Fifteen years after first wondering about my relationship with alcohol, I finally stopped drinking in May of 2018.
During those 15 years of private alarm and “moderate, socially acceptable” nightly drinking, I explored an array of views about addiction and recovery, learning something from each, but I didn’t stop drinking. Instead, I watered my seeds of concern with alcohol, and I hid.
I hid by dating people who drank more than me. I hid by sharing alcohol memes, by laughing at how grateful I was for alcohol. I hid by repeatedly asking friends, therapists, and family to reassure me that I didn’t have a problem, that routine evening substance use was a normal part of how successful, high-functioning adults cope with life.
Reassure me they did.
And so it was that when I finally walked away from alcohol, I had to do it entirely on my own terms.
I know. People need support and connection to make big life changes. Some people really thrive in recovery support groups, with bright lines, consequences, and rules, and that is real and true and good for some people. But personally, to let this (wonderful) non-drinking life take permanent hold, I had to set aside everyone else — their opinions, professional expertise, and personal experience.
I had to set aside what my husband thought or did. What my drinking friends thought about me. What my favorite bars and pubs would be doing without my patronage. I had to set aside Facebook and Instagram, my knowledge of my boss’s and therapist’s drinking habits, my cool colleagues’ love of happy hours. I had to set aside cool.
And, I had to stop setting myself aside.
And, I had to do this with love.
Because after trying all of the below, I was still drinking, and still concerned about my drinking:
- sober chat rooms
- making art
- making promises
- diets, cleanses, and fasts
Love was the last thing I tried, and it worked.
I mean that, in the end, saying goodbye to booze was no more or less than saying hello to myself. Saying hello to the part of myself that loved me — from a place of wise concern — and deciding to stay within earshot of that voice, permanently. That voice had been trying to get my attention for 15 years while I’d gone everywhere else to hear other people. I’d sought out the experts, advocates, and underdogs on the topic of alcohol addiction, but the one thing I hadn’t done was stop and tune into myself.
I started tuning in, and was surprised to discover that this voice only had one motivation.
It wanted the best for me, and for one reason only.
It loved me very much.
I was cautious at first.
How many people had told me they wanted the best for me while hurting me? How many people in authority had done bad things in the name of my own benefit?
And wasn’t that what alcohol did, too — promise big, and leave me wanting more, always wanting more?
But this little clear voice inside, this little clear voice that kept pulling at me gently, what if she was trustworthy?
If I could trust her, what if she was the only one I ever needed to listen to on the subject of drink?
Alcohol had tried to drown that voice, and it did a damn good job from 6pm to 6am.
But the voice was still there, a guardian watching me, staying close, loving me.
Here is the truth: I’m absolutely flawed. I’ve experienced multiple traumas. I’m an inconsistent friend. Sometimes I’m too honest and I hurt people. I criticize my saint of a husband. I should call my parents more. I don’t exercise routinely.
I’m a deeply imperfect person, with or without alcohol.
But here’s the thing about love. Love loves, regardless.
I started to listen more closely.
I see you. I know you. I’m here for you, and I’m never going to leave, no matter how many times you leave me.
Of course I’m concerned about your drinking. I’ve been trying to get your attention. Clearly, alcohol is harming you, contributing to your suffering. I’ve concluded beyond any shadow of a doubt that only good can come from stopping and never looking back.
This is not your fault, honey. You weren’t meant for this. No one is. Let me help you. I know the way. It’s actually quite simple, although I understand you’re scared. We only need to start walking in any direction away from alcohol to leave this hell behind. No guilt, no shame, no personality overhaul, no judgment, no new religion or club — just you and me, love.
Here, take my hand.
But who to trust?
Would I trust booze culture asking what’s the harm in just one, since everyone is doing it? Would I trust Facebook wine memes? My girlfriends who “loved” drinking? Would I trust the advertising, the sparkly cocktails at the backlit bar, the girls in pretty dresses and treacherous shoes, the lifetime of conditioning that told me real adults drink? Would I trust my therapists who encouraged me to experiment with moderation, my family who wanted to share their alcohol? Would I trust AA, a place that felt a bit like love and a bit like a smack upside the face? Would I trust radical sober bloggers leading expensive trainings whose views I appreciated but who seemed a little big for their alcohol-free britches? Would I trust the part of me that craved alcohol while it was wearing off, the discomfort that begged me to give in, to drink now, and try escaping again later?
Or would I trust myself, trust the part of me, however small and ignored, however drugged and beaten, that was still right there loving me, wanting only what was best for me?
When I saw my choices in stark relief, the answer was clear.
They say a long journey begins with a single step, but perhaps the journey of addiction ends with a single step.
To love I said,
Yes, I hear you.
Yes, I will listen.
Please get me out of here.
More than two years have passed since my last drink. My life has changed only for the better, and my capacity to take on new challenges — to build the life I want — is strengthening still. I almost never think about alcohol except as I might think of a terrible past romance, as in, thank God that’s over.
Yet sometimes, when I’m experiencing extreme pain, fear, or loss, I do think longingly of booze. I miss the way it wrapped everything in gauze, the way it numbed, the way it soothed without solving. Sometimes I want that, but I have come to want this other better life much, much more.
In this life love says,
My dear one, I see you are hurting. I see you are afraid. How natural to wish the pain away. How human!
Here honey, I have an idea. Let’s lie down on the couch with tea and a soft blanket. Tell me where it hurts so I will know where to love you.
In this life I say,
It hurts here, here, and here.
In this life I say,
Thank you, my love.
Also by Sara on Medium:
— On first quitting: The Problem The Comes After Your Drinking Problem
— On early changes in sobriety: Life Changed When I Stopped Drinking