FREEDOM: No longer found at the bottom of my shot glass
I did a lot of “partying” in my day. And by partying… I mean binge-drinking in crowded spaces. I don’t generally refer to it as such publicly, given that I’m a mom and an upstanding member of society but it’s true… I think for many of us “partying” has become the socially-acceptable euphemism for binge drinking, but there’s really nothing inherently festive about consuming more than 5 drinks in an hour. For me, I truly loved the altered state of being wasted drunk: Drrrruuuunnnnk. That slippery, warm, floaty, sensual feeling of drunkenness. I loved to check the F out of the mundanity of daily life and switch off my frontal lobe. I loved the wildness and the freedom I felt as soon as the alcohol hijacked my system. I’m currently nine months into sobriety but I can still vividly remember that state… It’s like when the beat DROPS and suddenly you’re jumping up and down listening to the best song you’ve ever heard even though you don’t know a single word and the song actually kind of sucks. Why have 1 glass of wine when you can have a bottle? Why a single margarita when a pitcher would really do the trick?
Looking back, I was a painfully self-conscious and tightly wrapped teen/young adult. I’m extremely perceptive and empathetic -- freakishly so -- but in my youth this manifested as an over-attunement to the unspoken, subtle emotions and reactions of others. I was always walking on eggshells, waiting to be judged and interpreting every sideways glance as a commentary on my less-than-ness. If anything or anyone was broken -- it was not only my fault, but I had to fix it. We could dive into my childhood and what made me this sensitive and skittish, but I’m saving that story for my book...
This empathy bordering on extra sensory perception -- which I now consider one of my greatest gifts -- was misdirected and warped, beginning in my early teenage years. I didn’t have any tools to self-regulate and my nervous system simply wasn’t strong enough. My particular constitution mandates a lot of time for rest, meditation, and self-reflection but nobody was preaching self-care to overachieving teens in those days. Overstimulation and lack of self-awareness manifested in crippling anxiety, an eating disorder, and then… partying. Partying seemed like the PERFECT solution. It made me confident. It made me popular. It made it all go away.
So I became a world-class party girl. I loved being free of my rational mind. I loved the deep and wild conversations I’d have or connections I’d make while I was free of my many inhibitions. For those fleeting hours I felt dropped in and more comfortable in my own skin...which is ironic because I was obviously neither comfortable nor “present” in my own skin during these drunken escapades.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I never got arrested, or sexually assaulted, or in a car wreck. I never got physically addicted or OD’ed or lost a job. I never cheated on a loved one on a drunken night out unless of course, you count myself. I intentionally disconnected from my body and my spirit over and over again and called it fun. Instead of dealing with the root cause of my issues, I numbed it temporarily and told myself everything was fine…
I’m not sharing this because I think everyone should be sober. I’m sharing this because I think everyone should understand the motivations behind their actions. Self-knowledge is not only our greatest healing tool, but a prerequisite for any truly effective Self Care curriculum. Drinking was a blind spot for me. Even though the frequency of my drinking decreased as the fervor of my spiritual work increased, the intensity did not. I might only drink twice a month but when I did drink… I got D-Rrrrunk. I wasn’t just sipping a glass of red at dinner or nursing a beer at a cookout. I was seeking an altered state of consciousness so I could feel free. And that was the motivation I had to work through.
I’m not the same self-conscious judgmental teen I once was, so why was I still drinking like one? I only hang out with - and drink with - people I truly enjoy and people who know and love me. So why did I need to be wasted to sing karaoke with them or shake my booty at their wedding? I knew that the answer was… I didn’t, and so I decided to quit cold turkey. Over the past 9 months -- in addition to sober karaoke and sober weddings -- I’ve done sober happy hours, sober Sunday fundays and sober club nights. I’ve gone to Europe sober -- twice -- and will be toasting with water in Costa Rica in a few weeks and I cannot wait.
Abstaining on its own hasn’t been hard -- I obviously had a dry stretch during my pregnancy -- but being sober in situations where I was once inebriated has been the most eye-opening challenge. Grabbing the mic at karaoke, my ego says, “is this scary? Can we do this? Are we awkward? Is everyone looking at us? Are we being judged?”. My higher self says, ‘LOVE SHACK, BABY LOVE SHACK”. At a dance party, I’d start out feeling very exposed and seen, then -- realizing that no one is paying any goddamn attention to my outfit, my weight or how I am dancing -- I could let go. I don’t need to be drunk to enjoy dancing. I can dance because it brings me joy. I can dance without inhibition. I can just DANCE!
My biggest realization this year has been that the momentary panic I was avoiding by coating my mind in many, many, many drinks is just that: momentary. Two seconds of giving a massive shit and then… freedom. Freedom to have fun and be wholly present for it. Freedom from hangovers and $200 bar tabs and events I didn’t want to go to anyway. Freedom in knowing that I love myself -- awkward dance moves and all -- and am not afraid to be seen anymore.
This freedom is a microcosm of the “journey from separation to unity,” as my friend, the poet, Bet-Zua Jiminez recently described it. Booze separated me from myself but gave me a false sense of connection. Sobriety forced me to find connection the real way, and revealed the places where I still held unwarranted fear or self-judgement. As a result, I’m experiencing life in a whole new way. I’m no longer waiting for a drink to make me laugh out loud, or confess something deeply personal. Without the crutch of alcohol I’m showing up and doing it my damn self. It’s a little bit scary, but all the really powerful stuff is… at first.
If any part of this story resonates with you, I invite you to give something a try: don’t give up drinking for some arbitrary amount of time… Instead, attend an event sober that you would normally get drunk for. Maybe for you its a tailgate, or a bachelorette weekend, or a Kentucky Derby party. Start with an event attended by solely people you TRULY love and enjoy being around to ease yourself in (holidays with the in-laws are pro-level sobriety affairs). Notice the urge to drink. Notice any feelings that arise… Do you feel anxious? Do you feel bored? Do you feel FOMO? Maybe, yes to all of the above and you need to find a new friend group (yes, in sobriety that tends to happen). But maybe… like me, after the initial unfamiliarity of being booze free, you realize that you love these people and you love yourself. You love them drunk, but you love them sober too. You love the music and you love the conversation and you love your LIFE.
And you didn’t need to drink to get there after all.