Today I’m 100 days sober. It’s hard to believe these words are coming from me, of all people. The person who beelined it to the beer tent at every festival, every concert. The person who attended every happy hour, cocktail party, and boozy brunch. The person who didn’t think there was enough wine in the bottle for two people and would argue there are only three glasses per bottle, not four. The person who always liked a good party. If you know me, you know that about me.
What you don’t know is that I drank alone and pre-partied before happy hour. I hid bottles of vodka in my closet and secretly disposed of them on the regular. I had a small army of airplane bottles in my car, at the ready, any time I felt the urge to throw one back. I came to like, and looked forward to, the burning sensation of 80 proof anything going down my throat and warming the inside of my belly. I came to like the secrecy of it all too.
It wasn’t always like this, but my relationship with alcohol has never been a good one. It started innocently enough 25 years ago, the summer after my freshman year of high school. Everybody was doing it — or so I thought — and because my insecure, impressionable teen self was no match against peer pressure, I was too.
The first time I drank was at a church — no, not at communion, but on a low-hanging roof at La Jolla Lutheran, in the back by the parking lot. I was 15. It was 40 ounces of King Cobra. (Gross, right?) Despite a valiant effort, I only finished about half of it before throwing in the towel. But before too long I was proudly polishing off Mickey’s 40s, sometimes two, with the boys. I was so cool.
I drank throughout high school and I drank a lot. My mom asked me then if I had a drinking problem. I thought she was crazy. It’s what you do in high school, I reasoned. And college. I mean, really, who doesn’t party in college? And when I turned 21. It’s a rite of passage people! And I continued to drink throughout my 20s and 30s.
I drank to celebrate birthdays and weddings. I drank to ring in new years. I drank because Christmas. And Easter. And the Fourth of July. And Arbor Day, whenever that is. I drank to unwind. I drank to have fun. I drank to be free. I drank to be social. I drank when I cooked. And cleaned. I drank on camping trips. I drank at the beach. I drank at picnics. I drank at sporting events. I drank in the shower. I drank on vacation. I drank because it was a hot day. I drank because of the screaming kid that’s always behind me on the plane. I drank because cheese tastes better with wine. Steak does too. I drank because it was Friday. And Monday. And every other day of the week. I drank because.
But so did everyone else so I was fine, right?
‘They’ say alcoholism is a progressive disease. I don’t like the word disease — I don’t have leprosy — but I agree wholeheartedly with it being progressive. I didn’t think at the tender age of 15 that I’d grow up to be an alcoholic. (I don’t like that word either, alcoholic, but that’s a different blog post.) I didn’t think partying in high school and college and beyond would set the stage for alcohol dependency later on. Hearing myself say that now I’m like, duh, you moron. But, in my defense, I thought what I was doing was normal. And I blame society for that, and the barrage of pro-drinking messages we see and hear every day that normalizes this behavior. (Yet another idea for a blog post.) That aside, I let alcohol become my best friend. It was an easy relationship to have because this “friend” was always there for me, no matter what.
In my early legal drinking years, it was happy hours, house parties, and nights out on the town. Then it was every brunch, lunch, and dinner. Then it was drinking at home by myself — a glass of wine after work, or while cooking dinner, and of course with dinner, too. Then it was a bottle. Then it was two shots of vodka after work, because one was never enough, followed by another every 30-60 minutes or so until I went to bed (i.e., passed out). Then it was whenever I felt anxious, upset, or sad. Sorrows are meant to be drowned, right? Of course there were other things I could have done to alleviate my angst, healthy things, but having a shot (or three) was quick and easy. And, knowing I was doing something “bad,” it was exciting and fun for me too.
It’s hard to say when, exactly, things got really, really bad. A year ago, maybe two. I was intoxicated for fuck’s sake. The downward spiral was a gradual one, but even so, I saw it happening and it became harder and harder to deny I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. And it was only getting worse. I was drinking every day. I was drinking more often alone than when with friends, and I drank a lot with friends. I was drinking to self-medicate and cope with daily life. I was drinking to shut off having to feel anything because what I felt didn’t feel good. It hurt, I hurt, and I wanted to kill that pain, or at least numb it. And with that, I snuffed out everything else in my life too, the good with the bad.
I didn’t care about anything really. Nothing excited me. Life didn’t excite me. Seeing friends — unless we were drinking — didn’t excite me. Having plans for the weekend or going on vacation didn’t excite me. The future, my future, didn’t excite me. There’s a word for that, you know. Anhedonia. I remember learning it in college, in a class I took on substance abuse.
