My Year of Sobriety? The Hero’s Journey

Psychologists call it being “parentified,” when a child is forced to be the “parent” to herself and siblings, and often to her own parents too. This doesn’t have to be the result of abject abuse or neglect; it can occur when a child’s parent or parents simply don’t have the capacity or inclination to give her the protection and nurturing she needs at a young age. So, the child must parent herself.

This was the case for me.

My dad left when I was about 2-years-old — a drunk — and my mom — a bank teller raising two small girls — did all she could just to keep  a roof over our heads and food on the table. And attachment theory wasn’t a thing  in the 70s. So…

As it turns out, when kids are parentified, they often spend their lives searching for that feeling of belonging and self-worth. They often struggle to be able to self-soothe and comfort themselves in a mature and healthy way, because they never learned how. I haven’t read any books on this yet (at the suggestion of a good friend, I just ordered one and it’s on its way), but I’ve heard enough in my group therapy to realize that this is huge for me.

And a huge reason I drank.

One thing is clear since I finally quit drinking: I’ve had to face the reasons I was drinking too much, and they stem all the way back to my feelings of belonging. Being included and a part of a tribe. Being accepted and feeling worthy.

I’m 206 days alcohol-free today, and this week, for the first time since I quit 6-1/2 months ago, I almost drank.

I was at a work/team off-site at a beautiful resort in Florida. I just adore my work colleagues, and we work hard and have a lot of fun together. They have also seen me drink quite a bit in the past, as we had big trips abroad (Italy! Europe!) together to launch projects, or have had other team outings where red wine is always an integral part of the program.

It was the fourth night of long days of meetings and fun, and we were all sitting around a fire pit under the stars. They were all drinking expensive red wine and the glasses were refilling fast. Finally, the conversation came around again to asking why I wasn’t drinking. I know we sober folks like to think that drinkers don’t even notice when we aren’t drinking, and sometimes that’s true. But this time, I stuck out like a sore purple thumb.

Over the last few days I’d been fending off their questions, telling them I was off alcohol “for a year” because I wanted to mitigate the perception with my colleagues, and honestly, I’m not really ready to say out loud to anyone that I have quit forever. So, I figured I’d tell them a half-truth: Alcohol was making me feel like shit, so I quit for 100 days. When I got to 100 days, I decided to keep going to a year. I’m over half way there.

I suppose I could have left the situation and gone back to my room, but I just didn’t want to be left out of this experience. This is the bonding time and the inside stories time, and I wanted to be a part of it. I thought I could be a part of it, with my sparkling water and cranberry juice, but I quickly wanted something more interesting to drink (there wasn’t anything)  or some way to blend in a little better (there was no where to hide).

Maybe they sensed my wavering, my discomfort, my desire to dance on the edge of both worlds, because they turned up the volume a bit. They pressed deeper, questioning why I would quit for so long, and teasing me about it. It was meant in fun, but all eyes were on me, all attention was on me, and while it had been moderately sucky before, as an introvert who doesn’t love so much attention, now it was almost unbearable.

So, I got up and walked inside. I was going to do it. A glass of wine wouldn’t kill me and I could deal with telling my sober therapy group and my sober friends tomorrow.  It was more important to me in that moment to belong and relieve the pressure than to not drink. It was more important to stay part of the pack.

And something else was also true: Sitting around a fire pit, under the stars, drinking a beautiful glass of red wine out of a beautiful glass, laughing with good friends, is one of my most favorite things to do in life. It was, anyway. It’s what some call a “peak moment.” This was a peak moment of my life and I was unable to fully enjoy it because I was hating the sparkling water and cranberry juice I was drinking, and I was not fully “in” because I was drinking it.

I can hear what you’re probably thinking: It’s not the wine that gives us joy in those situations. It’s not the wine that defines our belonging.

Believe me, I’ve had enough therapy around this and I’ve read enough blogs and posts and books to totally get it.

And yet…in that moment, there was nothing else but that. It was a primal need to belong and bond with my tribe.

