I had one of my lowest times during the holidays several years ago.
Alcohol had become the central focus of my life. On the way home to Colorado from LAX, I was heavily under the influence. My mom picked me up from the airport and as we began the long drive to Crested Butte, I could only focus on where and how I would get my next drink.
Knowing that we would soon be passing a little roadside bar, I made up a story that I needed an urgent bathroom break and begged my mom to pull over. As I ran into the bar, I asked the bartender to line up four shots for me while I used the restroom. When I came out, I threw back all four shots and got back in the car with my mom.
What I hadn’t realized is that she could see exactly what I was doing through the window of the bar. This incident led to an argument with my mother followed by a difficult holiday with my family. I never stopped drinking. I was miserable, they were miserable, and it became clear to me that it was time to make a change. Not long after, I began my recovery journey.
A couple of years after this incident, I returned to Colorado again for the holidays. This time I was in recovery and sober. Everything changed. As our family sat around the table, my mom told me that it was the most comfortable she had felt around me since I was five years old. I’m proud to share that I am still sober today and have dedicated my life to supporting other women in their recovery journey.
There are strong stigmas surrounding alcoholism including the perception that recovery is for when people hit their “rock bottom.” Recovery is often viewed as a last resort option for those who can no longer function due to the severity of their substance abuse, or, like me, ruin holidays and behave erratically.
As women, we are conditioned to put on our makeup, get dressed, and appear like we have everything together. We are strong and many of us can mask our substance use disorder for a long time, quietly struggling with our own demons behind closed doors. For many of us, we are reluctant to ask for outside help because we can keep pushing through. What many women don’t realize is the toll this approach can have on our bodies, emotions, work, loved ones, and others. While we think we are holding everything together, our substance use can actually be clouding judgment, creating moodiness, damaging relationships, and impairing work performance.
It is my personal belief that women can use this same strength within themselves to redirect their journey toward better health. We don’t need to abandon our work, our families, and all the responsibilities we hold on our shoulders in order to heal and recover. We also don’t need to hit rock bottom in order to get help. The first step is always identifying when outside help might be required and knowing that there is a lot of positive work that can be done without disappearing into a 30-day program. With clients, I often use the CAGE Questionnaire to identify potential issues with alcohol.
We ask four simple questions:
1. Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
3. Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (as an Eye-opener)?
Answering yes to even one of these questions can indicate need for support or treatment. The questions then become how can we be honest with ourselves about our substance use, how do we identify what might be at the root of our use, and how can we help ourselves by proactively taking charge of our own health?
The holidays are a high-stress, busy time filled with opportunities to “eat, drink, and be merry.” Over-indulging is accepted and even encouraged this time of year. At what point do you tell yourself it is time to make a change? At what point do you accept that there may be a deeper issue that you are masking through substance use?
I leaned on alcohol as a coping mechanism for past traumas in my life. Although it numbed the pain temporarily, it did not help me heal, it did not help me become whole, and it did not address the initial trauma that made me want to drink in the destructive way that I drank.
When I finally stopped drinking and began therapy, I found freedom. The sober version of myself is my best self. I am able to give back to others; experience personal growth and satisfaction in my career; and I am able to be the best mom, daughter, sister, boss, friend, and person I can be.
Sobriety begins with honesty and acceptance of personal challenges. The road to recovery can be difficult and requires hard work. The result, the gift of your mental and physical health, is the best gift you will ever give and receive.