I consider myself to be a smart, logical, well-educated person. How far was I going to let this go? How many more years of my life was I going to spend in a fog? How many more years did I have?
Despite decades of “bad behavior,” I’d always been able to toe that line, living it UP while maintaining enough focus to do well both academically and professionally. I had my shit together. HAD.
I didn’t know how to not drink. I tried a few times. Twice, to be exact. Both times I lasted a measly three weeks before swandiving back into the bottle. There was always a reason to drink, in my mind, and there was always someone to drink with too. Again, everybody was doing it.
But did everybody feel like I did? Did everybody drink too much when they went out? Did everybody have the same debilitating hangovers the next day, the kind that only get worse with age? Did everybody feel the same shame of wasting yet another beautiful day inside on the couch, crippled in agony, with no intention of leaving the house?
I remember those days well but not fondly. Days I spent in my PJs, unshowered, unbrushed, and undone. Days I had the aches and the shakes. Days my cat wouldn’t even hang out with me. Days I spent reliving the horrors of the night before, over and over and over again, beating myself up for things said and done — if I remembered anything at all.
Days I refused to look in the mirror, avoiding the red-eyed, puffy-faced mess of a woman — someone I once knew but didn’t recognize anymore — staring back at me with disdain. Days I had no food in the house and no choice but to call for delivery, my being not safe for public consumption. And, let’s be real, I couldn’t move had I wanted to brave the outdoors in search of food.
As I became more and more aware of my alcohol dependency, I became obsessed with books written by women in recovery. I bought a bunch from Amazon and read them voraciously, quietly curious to know if I too was an alcoholic. I couldn’t get enough. My appetite for their stories was insatiable because they were all so relatable. They were so me. These women had lived through what I was experiencing. And not only did they live to tell about it, they thrived. Their new lives were better than anything they could have imagined when alcohol was in their lives. When alcohol was their lives.
I wanted to be like these women. I wanted to conquer my demons, enjoy life again, and maybe one day have the courage to tell my own story. But I was still drinking. I hadn’t yet hit my rock bottom. Did I have to? Couldn’t I just change?
No. Unfortunately, the answer was no.
The first day of my sobriety was December 23, 2018. I didn’t wake up IN my bed but ON my bed, and still in my clothes from the day before. How long had I been here? How did I get here? I don’t remember going to bed. I don’t remember getting home. I don’t remember leaving the bar… The bar! I was at the neighborhood bar, the one next to Safeway. I try and think back to the last thing I remember.
I remember wanting to check out the local watering hole by my new place and have a beer after my moto ride. Just one, I told myself.
I remember having two beers and breaking my promise.
I remember sitting at the bar, taking it all in while waiting for the Chargers game to start, and eyeing the pool tables.
I remember paying my tab and getting up to leave — one became two, but two was not going to be three.
I remember deciding to stay just a bit longer to play pool, because I really wanted to play pool.
I remember making new friends and taking a shot of tequila with them at the bar.
And then I woke up.
What had happened? Instant panic washes over me as thoughts of what could have happened, and how easily, register. Oh my god. Did someone bring me home? There’s no way I could have made it home by myself, not in the condition I was in. Who brought me home? Did they come inside? Did anything bad happen to me?! OH MY GOD! I feel okay. Am I sure? Yes, yes I’m sure. Pretty sure. Oh my god. You’re SUCH an IDIOT.
I get up slowly to begin searching for clues. My aching head reprimands me for moving and a sharp pain pulses through my puckered brain. I need water. Had I eaten? What time did I leave the bar? I remember I don’t remember. What time was it when I took that shot? It had still been light out, I know that much. Geezus, I blacked out before 5pm?!! What had happened between the time I took that shot and me getting home?
Unable to stand completely upright and looking more like Homo habilis than Homo sapien, I hobble to the kitchen stopping every so often to balance myself and not run into a wall or piece of furniture on my way.
I find a bag of carrots, ripped open in last night’s attempt to get something in my stomach, discarded on the kitchen table. The bag is mangled and the carrots dry, having been out all night. I must have known I was in bad shape, soon to be the victim of another beast of a hangover. But carrots?
I look for more clues. Miraculously, I find my phone and my wallet, with all my credit cards. A welcome relief. I don’t have to go back there, not knowing who may have witnessed what, to retrieve a forgotten credit card.
