I recently traveled to New York City for a series of business trainings, book launch events, and conferences. It was my first time in the city after having made a commitment to myself (over two years ago) to stop getting drunk. I had drastically redefined my relationship to alcohol, and coming back for a whirlwind press tour with my new boundaries made me nervous.
How would I avoid falling back into my old habits in an oasis of cocktail events of open bars? Making matters even trickier (or, in retrospect, luckier), I was invited to participate in a media panel during the first event. I was supposed to share my story, what makes me unique, and withstand a battery of questions from the media representatives in attendance.
Why do I think this is lucky now? It forced me to "out myself" right at the beginning of the trip to hundreds of people. Instant accountability.
I struggled with alcohol through my teens, twenties, and early thirties. I had a work-hard, play-hard, jet-set lifestyle and was totally burned out by 30. When I realized just how fatigued I was, I left my career as a consultant to “find myself." What I found was that I still relied too heavily on alcohol.
I woke up in the morning after my 30th birthday to a giant goose egg on my forehead and no idea how it got there. I told myself I'd cut back, but when my 31st birthday rolled around, I got absinthe-related amnesia. It wasn't until a few weeks before my 32nd birthday that I made a commitment that stuck. No more getting drunk. Period.
Over the past few years, I’ve not only “not gotten drunk”—I’ve also successfully learned to drink in moderation. Now, I only very occasionally indulge in alcohol, and then it's to a very moderate degree. From my experiences, as well as my studies with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I developed a coaching practice to support other women in adopting and practicing moderation with alcohol—on their terms.
I shared all of this on that first night at the media event. I was so nervous about speaking eloquently that I forgot to worry about the impact my words would have on the audience—a room full of entrepreneurs there to learn how to change the world.
Sharing my story gave permission to people in the audience to share theirs. After I spoke, people approached me in the bathroom, in hallways, and at the networking event that following the presentation to discuss my experience further.
Women wanted to share their experiences with alcohol with me. Some felt shame, some wanted to make their own changes. Many of these woman were dealing with issues even less extreme and/or shorter-term than my own.
I was most struck by the profound shame women seem to feel after losing control over alcohol, and how long that shame lingered. Secondarily, I was deeply surprised to discover that nearly all of this shame-provoking behavior could be classified as “alcoholism.”
Most of the stories I heard wouldn't register as even a blip on the radar of most physicians, and even therapists. Yet these experiences had a lasting effect on the women speaking to me. They needed a safe place to discuss their personal issues, and a solution that didn’t necessitate 100 percent sobriety.
Often, people discuss drinking as an “all or nothing” affair. As soon as you admit that you think you drink "too much," you're suddenly a candidate for a recovery program and should be quitting cold turkey.
You can have a problem with alcohol, and not be an alcoholic. You can have a problem with alcohol and not want to quit. My recent experience in NYC affirmed what I had learned in sharing my story with clients and members of my community. Sometimes we need to see our experiences reflected back to us in order to feel comfortable making a change.
The problem with the “all or nothing” approach to alcohol is that many of us don’t relate, and rather than be labeled as addicts, we stay silent about our desire to change.
We face pressure to drink in social situations. The people around us may not be comfortable with their own drinking habits, which can make your decision to do things differently even more loaded. You could lose a friendship, or a business relationship if you rub someone the wrong way on a night out. But isn't it more important to be someone you feel comfortable looking at in the mirror every day?
If any of this resonates with you, consider this permission to make a change—an affirmation that your truth is real. Here are twelve signs it's time to consider redefining your relationship with alcohol.