I came back outside with the glass. “Alright,” I said. “I’ll have a glass.”

The tone shifted. One of my colleagues who I have shared a lot of laughs with, including over lots of red wine, reached up to put his hand on my forearm.

“Wait. Have you really not had a drink in over 6 months?”

No, I haven’t.

“Well then don’t break your streak for THIS,” he said, and he gestured toward the fire pit. “Don’t do it for this.”

Another colleague spoke up, “Did you make a promise to yourself that you would be breaking if you drank tonight?”

I nodded. Yes, I did.

“Well then don’t do it. Don’t break your promise to yourself. Don’t drink tonight.”

I looked at them now and they all looked back a me a bit sheepishly. They were on my side. I turned on my heel and put the wine glass back on the kitchen counter. I wouldn’t be needing it tonight.

That was the first time since I quit drinking that my resolve actually dropped. I’ve had days with strong urges, days when my mood was bad or I wanted to disappear or stuff feelings or I felt like I wasn’t sure I would be doing this forever, but I always knew even if it sucked, I wasn’t going to drink. This was the first time I was actually tempted, or actually, more than tempted; this time I was going to do it.

But I didn’t.

And the silver lining is that it brought into stark relief what I really need to focus on. The work I have to do.

It brought into focus that I’m not convinced.

I have powerful issues around a need for belonging. And self-worth. I have work to do around intimacy and letting myself be vulnerable. I have powerful associations with wine as part of what is the “best of life,” and the peak, best moments of my life have almost always included wine. Not wine to excess, just wine as one element of many. I conjure those moments in my mind and they represent:

Romance

Love

Warmth

Pleasure

Joy

Belonging

Richness

Possibility

Humor

Connection

Adventure

Sensuality

And so much more…

Do I really want to give that up for the better life that could be? For the “miracle” that still hasn’t come?

Some have told me that the miracle turns out to be real connection and joy in the small moments of everyday. Being awake for life. Present in it.

Yes, I’m sure that is so. And maybe that is the work I need to do, now that I can see it, working on true intimacy and connection with those around me.

No, I can’t be disappearing into a bottle of wine every night and think I’m going to also work on my inner self. Ain’t gonna happen.

But this is part of the challenge of being a “high bottom” drinker. Nothing really bad ever happened, but I felt like I was blotting out my light. After experiencing trauma about five years ago (and after an emotionally abusive marriage), I was drinking to stuff it all down. I wasn’t doing the work of healing.

Now… TRIGGER WARNING. This is me working shit out in writing and I wouldn’t want to cause unease in anyone who is unsure about quitting or staying quit. We are all on our own journeys. We each have our own needs.

And this is the risk of thinking I can go back to drinking at some point. That I’ll have learned enough in “My Year of Sobriety,” on what will certainly be a lifetime assignment toward feeling belonging and vulnerability, that I can dip my toe in again.

That my journey will have changed my path.

My ninja group therapist must have sniffed a bit of this on me yesterday when she went straight in for the kill. She (kindly, lovingly) said that the thing about those of us who got to the place of using alcohol as “dangerously misguided self-care” is that once we’ve crossed that line, there almost always is no going back. What was a friend (alcohol) is no longer a friend.

There’s no going back to just being a normal drinker.

  • I know there is a freedom in not having the negotiation of whether or not to drink (or how much to drink) in any given situation. I do that with food already, and it does get so, so tiring, but would it be different now with wine?
  • Yes, I’ve read ALL THE THINGS (seriously, ALL the things) that say drinkers always think they can moderate and they can’t. Yes, I tried to before too and it never worked very well. But moderating wasn’t my issue, stuffing down my feelings with wine was, and what I really needed to do was get to the root of WHY I was abusing alcohol.
  • Yes, I hear everyone who says it gets easier to be the non-drinker in the group, but part of me wonders if I’m ever going to really be that person.
  • Yes, I know that if I started drinking again and then wanted to quit again, it may be much harder next time.
  • Yes, I remember the hangovers and the embarrassing late-night cringe-worthy texts, and the men I shouldn’t have gone to bed with.
  • Yes, I don’t want to lose my sober community, whom I am growing to love and feel part of more and more each day.
  • Yes, I know that amazing and beautiful moments don’t depend on wine, but so often the wine has been a binding agent in all of it.
  • Yes, I know this — all of this work I’m doing — is supposed to be about the BIGGER YES, my higher purpose, the Hero’s Journey, but I’m struggling to see how my life on the whole is better yet. I don’t want to trade the amazing highs for a series of smaller joys. That’s never been the way I’ve lived my life.

