The date was Monday, December 7th, 2015.
I sat on the edge of my bed in Saigon, Vietnam. I knew that something drastic needed to change.
I had gone out the day before, a Sunday afternoon, to have a couple of beers with friends around 4pm. I didn’t come home until 5am Monday morning.
I was so hungover and tired that I couldn’t work Monday and spent the day in bed.
This certainly wasn’t the first time I had been out drinking all night. But this time, it had really interfered with my business, which was my life, my pride, and my joy. My team was chatting with me about work, but I could barely even respond. I knew that things had to change.
For several years, I had spent most of my Saturdays hungover after closing bars down on Fridays. It didn’t seem unusual since everyone I knew lived the same way. Movies and shows portray people living this way, so it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong. Hangovers are a common punch line on TV and in real life alike. It was just that on this day, a little more than a year ago, it stopped being funny to me.
The drinking part, though, was so much fun. Drinking was like liquid relaxation. It was instant relief from the anxiety that I thought I otherwise couldn’t escape. But I wouldn’t have told you I was anxious or even unhappy.
I didn’t realize I was unhappy, or that I was using alcohol as a “force quit” button for my overactive mind rather than learning how to turn it off myself. I didn’t understand it until more than 6 months after I quit drinking.
Why I Stopped Drinking
One of the biggest reasons I decided to quit drinking was because there were so many other things I wanted to do that I wasn’t able to do. I tried to work out or read on Saturdays when I was hungover, but the only thing I could really do was lounge at the pool, in my bed, or on the couch in misery.
My life was work, sleep, and partying.
I didn’t want to do anything if it didn’t have alcohol involved. Drinking made every activity fun. Local street fairs, an afternoon hanging out with friends, going to dinner, a night at home watching Netflix and drinking wine… I was open to lots of activities – as long as alcohol was involved. Nothing else was as fun as drinking, so that was all I really cared about doing.
But I was starting to get interested in other things. I wanted to go to yoga and an aerobics class. I wanted to spend Saturday afternoons at coffee shops with my roommate reading business books. I had side projects that I really wanted to start, but none of that happened as long as I was drinking.
And I realized that none of these things were ever going to happen as long as I was drinking.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I went skiing for the first time. This probably would have never happened before because skiing is not something you should do drunk, and because, even if I was sober the day I was set to ski, I likely would have been too hungover from the night before to care much to do anything.
I also realized that in the past, when I went out for “a couple of beers” with friends, there was no telling how long I would be out and how much I would drink. Sometimes, I would actually have a couple of beers and come home by 10. Other times, like the Sunday afternoon that changed everything, I would go out in the afternoon and come home… the next morning.
I realized that when I was drinking, I didn’t have control. I didn’t make the decisions I would otherwise make. I occasionally put myself in compromised situations when I drank, and considered doing things I would never have done otherwise.
I was fine with this for years. In fact, I loved the whole “not being in control” part of drinking. Control dominated every other part of my life. It was exhausting. But I realized that none of the growth I wanted at that point could happen with this roadblock in the way.
I decided to stop drinking indefinitely until I figured out how to do it while also doing the other things I wanted to do and living in a healthier and more balanced way.
In the months after I stopped drinking, I experienced no dramatic life changes besides what I did on the weekends. I had just moved back to Oklahoma City and I didn’t really know anyone, so that made things super easy.
I did not have to tell all my drinking friends that I was no longer going to spend the weekends in bars with them. I made new friends who didn’t spend their time that way.
I took on new hobbies – all the things I always wanted to do before but didn’t have the energy for. I worked on side projects on the weekends, read, went to early morning exercises classes, etc. I loved (and still love) spending my Saturday and Sunday mornings drinking a cup of coffee and reading peacefully, feeling great, rather than nursing a hangover. Instead of spending all my time in bars, I focused my energy on things that happened during the day more than at night.
I turned a new leaf and I thought everything would go on as normal.
I spent the first few months unwittingly replacing drinking too much with working too much. I worked until 10 or 11 at night, always making sure my time was filled up so I didn’t have to think about anything. Not drinking meant that I had tons of time to work.
When I stopped working each night, I was so exhausted from work that I didn’t have enough energy to think about anything else. I got up the next morning and started the whole thing again.
The Tidal Wave Comes
In June 2016, an abrupt situation happened with work that made me have to slow down and not work so much. That was when the tidal wave came.
I finally had nowhere to turn to numb all my bad feelings: feelings of failure, of inadequacy, of lack of identity, pain, sadness, frustration, and the biggest one of all, shame.
