I feared deeply when I quit drinking that two things might happen: I would no longer love living in Key West. And my husband would find me boring.
The truth? For a good bit sobriety really sucked. I replaced drinking and smoking at night with binge eating, which triggered a short relapse in my long-dormant bulimia, (which I covered in a previous column at keysweekly.com). I spent countless hours sobbing silently. And I took a lot of my angst out on my husband, convincing myself he was going to end up missing the fun-loving life of the party woman he married … all the while not being totally transparent with my needs. So basically, I was a ball of joy.
I tried a couple of women-only meetings (wonderful group and felt so incredibly welcomed). I’m still trying to find the right therapist. Ultimately reading and writing saved me. I threw myself into the science behind alcohol and how it affects not only our bodies, but our brains. I kept note of how I was feeling. I read lots of memoirs and blogs from other now-sober women I could relate to – particularly those mothers and wives battling addiction while also managing a household and/or a career (and appearing to have their shit together). I stared at my children. A lot.
Over the years I also found myself repeatedly Googling “Am I an alcoholic?”
I believe part of the reason more people don’t abstain when they maybe think they should is the emphasis placed on the word alcoholic. Drinking and the struggle that comes with it are often not black and white. It’s not either brown-bagging it in a park or being completely in control and sipping one glass of rosé over dinner. More often than not it lies somewhere in the middle. And for many, like myself, that big A word is the reason it took so long to give up the booze. I felt as if I had to identify fully that way and wear it on my T-shirt instead of being able to just say “drinking isn’t working for me” and “I don’t want to live like this any more.”
I contemplated quitting for years, but didn’t know what that meant for me. I was indulging too much, sure, but my life was under control — until it wasn’t. And unfortunately, while my hamster wheel turned nightly in my brain about how “tomorrow I’m going to be better” (usually while outside on my porch chain-smoking alone with a vodka), I went from wanting to quit to absolutely needing to quit.
Questioning one’s relationship with alcohol is starting to become less of a stigma. You don’t have to shout “I’m an alcoholic!” from the rooftops to decide that alcohol is not serving you – for whatever reason.
And to people like me, who fear that life will be no fun, that YOU will be no fun, let me let you in on a little secret: Life without alcohol is not only fun, it’s downright fabulous. I’ve never once woken in the morning — clear-headed and well-rested — and thought “man I wish I drank last night.”
I thought I’d hate living In Key West. But I’ve come up on a decade here and I’ve never loved it so much. I recently watched the sun come up on the old Seven Mile Bridge and as I stared at the jaw-dropping skyline, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I get to live here, and I’m so lucky that now I get to really see it.”
I feared my marriage would suffer, that with our out-on-the-town escapades behind us, my husband would feel like he was missing out because of me. It took us some time to find our groove again socially, no doubt, and we certainly had our ups and downs, but I can honestly say we are more in love now than ever. Intimacy without alcohol is a game changer.
The fear of what life would be like without alcohol was nearly impossible to imagine. I’ll be 18 months in October. And in place of fear, I found freedom.
(September is National Recovery Month. Visit samhsa.gov/recovery-month for information, resources and support.)