You can only accept the gift of alcohol-free living if you stop denying you have a problem. This is a bitter pill to swallow, and it tastes worse than that first sip of alcohol you took years ago, that one you had to force yourself to drink because it tasted so foul.
Foul because alcohol is a toxin, and your entire body was screaming, “WTF, yo? You trying to poison me?” But you prevailed, mimicking the adults around you, you kept drinking until your body and mind adapted, learning to accept the neurotoxins as the “new normal,” while the seed of your addiction grew.
For years, as my daily drinking increased, I was in denial. What? I’m having fun! I feel great with a glass of wine in my hand! It’s a social lubricator! I don’t feel shy! It relaxes me! I deserve a drink after a hard day! (This one is particularly ironic because: 1. Who “rewards” themselves with poison? And, 2. You will discover days are not nearly as hard when you’re not poisoning yourself on the regular.)
Unlike many, I didn’t have a dramatic wake-up call—no car accident or DUI, no physical fight or embarrassing blackout (I should say, an extra embarrassing blackout, because I had many “normal” blackouts)–so my denial was easy. My life was grand and my drinking enhanced it!
But did it?
Your Own Rules Are Not Made To Be Broken Unless You’re Trying to Drive Yourself Batty
By the time I weighed two-hundred-and-thirty pounds, I had “Drinking Rules”.
No hard liquor. Well, not too regularly. But sometimes, in moderation, if there was an occasion. But not at home. And never alone. But sometimes, in moderation, if there was an “occasion,” then at home, alone.
This “No Hard Liquor” rule came about after a New Year’s Eve party in NYC when I drank seven, SEVEN, martinis. Gin, up, two olives, a little dirty. I loved saying, “a little dirty” to waiters, making it sound, you know, a little dirty.
The last thing I remember about that night was talking to an incredibly attractive couple right before Midnight. They were very tall—probably models—looming over me at the hightop at the crowded bar, me cooing up at them, “My God, you are the most beautiful people in the world!” Dragging my husband, Louis, into the conversation: “Aren’t they the most beautiful people in the world? Can you take a picture?” He was mortified.
The next day, I woke up under my eight-foot dining room table, my cheek stuck to vomit on the floor. I had no idea how I got there. I sat up fast, bonked my head, swallowed down more vomit, started crying, tears rolling down my cheeks as I crawled out from under the table. That hangover was deathly. Edgar Allen Poe style: dark and foreboding. A murder of crows swirling in my blackened brain.
But, even after waking up in the shame of my own puke on the floor, I didn’t slow down or stick to the “No Hard Liquor” rule for long. And whenever I broke down, things turned ugly.
One time, at Bardo Fest, a weekend-long camping event at friends’ off-the-grid farm in New Hampshire, I was double-fisting gallon jugs of alcohol: one tequila, one scotch, taking sips throughout the day, sharing swigs with other partygoers as we milled around the apple orchard.
The last thing I remember–or rather, the first thing I remember after a long “functioning” blackout–was trying to untie my shoelaces so that I could curl up on a sofa in the farmhouse and sleep it off.
Then I blacked out.
Or rather, I passed out.
Flat on my face.
The impact of the fall brought me to, but I didn’t care. I just crawled back onto the couch and sunk into oblivion.
The next morning, I awoke to a pounding Black-Poe-Crow-Head, but also a new pain. My eye socket was tender to the touch. When I checked the bathroom mirror later, there it was: I’d knocked myself a solid shiner.
I don’t recommend going to work with a black eye.
Should I explain what happened? I wasn’t sure if I should address the purple-and-yellow indictment proactively, or just pretend it wasn’t there, Ostrich-style. But Louis was adamant. “Please tell them what happened. I don’t want your boss thinking I knock you around.”
Another rule I often broke was my “Only One Bottle of Wine Per Night,” or rather, “Only Four Glasses of Wine a Night.” There was no rule about how big the glass could be, or whether I could have a couple of lunchtime glasses to tide-me-over. By then, I was buying wine in bulk, mostly Black Boxes—that’s four 750ml bottles per box—on a bi-monthly basis at the state-run Liquor Store—tax-free New Hampshire, where the state sanctions vices for your own good!