Alcohol had allowed me to never learn how to cope with life and as the pressure of adulthood increased without me knowing these skills, I had a hard time keeping up – until Monday, December 7, 2015, when I became painfully aware that alcohol was in more control of me than I was.
6 months into sobriety and without so much work to keep me busy, up came all the bad feelings I was trying to hide from in bars for all those years. Anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks accompanied the sudden eruption of the dormant volcano of emotions I had suppressed for so long.
These were some of the scariest moments of my life. But unless they came to the surface, they could never be healed.
The Healing Journey
With the help of a therapist and a coach (holla atcha, Sheri Guyse!), I have been in the process of learning how to effectively handle not only the bad feelings, but the good feelings, of life.
Last year, I healed things I didn’t even know were disrupting my life. I learned to listen to my heart when something bothers me, triggers me, or conjures up old fears. I don’t have to fear the pain and shame like I used to. I can confront it because I now know how to deal with it – not just for the moment, but once and for all.
If I had never quit alcohol, I would still be spending all my time and energy running from my feelings and my true self, and missing out on the greatness that I am capable of.
But perhaps most importantly, because I am no longer preoccupied by numbing or avoiding my own fear, I have energy to help heal the pain of others. The focus of my work has shifted to sharing inspiration and help with business owners and other individuals through my online channels.
Alcohol Isn’t the Problem
I don’t use the world “alcoholic” to describe myself. I don’t even say that “I have a drinking problem.” I guess I did, but I don’t find the labels very helpful. I don’t know if I will be a non-drinker for another year, another decade, or my whole life. But if I ever use alcohol again, it will be very, very carefully. And right now, it’s not worth it and I just don’t need it. Life is just too good without it.
I believe that most problems in society – drugs, obesity, alcoholism, workaholism, and even consumer debt and materialism – are all a result of us looking for ways to fill a void we feel in our hearts.
We are looking for comfort from the pain. Fortunately, we are all equipped to fill that void within ourselves in a healthy way IF we learn how to do it.
A lot of people in the US use food to try to fill their void. Others go out and spend money. I’ve used traveling in the past to try to escape the pain. I am very familiar with using work to avoid feeling things, another common all-American method. Spending every spare second on our phone may be the most common method in the US right now, as Louis C.K. famously and beautifully described.
So, alcohol itself is not the problem. Quitting alcohol is not a quick fix for healing the pain in life. I WISH it were that easy. If I hadn’t eventually become aware that I was using alcohol to avoid an emotional process, I would have (and did for many months) replaced alcohol with any other distraction.
Quitting alcohol, while probably good for my health, would not have facilitated deeper healing.
So, do I believe that everyone should quit drinking? No, not at all. There is nothing innately wrong with eating, shopping, traveling, working, or drinking. But if you know alcohol is how you look to numb bad feelings, I don’t believe that true confrontation and healing of those feelings can happen without quitting drinking, at least temporarily.
In the past year, I have learned to fill that void in a healthy way by acknowledging that I don’t have it all figured out; I don’t know the future; I can’t control everything around me; and I don’t have to. I have learned that it’s okay to feel frustrated, angry, shameful, and any other kind of pain because I have learned to confront my feelings.
I do this through positive affirmations, meditation, therapy, reading positive and inspirational books, investing in personal growth, and leaning on the support of my friends and family. I am so grateful for the support that my parents, brother, and boyfriend have given me over the past year.
The Sky’s the Limit
2016 was the most important year of my life. Since I quit drinking, I feel like life just keeps getting better and better. I have been empowered to make incredible positive changes and experienced massive growth. I have so much good stuff in my life that I sometimes start crying with joy just thinking about it. I can’t believe that life can be this good.
True happiness comes from giving up on using external things (like alcohol or food or money or even achievement) to bring you happiness and realizing that you have a well of contentment within you. Each of us do. It just takes practice to tap into it. I wasn’t able to find mine until after I quit drinking.
The greatness I have experienced on my healing journey is not just for me. We all have a different flavor of greatness. Greatness isn’t just for a few people. It’s for all of us. In order to tap into yours, all you have to do is know and acknowledge that you deserve better and decide that you are willing to do whatever it takes to find out what that “better” is.
When you do, the people, resources, and opportunities you need will come to you. I can’t promise it will be easy. But I can promise that happiness and true healing is available to you. It’s available for all of us.
These are some books and online resources that have helped me immensely on my journey. If you’re looking for more, I highly recommend these reads.
By Sarah Turner
By Lucy Rocca
By Gabrielle Bernstein
By Kristin Neff
By Marianne Williamson
By Brene Brown
By Louise Hay
By Michael A. Singer