How I Quit Being a Slave to Alcohol

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“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” – Jim Rohn

I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom. I had managed to stand up and step out of the tent, but I could barely put one foot in front of the other. My entire body hurt–my back was paralyzing me.

My kids and their friends heard me get up and rushed over to walk with me. I had to pull myself together. I was hunched over and shuffling like an old lady, wincing in pain. I was 37.

They started talking to me about the incident in the camp store the night before. Asking what I thought about the lady who had yelled at them. Asking if I thought they had done anything wrong. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I faked like I did. Not sure if they caught on.

I told my husband I had a bulging disc again, and he had to pack up the entire camp by himself. As we drove home, I was lost in thought–desperately trying to come up with a reason or solution for being so out of shape, so miserable, unhealthy, and out of control.

My whole life sucked–kind of. I was not destitute or starving. I took relatively good care of my kids, and I drove an alright car. I was middle class, married, employed. I kept the house pretty clean and washed the sheets once a week. I showed up for work on time and was acceptably friendly to my co-workers. Nothing was crazy, but nothing was great, either.

I was actually miserable. I was totally out of shape, my whole body hurt, I was eating out of control, and drinking way out of control. I was usually a little unhappy (unless I was drunk) and always extremely stressed out. Since my life was acceptable by most standards, I could never figure out what was wrong. I was just anxious and dissatisfied and always felt guilty for not being genuinely grateful for my life.

I always thought it would have been easier if I had some dramatic, undeniable sign of distress. An after-school-special-esque showing up for work drunk, or losing my job, or drinking away all our money. Or getting diabetes or cancer or something that forced me to face my problems.

But I never did. I always kept it together just enough that I seemed ok. I was able to muffle that screaming unfulfilled woman inside me with food and vodka, most of the time.

Labor Day morning at that campground, though…I knew it was the end of the road. No dramatic scene…no sloppy intervention. Just an undeniable facing of facts: I had to get my shit together.

In AA, they call it a “high bottom.” I didn’t lose everything and end up sleeping in the gutter. My kids didn’t get taken away by social services. I didn’t end up in the hospital with cirrhosis. I just felt really crappy and knew there was something better for me.

The whole drive home, I was frantically trying to think of some other thing I could try to change in my life except my drinking. I was scared to death. I really thought I was making a choice–drink and have small snapshots of joy each night, or get sober and never have any.

We stopped for lunch at Chick-Fil-A. My husband and I sat alone and the kids chattered away at the next table. I had to tell him. I didn’t make a grand proclamation…I didn’t have the guts for that. I quietly said, “I think I need to try and not drink for a while.” My husband shrugged and said, “OK.”

It was a pretty underwhelming moment, but it sent shockwaves through my life.

The first week was kind of rough. Not trembling in bed with cold sweats kind of rough, but I definitely wanted to drink. I asked my therapist if I really had to completely stop. I called my sister and begged her to justify having just one drink. I tried to get my husband to talk me about of this crazy plan. These crazed pleas for help were what made me sit up and take note: I actually did have a huge problem.

After that first week, though, it was pure blissful freedom. I felt better, I looked better, I acted better. I felt so much more in control. Everything in my life seemed clearer and easier and more beautiful. I still wanted to drink, but not as much as I wanted to keep feeling so good.

For the most part, it got easier. I would have little glimpses of what my life used to be like when I was drinking–seeing a family member or friend getting tipsy, or remembering some humiliating incident during a drunken episode–and be so damn grateful I had stopped. The desire to drink was quickly replaced by the desire to not be that sloppy, insecure person anymore.

I missed some things–Saturday afternoons at the winery, happy hour with my sister, bottle of wine by the lake, or just the security of the instant switch-flip I could count on at the end of a long, stressful day.

But mostly, I was so, so glad to be free of it. I could suddenly see what a slave I had been to alcohol–how it colored almost everything in my life. How I planned my schedule so I wouldn’t have any obligations after 6:00 pm (ok, 5:00). How each bridal shower, birthday party or wedding was completely dominated by monitoring how much I could drink without anyone taking notice of the quantity. I was constantly trying to gauge how much everyone else was drinking to make sure I wasn’t the drunkest one in the room. Or how I got to the point where going to the bar didn’t even appeal to me anymore because I could drink so much more freely and cheaply at home alone.

I can’t stand anything stifling my independence. The thought of having to do something or have something in order to function makes me feel panicky. I think this need for freedom was the real impetus for my quitting. I felt the same way when I quit smoking–I hated being a slave to it. I was so tired of having something control me and dominate my thoughts.

When I look back, it all happened so slowly and smoothly. No drama or explosions or rock-bottoms. Just a series of small interactions and feelings and decisions that added up to this huge life-altering thing. It still makes me shake my head and say, “ I can’t believe I don’t drink anymore,” with a huge smile.