Before and happily ever after

Oh hi, here’s me!

There’s this non-profit I like, Big Vision NYC, and they’re doing great stuff in the substance abuse space. They asked me to share a bit of my own story, and a “before and after picture”, for their social media pages. My first thought was “Aw, shucks, y’all!” and my next thought was “I don’t want people to see drunk pictures of me” and then my chest started to feel a little smooshed under the weight of feels, so I took a minute to think. When my chest feels crushed, there’s usually some truth hiding beneath the surface, asking for a way out. So I started digging.

I started looking through old photos. I lost my phone a million times in my 20s, so the photos I still have are the ones I chose to share on Instagram. I took a trip back in time, seeing a photo and remembering the story. There’s me, drinking white wine at a wedding, but there is no photo of the cut on my nose that I got when I tripped, blackout drunk, onto my face later in the night. There’s the photo of me looking skinny and blonde in NYC, sipping a cocktail on my birthday. There aren’t photos of me fighting and crying with my ex, again in a state of drunken confusion to the point where I was scared of how confused I was. There were also a lot of happy photos, because I was happy. As my drinking got worse, I still felt happy sometimes. I just felt anxious and scared more of the time. I realized a few things looking at these old photos:

You can’t tell from someone’s social media posts whether or not they have a substance abuse problem. Not that it’s your business, but it does create a false reality in your mind. If you’re struggling, and don’t see anyone around you struggling, that loneliness can make the idea of quitting even harder. But believe me: they’re out there. We’re out there. Our pictures might not tell the whole story though.

2. I didn’t realize how happy I could be. Back then, I would have told you that I was fine. I wished that I didn’t get so drunk, but otherwise, fine. Then the drinking was not fine, and it had to go. And then things were hard, and I doubted that this quitting was even a good idea. Until it was more than fine. Until I was able to do so much more, and feel so much healthier, and wake up feeling like I was 100 percent high on some clean drug that turned out to just be how you can feel when you stop drinking. Who knew? Not me.

3. Sobriety looks different for everyone. Honestly. You get to take your true self, and find out what it needs to be happy and at peace and then you just get to do it. It’s nuts. So if my pictures look different than yours, that’s good! That means you’re doing things in a way that feels genuine for you. I’m always working towards that, and away from that desire to compare myself to others. It’s such constant work for me.

I found a picture from my 30th birthday. I’m sitting on the floor, with my dog, drinking champagne from the bottle. It wasn’t a tragic night, and nothing awful happened. But looking back on it, I see a girl who is letting life happen to her. She doesn’t even know how good it could be. She doesn’t know that she can say no to the bullshit that she’s letting in. Then I saw an “after” picture is me, 4 years later, and I can see the peace in my eyes. Other people may not be able to, which is why this feels important to write about, chest-crushing feeling or not.

One final thought: If sobriety is a new idea that you’re throwing around, I suggest jumping in and finding out what speaks to you. It might be before and after pictures, it might be stories, or memoirs. Or scientific studies, or AA, or something cool like emailing me and asking me a zillion questions. No shame, just you letting yourself get what you need to start a new chapter. For me, it’s the best part of my story yet.

NA craft beer: Is it the devil or nah?

When I quit drinking about a year and half ago, I tried drinking NA beers a couple of times and they just made me sad. I did not understand why anyone would drink these, unless they wanted to advertise their drinking problem in social situations. It got me through a few uncomfortable parties, where I felt like I needed a beer in my hand.  And then I was kind of over it. I left the NA beer in my past, and continued on a path that went from drinking GIANT caffeine-free Diet Cokes while doing my midnight grocery store shopping on Friday nights, to WAY TOO MUCH COFFEE to more herbal tea then I ever, ever thought I would consume. Perhaps one day, a beverage in hand will not be a comfort to me, but for now, it is. I’ve cut back on my coffee drinking, but will still stop for one if I’m on my way to something that makes me nervous. Old habits die hard, I’m not perfect, but I’m not drinking booze, and that is the key here.

Now let’s talk about the NA beer I had last weekend. I had been following some people online, in the UK, who were promoting a Mindful Drinking Festival. It looked like a dream. Bunches of beautiful, smiling people, drinking and eating and talking and buying things, without alcohol. It felt like a celebration of not drinking alcohol. This was shocking to me. To be so fully on board with not drinking, but not treating it like a consolation life.  This. This is what I wanted. There were breweries that made NA beers and spirits and things that looked pretty in bottles. I was giddy.  Did we have these here? Like, not O’Doul’s? I went to the fanciest beer store I could find, and low and behold, there it was: a 6-pack of NA beer, made by a local brewery. It was so expensive. I bought it. I brought them to a party. I showed everyone. I didn’t care that everyone I met that night might have thought I was a crazy alcoholic. It tasted like a freaking craft beer. I took the rest home and put them happily next to my boyfriend’s real beers.  I got to have a thing that I liked, that I hadn’t been allowed to have for so long! Then my mind went in a different direction: Is this cheating?

That’s the question I spun around in my mind. I read other people’s opinions on the subject. Yep, it’s controversial. For sure taboo for some. Many see it as a gateway. Many see it as a safe alternative.  Then I read something that stopped my spinning and gave me a new question to ask: Is this going to keep you from staying sober? Simple. That’s the question, isn’t it? This whole sobriety journey, at it’s root, is about getting sober and staying sober. At least, that’s what it’s about for me. I don’t question the choice, because I know in my heart that it’s the right one for me, and it keeps proving itself. So will drinking an NA beer keep me from staying sober? Will it make it harder for me to stay sober? That’s important too, because I got through some really hard times where I had to fight daily to not slip back into my old routine with alcohol. I don’t feel like I’m fighting as hard these days. Will this taste of the past make me think about drinking more, think about how it could be, maybe I could just have one real beer every now and then? That line of thinking honestly just made me recoil from my computer a little. Which is pretty much how I got my answer: The idea of drinking again makes me feel sick. As someone brilliant wrote (who wrote this? help!) I don’t want to have to miss all of this. Drinking means I lose what I have, and I love what I have, where I am, who I’m with, and what I give. No freaking way. And if I drank something or was with someone or went somewhere that made me reconsider sobriety, I hope I would run away screaming.

So right now, for me, I’m pro-NA beer. As long as it’s delicious. Meaning that there is currently only one, expensive NA beer in town that I want to drink one 12 ounce bottle of every now and then.  Maybe that’s the way some people feel about booze? I’ll never know. And that’s fine. I have caffeine free Diet Coke big gulps and coffee and herbal tea, and a life that I want, desperately.

I will continue using that question to guide me: Is this thing keeping me from staying sober? Because this choice is bigger than the tastiness of a NA beer. I’ll kick it to the curb if it gets in my way. And, of course, I’ll tell you all about it.