I feel ill, sick to my stomach. And boy am I, spending the entire day shuffling back and forth between couch and bathroom, thanking God it’s only the 23rd and not the 24th because I’m supposed to fly home for Christmas on the 24th. Thank God I have this day to recover. Thank God I get another chance.
I pay dearly for the “fun” I think I had but can’t remember, and am amazed once again by my body and what it’s capable of. My body kept me alive. My body kept me breathing; I think about how easily I could have died in my sleep, my autonomic nervous system succumbing to the poison its own host had given it. My body woke me up. My body still hasn’t given up on me, although it can only be a matter of time at the rate I’m going.
As if the physical pain I’m experiencing isn’t enough, I beat myself up for being so stupid. For putting myself in a dangerous situation. For overdoing it yet again. When will I grow up? Really, when? I can’t keep doing this. I’m too old for this shit! I’ve said these words before, so many times, but nothing ever changes. Why would this time be any different?
But this time was different. This time really, really scared me and here’s why:
– I takes more than two beers and a shot to get me drunk, no less blackout drunk.
– I’ve blacked out dozens of times before, but not like this. This was immediate; the lights were on and then they weren’t. This was complete, with no figment of anything that resembled even a glimmer of a memory. And, this lasted a long ass time.
– I’ve replayed that afternoon over and over in my head but to no avail. I will never know what happened. I will never know, for certain, if someone put something in my drink. I will never know how I got home.
I don’t believe in God, even though I make promises to him sometimes about never drinking again if he will just make my hangover go away, but something got me home that night. Something was looking out for me. Was it divine intervention? My guardian angel? I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. Any of it.
What I do know is this can’t happen again. Ever.
I feel incredibly lucky to be alive and to have come out of this experience relatively unscathed. I know much worse could have happened and does happen. My rock bottom was a shallow one but it did the trick and got me to take my sobriety seriously this time.
When I made the decision to stop drinking I didn’t know how long it was going to be for. I still don’t. ‘Forever’ is a big, scary word. I didn’t know if I was going to succeed this time, or if I’d only make it a few weeks like my two failed attempts years prior. But I also didn’t want to keep making empty promises to myself and being disappointed in the one person I’m stuck with no matter what. I wanted to take sobriety seriously this time.
Could I make it 30 days? The longest I’d ever been sober was three weeks. Surely I could do four.
Could I make it 100 days? Two of the books I’d read recently referenced the 100 day mark and how the benefits of living sober really kick in. It sounded glorious, but was it attainable?
I tried to imagine my life without alcohol. Would people still like me? Would I have the same friends? Would I still go to bars? Would I still want to go to bars? Would I be able to maintain my sobriety?
I considered my collection of wine glasses. I wouldn’t need them anymore but I didn’t want to get rid of them, or store them away even. They represented fun times, of both the debaucherous and more refined kind, and brought back good memories of trips to Wine Country and Santa Ynez. They represented girls’ nights with my besties. And they looked good in my kitchen cabinet. They belonged there.
I committed to 30 days. Baby steps. I didn’t want to set the bar too high. I could do 30 days, dammit. I had to prove to myself I could do 30 days because maybe then there was hope for me. I owed this to myself. And so it began.
In the first days of my sobriety I attended an AA meeting. I hadn’t yet tried AA so why not start there? It was a new year, a new me, and I was ready to try something new. With a clean slate and another chance to do it right, I downloaded the ‘AA Big Book’ app on my phone, searched for meetings near me, and picked one. That Saturday afternoon, in a long, narrow, windowless room in a San Jose strip mall, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and finally accepted that I had a problem. And, I committed to taking action because I wanted more for myself. While I’m glad I went, I haven’t been back. It just wasn’t for me. So far, I’m doing just fine without AA. And, it turns out I’m not very good at being anonymous.
The hardest part, for me, was breaking the habit. Drinking for every occasion was so ingrained in me. I had to relearn how to do things, but without a drink in hand. Boozy brunches without the booze. Happy hours without the happy. Dinner parties without boatloads of wine. I had to learn how to be social sober. And what to do with my hands. I had to learn how to say ‘no’ to certain events where alcohol took center stage. And be okay with having FOMO.
After a few weeks of attending events where I’d normally be putting them back, and getting used to not, and realizing it wasn’t the end of the world, the habit was broken and being sober got a lot easier.
I made it through Christmas without a drink. And New Year’s. I made it through four months of a separation. And the passing of my best (fluffy) friend of 15+ years, my beloved Tito. And Super Bowl. And since then, countless happy hours and evenings out. I’ve even braved wineries and breweries, my old places of worship.
