Make the new year about your old habits

Growing up with two alcoholic parents, including two alcoholic step dads, things weren’t exactly promising when I started drinking heavily in my late 20’s. Drinking alcohol wasn’t necessarily the problem, it was however, my addictive tendencies that made me decide to call it quits one night during a drunken debauchery in the spring of April 2013.

Growing up, I was the witness of my mother’s two failed marriages. Needless to say, it was very hard on me, but I often had to be the backbone for both my dad and my mom’s emotional leftover baggage. Thus, it felt like no one was taking the time to pay attention to my suffering, I started becoming introverted and mostly focused on my art and writing. While my mom was busy working eight jobs to make ends meet as a single mother, I had few friends in school at that time. I was never the cool, popular kid at schoo, nor even an A student. It also didn’t help that we were always on the move and me switching schools often didn’t make for lasting friendships. I was always considered the “shy kid” in class, the one who didn’t speak up or participate in group settings. Sure enough, my withdrawn tendencies had become a prime target for bullies who would then beat me up, taunt, terrorize, or threaten me mercilessly.  All too often I came running home with tears running down my face. I was terrified and I seemed helpless, unable to do anything about my situation. I felt like there was no one to turn to for help and I did not want to be a burden to my parents with even more stress, so I often suffered quietly. During my adulthood this seemed to haunt me time and time again as I would frequently meet those classic “textbook bullies.”

During most of my early 20’s I was very reluctant to try alcohol. I despised the horrible taste of beer and wine, and of course I couldn’t even stand the burning taste of hard liquor in my mouth. Alcohol had never really been an issue for me, as I hardly ever partied late and mostly kept myself busy with other things like school and work. I simply did not find alcohol very appealing. Even when I turned 21 and was legally allowed to drink,  I would only stick to girly drinks like Mudslides or fruity pink drinks whenever I would go out somewhere. I enjoyed myself but it was all very benign. It wasn’t until I went through a series of emotionally and psychologically unstable and abusive relationships that left me feeling very vulnerable and broken.

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I started getting a lot of anxiety about my failures in relationships and would sometimes compare those failures with the tainted romantic relationships of my mothers. I often felt deep despair and hopelessness thinking that I would never find love or be loved. I started digging myself into a deep hole of self-pity and despair. In order to mend my very broken heart, I started over compensating by working three different jobs and making good money to be able to go out all night like it was nobodies business. “Watch out, single girl here I go!” was my motto. I wanted to feel alive and be seen.

Initially things went really well and I started to meet people everywhere I went. I was mingling with everyone and we were all having fun drinking. No one seemed to think anything of it. Whenever I went anywhere people would immediately hand me a glass. I could drink as much as I wanted and be totally cool with everything and I felt like a newborn champion. The world was my oyster and I felt unstoppable. The once disgusting taste of alcohol, had turned to become my favorite. I couldn’t wait to have more of it…

And so the slippery slope started. I drank at clubs, at bars, at friends houses, on vacation, at parties, at home, at music festivals, at restaurants, on the streets, I drank everywhere, alone, with strangers, or friends. Heck, I didn’t even need a special occasion to drink, drinking time was every time! Instead of focusing on things that I used to love, like gym, yoga, going to the movies, reading, writing, and work, I started prioritizing my life on when I could attend the next social gathering or event, so I could have that special glass of alcohol in my hand. And with that, my entire life started revolving around one thing…alcohol. In the beginning stages of my drinking addiction, I would feel more confident, secure, and able to take on the world. “Screw those people who tried to hurt me in the past, and screw those who try to mess with me now.” This is exactly what I kept telling myself to keep up the strung out energy, which would soon start draining me dry. I felt like I was living on a high (despite the occasional bad hangovers) and no one could stop me.  In fact anything surrounding alcohol had become such a priority to me that I completely dismissed when someone had pointed out to me that I should not be drinking a bottle of wine by myself at home every other day.

One is too many and one is not enough

Year after year went by and the partying and drinking didn’t cease, in fact it had only gotten more excessive. As I kept on drinking I was surrounding myself with more people who also drank heavily to help make me feel less like an addict. Looking back now I can clearly see the many similarities I had with those that were also struggling with their dependence on alcohol. During this crazy time, I also met my current husband and we happened to cross paths at the exactly the right time.  A fate of luck! But things were not always lucky and peachy keen in the beginning. I began to notice that whenever I would drink I would feel great initially for a very short time, but then a feeling of sadness and worthlessness would creep in. Instead of actually examining those feelings closer, I did what most alcoholics would do, keep on drinking anyway. I was in a state of deep denial and I was desperately trying to shut off my brain, trying to stop thinking about my surfacing feelings of self doubt, insecurities, sadness and loneliness.  I wanted to forget about the cruel world we were living in and just enjoy the moment I was in.

