Today feels like the perfect day to write this post. The sun is shining, it’s 30 degrees outside, and it feels like summer is FINALLY upon us! Along with every other basic white girl on the face of the planet, I typically jump at the opportunity to take full advantage of patio season. There’s just one thing that seems to be missing…where is my G&T on the rocks?
I’ve dabbled with the idea of giving up drinking several times throughout my life. Analyzing the pros and cons repeatedly until eventually giving in to my impulses (shocker). After all, I’m not a quitter. This mindset allowed me to come up with every excuse I could possibly imagine in order to avoid sobriety. At one point in time I had even gone as far as to let the man in line at the liquor store convince me that gin was in fact anti-parasitic…please forgive my lapse in judgement.
So why now? Why all of a sudden have I decided to kick my drinking habit to the curb and learn new ways of coping in high stress situations? For some people, drinking is no more than a recreational activity they partake in from time to time with close friends. Although I may have started out that way, my addictive personality swooped in and made it blatantly obvious that this was not the approach I was going to take. In fact my drinking style resembled my mood swings more than anything else, insane highs and dangerous lows!
When I was 13 years old I made some very questionable decisions. From the people I surrounded myself with, to my extra curricular activities, it was all bad news if I’m being completely honest with you. Around this time I was experimenting with various drugs in hopes that something could alleviate the pain and emotional turmoil that was my life. Once I discovered my drug of choice, it was game over.
I spent months chasing a high that never really felt good enough. Upping my dose and mixing pills in hopes that some magical concoction would whisk me away to another dimension and distort my reality just enough for it to seem bearable. I had realized early on that coming down was not an option for me and the lows were not something I was willing to put myself through. The only way to prevent this from happening was to get high all day, every day. And that is exactly what I did.
Alcohol on the other hand, was an easy replacement for one reason… it was legal. And it was everywhere. Having a bad day? Pour a drink. Exciting news to celebrate! Pop a bottle. It’s Thursday night (which is basically the weekend), crack a beer. The accessibility was a blessing and a curse in which I personally just couldn’t resist. I didn’t know it at the time, but this dependency was about to take me on one hell of a ride.
Allow me to Introduce you to my alter-ego Karen
Karen and I met about 5 years ago at a dive bar in Edmonton. I went out to watch one of my favourite artists perform that night (which was a big deal for an introvert such as myself). Obviously the venue was busy and my social anxiety kicked into high gear! But Karen had my back that night. I ended up missing the entire show and became so incredibly intoxicated that I completely blacked out.
I woke up the next day (with a disgusting hangover) consumed with gut wrenching anxiety and fear of what Karen might have done after I checked out. To my suprise, Karen had a blast! And so did everyone else who got the pleasure of meeting her. I let out a sigh of relief as I thought to myself, “thank god I didn’t make a complete and utter fool of myself! I am never drinking that much again.”
If only it were that easy. As the years went on I continued to party and increase my alcohol intake. Karen was making regular appearances in which I was not at all present for. She was the life of the party! Outgoing, adventurous, and playful…for the most part. Until one day, even SHE couldn’t handle the binge drinking anymore. Karen became irritable, outraged, and started engaging in very risky behaviour. If there was a line, she would cross it without an ounce of remorse for those she may have hurt along the way.
**I would like to clarify that I personally take responsibility for my actions during this time. My alcohol consumption and alter-ego was no excuse for my behaviour. Karen is simply a persona I used to identify with one of my many colorful personalities.
Spring of 2017
I had just moved to Vancouver and I couldn’t wait to start my new life on the west coast! After all, the west coast is the best coast (or so I hear). New house, new job, ready to meet new people and create a life that made me excited to jump out of bed in the morning. Everything was playing out the way I had envisioned it for myself and I was beyond excited!
I took a job as a gogo dancer at a local entertainment company. On top of this, I had just started working your typical 9-5 office job in the heart of downtown Vancouver otherwise known as Gastown. Although from an outside perspective this may seem like a lot to take on, this was exactly the same schedule and lifestyle I had built for myself back home. It felt safe and familiar and at the time, that was all I needed.
Until the day that I ended up losing my full time job after a mere month of moving to the city (one of the most expensive cities in Canada). I’d been working for 10 years at this point and always had more than one source of income. I was petrified! Losing a part time job wouldn’t be the end of the world but there was absolutely NO way I could live off of part time dance money. I felt helpless.
Leave it to Karen to come up with a solid plan of attack. I ended up taking a few months off while simultaneously looking for work. Unemployment during summer in Vancity? Yes please! Beach days and a bottle of Bombay while soaking up some much needed vitamin d…this is what life is all about friends. A beautiful train wreck on the verge of an early midlife crisis…
Blessed to be Living in Beautiful British Columbia
After a long night of performing at my new favourite club downtown, I wanted nothing more than to go home and curl up in bed. Karen was on her way and I was about ready to call it a night. I got in my car and headed towards home.
But I didn’t make it home. I didn’t even make it a few blocks away before rear ending a cab in a busy intersection. I thank the universe everyday for allowing everyone to walk away from that car accident uninjured. I am not proud of the way Karen dealt with the situation. And I am extremely disappointed in myself for the choices I made that night.