Yes, I know how this sounds.

And still… I’m being completely honest here… I just want to belong again.

With this experience I realized that I don’t want to give up those peak moments for the hope of small moments of joy along the way. I want to LIVE and I want to LIVE BIG.

Fuck. Bradley Cooper, where are you when I need you??! 🙂

I am committed to going one year and then checking in with myself.

I’m committed to being open-minded and I will not harbor a secret hope that I can/will drink again in July. The next 5-1/2 months are going to be about 110% self-love and discovery. Doing the work I need to do (to be determined) to get at those core issues around belonging, self-worth, intimacy and vulnerability between now and July.

And how can I use exercise and movement to help me with anxiety and soothing, and to feel more connected to myself?

These are the questions.

I look forward to checking in more often, and if you made it all the way to the bottom, I welcome your thoughts.

xo Rachel

Day 206

 

 

27 thoughts on “My Year of Sobriety? The Hero’s Journey

  1. Sending a huge hug…. this is so hitting close to home for me. I feel all of what you wrote…the need to belong! Your post has sent Aha Highlights in my brain. I’ve felt that was a huge part of my drinking “career”, but your story today has really put it in perspective for me to explore more.
    I totally get what you are saying…and after a 25 month stretch of sobriety…it was exactly THAT that led me to “sip” some wine at a 50th birthday wine tasting party. I know there was a voice in my head that said you can’t be a moderate drinker…but at that moment… I want to try.
    Now I’m in the day 70ish land… and this time around I am (today) declaring forever…and hoping this journey with all of you keeps me on that path.
    But I know what you are experiencing and grappling with…and like you, I know it dims my light. I’m trying to live with a mantra of SPARKLE.
    Thanks so much for sharing your story today! Helped me!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Rachel,

    Thank you so much for your honesty and vulnerability. I haven’t blogged in a long time but I’ve remained sober and today am 360 days sober. I don’t look at a lot of my emails from the sober blogs (just because I don’t have a lot of time to read) but I opened this one. I don’t know why, but something pulled me to do so.

    I know exactly how you feel. I remember feeling that way 4-6 months in, and I still get those feelings from time to time. I also drank at work events (often) and I understand the feelings of bonding and belonging that go along with that.

    I recently went to a formal charity event with my mom and my boyfriend that included a band and dancing…and an open bar. Everyone was drinking and loosening up and I was just there, totally sober. I’ve always had a hard time being sober around drunk people because, well, I was always the drunkest one at the party. Luckily, my mom and boyfriend are aware that I’m alcoholic so it would have been hard for me to get away with trying to have a drink. But I ended up dancing and laughing and having a great time. And I remembered ALL OF IT.

    So many times I missed my “peak moments” because I blotted out chunks of them with alcohol. I woke up thinking “that was it?” because I had blacked out several hours. There were so many times I wished I could relive nights because I had missed so much of them.

    No one can tell you what is best for you. But I know that I would regret it if I started drinking again only to end up in that place that felt impossible to back from. The things you’re feeling and thinking are so common (I know you know that) but when I have those thoughts, I remind myself that my justification and my constant attempts to convince myself to drink again only serve as further confirmation that I have a problem. I am -so good- at talking myself into things. It would take minimal effort to get myself right back to nightly bottles of wine, drunk driving and terrible decisions.