At this point, I would drink myself to sleep almost every night just to “forget” about stuff. I felt increasingly worse from day to day. I would get wild mood swings, have tons of anxiety, be sad for no reason, be depressed and angry. I won’t even mention the insane hangovers that felt like death every time. Frankly, I started turning into a person that I didn’t recognize anymore. My friends became my enemies and my relationship suffered as my partner and I had long arguments and petty fights. My work performance was at an all time low and I just couldn’t keep up with the normal day to day activities and was constantly behind on things. It didn’t occur to me that alcohol had been the culprit all along, as I was still in deep denial after all. How could some widely accepted substance that you could easily buy ANYWHERE make you feel so intensely miserable?

The turning point came, when a close friend of mine, whom I trusted, started to get worried about my increasingly black out drunk moments and my erratic behavior towards myself and others. Yes, thoughts of suicide often plagued my anxious mind and I often felt so lost and lonely, unable to do anything. I didn’t feel in control of myself anymore and I had allowed alcohol to take full reign over me. To make matters worse, my unstoppable alcohol consumption started to become apparent to my family as well, especially my mother and step dad, who both now long term recovered alcoholics. In my despair to still cling to my old beliefs and attitudes, I quickly dismissed all their accusations and just retreated even further into my little tiny shell that I had so carefully built around me. A shell of denial and fear!

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And it was that fear, that nudged something inside of me. Now equipped with multiple strikes against me, I started to question myself for the first time. “What if there was actually some truth to what everyone said?” “What if I really did have an alcohol problem?” When I looked at myself in the mirror I couldn’t stand myself anymore. My skin looked terrible, my eyes hollow, and I felt crummy. It wasn’t until I went on another binge where I literally felt like I couldn’t go on anymore. Something inside of me clicked, “Is this how you really want to live the rest of your life? Broken, hollow, empty? Is this what you really want?” I knew deep down inside that something needed to change and that’s when it dawned on me.

It was on the night of April  25, 2013 where something profoundly shifted inside of me. To this day, I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but something “woke” me up. I received this eerie feeling that if I don’t stop drinking right then and there, things would turn for the worst without turning back. It spooked me a little to be honest. That night, during a friends birthday dinner, I had way too many glasses of wine as usual. I started slurring my speech, had trouble walking, felt angry, and couldn’t even function cohesively at all. I was a drunken havoc! Well to me and others, it may have just been another ordinary sight, but to me something didn’t feel right. Subjecting myself to this uncontrollable drunkenness all the time was just not fair to myself and those around me. Enough was enough!

The next day, I suffered uncontrollably. I was at work and I felt weak and horrible for putting my body through yet another poison fest. I was sad that I had caused harm to myself and others yet again. I didn’t want to go through this burden of guilt every time. I was fed up and I made a promise to myself not to drink. I told myself that if my mom and step-dad could do it after having been sober for many years, then so could I. Since that moment, I vouched to stop drinking entirely! This new realization and goal came as a surprise for many, including my partner. It was a shock to many whom I partied with all the time and even close friends were a bit skeptical of my decision. However, that was just the beginning of my journey. The hard part would soon follow.

I began seeing a counselor for my alcohol addiction right away and I even met with psychiatrists and psychologist. I began going to therapy almost every week and I even went to AA meetings, too. During this time I felt super vulnerable and uncomfortable about myself but having a strong support system in place, including advice from my mother and my partner, made me feel a little hopeful that things would improve. I knew there were others out there that suffering like I did and that made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I heard stories similar to mine and how they overcame this challenge of giving up drinking and addiction. Some stories really resonated within me and I felt empathy for those suffering. But it was the empathy inside of me that saved me.

During this process of recovery, my body felt better initially, because I was not  constantly putting poison into it all the time, but my mind was the hardest part to recon with. Once I accepted that drinking alcohol was no longer a part of my life, the flooding emotions that I tried so desperately to run away from, started rolling in. Now in the past I would quickly chase these waves of turmoil down with one drink after another. But now there was no drink to chase away my feelings with. Oh dear! The anxiety started to build and all I could do was sit there and face myself. When I was eventually confronted head on with my own sad reality, the ugliness reared its head. I was faced with my own demons of shame, guilt, sadness, and doubt. I felt like my armor had been stripped away and now I needed to fight the clean battle. I sat there feeling terrible and guilty for the horrible things I had said and done to people while I was drinking. I was very careless with other people’s feelings and knowing that I had hurt them and knowing that I was the culprit of their pain and misery made things even worse for me. I felt like I could never forgive myself.