I didn’t want to hear it at the time but this was exactly the wake up call I needed. Luckily for me, the province of BC treats DUI’s differently than any other province in Canada. It is not a criminal offence, you do not face jail time, and after completing the mandatory suspension and driving course, you are able to obtain your license again. This is however left to the discretion of the police offer and does not apply in every case.
I was truly blessed. It took me a while to look past the financial loss, lack of convenience, and tremendous amount of guilt I felt for what I had done. But this was one of many life lessons I was meant to learn, and boy did I ever learn it the hard way!
Spring of 2018
Fast forward to spring last year where I made the executive decision to go back on a vegan diet (thank you Netflix for reminding me why I quit eating meat in the first place). I was eating vegan for 2 years prior to moving and my body thrived on a plant based diet! But this time around something was different, and not in a good way.
Within the first week I found myself getting extremely sick after each meal. This carried on for a few weeks before I started noticing some alarming symptoms and changes in my body. I knew something wasn’t right so I scheduled a doctor’s appointment ASAP!
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of following your intuition. Within 2 weeks of my first appointment I was referred to a local gastroenterologist where it was recommended I undergo a very unpleasant medical procedure. Feeling hopeless yet determined to get some answers, I waited impatiently for my results.
The prognosis was Ulcerative Colitis. Through extensive research I was able to narrow down what I believed to be wrong with me prior to my results from the doctor. And colitis was in my top 2! I wasn’t entirely surprised at this news. I knew it would mean a drastic dietary change but that was something I was used to and could easily manage. What I didn’t know was the impact alcohol has on your colon.
For those of you wondering, “what is ulcerative colitis?” let me fill you in. Ulcerative Colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease. It causes inflammation and ulcers in your small and large intestines. It can be extremely painful if you’re experiencing a flare up and cause intense pain in your abdomen (among other symptoms which I won’t get into). Overall it down right sucks!
So I’m sure you can imagine how colitis + alcohol = fire in your belly. Excessive alcohol consumption has been studied and proven to cause inflammation within the body. For someone whose immune system is already compromised, this is NOT a good combination.
So why now? Why has it taken me up until this point to cut alcohol out of my life? In order to fully understand the role alcohol plays in your life and whether or not you drink it in moderation or excess, you must first get down to the root of the problem.
3 Reasons I Turned to Alcohol (AKA Self Medicated)
There are endless reasons why someone might turn to alcohol as an answer to their problems. And for some of you drinking isn’t a problem (I literally envy your non-addictive personality!). Below are 3 of the main reasons why I turned to alcohol and subconsciously used it as a coping skill.
- To ease anxiety
- To avoid pain
- To escape reality
Drinking to Ease Anxiety
Whether it was everyday anxiety or anxiety induced from a social environment, the first thought that crossed my mind was to pour myself a stiff drink! After merely one G&T I would notice an obvious difference in my breathing patterns, thoughts, and nervous fidgeting. I would strike up conversations with random strangers without batting an eye and I felt comfortable in my own skin. But I wasn’t being ME.
I became dependant on the false confidence I gained while drinking which allowed me to prolong dealing with my overall anxiety. Numbing myself for fear that I might otherwise be perceived as intimidating (I can count on all my fingers and toes how many times I’ve heard this comment). I wasn’t drinking to have a good time with my friends. I was drinking to be able to cope with how uncomfortable I was in the moment which is NOT a habit I advise anyone get into.
Drinking to Avoid Pain
It’s taken me 25 years to finally learn that in order to work through your pain and suffering you must first allow yourself to truly FEEL it. Embracing all of the hurt and upset in order to move past it and let it go. For years I did not know this. For years I went straight to the bottle whenever I was upset, angry, stressed out or frustrated. I knew it was a quick fix and would provide me with the relief I was seeking. But this form of self-medicating was no longer sustainable.
When I lost my job, got into a car accident…and then another car accident, had an argument with my partner, or just had a really long and stressful day, my best friend Karen was waiting for me with a G&T on the rocks and a lime wedge. I was drinking to avoid whatever pain I was feeling at the time. Praying to the universe that it would all magically go away and I could go on living an otherwise normal and happy life.
Ironically a lot of the pain I was experiencing was due to the choices I had made while under the influence. I had put myself in some really dangerous situations and to this day I’m surprised I made it out of them all alive. By choosing to ignore the underlying issues I was creating an even bigger mess for myself and ultimately taking the easy way out. I didn’t want to be another statistic, I wanted to gain control and choose a better ending to my story.
Drinking to Escape Reality
Tending to daily responsibilities is a never ending battle. Between work schedules, relationships, appointments, and everything in between, we are a generation of burnt out millennials just trying to make it through each day alive. It is socially acceptable to unwind with a glass of wine or cold brew on the daily and that is all the reassurance we need to validate our drink of choice. Cheers!
I don’t know about you but drinking seems to be increasingly acceptable if you’re having a rough go. Your boss yelled at you, you can’t afford to take that big trip you’ve been planning, or your Tinder date stood you up, you deserve a drink (or a bottle!). Why is alcohol always the go-to cure for real life problems?And why haven’t I met a badass bf to bring me a hot cup of lavender tea when I’m having a shit day? Do people do that? Am I destined to hang out with my chihuahuas for the rest of my 20’s?
