Tuesday and Chardonnay
Having a chardonnay on a Tuesday is not necessarily something of significance, but for me, this Tuesday drastically changed my life. It was a summer day and I was getting ready for work, taking the dog out and gathering my paperwork. I stopped by the kitchen to grab breakfast to go. When I opened the fridge, I saw a bottle of chardonnay. A voice in my head said “Hey! Chardonnay is a light refreshing wine, perfect for a summer morning.”
Something deep inside of me cracked at that moment.
I knew, without a doubt that I had a problem. I was an alcoholic. But up until that time, I was effectively in denial. I did not want to have a mental illness, I did not want to be be ashamed. I definitely didn’t want to grow into that middle aged woman who was drunk at the bar by herself. But most of all I was tired, sick and tired of wasting my life away. I had been given so many opportunities and I was squandering them. Spending my free time drinking, thinking about drinking, or planning drinking. The career I wanted, the things I wanted to build, the relationships I wanted to have, they were all slipping away.
At this moment, standing with the fridge door open in the kitchen, it all came crashing down. I needed help. I was unable to think myself out of my situation. I needed support.
I grabbed the bottle of chardonnay and sat down at my computer. It was time to find a treatment center. I didn’t make it to work that day, but I did end up with an appointment with the Memorial Healthcare System to get assessed and placed into a program the next day. I had made the first step towards saving my life.
Rehab was a painful and humbling experience. I was profoundly ashamed to be there. It meant that I had admitted defeat, that I couldn’t “fix” it myself. My shame was so strong, I refused to tell anyone at work that I was in rehab, and my friends were none the wiser. During my outpatient treatment they worked hard to convince me to tell my family. But I was raised to believe that psychiatrists were quacks, and people with mental illness were crazy, or worse, lazy and mooching off hard working taxpayers. I did not want to be that person. I really, really did not want to be that person. So much so that it took my rehab program 3 weeks to wear me down and tell my family that I was in treatment for addiction to alcohol. I remember making that call, and i remember many times regretting that I had told my parents, as I felt they viewed me as incompetent, and out of control.
After rehab, I stayed completely sober for about 8 months. I had managed to dig myself out of deep depression and immediate risk, but I was still so ashamed. Rather than staying sober, the healthy option, I tried to drink like a normal person. I put great pains into not drinking too much, and appearing nonchalant about going out with the guys from the office for beers. When in fact, on the inside, drinking was wreaking havoc. I always wanted more alcohol than I should have, I worried about driving, and drinking caused depression and anxiety for days after. I was miserable but my shame had me stuck.
This is when I had an unexpected epiphany. I was sitting on my couch reading a magazine article about Kristin Neff. She had spent the last ten years researching self-compassion. I was thrilled with the positive outcomes it was associated with, such as lower depression, anxiety and stress, better creativity, productivity, and interpersonal relationships; and most powerful of all better resilience in the face of change or suffering. I wanted some of this!
As I read on about the definition of self-compassion and how to practice it, the blood began to drain out of my head as I realized I didn’t have any of it. Nothing. Nada. The whole concept of being a kind supporter for yourself was completely foreign to me. I barely registered on the self-compassion scale.
Quickly on the heels of this realization I asked myself, what would be the most self-compassionate thing I could do for myself? I didn’t even get the thought completed and I knew the answer. I needed to quit drinking. For good. My brain was like a train-wreck as these thoughts came quickly and piled up on one another, like the cars of a train that had been stopped abruptly. The whole world went silent for me as I peered into a new reality. I set a date to quit drinking.
The Rebirth of Freedom
Part of me wishes that I could tell the story that I quit drinking immediately and my life was instantly amazing, but that’s not exactly how it happened. As I got up off the couch that day I started on a path of learning everything I could about self-compassion. I was an excellent little scholar, I had books and research articles and copious notes. I was about 6 months into my self-compassion study that I had another epiphany. I needed to PRACTICE self-compassion and not just learn about it. It seems embarrassingly obvious now, but then, it came as a bit of a surprise. So, I put down my books and started to practice, and it slowly began to change my entire world.
My sober date arrived. I had been preparing myself for the worst. I was going to have to deny myself the pleasure of drinking for the rest of my life. I figured it was going suck. I had already gone through a grieving process and I was armed with a new skill, self-compassion. My sober date came and went with little fanfare. Instead of the gut wrenching existential pain I anticipated, I actually began to feel something different. It was hard to put my finger on it at first. But about two weeks into the process, it hit me.
I was driving down the highway in San Antonio (a town known for it’s Fiestas and Tequila) and the road sign above me was flashing “Driving hammered will get you nailed.” I let out a joyful laugh, “ha ha ha, I’ll never have to worry about that ever again!” That’s when I figured out what I was feeling. I was feeling freedom. Freedom from worrying about drinking too much, freedom from worrying about driving home, freedom from worrying about rebound depression and anxiety, freedom from having to monitor my every drink. All of the noise in my head about drinking was gone. All the brain cycles and planning and worrying was gone. I was free.