Because of these emotional struggles, I had made the decision to see my therapist regularly so she could help me better understand my own feelings. My therapist is also a recovered alcoholic and like me, grew up in Europe, where drinking is pretty much in everyone’ genes. She has helped me cope with my anger and also revealed my insecurities to me, by shining the light into my dark days, for which I was sure would never end.

It isn’t always easy to accept yourself for who you are, flaws, faults, and everything in between. When I started opening up I had found myself face to face with a lot of trauma from my childhood which made me feel unloved and neglected as a child. The confusion of not knowing what’s going to happen and the anxieties that would soon follow, started turning into deep seated anger, fear, and self pity. For the first time I fully realized that I was responsible for how I was acting and treating those around me. I truly felt ashamed. I felt like a coward! After all, it was not their fault that I was suffering, so why did I choose to lash out at them during my drunken state of obnoxiousness? Because when I was suffering, I had only focused on myself, my wants, and my needs. I felt somewhat entitled to do what I wanted, as I was the one who had been putting up with too much bullshit for way too long. But this is where I failed to see the truth. I assumed that my misguided actions would just be another example of being shrugged away or frowned upon by society as it often does, but I was totally unaware that my behavior would end up leaving deep scars and emotional wounds behind. As I have later learned, sometimes the wounds were so deep that nothing would ever repair them. The damage had been done and the only way to get through it is to move on, learn and let go.

What the last four and a half sober years of life have taught me is this; I started to learn how to genuinely love myself and most importantly how to have deep compassion and forgiveness for myself. I would often neglect my own feelings until it was too late and I would express myself in unhealthy and corrosive ways, disregarding my emotional, physical, and spiritual being for too long. I started to develop a caring and nurturing relationship with myself that was based on strength, trust, gratitude, love, and compassion. Most importantly I became aware of my problems and issues. My therapist, whom I can call a trusted mentor, has helped me tremendously during this difficult period of my life. Even to this day, she continues to help me to see through my inner fears and insecurities which I had been carrying around with me my whole life. This included feelings of low self worth, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. All of this had stemmed from childhood trauma that I was never able to acknowledge or work through. Instead of openly sharing myself with others and discussing honestly, I let it all manifest inside of me. And when drinking alcohol as much would only exacerbate all of those bottled up emotions.

With building a new relationship with myself, I started to learn what true genuine happiness really was. It wasn’t about feeling happy in the moment, but having feelings of endless deep joy inside of you no matter what life throws at you. Knowing you are going to be okay and you are always loved and appreciated always. I can honestly admit that throughout my whole life I have never felt such feelings of contentment and gratitude. I was at a state of inner peace with myself that filled me with light and boundless of love! I finally had broken through and found myself to be peaceful for whom I was and for whom I inspired to be. I slowly began to accept myself, whole and fully and learned to take responsibility  for my actions. I became a sponge of transformation and learned to constantly improve myself. It felt like a caterpillar breaking away from its cocoon to turn into a beautiful butterfly.

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Fast forward to the here and now and my life has progressed in so many ways that I would have never dreamed of becoming. I share a loving home with my newly-wed husband in the beautiful city of San Francisco, where we nurture and support each others goals and accomplishments. I have to thank him tremendously and credit him for always believing in me and for never giving up on me no matter how bad times were. He helped me see who I was on the inside and made me realize my true potential. Through his help and from the help of my many dear friends and family members, I was able to grow into the proud woman I am today. Over the last fours and a half years of being sober, my friendships and my family relationships have improved and flourished. I have met a multitude of new friends who have opened my eyes even further and whom I have learned a great deal from and still continue to do so. Having a very supportive circle of love, trust, and compassion is a very important step in the recovery process. And this process can be a unique life long journey for many. For anyone going through similar struggles, my advice to you, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out because they are many others going through the exact same thing. Find someone whom you can trust or find support groups like AA, Al Anon or even Buddhist Centers now offer weekly recovery meetings. They truly help and allow you to see a different side of things. Having others share their stories will hopefully bring some insight to you so that one day you will  be able to also hare your story.

 

 

 

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