Submitted by: Julie Rogers
My last day of drinking was not remarkable. I had no idea that when I had a few celebratory beers after an Ugly Sweater 5k run, it would be my last drinking event. Even the next day, when I felt like I had hit a physical and emotional rock bottom and realized that alcohol was a major factor in my downward spiral, I did not decide to quit drinking forever. I was exhausted. My self-care had become so minimal in the two weeks leading up to my moment of crisis, that I was severely sleep-deprived and I hadn’t showered in 3 days (not even after the 5k race – we were too busy).
On the outside, I seemed to be successful and happy. In many ways, I was. I wasn’t faking it. I am married, have a couple of kids, I’m very involved in the community, I run marathons and participate in triathlons. I teach yoga and I’m a life coach. In general, I am pretty even-keeled and feel genuinely grateful for the life that I have. Which made the fact that I drank alcohol in amounts and frequency that I knew deep down to be unhealthy and contradictory to how I see myself, a source of angst and shame for me. I see myself as someone who is constantly seeking deeper knowledge and practice in the areas of positive parenting and physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness.
The more I connected with my body through running, triathlon, and yoga, the more I realized my relationship with alcohol was at odds with the way I wanted to treat my body, brain and soul.
The more I practiced mindfulness, the more I realized I was not living in what I consider integrity. In other words, when I went out for a run, or did certain yoga poses in order to detox from recent cocktail consumption, it felt counterproductive and absurd. I felt like a fraud. The other piece of the hypocrisy for me was the fact that my kids were now old enough to pay attention to what and how I was drinking. It felt shameful to know that my kids were being taught about alcohol at school – what it does to you – and yet here I was, consuming what they were learning to be a poisonous drug and modeling to them that not only is it okay to drink a drug, but that it is a necessary part of every weekend, in fact not only weekends. And that all social and celebratory events must have alcohol. This was at odds with my belief that leaders must go first, must lead the way and as their mom, I am my kids’ chief leader (along with their dad).
The day that became my Day 1, although I had not had any alcohol since the day before, my momtrum (what I call my outbursts at my kids) was definitely fueled by alcohol-influenced exhaustion and self-disgust. Gosh I hated myself that day and I never want to feel like that again. EVER. I decided then and there that I needed to take a break from alcohol. I had tried different tactics before. I had done the Whole 30, where for 30 days you eat a very restricted diet and abstain from alcohol. It was hard, but there was a deadline, and you can do anything with a deadline, right? I noticed during this experience that my alcohol habit was that – a mindless habit. I also noticed that I liked myself better when I didn’t drink. I remember telling my husband that maybe sobriety was something I should consider, long-term. Alas, on Day 31 I had a tequila. The slippery slope started, until at some point, I think around when I was doing a super intense 8-week course on meditation (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), I decided to limit my drinking to a certain amount per week. I knew that anything more than 7 drinks a week raises your chances of breast cancer, so I figured that was a good line to not cross.
Most of my friends share photos on Facebook where they have a glass in their hand, or they are at a craft brewery, or a wine-tasting fundraiser. Every vacation post has an umbrella drink. So, when I was wondering if I had a problem, I could easily justify my behavior just by opening Facebook. I could almost ignore the voice in my head that said, just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t make it right. The same thing I have been saying to my kids for years.
The day I decided to clean up my act, I did not decide I needed to dump all the alcohol in my house, quit drinking forever and get my ass to AA. The thought of abstaining from alcohol for the rest of my life and declaring it so, was an impossible thought for me. After all, my husband and I like to go out to dinner. We like to vacation. We like to socialize. And obviously, these occasions require alcohol to be fully enjoyed. Also, I had always thought of myself as the fun friend, the one who loved to party, to be the first and last on the dance floor. In my current existence as a suburban mom, I was sure that if I gave up alcohol I was resigning myself to a boring, prudish existence. This seemed terrible. Alcohol served its purpose as a way for me to prove to myself, if not others, that the hard work, the tedium of domesticity, did not define me or confine me; alcohol was an escape, a lifeline and proof that I was not just another boring suburban mom. For a while, it served its purpose. Until, as alcohol will do, it started to show me that what had been working, no longer was. So now I decided to “take a break” from drinking for maybe a couple of weeks.
