reserve because I started drinking with more regularity. I even got drunk. Nothing crazy and I was never messy but, I was getting drunk again. My anxiety started creeping back up and getting louder. After the summer ended, I started to cool down again with going out and resumed my abstaining from drinking most nights. Around this time I found an instagram account, @thesoberglow, and was drawn into her tales about her sober life. Mia championed how much giving up drinking changed her and gave her life deeper meaning. I loved tuning into her posts and felt inspired to continue on my journey. When she posted she wanted to start a book club, I was one of the first to sign up. We were to be reading about sobriety and at first I was worried I wouldn't fit in because I wasn't "sober". I still wanted to do drugs occasionally and have a glass of champagne if I was celebrating! I decided to go anyway. Our first meeting knocked my socks off. It was 8 women just like me. Most didn't have have "rock bottoms" that led them to stop drinking and most of them weren't alcoholics. They had just decided alcohol wasn't serving them anymore.
In December, I went to Cuba with one of my best friends to celebrate her 30th birthday. We had met when I first moved to NYC and partied a lot together. Whenever I saw her, she lives in LA now, it was always the most tempting to drink as that was our initial relationship. She respected my new boundaries but, I always felt like I was letting her down by not drinking. In Cuba mojitos were $2 and I let go of all reserve to hold back. We had something like 5-6 a night. I got "old me" drunk our last night and blacked out. Thankfully, I was with good people who made sure I got home and I sobered up. I flew home and was sick about back peddling into my old ways. I was so ashamed! I had worked so hard and felt like I had thrown it all away for cheap rum. Most importantly, I was really scared that I had been so careless with myself in a foreign country. I was 31 and I knew better. My anxiety had been slowly getting bad again over the summer and in December I felt the familiar clench in my chest daily. I reached out to Mia and she assured me that this was all apart of the journey and that I hadn't thrown away anything. She reminded me shit happens and forgiving myself for the slip was paramount. Upon my return to New York, I vowed to be done with alcohol for good. I did not like who I was when I was drinking. I hated the way drinking made me feel. I realized all my spiritual work and physical work to be the healthiest I could be was being thwarted by my drinking. I finally had enough--December 2016 I gave up drinking for good.
When I made the decision in December, I told myself I could still do drugs. Drugs had never been a problem for me-- I'm not an addict. I only did them occasionally and never abused them like I did alcohol. All the drugs I had tried made me feel more connected to Spirit and my fellow humans. I always wanted to have deep talks about life and feelings when I was high. However, when I gave up drinking I realized that using drugs was still relying on something external to help me connect. It was still a way to escape. In March, right before my 32nd birthday, I decided to be fully sober. No drugs and no alcohol. I wanted to work on myself and find the connection I sought through altering my mind without any alterations. Not to be totally cheesy but, I wanted and want to learn how to get high on life. I wanted to continue my inner work and my spiritual practice without interruption. I will say, saying no to drugs-- ha-- was harder than alcohol. Imagining the summer when I would be at some magical location and would be offered mushrooms to trip with people I love and having to turn that adventure down, seemed tragic. However, it's been seven(!) months and I no longer see the tragedy. I realize now that I can get down and trippy with everyone just as myself. I truly don't need anything to help me "get there" or have adventures.
I feel very proud of my decision and love the way my body/mind feels sober. I feel the clearest I ever have and the healthiest. I'm able to listen to my body in a whole new way and honor it. My intuition is getting louder! And, thank god, my anxiety is once again quiet. It wasn't an easy choice but one that works well for me. To be clear, I never considered myself an alcoholic (though my Mom did at one point) and have never attended an AA meeting. I think they are incredibly important and needed for people who can't just stop drinking. I could just stop drinking. I have attended CODA (codependents anonymous) meetings as codependency is something I can't get through alone and have found those meetings incredibly useful. If you're thinking of getting sober or slowing down on drinking, here are some things that helped me on my journey:
You don't have to have a rock bottom to quit
I didn't have a rock bottom before I quit. In my sober book club, someone called it a soft bottom. I like that-- I had a couple of soft bottoms. One of them was showing up at an ex boyfriends hotel, in the effort to get him back, completely blacked out and ending up trying to pee in his hotel room closet. Needless to say my plan did not work. So, I didn't have one night where I ended up in the hospital or getting arrested to make me want to stop drinking. I was just tired of the constant anxiety and the dumb (and highly embarrassing) decisions, like the example above. I wanted a morning where I didn't wake up and have to immediately worry if I said something stupid or pissed someone off the night before. I wanted to feel clear and in control. So, I stopped. You can too.