This practice of buying boxes rather than bottles created plausible deniability about how much I was drinking. Not only was it an economical way to support my habit, but getting rid of boxes was much easier than having to deal with wine bottles on Trash Day. Boxes don’t clank! Clanking would be a clarion call, a clue to my conscious mind, reminding me of the truth, and this was VERBOTEN, because, see, at least I was TRYING!
As long as I kept making rules, and kept “trying to stick to them,” then I was taking steps in the right direction, right? And this was good enough, right? Trying is better than not trying, isn’t it?
Turns out, No.
That old saying about insanity being you doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results is… true.
Not only is the constant cognitive dissonance–the never-ending battle between unaligned thoughts and actions borderline cray-cray–it is also… exhausting. Mind-numbingly exhausting. Like, eventually, even your own brain starts going, Come on, man, I’m tired of this shit…
It’s fucking EXHAUSTING to keep “trying” to do the right things, instead of just. doing. them… It is fucking exhausting to keep negotiating with yourself–the broken promises, the ruminating, the negotiations, the cajoling, the re-negotiations, the “this time I’ll stick to my rules and it will be OK” fairytales we tell ourselves–at some stage, you realize this repetitive cycle of behavior is not serving you or your goals or the future you want…
You realize trying isn’t good enough. You realize you have to stop TRYING and start motherfucking DOING.
When you close the gap between your intentions and your actions, when what you are thinking and what you are doing become aligned, you start to trust yourself, and when you regain trust in yourself, your world will blossom. When you are ready to do the work to slay your demons, which in my humble opinion starts with writing shit down, it all clicks into place. Until then…
Denial’s a Bitch
My drinking was getting out of control. Besides the stupid fights with Louis that I couldn’t even remember the next day, or nonsensical posts and shameful texts, I started noticing that when I was about to run out of wine before the next scheduled Liquor Store Run, I would get incredibly antsy. (The first clue should have been that I was running out, but OK, denial is a bitch.)
Antsy in a way that someone who is drinking in a socially-acceptable way does not.
Antsy, like an addict. Which, after almost thirty years of near-daily drinking, I certainly was.
Where’s my next vino-fix coming from? Should I do a quick run? Plan a night out? Wait until tomorrow? Why wait? I live five minutes away from a Rite Aid. This became my lifeline for “betweeners,” and when I started getting embarrassed about stopping at the Rite Aid so often that the cashier recognized me, I started cycling between that store and other corner stores in my neighborhood. Um, hello, red flag!
Another “wait-a-second” moment came when I was traveling for work. For years, I have been attending an annual conference, Freedom Fest, in Vegas. This usually means heavy drinking and partying at bars, and $200 bar tabs, just for me. (I always broke my “No Hard Liquor” rule in Vegas, ordering gin and tonics back-to-back. After all, it’s Vegas, baby!)
One year, on a strict budget, I knew I couldn’t afford to be spending $200 a pop at the bar, so I started ordering room service instead, drinking in my room. While this was slightly cheaper at $60 per bottle, two bottles a day added up quickly, especially on a five day trip.
The following year, I figured out I could stock up on alcohol at the airport liquor store, thereby “saving” even more money. But in order to get the full “bang for my Vegas buck,” I bought a bottle of scotch and tequila too, because there’s only so much wine you can carry.
I was still not fully processing how heavy my drinking had gotten, but I did start to notice that when I left my habitual comfort zone (at home, with my innocuous boxes-of-non-clanking–vino), it was clear I was consuming a shit-ton of booze.
On the last trip to Vegas before I quit, it also occurred to me that I was in VEGAS, with colleagues and friends, and, instead of hanging out, I was drinking alone in my hotel room. Roh-roh.
One final “tell” was delivered on social media. I was being bombarded by “Wine O’Clock” memes and jokes about drunk women. At first, this surprised me, and I felt a bit insulted, after all, this wasn’t how I perceived myself, being an actual card-carrying drunk wasn’t “on brand.” I mean, I knew I was a lush, but no one else was supposed to notice.
