I had my first drink when I was 11 years old. It was the 80’s and that was the scene, the “normal” for the tribe of pre-teens and teens that ran wild in our beachfront neighborhood. I tried acid and cocaine for the first time when I was 13, and high school was a blur of binge drinking and parties. I always felt like I didn’t quite belong; my clothes were wrong, my hair was wrong, my home was wrong, and I felt awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. Drinking and partying allowed me to forget myself and my self-consciousness, and I felt it made me more outgoing and fun; I was always up for anything.
I met my soon-to-be husband at a bar in Tijuana when I was 18. He introduced himself by sending over a single red rose and a tequila popper. Surprisingly and fortunately he is a very good guy, because we fell in love. Within two months he relocated from Los Angeles to my town, five hours north. We both felt antsy and ready to grow up, so we got married and settled down, went to school, had the kids, bought the house. I didn’t drink much for the next 20 years, because we didn’t party and I never saw much point in one beer or glass of wine. It soon became apparent that we’d gotten married too young. I was completely lost to myself, and any attempted growth was too threatening to the tender balance of the marriage for it to sustain.
Losing my daughters 50% of the time broke me. They were my world. They were 11 and 13 years old, and needed me more than ever. I still remember them rolling their suitcases to my car after the days they’d spent with me, my youngest sharing my queen sized bed while her sister slept on the couch in my studio apartment. When they were with their dad I’d stalk their social media accounts to see what they were doing: slumber parties with girls I barely knew in the cabin that was once my home, wearing clothes I didn’t recognize. Pictures of them swimming with manatees in Florida, horseback riding in Half-Moon Bay, doing all the things I’d always wanted to do with them for the first time.
To quiet my grief I turned to beer and bars and boys and doing all the things I couldn’t when I was married, because otherwise I threw it all away for nothing, right? Worse was when my girls came back home, and I still wanted to escape. I was emotionally absent, on my phone, obsessing about a man, sneaking away to smoke cigarettes, anything to avoid really seeing my beautiful daughters and recognizing just how much we had lost.
I continued this way for nearly 5 years. I suffered from anxiety and depression, was barely making it financially, was unable to set goals and keep them, and I couldn’t be consistent with anything I tried to do to better myself, be it meditation, exercise, healthy eating, or writing. I didn’t drink daily or in the morning, could go days without it, never had a DUI or lost work. I didn’t hit the kind of bottom I thought was necessary to stop. But the 2-3 nights a week I did drink, I could not predict how many I would have or what would happen once I started. I had begun to drink alone, which was something I’d vowed I would never do. And the autumn before I decided to stop, I’d begun to have black-outs.
In January of 2016 I decided to quit for 30 days, as an experiment. I had no idea if I could do it, if I was dependent, what would happen to my social life, or who I was without it. And I wanted to find out. After 30 days of no hangovers, no regretful mornings, and no drama or shame, I decided to go for two months. Two months became three, which became six, which became my new lifestyle.
The first few months were spent in deep self-care and self-reflection mode, and I tried not to dwell too much on the future. I attended AA meetings and Refuge Recovery meetings, started this blog, listened to dozens of podcasts, and read recovery memoirs. I journaled, prayed, meditated, and connected with other sober women. I learned that what I need is an individualized, holistic approach to recovery. I’ve become more aware of the way I use the internet, spending, other people, and food to numb and escape, and how is makes me feel when any numbing activity is done to excess. I’ve learned my recovery must include every aspect of my life, and staying closely connected to myself and my needs is necessary in order to maintain my emotional and physical sobriety.
Have I had to let some things go? Yes. Is it scary? Yes. Do I grieve? Yes. But I wouldn’t change a thing for the world. I have renewed and new friendships, little guilt or shame, and strong and deep connections with my daughters. I now recognize if my actions aren’t aligned with my values, and I live in integrity and authenticity. Sobriety has been like releasing an emergency break I didn’t realize was on. My life has taken a surge forward and reached a joyful (and sometimes scary!) momentum.
I’ve developed a loving relationship with myself that I hadn’t known was possible, and revealed layers of necessary healing I’d been avoiding. Removing the escape of numbing and distraction has forced me to face my self and my experiences with no filter and has placed me on the path to emotional and spiritual health. There will always be more layers to remove and more to process and transform. I can think of no better work to do in this life, and I’m now so grateful that I get to share my experience and resources by coaching other women seeking transformation and an enriched and empowered life in sobriety.