Let it be a journey
I first considered not drinking when I was 27! It took me until 3 months shy of 32 to finally be done with it. Honor your journey. I had so many missteps along the way but, they were valuable lessons. Each one taught me about myself and why I was fighting to get sober. If you are trying to stop drinking and you have a drink one night, give yourself grace! If you beat yourself up, you'll keep yourself in the grip of self punishment and end up drinking more. Be kind to yourself!
Oh boy! This one is important. I have shared SOME of the stupid decisions I have made while drinking but by no means all of them. As you can imagine, there are many. When I moved back to California I started the process of forgiving myself. I journaled A LOT. I prayed A LOT. I found a mentor/guide to guide me into deeper self work. Forgiving myself was so important to my commitment to get and stay sober because without it the self loathing would have sent me back to the bottle in no time. It's too painful to hate myself. Forgiving myself for my past mistakes, helped me own those decision/choices I had made and honor them, no matter how cringe worthy they were. They taught me wisdom I wouldn't have otherwise. And each choice/decision brought me here and I am so grateful to be right here.
My friends are incredibly supportive of my not drinking. I adore them for never pressuring me to drink EVER. They always include me in plans no matter if drinking is involved or not and for that I am so thankful. However, finding my sober book club has been a game changer. It has been very healing to have a group of ladies going through similar journeys as me and to be making a similar choice. They get the struggle and the missteps. They help me forgive my younger self. If you're in NYC, and a woman, you can join us too! Check out Mia's instagram @thesoberglow for more info. Or start one of your own!
You can still go out and not drink
I got out significantly less because I just like staying and going to bed early but, I still go out. I go out and have fun totally sober! I never feel weird or awkward. I get asked a lot why I don't drink and I always give an honest explanation why. I find that people are pretty receptive to my story and don't mind me not drinking even when they are. I drink water at the bar or order a sparkling water with lime when I'm feeling fancy.
Listen to your body
When I used to feel tired, I would push myself to go out and drink more to "wake up". I would end up getting the messiest on those nights and now I cringe at how I dismissed what my body was telling me. Now, if I'm tired I stay in. If I still want to be social, I have a dinner party with a friend and then they go out and I go home to sleep. Both of us are happy! I'm an introvert and alone time is like air to me. Depending on where I am in my cycle, there are nights that I just need to be alone. I used to feel ashamed of this and would beat myself up and you guessed it, drink it away. Now, I honor myself by taking a bath, reading a good book, cooking myself something delicious or watching a movie I love. And I am so happy! Then on the days/nights when I'm feeling social, I go out! I have no problem chatting it up with everyone and being outgoing because I am actually in the mood for it. I don't have to force it! Sweet relief.
Start a spiritual practice
Be it yoga or journaling or meditation, start connecting to yourself and something bigger. I have always felt very close to God/The Universe/Spirit and used prayer/mantras/journaling to help myself through hard times. When I found yoga, I really felt I had found my spiritual practice. Yoga isn't just asana! It's about pranayama (breath work), meditation and connecting to yourself by slowing down long enough to listen. The hope is when you slow down and listen to yourself you can connect to the Divine and find a peace you didn't know was there. It's been the biggest tool for my sobriety. My health is paramount to me and becoming sensitive to what my body feels like has been essential. When I used to wake up and feel the glass of wine from the night before in my practice, I started to really connect to why drinking wasn't serving me or my goals.