When I first stopped drinking back in 2013, I remember thinking that losing my crutch was going to be incredibly hard. I had been using alcohol for years to numb. I numbed loneliness mainly. I had gone for periods of time without drinking – when I was pregnant and nursing, when I was trying to lose weight – so I knew I could. But what was I going to do about the loneliness? The pain? Was I actually going to have to feel it?
Turned out, I was.
Weirdly (or perhaps not-so-weirdly), my decision to quit alcohol came about 72 hours before my (then) husband told me he needed “space.” He failed to mention that space was between someone else’s legs, and you can imagine what it was like to find out he was having an affair via some super-sleuthing by a friend who found photos of them on social media. If you’ve ever been through something like that, you know how painful it is. And I had just decided to stop using my preferred method of medication. Goody!
I had a choice to make: either stick with my decision to get sober or go buy a case of wine and start drinking. No one would have blamed me at that point had I chosen the latter. And I’m not sure where the fortitude came from to continue to honor the decision I had made three days earlier, but there it was: I was finished with alcohol.
Now, I was a DRINKER, and I drank pretty much every day. I had a system because I was drinking too much. I didn’t always go to the same store for my booze because I didn’t want the clerks to think I was an alcoholic. I made sure to drink only when I finished driving my kids around for the day. I drank while I cooked dinner, during dinner, and after everyone in the house went to bed. It was a train wreck that I covered as best I could. When I look back, I can see that I drank because I was lonely. I drank because I had lost my voice and my gumption. I drank because I felt like shit. I had gotten caught up in an epic pity party for one. And I don’t blame anyone for that but myself.
I would have liked nothing better than to numb the excruciating pain that comes from a marital betrayal. But somehow, I had the wisdom to know that I needed to feel it. Don’t ask me how. God? The Universe? My own smarts? Who knows? But there it was, plain as day in my newly-clearing brain: you need to feel this, girl, and you need to get through it without alcohol.
And so I did.
And it sucked.
Here on the other side, though, life is good. Five-and-a-half years of alcohol-free living has taught me that I never needed a substance to get through pain. If you don’t feel it while it’s occurring, if you numb it or compartmentalize it, it just sits there waiting for you. You may as well feel it now, deal with it, and release it to make room for something else, something better. I don’t miss the foggy, hungover mornings. I don’t miss the headaches or nausea. I don’t miss the booze anymore at all. It’s weird because I never thought I’d say that. It’s gotten easier to just say “I don’t drink alcohol” when someone offers me a cocktail. It’s gotten easier to feel sad. It’s gotten easier to feel lonely.
It’s gotten easier to feel.
Alcohol kept me from feeling fully for a long time. It may or may not have played a part in the disintegration of my marriage. I blamed my drinking for that for a long time. What I do know, though, is that I’ll be damned if I ever wonder about alcohol destroying anything else in my life. That shit was poison to me. It sold me lies of comfort and companionship. I had to learn to be my own comfort, my own companion.
Thankfully, I’m better at it than alcohol ever was.