It’s been four years since I made the decision to find my way back to myself again by giving up alcohol. I’m not an alcoholic, but alcohol was keeping me from living my best life. And I didn’t realize how much of my potential I was leaving on the table until I stopped drinking. Here’s my story.
I woke up on an air mattress on my friend’s floor with a throbbing headache, the morning after what had started as an innocent girls' dinner at a raw vegan restaurant. During the meal, we sipped on artisanal cocktails and Champagne—pretty harmless, right?
And yet, somehow, the night ended with me doing bumps of cocaine in a stairway, smoking cigarettes (which I never did while sober), and making out with a total stranger 12 years my junior.
Everyone has to make their own decisions about what lifestyle works for them, but what I felt that morning, more than anything, was that the choices I made while drinking weren’t authentic to the person I wanted to be.
I felt sick, and it wasn’t just the pounding headache sending waves of nausea through my body.
I felt sick from the shame and remorse of letting myself down—again. From realizing how far I was from meeting my own expectations.
At that time, I was a few months into my certification as a holistic health coach; I’d declared my focus to anyone who would listen. I was going to coach women who wanted to redefine their relationship to alcohol.
The irony is not lost on me.
I was completely unable to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, repeating the same patterns I had been in for years—if perhaps slightly less often.
That September morning four years ago was my inflection point. Something deep inside me shifted.
I was finally ready to redefine my relationship to alcohol—to become the person I wanted to be. To live up to the expectations I had for myself.
In the past four years, I’ve spent extended periods entirely alcohol free, the longest being a little over a year. I also chose to drink consciously during certain periods. I’ve been tipsy a handful of times—but the point I allowed myself to reach was a conscious choice I made before imbibing.
I’ve created guidelines, specific to me, about when it’s safe for me to drink and when it isn’t. For me, it’s never safe to start drinking when I feel like I "need" a drink, when I’m tired, when I’m stressed, when I’m lonely, when I’m sad, or when I’m angry.
I’ve experienced a variety of challenges that have taught me all kinds of things about what I’m capable of and what I can handle. I’ve launched a business, written a book, survived a high-risk pregnancy, raised my premature newborn into a thriving toddler, and become stronger through heartbreak.
And yet, through the process of redefining my relationship with alcohol, I’ve learned more about myself than I learned from any of those experiences.
My relationship to alcohol was one of the longest (and most dysfunctional) relationships of my life. I’d been in a codependent relationship with booze for over 20 years before I was motivated and strong enough to change.
Here are four of the most unexpected, life-altering things I’ve learned in four years without getting drunk:
1. I learned to love myself, truly, wholly, and unconditionally.
I didn’t realize how little I loved myself until I stopped abusing my body and abandoning my spirit. I didn’t even realize how unloved I was by myself until I gave up the alcohol.
I often tell my clients that we have to learn to love ourselves like our life depends on it—because it does.
My problematic relationship to alcohol was perpetuating the abuse and abandonment I had experienced at the hands of others onto myself. Uncovering those layers and recognizing the root of my need to mask negative feelings has been painful but more liberating than anything else I’ve ever done. I finally feel free.
2. I finally learned what it means to be present.
I used to seek that feeling of being out of control—of not being responsible for my own actions. I now love my conscious experience of life so much that if I ever feel myself on the edge of that cliff, I am eager to step away from it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than exactly where I am—even when it hurts.
3. I learned to give myself permission to do what was good for me and made me feel good, instead of relying on alcohol to make decisions for me.
Alcohol used to be my permission slip to make bad choices. I’d stay out too late dancing, or to seek out intimacy with someone I didn’t care about, or to take a day off because I was hung over.
Now I make fully conscious choices about how late to stay out, the people with whom I share my energy, and I consciously build in "balance" days—in advance—and time to nurture myself throughout the week so that I don’t rely on a big blowout (or blackout) to let go of my stress. I’ve consciously become the person I unconsciously sought to be while I was drinking.
4. I've learned to cut myself some slack.
I’ve stopped pushing myself so damn hard. Even though I sometimes still feel an intense pressure to do and be what other people need me to be, I’ve learned so much about how to "do and be me," for me.
I look and feel better than I have in all of my adult life. I am comfortable in my own skin. I seek exercise that feels perfect for my body—depending on my mood, time, schedule, etc. The same goes for food. I have countless self-care practices that I employ depending on my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
I am no longer tempted to go into the world of extremes anymore. Instead, I embrace flexibility and moderation. I indulge when it honors what I need, and I pull back when that honors what I need. And it works.
The road here certainly hasn't been easy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I look forward to experiencing even more unexpected benefits of sobriety and moderation with every day that I continue along this path. And nothing could make me turn around.
Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your weekly horoscope, then find out why holding on to past relationships is the worst thing you can do for yourself.