The clincher? A teetotaler friend suggested that he wanted to cosplay me at an upcoming costume party, and another friend replied: “That’ll be fun! I’ve never seen you drunk before!” That hurt. A lot. Sometimes, we won’t acknowledge what we are doing to ourselves, but if we listen to the people around us, sometimes we hear.
If denial is the opposite of acceptance, then you need to stop denying the reality of how much you are drinking, and/or how much alcohol is negatively impacting your life, relationships, health, wealth, and accept the truth.
In order to change, you must acknowledge where you are, decide to change, and then come up with a game plan to do so, which is actually easier than you think.
You need a reckoning. With yourself. No one else needs to be involved right now, this is just you and your conscience. You need an undeniable, sit-down reckoning with yourself. No lies, no negotiating, just cold hard truths. Pen and paper and some no-bullshit self-reflection and honesty.
If you are ready to change, if you want to stop drinking, here’s what you need to do… here’s the secret: You are going to make a promise to yourself to quit, you are going to write down that promise, and you are going to keep that promise.
No, don’t argue with me. Just accept this one idea: You are going to make one itty-bitty little promise to yourself, and you are going to keep that one promise that you made to yourself and no one else, that you wrote down in your own handwriting, in your own words, and then you’re just going to keep that one promise! It’s really that simple!
Oh, one more thing, accept that it is!
Radical Acceptance, Baby!
A while back, I was watching a TV show in which an important character dies. In that moment, it struck me, we, as humans, deal with death through radical acceptance because we HAVE to… Death, for those who remain, is undeniable in the sense that you cannot pretend it didn’t happen, you can’t pretend the person is still alive; they are not, and that is the reality, that is the absolute, unadorned TRUTH.
Death is a finality like no other, and when someone close to you dies, you have to tell people, make arrangements, call family, organize things. The very nature of death means you don’t get the luxury to “process” or “take time” or “find space” or “make excuses” or “negotiate” or “break the rules” or “pretend,” like you might in other situations.
You just have to accept it: Death is death, real and present. Your only choice is to accept the person is gone, because they are, and even though this acceptance is painful, it’s also healthy, in a “just get it over and done with, PULL OFF THE BANDAID” way.
If you want to quit drinking, you have to PULL OFF THE BANDAID. When you accept alcohol is dead to you and that you will never drink again, you can begin to embrace the gift of liberation you have given yourself.
Without alcohol, you have freed your mind, you have freed your body, you have freed your spirit to go achieve great things.
Alcohol-Free Living is Freedom
When your thoughts and actions are aligned, you will begin to thrive. When you keep your word to yourself, you develop personal integrity and build trust with yourself. This deep simpatico, this synergy between your thoughts and actions leads to freedom.
Freedom from addiction.
Freedom from guilt.
Freedom from fear.
Freedom from depression.
Freedom from anxiety.
When you align your thoughts and actions, you align your life.
Your Word is Your Honor
As the New Year approaches, you may be thinking about your resolutions and your relationship with booze. Maybe you want to “cut back,” or have a “sober month sometime.” I say: Don’t waste another moment denying the impact that alcohol, a poisonous neurotoxin that damages your brain and negatively affects your sleep which is an important source of health, is having on your life.
Your quality of life–your clarity of mind, your essence, your spirit–your mind, body, and soul–depends on the promises you make and keep–your word is your honor–and that starts with the promises you make and keep to yourself.
On Boxing Day 2017, I made a promise to myself to quit alcohol. I didn’t tell anyone at the time because it wasn’t anyone else’s business. I also didn’t tell anyone initially because I didn’t yet trust myself, I didn’t yet believe that it was, indeed, as easy as keeping that one promise to myself.
It’s been 5 years, 60 months, 261 weeks, and 1826 days since my last drink. I had to look that up, because I don’t count the days since I quit, I simply remember that on Boxing Day 2017, I made one itty-bitty little promise to myself that I kept, and this choice changed my life for the better, forever.
I wish that future for you, too: To choose to keep your word to yourself… to come clean, to become clean.