May 18, 2022

On Letting Go of the Shadow Side of Substance Use—& Finally Letting in the Light.

I grew up in a wild family.

Being the second youngest of seven siblings taught me how to grow up quickly. Everything happened early for me—R-rated movies, swear words, sex, drugs, alcohol, the whole bit.

My family loved to party (…we still do). At all our parties, people were eating decadent food, drinking fine wine and tequila, smoking cigars, laughing their asses off, and incessantly loving on each other. I loved to witness the pleasure that ensued.

By the time I was 13, I started to join in on the fun (secretly, of course). And boy, was it thrilling.

I’ve always been a bit of a pleasure-seeker, but in the past, I didn’t realize I was looking in all the wrong places. I sought out pleasure through the mouth of a vodka bottle, the end of a pipe, and the bodies of boys. I regularly found temporary pleasure in these things, but in the end, they only brought me more suffering.

I couldn’t count the number of days I lost from being “sick” in bed or lying in fetal position in the shower. For me, being hungover meant hiding from the sun. Intuitively, I knew my inflamed body needed to be cool. My days were lost in the shadows.

My brain became conditioned to believe that consuming substances at parties or concerts or whatever event was a must—that’s just what ya did, right? I’d plan my days accordingly, making sure the day after an event was entirely open for me to suffer in the shade. I had two days off a week, and I chose to throw one of them away.

I consciously chose my suffering.

I danced this dance for nearly 10 years of my life—regularly lying to myself that I’d never drink alcohol or do drugs again every time I was hungover. My heart always knew I was throwing away the life I was supposed to be living.

By the time I was 23, I became less and less interested in partying and more and more intrigued by living. I often thank my yoga practice for that—connecting to my body through my breath ignited my passion for truly experiencing life, fully in the present. This change in myself was slow but natural. I was never dependent on or addicted to the substances I used, so steadily using less was easy for me, and seeing the choice I had wasn’t blinded by craving.

My entire life changed from the day I first started listening to the whispers of my true desires. I wanted to f*cking live. I wanted to climb mountains on my days off, do yoga in the sun, dip my naked body in the creek, run on rocky trails, and breathe in the real, fresh air. But choosing this life meant sacrificing the one I was half-living—and that was the hard part.

Letting go of this lifestyle meant the death of many of my relationships—including the one I thought would be my forever. But being in these relationships was feeding my shadow side and my body was desperately begging for the light.

Letting go hurt. The life I was living and the people I was in relationships with were my identities, and I still grieve that life and that person I once was. But I wouldn’t take it back in an instant because my life has never been more full of light than it is now.

And even though, at the time, it felt like I was giving up everything, I was actually inviting in everything. I was inviting in fulfilling, healthy relationships, increased creativity, authentic love for myself, the ability to feel what I hadn’t been allowing myself to feel, space to heal my wounds, and the potential to see clearly the path to freedom.

I’m not a sober person. I still enjoy a cold, hoppy beer or a bubbly glass of Prosecco every now and then—I just no longer feel like I need to to have a pleasurable time. For some people, becoming sober is a requirement to be able to live healthfully and free, and that’s where discernment becomes crucial. Discernment is empowerment.

I felt called to share this journey of mine because I know many people need to hear this. Just this past weekend, I went to an epic Billy Strings concert (if you know, you know). In the past, I would have woken up the next day with a splitting headache and a desire to do nothing but lie in bed and ruminate on how awful I felt (and definitely shove down my emotions with food). Instead, I woke up, made tea, read my book, journaled, climbed a massive mountain, and sat on a 50-meter-long slackline that scaled across a canyon. And to me, that’s freedom. To me, that’s living the life I want to live. To me, that’s choosing pleasure.

And guess what? I still got to do both. I was able to enjoy the concert-going gal I used to be and the mountain climbing gal I’ve become. And this is your reminder that you can, too.

You can go to that concert or that party and you can also climb that mountain the next day. The choice is up to you. And I fully understand that “making a choice” is not that simple—especially for those who struggle with addiction. Often, choice doesn’t even feel like a choice in those circumstances. But, if you’re reading this and you’re sober-curious or struggling with substance abuse, please take this as your sign to explore the choice you do have or at least talk to someone who would be willing to help.

We aren’t meant to live in the shadows; we are here to become the light we soak in.

Life is meant for living. Go out and live.

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