    I’m glad you are remaining committed to a year of sobriety. I know that this first year has been filled with monthly (sometimes daily) new challenges, realizations, triumphs and “peak” moments as you call them. Being sober is something you have to learn. And it isn’t easy. And sometimes the reward is slow to come. And sometimes it feels like a punishment.

    But just like a daily, torturous workout routine, one day you’ll look in the mirror and realize you have strength you didn’t realize existed. And you’ll see how far you’ve come and realize it was worth it.

    Keep writing, keep searching your soul, and never settle.

    With love,
    B

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sure, it’s all fun and games until SOMEONE FORCES THE SOBER PERSON INTO A RELAPSE. Good times, people! I’m happy you escaped with your sobriety intact.
    Regarding “all the best moments included wine”: has it ever occurred to you that reason for that is because you were drinking wine a lot? So naturally all those moments had wine…Because WINE.
    Something to think about. Super good to hear from you!!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Congrats on your 200 days! That is wonderful. And very much congrats on not drinking. It sounds like a very difficult situation you were in. And you won from booze, from wanting to fit in despite the negative consequences for you. 🙂 ❤

    Since you seem to be in an arguing contest with drinking in this post, one thing I would like to stress is that you might say "I am a high bottom drinker" and "Nothing really bad ever happened" but for the sake of argueing/debating with booze: the abusive marriage in itself and your alcohol abuse spinning out of control because of having stayed in that for too long? Your perception of 'nothing really bad ever happened' seems to not include yourself. Which, I believe, is exactly what it means to have issues with self-worth and caring for you. 😦 If I may I would like to add that to your list.

    Belonging to does 'not really count' (what is the adult phrasing of this?), if it includes having to conform to the group norm of drinking, or if it means having to hurt yourself in any other way what so ever. And yes, that can be very lonely in this society where the whole unwholesome set up of society makes it so that people, no matter what, have to turn out unreal, untrue and therefor damaged. Hmmm, well, I guess someone somewhere can put that a little more positive 😀 but, I guess you know what I mean? 🙂

    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Omg. Your coworkers made me cry.
    What more belonging could there be than to have two friends encourage you to stick to your moral code. To support you in keeping a promise to yourself.

    I expect they see you with clearer eyes of respect and strength.

    Forget what happens in 6 months. Really look at what’s happening now. You are connecting to people in an honest and true way.

    That is life changing. Thank you for sharing that glimpse of life.

    Anne

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I am going to reiterate what Anne said, because, Rachel? This post is all about longing and wanting a Tribe, and then in your own words you say several times how great these people are, and how much fun you have together laughing and being together. Then, you say you wish you were more vulnerable and more open, but lady! You just laid your heart bare to a group of people (friends). You were open about sobriety, and you didn’t shy away from their questions and curiosity, even if you wanted to inside. Then!!! My favorite part. Your friends took care of you because of what you shared with them. I almost started crying reading their care for you and your goal, regardless if they knew the whole truth. There is so much beauty and light in this post, in this experience. You have some of what you are looking for right in front of you. It might not be the exact package or wrapping you were hoping for, but it’s there. Your people are they – and wow. Do they care about you. I am just blown away. …. Don’t lose hope, my friend. Things are closer than they appear. (p.s. There was a hilarious typo of ‘Thongs are closer…’ but I fixed it and had to tell you about it, because now I can’t stop giggling.) Love & Awesomeness, my friend.* -HM.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Love YOU, HM. Yeah, it was pretty awesome. I still have to come to terms with one or two of them who seem to put a high value on the wine even while they were “glad I didn’t drink,” and how that pulls at me. It really REALLY makes me want to drink too, to be able to talk wines and bring one “from my cellar” and…and… then I say that, and even while they teased me (in a having fun way), some of them go progressively goofier, slurring and all that. And the first night this happened (there were a few), there was a LOT of ibuprofen going around the next day. I wasn’t hung over, so that was nice… Anyway, the long way of saying that yeah, I’m figuring out how I fit in, maybe even at the same time they are. The had had a LOT of wine, but one friend (who said the thing about making a promise to myself) said something like, “ok, but in July you can’t say you decided to keep going again!” As if it is important that I drink in July. But they aren’t looking at this the way I am, of course, because I haven’t given them the full truth. They’re smart people: no one quits for a YEAR if there aren’t underlying questions… so, if July comes, and I decide to “keep going,” then I am a grown up and they love me, and I have a good feeling that they would accept it. Still… there is a lot of power being given with certain people in this group to drinking, and “going far” if you’re a drinker.

