I started my sobriety journey two years ago. I would go days, then weeks, then months at a time without drinking before I eventually poured a drink or opened a beer. Two years ago, I knew I had a problem — but it took months of stopping and starting before I finally had my last drink on July 23, 2017.
Actually, it’s a lie to say I knew I had a problem two years ago. I have known for much longer than that. The guilt, shame, and anxiety that I carried all day, and which flowed through my body as easily as the alcohol I drank, let me know that I had a problem. But I very consciously ignored it, justified it, and overcompensated for the drink. I just wasn’t ready. Many people say they had to hit rock bottom in order to quit drinking. That wasn’t the case for me. I had to be ready.
I hit rock bottom later.
I have heard the stories from sober friends: DUIs, arrests, lost custody of children, car accidents, divorce, injury of self and others, job loss. All of these have been very real and legitimate reasons for people to stop drinking or using drugs. There seems to be nowhere lower to go, so in those moments my friends with substance use disorders chose to go up. Or they are forced to get sober and realize that what they want is worth the work of sobriety.
I drove drunk. I drank while driving. I drank while working. I drank while at the park, watching my kids play. I drank at home. There were very few places where I didn’t drink. I didn’t need something awful to happen to tell me that what I was doing was awful; I just got lucky that I didn’t hurt someone. Not only was I good at telling myself that I had everything under control, but I was also really good at overcompensating for what I thought of as my flaws, my ugly secrets. I tried to be a present parent while playing with my kids but the drink was present, too.
I tried to be a present partner during our times together without the kids, but my actions were not always genuine. I tried to be a present friend, but I withheld pieces of myself while they shared intimate details of their lives. I tried to be a present daughter and connect with my mother, but I could not let go of the past—the past that was filled with sexual and physical abuse.
“I didn’t need something awful to happen to tell me that what I was doing was awful; I just got lucky that I didn’t hurt someone.”
A year, maybe two, before I looked in the mirror and realized I not only needed to but wanted to stop drinking and get sober, I began to live in obligation and should. I wasn’t participating in relationships or activities because I wanted to; I was going through the motions because I knew what was expected of me. Something shifted in me. Something changed, and depression and unhappiness crept in. I lacked a sense of self. I felt an urgency to find something, but I didn’t know what I was looking for. I was incomplete.
My kids were not filling me up. My marriage was not, either. Work, friendships, hobbies. Even alcohol. Nothing was enough and I was out of love with everything. But on the surface, everything was picture perfect; lovely, even something to envy. My kids were happy and healthy (still are, thankfully). My partner and I got along, communicated well, even liked and respected each other. I had an amazing network of friends, my writing career was slowly growing, and I was finally getting out of the house for alone time and self-care at a yoga studio.
On my yoga mat was where I found the insight to make changes. During one session, an instructor asked what we would change about ourselves if we had the courage to do so. I needed to change my drinking. Some would call it courage, but really, what I found was the truth. I was finally honest with myself. And once I realized I wasn’t living an authentic life, I realized how much I wished I was. Sobriety was the first step.
At first, not drinking was the hardest part. The habit, the taste, and the immediate relief from any emotional discomfort were gone. I missed alcohol too much to really start to heal from years of childhood abuse. I had broken up with booze but I was too busy trying to get over the object of my affection to realize that the work was barely getting started.
It took about a year of sobriety for that work to start; I had been practicing not drinking long enough that my energy and emotions were finally free to do more than just resist alcohol.
The slide to rock bottom began with anger. I didn’t know why but I lived in a constant state of irritability. I was short with my kids. I resented my partner. I was filled with toxicity that came from my relationship with my mother. I didn’t have alcohol to make any of it bearable. The anger told me that I was ready for change.
It had been a long time coming, but this is when I decided to cut ties with my mother. Before sending her the three-page letter telling her why I needed to stop contact with her, I spent days forcing myself to relive the sexual and physical abuse from my childhood and my mother’s reaction to both; she was not my father who left bruises or my aunt who left invisible wounds, but she enabled both of my abusers and did not hold them accountable. I relived the impact all of it had on me. It’s as if I had to validate my decision. I had to take myself back to the feelings I had as a kid. I had to feel the fear, the sadness, the rejection, and the disappointment. I had to prove to myself that I needed to do this. I started to let new emotions sit with anger.
Emotions beget emotions, apparently, because they piled on and dragged me down. But as I fell, I kept discovering truths. I have so many old wounds still open that were simply kept from infection by the alcohol I was drinking, but the cuts are deep and they still hurt. The resentment in my marriage came from me. I was no longer in love with someone I loved. I had changed. My passions and ideas for the future seemed new and uncomfortable to her, but real and right for me. Sobriety forced me to see what I want and need.
“I had been compromising myself for a long time because the shame from drinking didn’t allow me to feel deserving of the emotional support and understanding I was not getting.”
I am nonbinary and had been drinking away my gender identity. Once I was sober, I transitioned to they/them pronouns. I want top surgery to remove my breasts and hopefully alleviate some of my crippling body dysphoria. I asked friends, my kids, and my partner to grow with me, to see me. That happened with mixed success.
I had been compromising myself for a long time because the shame from drinking didn’t allow me to feel deserving of the emotional support and understanding I was not getting. This was not from a lack of anyone not wanting to be the things I need; sometimes we just are not able to give others what they deserve. And I didn’t feel deserving enough to speak up. I hid my unhappiness like I hid my drinking.
Reevaluating relationships, asking for what I needed to feel whole, and hurting those I love crushed me. I felt like a selfish asshole. My rock bottom hit when I finally realized that I was able to find what I needed outside of the person I had been married to for 20 years. I found people in meetings and through online sobriety and writing groups who saw me before I saw myself. Guilt and sadness filled every cell in my body even as gratitude and validation flooded the space between those cells.
Living a life of authenticity and happiness means hurting people who rely on me for happiness. But I don’t want to feel angry, resentful, or compromised. So I am making changes.
This new torn-apart life is scary, but it is honest. And with truth comes healing. I can feel it. I have finally hit rock bottom, and now there is nowhere to go but up.