This “break” was different from previous ones though. This time I didn’t just abstain from alcohol. I looked up SMART Recovery online and ordered their workbook. I joined their online forum for women and started reading the posts. Someone there mentioned the Bubble Hour podcast so I started listening to that. It was fascinating! All of these women talking about stories like mine, some more further along in their dis-ease, but all of them talking in some way about how their insides didn’t match their outsides, how scared they became that they were digging themselves deeper into a hole. I got scared as I listened to how quickly our body and brain can become really sick from alcohol, especially after hearing an interview with a neuroscientist. I learned about the BFB (Booze Free Brigade) online discussion group, and I joined that. From there, I eventually formed (June 2016), with five other women across the U.S., an accountability group that we call the Sobricorns. The six of us, through daily group texting, have become incredible friends. We met in person almost a year after we first started our text group, at the She Recovers retreat in NYC. Our friendship is a key part of our collective sobriety. My recovery has also been supported by the 12 Steps, through which I have furthered my self-awareness and made more sober friends. All the while, being more intentional with my reliance on my Higher Power. I have come to terms with my self-centeredness, which as a mom, is hard to accept. We moms know how much our whole life changes once we become a mom and how we often place ourselves last on the priority list. So I never thought of myself as being self-centered. Working the 12 steps, though, has taught me how misguided I had been and continue to be, in this area. It is still a daily practice for me – working on a focus of self-care, while also letting go of the need to be self-serving.
In my first year of sobriety, I had a few mantras. I decided that 2016 would be the year of Simplifying. Sobriety First was going to be my filter for every invitation, commitment, decision. If it was an “I should do this” obligation, unless absolutely necessary, the answer was “no thank you.” Also, no matter what, alcohol was not an option. There was no wavering on this one. And in my role as a coach and supportive friend, I drew certain boundaries and decided that certain relationships were too draining and one-sided, so I allowed them to take a break too. I started to realize how much more available I am to my loved ones when sober and that became another source of motivation for me. I continued running and practicing and teaching yoga and relished in the satisfaction of knowing that my body was being supported from the inside-out. As far as the party girl identity, I realized that I was happy to allow others to step into that role. It turns out that being clear-headed and feeling great the next day is far more important to me. All those other occasions – dinners, parties, vacations – are much cheaper and more memorable and truly, do not require alcohol to be enjoyed. Not even in Spain or the south of France. I promise. When I think of my top values, they include, being a loving, compassionate, loyal, caring wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, colleague, coach… If being the fun party girl is at odds with this, then the season for that role has ended. And you know what? I truly believe that the most rebellious, unique, badass thing I can do is be sober. I’ll take badass sober warrior over party girl any day.
I really believe that there are millions of people who relate to where I was when I was stuck in this pattern of drinking. It was what was expected at the occasion, or on the day, or at that time of day, or because it was a way to soothe myself after an intense day, or a way to escape boredom or tedium, or a way to connect with people. I knew that my drinking was contributing to my self-loathing but I couldn’t imagine quitting and I had no idea how to get out of the rut. But I started to climb out of my hole and reaching out to others. The key was to do it first online and then in person.
I may not have reached dramatic depths that forced me into sobriety. Mine may have been a more gradual, self-propelled awakening but I do know that what started as a “break” has become a desire to continue to live with integrity, with authentic connection and to always do my best. It’s not always easy. Especially as I continue to live in a booze-centric world. But as I tell my kids, the most worthwhile stuff in life is also the hardest stuff in life. And the best way I know how to counter the booze-centric culture is to help others learn about what I am doing and if and when they are ready, to help them start along their own journey of recovery (which is why I created a private Facebook group, which now has over 150 members from all over the world).
“Recovery is not managing illness. It’s discovering wellness. Recovery is not fixing what’s broken. It’s finding wholeness, meaning and purpose. A love for life. Recovery is a journey. A reconnection to self, others, nature and Spirit. A willingness to forgive, an openness toward reconciliation. A search for peace…” – Duane Sherry