Here’s the thing. Drinking to escape reality so we don’t have to deal with the problems arising in our daily life is unhealthy. If we don’t stop to analyze our situation (with a sober mind) we can become guilty of playing the victim and exaggerating the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are tons of situations where someone has in fact done you wrong (sometimes people suck), but YOU get to choose how you allow these external factors to impact you.
It took me a while to recognize that being upset or hurt doesn’t need to result in self destructive behaviour. Someone hurts you and in turn you hurt yourself. How does that make any sense?
5 Steps to Sober Living
Below are a few tools I’ve found extremely helpful during my long overdue sobriety chapter. I hope that they are useful to those of you dabbling with the idea of kicking your drinking habit to the curb!
Action #1: Remove yourself from environments where others are consuming alcohol to prevent temptation.
This may seem like a no brainer but it is surprisingly more difficult to implement than you would think. Very few people these days don’t drink whether frequently or on occasion. If you are someone who likes to partake in social drinking, chances are you’ve attracted a tribe with similar interests. Take a few weeks to yourself and if you’re lucky enough, maybe your friends will join you in activities that don’t involve boozy brunch!
Action #2: Fill your time with healthy coping mechanisms.
Sometimes we forget all of the glorious things we once enjoyed before drinking became our go-to extra curricular activity. Experiment with new recipes, plan a movie night (with ample amounts of snacks), hit the gym, or meet a friend for coffee. Hell, with all the money you will have saved from not drinking, treat yourself to a massage and show your body some TLC!
Action #3: Surround yourself with support.
I can’t tell you how important it is to surround yourself with people who genuinely support your decision to stay sober. THESE are your ride or dies! You will learn almost instantly who your true friends are when you remove drinking from the equation. Giving up alcohol is a HUGE step and there will be days when you contemplate your decision. On those days you can rest assured that your tribe will have your back.
Action #4: Communicate your decision and let it be known so that others can hold you accountable.
Have you ever found yourself committing to self betterment only to fail miserably once surrounded by a familiar environment or social circle? Same. It’s pretty easy to swear off drinking when you wake up on Sunday morning with a hangover from hell! Telling yourself you’re “never drinking again” in the moment is one thing, but communicating and establishing a physical plan allows others to hold you accountable too. This can prevent a lapse in judgement when you are triggered and remind you of your end goal.
Action #5: Whatever you do…do NOT give up!
It can feel really exciting hitting each milestone along the way. 30 days sober seems like a reason to celebrate does it not? We associate alcohol with celebration and honestly who can blame us? It’s become the societal norm. I encourage you to push past these temptations. To dig even deeper and explore new ways to celebrate your wins! We are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Sometimes all it takes is a sober mind to remember just how much we are truly capable of.
5 Benefits of Sober Living
Now that we’ve broken down the steps towards sober living, what are some of the benefits to this lifestyle change?
Benefit #1: Building stronger, more authentic relationships with others.
Cutting the alcohol forces us to engage in genuine and meaningful conversations. It allows us to express our true selves with others while strengthening our connections in a healthy environment. Substances have a tendency to activate our egos which can make it tricky to meet and engage with people that our sober selves would normally jive with.
Benefit #2: Gain control and freedom from alcohol dependance.
There is no better feeling than regaining control of your life. Facing your demons head on and declaring your self-worth allows you to break free from the nasty addictions that are holding you hostage. Alcohol can no longer control you once you take away its power.
Benefit #3: Mental clarity.
Excessive drinking over an extended period of time can cause severe brain fog. I would become frustrated with myself when I couldn’t remember something and most often I would relate it to my lack of intelligence. Stepping away from the bottle made me realize that self medicating was robbing me of my mental clarity. Over time the fog began to evaporate and the obstacles that once seemed so utterly complex became crystal clear.
Benefit #4: Increased physical health.
Alcohol (among many substances) is extremely toxic to the human body. Consuming these toxins can result in weight gain, acne, dry skin as a result of dehydration, and decreased liver function. Within the first 30 days of sober living my skin broke out worse than it has in years! Gradually I started noticing less blemishes and the extra fluff around my tummy wasn’t as noticeable. As I’m approaching 60 days alcohol free, the results just keep getting better.
Benefit #5: Saving money!
I would be more than happy if I never had to find out the amount of money I’ve wasted on alcohol over the last 10 years. Unfortunately I crunched some numbers and I’m beyond mortified at the results…roughly $30,000! That is a LOT of money that could have been invested in literally anything other than poisoning myself. On the plus side, all of the money I’m no longer spending on booze is going straight into my savings account #investinyourself.
Addiction is no joke. As someone who has personally struggled for over a decade, I understand the severity of substance abuse and the negative impact it has on everyone involved. It is terrifying, all-consuming, toxic, and unbelievably lonely. But it can always get better. We can choose to put an end to our suffering, make different choices, and learn new ways of coping with our traumas. Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first and most important step. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, you’ve got this!