      I do think that many times when that shit is said, they don’t realize what it might mean to someone struggling to figure out her relationship with alcohol, and if they did, they wouldn’t say it. It’s true: I set myself up a bit by not being completely honest. But this was the best I could do on this day. I’m OK with that. ❤

      Like

      • It sounds like you walked through it exactly the way you needed to, and the way that felt the most comfortable to you at the time. Exactly what you need to do – establishing your boundaries and your comfort levels. …. It sounds like the group you are with is a maybe a bit more challenging than most in that everyone(?) is drinking quite heavily. That can make the solo-road a bit more lonely for sure. … I wonder, too, if your sobriety is drawing their own habits into relief in ways some of them haven’t contemplated before. Some of the push and justification may be coming from needing it for themselves, too. I wouldn’t be surprised. …. And as for the allure of the sophisticated drinker, I so have that, too! It’s probably the thing that traps me from time to time in my sobriety with promises of being so smart and witty and charming about everything whilst I sip my rich, red wine, and make my friends laugh and sigh at how amazing I am. Reality of course? No wine cellar. Just a box, or maybe a $10-bottle. Probably not shared. Probably drink it alone. The whole thing. Not one glass. Probably start slurring myself, or pulling back and trying to stay quiet so that no one in my house knows I’m drinking so much. If, by chance, I actually am out with friends, then I am the enabler who encourages everyone else to drink ‘moremoremore!’ so that I can keep drinking moremoremore undetected. Everyone gets sloppy. Loud. A little incoherent. Fun, but messy. Probably won’t remember all of it, particularly the details of conversations. Wake-up with a splitting headache and the urge to eat a greasy breakfast. Pay for it most of the day. Rinse and repeat. ….. *smile* This came back mentally a little more readily than I would have liked. Ha. In spite of that, it is quite an accurate picture for me. I will take my sober brain any day or night, because I feel more whole, not in small part because I actually remember everything! ….. Last thing. You don’t have to decide now about ‘Then.’ A year is a great goal. Whatever your journey is, is your journey. That goes for you here in the bloggy-world, as well as for out there with your friends. No pressure. Not ever. It’s your decision – which may change as you go. As it has already in different ways and forms. No expectations, Rachel. This is all yours. Love.* -HM.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Rachel.

    I have been relapsing in and out of sobriety for the last 20 years. I know exactly what you are talking about and the feelings you have about your tribe are deeply entrenched in me too. (my family and my friends are all big drinkers) I can so relate to the fear of forever and the fear of missing out. That IS the problem of having a high bottom. Alcohol first had to do some real damage to me and scare the shit out of me before I got the message loud and clear. I can probably carry on drinking and not die from alcoholism but the quality of my life will be horrendous. I cannot face waking up one more morning with that shame and self-hatred. The jig is up anyway if I go back to drinking I know I’m addicted so there is no more ‘fun’ to be had.

    All of that being said, this might be something that you have to find out for yourself by trying to moderate again, I know some people might gasp at this. The problem is that the elevator only goes down it never goes up. It happens so slowly and so much time is lost…

    Please read my post about relapses if you are so inclined I’ve had so many of them:
    https://hurrahforcoffeeblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/what-my-lapses-and-relapses-have-tought-me/?wref=tp