Turns out, life without alcohol is pretty great. People still like me. I have the same friends. I still go to happy hours, admittedly less now, but that’s not a bad thing. I still use my wine glasses, my bourbon ones too.
But wait, there’s more!
I have more money. I have more energy. I’m stronger and healthier. I sleep like a baby. My pants fit me again (hallelujah!). And I feel good. Really. Good. Every day is hangover-free and every day I can be my best self. And be proud of myself, too.
When I first became a “non-drinker,” I felt a sense of loss. But in going through this, it’s clear as day how much I’ve gained.
I made it. No, I crushed it. How’d I do it and what keeps me going?
MOCKTAILS. Lots and lots of mocktails. Kudos to the bars and restaurants that have a mocktail menu. I’m not a big soda drinker, and iced tea gets old real quick, so if your mocktail game is on point, here, take my money. I’ve delightfully imbibed a number of alcohol-free libations so tasty they give their toxic twins a run for their money. They taste good, they don’t make me sleepy, and I can binge drink these puppies until the cows come home. Shrubs and switchels are my go-tos as of late.
BOOKS & BLOGS. Thank you Amazon and Facebook. When I was still drinking, I started buying and reading every book about alcohol addiction and sobriety I could find. I was curious about sobriety, and how bad my problem really was, but not yet ready to label myself and commit to no alcohol. I was particularly drawn to (i.e., obsessed with) sober memoirs authored by women. My favorite so far? “The Sober Diaries” by Clare Pooley. This woman speaks my language (but with an accent because she’s British). I admire her humor and brutal honesty. Only a few chapters in and I was already telling myself I wanted to read this book again. I don’t read books twice. But she’s rad. I follow her (@SoberMummy) on Facebook too.
I LIKE MY NEW LIFE. I’ve said this before, I feel good! I have the energy, and desire, to explore other facets of my life. I’m trying new things. I’m revisiting old things. Arts and crafts are my jam and, yes, I’m (almost) 40 going on 60. You can find me at home on a Saturday night putzing around the house in my house pants, content as can be. You can also find me up early the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. When I was drinking, I’d have ripped you a new one if you woke me up before 8am. Only go-getters carpe diem-ing were up before 8am voluntarily. That lifestyle annoyed me for no reason other than it made me feel inadequate. And lazy. Now I wake up around 6:45am, every day. I’m one of those people. And I’m not sorry.
PROGRESS IS MOTIVATION. I made it to 100 days. And then some. (115 to be exact, but who’s counting?) I don’t want to throw that away. Or waste any more days on the couch, hungover. No thanks. My drive to stay sober gets stronger with every day that passes, one day at a time.
I’M SCARED. The thought of drinking again scares me. I’m afraid of liking it too much and falling back down that slippery slope, the one I just clawed my way up. I’m afraid my brain will try to trick me into thinking I’m seeing an old friend, really a monster in disguise. I got away once. Why go back? Why ever go back to something that brought me down and got in the way of me living my best life? It’d be like going back to an abusive boyfriend for another beating. It might not happen right away, but it’d only be a matter of time.
I’m tempted from time to time, for sure. But that beer, or that shot, never seems worth it. I’m better off without it. The last couple of months are proof of that.
So what now? Well, I don’t know exactly. I know I slaughtered my first goal of 30 days. I know I made it to 100 days, and with flying colors — no cheating whatsoever, not a drop. I know I feel great, and look great too — at least that’s what people keep telling me. I know I want to think I can moderate and be a “normal” drinker, whatever that is, but I also know moderation hasn’t worked for me in the past. For those of you who have it figured out, I applaud you. I might hate you just a little too.
Until I figure out what now, and what next, I’m getting to know the new me. I’m learning how to face my feelings and be okay with being uncomfortable. I’m learning how to deal with being more emotional now, too, because, man, waterworks over here! It used to take a lot for me to cry. I’d go years without shedding a tear. Now that I’m sober, I feel things. I cried just this morning, in fact. Those videos of foster animals finding their forever home get me every time.
That girl in the mirror? I don’t mind looking at her now, holding her gaze. She doesn’t disgust me like she once did. In fact, I’m excited to see who she becomes now that she’s free from the bonds of addiction.
Why am I sharing all of this? I’ve asked myself this a dozen times. This is all very personal, obviously. I’m putting myself under a microscope for all to see, for all to judge, for some to pity. But I feel no shame. I feel humbled because I am imperfect, and I feel proud because I achieved something I never thought possible. 100 days may sound insignificant in comparison to “Water for me, please” warriors with years of sobriety under their belts. But they were here once too.
