Finding Strength: The breakup with alcohol

It’s Friday evening. I’ve downed a 24oz tumbler filled with a stiff margarita and I’m twisting the bottle opener into a second bottle of wine. My mind is pleasantly numb. A feeling confiscates my being of a need to continue to abate the present moment. “There is pain in the present,” my subconscious reminds me, “we must escape it.”

My husband and I are at home on our own. There’s no real reason for drinking so much. We sit on the porch and delve into our views on humanity. The alcohol seems to take the helm of what we consider to be profoundly important conversations.

Should we open another? We are both weak at this point. The alcohol is talking. We know we shouldn’t. But we do. Our surroundings become a blur. I lose my point mid-sentence, but no matter, I come up with another one. It’s deeply insightful, I’m sure of it.

Saturday morning steamrolls in with a torrid of guilt. I crucify myself for poisoning my body. I pop a frozen pizza in the oven for breakfast, adding to my culpability and a sense of lethargy that consumes my body. The day will be a write-off. There may even be a few arguments as our muddled minds struggle to cope with returning to the present. We’ll craft another strong cocktail by 4pm to take the hangover’s edge off.

I would never say I was addicted. I could stop whenever I wanted. I’d partake in “Dry January” each year. I’d stoically refuse social requests on “school nights,” only to binge-drink on the weekends. But as long as I had a break between binges, it meant I had control. It was a constant struggle though. If I wasn’t drinking, I couldn’t go out and be social and not feel the pressure to have a cocktail or a glass of wine, so I just wouldn’t go out.

Yoga saved me on many occasions, especially the stint when I was teaching on Friday evenings at 6pm and Saturday mornings at 9am. I’d have an excuse not to drink. I could go to the bar, but everyone knew that teaching yoga was in my midst, so it was my out. There was pressure otherwise.  If you didn’t have an excuse, you’d better drink up.  But then I stopped teaching on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and my extended happy hours recommenced.

Island culture had a way of creeping in, allowing us to feel OK about mixing a cocktail no matter what the occasion was.  Even baby showers were an intoxicating event. I’ve heard that people go to baby showers and don’t drink (somewhere in the world I’m sure). I suppose they are dry events in order to support the non-drinking mother. Not here though. Here baby shower Champagne flows freely.

I couldn’t ever not drink. I’d be an outcast, I told myself, a pariah. I might as well become a hermit if I was to attempt to quit drinking on a tropical island.

In our society, we are taught that it’s OK to drink. It’s not only OK, it’s encouraged. Article after article convinces us like this one… 20 Reasons why you should drink a glass of wine every day. What if instead of convincing ourselves that we are right for numbing our minds, we faced our demons and the reasons why we drink. Horrific, I’m sure. But healthier in the long term, no matter what MSN says about antioxidants and heart-health. You can get all those amazing benefits from just plain grapes and blueberries too, you know.

But breaking up with alcohol is like trying to leave an abusive relationship. You tell it…”you’re no good for me!” You push it away, and you gain your confidence in its absence. You feel strong and alive. But in a moment of weakness it’s back. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and loved. It’s like an old friend that knows you all too well. “It’s OK, I’m here,” it says. “We don’t have to be apart again.” And before you know it, it’s moved back in, and you’re feeling like a used and fragile human being. You don’t know if you have the strength to leave again.

yoga handstand

It wasn’t until I healed my pain that I truly realized the comforting mask that alcohol provided. For me, addiction pacified a hole in my heart, literally. The energetic field in my heart area felt broken. When I healed, it felt as though my heart became filled with pure love, and now there’s no reason to pour alcohol into the space that used to feel so empty. Alcohol slipped me into a state of comfort. It was a band aid covering symptoms of sadness, fear and anger. Think of it as using Aspirin to help clear a headache. The Aspirin is getting rid of the headache, temporarily. But you still didn’t figure out where the headache was coming from did you? Maybe the headache was because you were dehydrated. You could have prevented the problem by making sure you had enough water, then you wouldn’t have had to take the Aspirin to begin with. Alcohol “fixes” those symptoms of something else that’s going on at a deeper level. Get to the root of the issue, and you’ll find the need for alcohol will disappear.

I still do enjoy a good craft beer, but I savor one, instead of downing four. If I drink too much, now it just makes me feel dizzy, and my unclear head becomes a frustration more than anything. After one drink I start to stumble on my words. How did I talk after several drinks (god-forbid bottles) before? I wonder. Do I even like the taste of vodka, of cheap wine and mass produced beer? No.

Much to my surprise I’m finding that people in my life, the ones I really care about at least, support my change in my relationship with alcohol. I’m even finding that many people around me have suddenly stopped or completely minimized drinking too. Was it me all along? Was I an instigator? Was my perception of reality convincing myself that everyone was drinking, and I’d be the outcast if I wasn’t? Now that my perception is shifting, it seems that others’ perception is shifting too. How does that work?

Today I can go out and confidently order a delicious and refreshing “mocktail.” I can go out and not feel pressured to drink. I realize that it wasn’t necessarily others that were pressuring me to drink, but myself - my mind, my ego. Sure, drinkers typically feel more comfortable in other drinkers’ company, but if they are confident in their own choices, they won’t mind at all if you’re not drinking.  

Before I was weak. I was a slave to alcohol. But now I am strong. My choices are not dictated by where I’m going to get the next cocktail. It doesn’t rule my life anymore. I am confident in my decision to order a club soda at a crowded bar, and that in itself is the most liberating feeling in the world.