    I wish you well on your journey. We are all here rooting for you. xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you HFC… It’s interesting…my drinker’s brain was like, “see, she lapsed and it’s fine…” but you’re telling me it’s not fine. And your post about relapse is so good. I’ve heard it all before, of course, but it’s important to hear it again. I think that night under the stars had me starting to think that maybe I can drink again just during those occasions, because it’s important to do it to belong, and I want so much to belong with this group of folks. And yet… They already do care about me, that’s clear. And what I need to do — my work — is to figure out how I can feel like I belong and I’m worthy without the alcohol. That’s an inside job…

      If Bradley Cooper can be fabulous without drinking alcohol, so can I, dammit! 🙂

      Thanks so much for this, HFC. It really did help me today. I think having a healthy fear of the worst might be what it takes for a while to keep me from romanticizing my way to a lapse (or relapse) again. xo

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow that amazing! I am so glad I could help in some small way. The ‘belonging to a tribe’ thing has a very strong pull but remember that the ‘tribe’ is drinking ethanol a dangerous and addictive substance. Doesn’t matter how you dress it up or in which crystal glass in comes, it stays the same substance. ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace has really helped me out of the last pit I was in. Be well, and you have a tribe -us:)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. It sounds like you really do have wonderful friends and I agree completely with the sentiments about what you are looking for was there – connection- and you just needed to recognize it. What a wonderful thing!

    However I have found having a goal – 100 days, 6 months, now 1 year, which is secretly 3 years, helps me. I just didn’t go there with “forever” as it made me sad. I just felt like this is best for now and I want to accomplish my goal. I can decide the big question later. And I notice when I think about it now forever no longer seems so bad. I really can’t imagine going back because I am so much more connected daily (not when in a drinking group!), so much happier and calmer and focused.

    Your thoughts are so typical at six months especially in a drinking situation. I have had that left out feeling or that I was awkward with conversation because I lacked confidence (drinking did that to me and it took me months to recover from).

    Now I find the conversation level really drops after a couple glasses of wine and that also usually convinces me what wine really does to you. I am finding myself more comfortable in drinking groups these days and finding that I can be happy in those situations. My happiness and lack of interest in drinking seems to draw people to me. (The Naked Mind, Control Alcohol is a very good book for this) I am a better conversationist and people want to be around me more than when I was hugging my wine glass. My confidence, my direct look, the fact that I now actually listen to what people are saying all play into it. The fact that I take good care of myself (work out, dress with care, more thoughtful eating habits) all draw people to me as well so I can make true connections instead of boozy, over sharing ones that make me cringe in the morning.

    Don’t worry about forever, focus on making today great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kelly. I love this, and I agree that thinking of this in terms of forever doesn’t help me right now. I also need a goal, and I like the idea of just moving out the goal post once I reach it. We’ll see. I loved This Naked Mind and I’ve read Allen Carr and Jason Vale too, and it makes sense, but only stays with me so long. But I love the thought that my being alcohol free my actually draw people in, whether or not they realize it (and ironically, this could be some of the same people teasing me about not drinking). Anyway, this is great advice and I appreciate your thoughts. xo

      Like

  9. Hi Rachel!
    SO glad you hear from you.
    And I am SO happy you didn’t drink.
    Congratulations on your 206 days!!
    I know my first year of being sober, I felt like I was still missing out with my friends at dinner parties.
    Now, at 2.5 years, I rarely have these feelings, and I am finding people in my group are drinking less.
    Each day I stay sober, the better I like myself.
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I just gotta say that those are some good friends! I wish I had those type of people in my life . What if they would of been totally okay with you drinking ? You would of poured your drink , “fit in” , and who knows what would of happened from there . I experienced something like this recently , being in a situation where everyone was having drinks and I felt so left out, I just left. I felt horrible at the time because all I wanted to do was fit in and mingle the way everyone else was. Eventually that passed and I’m glad I didn’t pick up that drink. Good luck to you on your journey of healing ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for sharing, I have experienced many of these situations, I have made the wrong decision and regretted it. One thing that has helped me get to a year is to remind myself that I have NEVER woke up after a night of choosing not to drink and wish I had. To me there’s power in that!

    Liked by 1 person

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