I came really close to not sharing Part 1. And of course had that happened, subsequent parts never would have seen the light of your screen. But I did share it, not knowing what to expect the next morning when I woke up and checked Facebook. What would people say? What would people think but not say? Would I have to delete any comments? How were my parents going to react? Was I going to regret making this decision?
Turns out, everyone has my back. The response I received was overwhelming positive, intoxicatingly so. I heard from people I hadn’t spoken to since the 7th grade. Messages flooded my Inbox from friends and acquaintances sharing their own struggles with alcohol. More than I knew, unfortunately, and want to know. The struggle is real. But there is hope.
I’m sharing this because I’m tired of hiding. I’m sharing this because now I have more people holding me accountable, and rooting for me too. I’m sharing this in hopes that anyone going through something similar feels less alone. And, I’m sharing this because this milestone is significant to me and so I’m taking a moment to celebrate it.
A few weeks ago, I had plans to take a shot with my team at work. You see, it’s tradition. Something we do after every launch. It was April 2nd, which happened to be the 101st day of my sobriety, and the day after I shared Part 1.
A successful launch! 100+ days! Time to celebrate! Perhaps, but you don’t reward someone who abuses alcohol with alcohol. Yet, celebrating sober sounded like an oxymoron.
I knew the day was coming and I waffled back and forth for months. Do I participate? Do I not? It’s only one shot. No big deal. But the more I thought about it, the more it became a big deal.
Why should I? Camaraderie! Team bonding! Tradition! It’s only one shot.
Why shouldn’t I? Because look at me now! I made it this far. Not to mention, I literally just told the world I’m on the wagon. I might be a lot of things but I’m not a hypocrite.
It’s only one shot. Does having one measly shot mean having to start my day count over again? It’s not like I’m going to get drunk. Maybe I can keep my day count… But I’ll know it’s false and that will nag at me. Just like the elusive strand of hair that sometimes tickles the back of my arm but can’t be freed despite probing fingers and blind but deft swipes nags at me. I can’t keep my day count if I have a shot. My day count needs to remain pure, sacred, unmarred, intact. A sip I might let slide, but a drink — whether it be a beer, a glass of wine, or a single shot — means I start over.
But it’s only one shot. Am I never again going to be able to celebrate with (and like) my team? And with (and like) everyone else with whom I hope to rejoice at future celebrations?
My team knew the day was coming, too, and asked me in the weeks leading up to it what I was going to do. I answered with honesty. I didn’t know. More waffling ensued.
What did I know? That’s always a good place to start. Knowing is half the battle, right?
I knew I was proud of myself for the progress I’d made, and that I didn’t want anything jeopardizing the magical momentum I had going. I knew I wanted to be true to myself and live up to my expectations, and my convictions. I knew I wanted this time to be different, and that it was different because of the changes I’d been making.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
The day came, and with it your responses to Part 1. I left the house that morning with my chin up, my shoulders back, and my heart full. Your words of encouragement strengthened my resolve to abstain from drinking. Your praise for my bravery bolstered an invisible yet powerful force that carried me fervently and with purpose.
While my trusty team slammed shots of Rumple Minze, I threw back a shot of apple cider vinegar — and made a face just as ugly as the rest of them. Likely uglier.
And it’s because of you. So, thank you.
THANK YOU for your love and support.
THANK YOU for your kind words and virtual hugs.
THANK YOU for your comments, messages, texts, and phone calls.
THANK YOU for your book recommendations. I’m currently reading “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey. Wow.
THANK YOU for taking a moment to reflect on your own truth. And for telling me that I’ve inspired positive change in your life. WOW.
THANK YOU for reaching out and sharing, with brave honesty, your own struggles. And for trusting me enough to do so.
THANK YOU for giving me the push that sailed me through this past month. And for steering me straight when I was tempted to veer off course.
And THANK YOU for joining me for this part of my journey. I’ve really enjoyed the company.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that nothing is worth giving up the progress I’ve made. Any of it. One thing my dad has always said is, “Never go back the way you came.” With an insatiably adventurous spirit, he prefers the road less traveled, always choosing the path that guarantees getting lost and seeing what otherwise goes unseen. This saying has a whole new meaning to me now. Never go back. And so I look forward, and smile because the road ahead looks like a good one.
[Cue video of me riding a horse, or a wagon, or a horse-drawn wagon into the sunset.]