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The hardest part of not drinking really surprised me.
It wasn’t socializing without a drink. That came surprisingly easily. It wasn’t finding ways to relax—it’s amazing how many other healthy ways exist.
No, the hardest part wasn’t what I expected it to be at all.
What came hardest about not drinking was me. I shockingly discovered that, without alcohol, I finally had to learn how to deal with messy, wonderful me. I’d drowned my thoughts, feelings, and my very personality with alcohol for so long that when I removed the alcohol, I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore.
What did I like? More importantly, what didn’t I like? What was I scared of? Why didn’t I want to feel these feelings? What had I been missing out on while alcohol was stealing away pieces of my life and pieces of me?
The prospect of facing that journey scared me. I knew things weren’t always going to be pleasant as I dug away at why I had let alcohol get so important and worked on who I wanted to be without it. Yet, if I was brave enough to live a life without alcohol while everyone else is celebrating it, I had to be brave enough to live a life with myself.
What I’ve discovered is that this journey has many layers and that they are all connected. Rather than a straight path that leads right to enlightenment, it’s more of a twisting mountain path with switchbacks, dead ends, and quite a few rivers to cross. Yet much like that mountain air, there’s incredible clarity and fulfillment along the path.
First and foremost, I needed to discover why I felt I needed to drink in the first place and what made it so important to me. I’ve always been a go-getter and driven to succeed, so when a higher-up told me that drinking was crucial to job success, I took his word for it. I made it a mission to be the best at drinking to succeed. I managed to do that but at an incredible loss to myself. If I wasn’t drinking, would I even have a chance at furthering my career?
The answer to that was a resounding yes, but it didn’t pan out in a way I could have ever imagined when I was still drinking. What started as a choice to remove alcohol from my life and my career turned into a plot twist I couldn’t have ever imagined. I became a bestselling author and now help guide others in changing their relationship with alcohol. So yes, in a roundabout way, drinking did lead to my success, but not in the way that higher-up implied. Gaining that clarity and allowing myself to see that success can’t be limited to what we envision in that moment has opened me up to dreaming dreams I never would have entertained back then.
Next came evaluating why I was so desperate to drown out my thoughts and feelings. The answer to that was multifold and really took a good amount of work on my part. In fact, it is something I can continue to work on personally and with coaches. Part of the answer was because in my quest for professional success and the problems that came with it, I had maxed out my threshold. My capacity to address problems and solve them was filled to capacity at the end of the workday, so it was just easier to numb myself once I got home. That way, I didn’t have to deal with any more unpleasantness.
That led to the next realization: I needed to develop coping skills. Alcohol or not, stress, anxiety, happiness, sadness, disagreements—they were going to continue to be a part of life. If drinking doesn’t help, I needed to work on what would help me get through life in a way that was worth living. In my case, that means meditation, journaling, learning to delegate, giving myself permission to fail, and most importantly—allowing myself to be human, not superhuman.
Finally, just what was I so scared of that I would rather drink myself into oblivion than face? It turns out, lots of things. I was scared to be me—loud, sometimes obnoxious, opinionated, animated me. I might rub some people the wrong way, and alcohol seemed to make me more forgiving of myself and others more forgiving of me as well.
At this stage in the game, who I am was not going to change. It didn’t need to either. My family, my friends, and so many others loved me—flaws and all. What needed to change was how I saw and spoke to myself. That was easier than I thought without the negative influence of alcohol. My entire mindset shifted when I stopped drinking, so being kinder to myself wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.
My other major fear was what I would be missing out on when I wasn’t drinking. That FOMO hit me so hard every time I would try to moderate. It manifested in anger as I was depriving myself of the perceived enjoyment I could be having if I could only have another drink…or four. Imagine my surprise when I went about living my life alcohol free and discovered everything I’d been missing out on while I was drinking—all of these wonderful memories and moments I had let alcohol erase and eradicate from my memory banks. I’d been angry for all the wrong reasons.
We’ve all heard that the one thing we can’t escape is ourselves. I can vouch for the truth in that statement, but I can also tell you that without a doubt, learning to live with and love yourself is much easier to do without alcohol.
You might just discover you like who you are after all.
If you are curious about your drinking, and don’t want to hit “rock bottom,” join me for The Alcohol Experiment. You will receive encouraging and mindset shifting daily videos and emails and an incredible community of 110,000 people also experimenting with their alcohol intake. It is completely free (and always will be): join here.