December 2014 aka The Beginning of the End

Two years ago this week, I drank myself into blackout five nights in a row while my husband and son were out of town.  I had a writing deadline that needed to be met, but mostly I wanted to isolate and drink all by myself, so I convinced them to go on their road trip without me.  This would turn out to be the beginning of the end of my drinking career.  Six weeks later, I would take my last drink.

My drinking had gradually increased over the years, but I would kick it up several notches in 2014 and woke up most of the 365 calendar days with a hangover.  It was during this year that I also gave myself a self-imposed assignment of making some kind of artistic mark daily in my new sketchbook.  As I poured myself a giant cup of coffee, I would stretch out at the end of my kitchen table, surrounded by my art supplies, and quietly slip into a version of meditation with myself and the blank page before me.  These makeshift meditations gave me plenty of time to think about my life, where I was headed if I kept drinking the way I was, and time to wallow in my own misery and self-hatred.

Journal entries from December 2014

Journal entries from December 2014

By the time the end of the year rolled around, I was just totally sick of myself.  I felt like an imposter in my own life.  My inner critic was LOUD and determined to be heard.  I doubted myself on every level - being a good wife, daughter, sister, friend.  I longed to be more creative, but just couldn't believe in myself enough to gain any momentum in this department.  I had crippling anxiety that caused me to flake out on people, lash out at loved ones and beat myself up in the process.

I felt like a fraud.  

I felt like a fake.

I felt caged in my own life.

I felt like I couldn't go on this way much longer.

I felt like part of me was dying a little bit each day.

I've never considered suicide, but something inside of me knew that the end was near for me and the way I was living.  I knew very clearly that the bottomless double Manhattans that lulled me into oblivion at the end of every day were a major part of the problem.  It had gotten to the point that I would pop into my local drug store every 2-3 days and buy replacement bottles of bourbon so that my husband wouldn't figure out how much I was actually drinking.  I had cleverly started storing our booze in crystal decanters, refilling them often and recycling the empties when he wasn't around.  Every time I did this, I felt like I was being sneaky.  And, I was.

I didn't want to physically die, but I longed for a way to start over without losing family and the security my life presently afforded me.  All I really wanted to do was slough off a thick layer of my being and start fresh, but how exactly to do that eluded me.  At the end of that alcohol-soaked week two Decembers ago, I woke up on New Year's Day and picked my word for the year: SHED.  This word would guide me through 2015 in ways I could have never imagined.  

My word for the year 2015

My word for the year 2015

It ended up taking me not giving a fuck about what other people thought as a way to start taking baby steps towards sobriety.  It took me baring my soul to my therapist a few short weeks later in January, where she likened my confessional rant to jumping into the deep end of a pool and hoping somebody would save me.  It turned out, that somebody had to be me.  I threw one last big blow-out of a dinner party at my house and had an intense come-to-Jesus talk with my husband before I finally said goodbye to my alcoholic drinking.  

New Year's Eve 2014 art journal entry

New Year's Eve 2014 art journal entry

When I went in for my annual physical on February 3rd of 2015, I was physically and mentally exhausted.  I felt like a shell of the woman I used to be and I was sick.  My body was revolting, anxiety attacks happened daily, my blood pressure was through the roof, my skin had erupted into cystic acne along my jawline, hairline and neck.  My self-esteem was non-existent and I woke up in the middle of night at 2:20 a.m. on the dot for so many years that I'd lost count.  I felt defeated and perpetually tired.  I was the heaviest I'd ever been and I felt like shit all of the time. I didn't know that my last drink was going to be unceremoniously drunk the night prior to my annual exam, but it was.

As I filled out the standard medical intake form in the lobby of my doctor's office, I paused at the question how many alcoholic beverages do you consume in a week?  Immediately, a thought sprung to mind - what if I tell the truth?  What if I answer this question honestly?  What would happen?  I hurriedly wrote down the number 21 and handed the clipboard back to the receptionist before I could change my mind.

Since I had started drinking doubles, my real number was 42, but I didn't think about that at the time I wrote down my number.  And, yes, 42 shots of bourbon a week near the end of my drinking, give or take a glass of wine thrown in every now and then is a disgusting amount of alcohol to be pouring into my body.

Paris, France - June 2016

Paris, France - June 2016

My doctor was kind to me, but I could tell she was concerned.  She proposed an elimination diet to help me remove alcohol, gluten, dairy and sugar, in that order and I wrote about it here.  I jumped at the idea and started with alcohol first.  After the eight week experiment was done, I realized I was two months into a life without the veneer of alcohol.  I started coming out of my fog and I started to like myself a little bit more each day.  I got hooked on waking up without a hangover, sleeping through the night and my morning art-making sessions started to morph and expand.

Promise 2: We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
— The Promises, p. 83-84 of the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous

Two years ago today, I started my day with a vicious hangover, a skull-splitting headache, my skin parched, my mouth like cotton, my mind racing.  I was laying in my own pool of sweat in bed where I was trying hard to reconstruct the evening I had just ended.  Every part of me ached, inside and out.

Today, I woke up at 6 a.m. in Los Angeles in a hotel room with my husband and son.  The yearly post-Christmas Southern California road trip included me this time around and I had no excuses or half-truths or deadlines that would leave me house-bound.  I'm fully here and grateful to experience this time with my family minus the anxiety, minus the hangovers, minus the booze.

The Mantra Project - Day 1 (collaboration with Holly from Hip Sobriety)

The Mantra Project - Day 1 (collaboration with Holly from Hip Sobriety)

It feels like I've finally awakened to my life and I'm laser-focused on trying to eek out as much as I can from each day.  My priorities are more aligned with what I know to bring me true joy - my family, my friends, my home, my schooling, my creative endeavors.  All of these parts of my life swirl around me and assist in keeping me upright and on a clear path towards saner living.

Two years sounds like a long time ago, but it also feels like just yesterday.  I'm working on not regretting the past nor wishing to shut the door on it.  But for now, I think I need that blurry marriage of time and memory and my past to help me stay grounded and honest about who I am today.

And, today?  Well, today I'm proud to be living life without alcohol fueling my decisions, anxieties  and insecurities.  I'm sturdier and more loving to myself and others.  I'm satisfied with my choices and I remember exactly what happened the night before.  I'm recovering parts of myself that have been missing for years.  I'm a truth-teller and can call myself an artist.  Waking up without a hangover is one of my most favorite things now.

Today, two years after that fateful week of drinking myself into a ridiculous stupor, I'm 696 days sober.  I wake up every single day and try to move through the world with purpose and do so with honesty and integrity.  

When I finally gave up my alcoholic drinking, it felt like I opened my own cage door and flew out.

I've found sweet freedom in this kind of flight.