Wait — am I in a toxic relationship with alcohol?

#1 — Am I an alcoholic?

Like many before, I was in denial when I first evaluated my relationship with alcohol. I couldn’t see myself in any of the rigid archetypes popular media defines as alcoholics; Characters like Denzel Washington in ‘Flight,’ Bradley Cooper in ‘A Star is Born,’ Emily Blunt in ‘The Girl on the Train,’ images like brown-paper bags or losing my wife and kids — ok maybe not that last one because I don’t have a wife or kids — but you see where I’m going with this.

What I recognized in my relationship with alcohol looked more like this:

  • Boasting about my formidable tolerance like a sport
  • Taking out the recycling and realizing my alcoholic bottles outnumbered the days of the week (I’m no mathematician, but there’s probably a formula to track the exponential growth of wine bottles mounting at an accelerated speed in my kitchen)
  • Occasionally vomiting traces of the poison I consumed that night to make room for a more productive tomorrow
  • Being forced to consider this question posed by my therapist after a hazy recount of the weekend: do you think your relationship with alcohol is healthy? The answer, of course, was no.

Still, I was protective of my precious alcohol. Me, an alcoholic? No, it couldn’t be. What a gross and highly offensive word for such a fabulous, blossoming woman. So I did something I do well. Made a list. A list of all the reasons I wasn’t an alcoholic. Allow me to share my top 5:

  1. I don’t spike my coffee with liquor.
  2. I never drink at work, except for holiday parties, and Zoom doesn’t count, damn it!
  3. I don’t have a bottle hidden in my desk.
  4. A lot of my friends/colleagues drink relatively similar amounts to me.
  5. I don’t want to be an alcoholic.

I over-intellectualized and obsessed over the label ‘alcoholic.’ My dislike and distrust of the word sent me spinning into the abyss with the following two thoughts:

  • I’m in control of my drinking and can slow down when I feel like it.
  • I don’t need professional help.

After all, I was in charge in this relationship, not alcohol, and would therefore define the terms: Dry January, here I come. Sike! Two weeks then? Nope. Ok, no drinking Mon-Thurs. LOL. OK, two drinks maximum and only socially. Bitch, please!

“Hi, my name is Nadine, and I’m….” Nope, didn’t feel right, so I pivoted. I stopped trying to define my goals in onerous terms. Ironically, I began to recite the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) adage:

One day at a time

I wasn’t an AA member, but I loosely translated this proverb to ‘live in the present.’ I started to consciously check in with myself at various points in the day, especially when I felt the urge to drink.

When I eventually became sober, I saw traces of a toxic relationship I stayed in for far too many years; A symbiotic relationship like a parasite or tapeworm burrowed deep inside me, weakening my defenses, leaving me deprived and starved for nutritional and spiritual sustenance. In this tapeworm analogy, the host (me) is often unaware they have been compromised, which is the most dangerous part. How can you begin to seek help when you don’t recognize the problem?

#2 — Alcohol isn’t my friend

I don’t remember a lot of my twenties. More often than I’d like to admit, friends, eyes shining, will reference ‘that one time we….’ and I have no clue what, or who, they’re referring to. I may ask follow-up questions to jog my memory, but mostly I play nod and smile in a false accord.

This amnesia scares me. I’m only 31 years old and feel disconnected from my personal history. Disconnected, yet still responsible.

The countless times I’ve jolted awake from a drunken stupor in search of significant answers:

Where am I? — Hopefully, where I intended to be before getting crossfaded.

Where are my belongings? –I need the essentials: keys, wallet, phone, overpriced lipgloss…

Is so-and-so mad at me? — I hope they know that drunk words aren’t always sober thoughts.

I don’t consciously know every wrongdoing I’ve caused, but I claim full responsibility. I’m sorry for the things I’ve done to myself and others. Alcohol has usually, if not entirely, been the common denominator in all of these situations.

#3 — Your relationships may have to change

People stay in hell because the street signs are familiar.

The fear of never drinking again like a “normal” person consumed my thoughts in the earliest days of sobriety. A large chunk of my identity (or social mask) was connected to drinking, so much so, I began to think it was a personality trait: What do you like to do for fun? Go out with friends…and get shitfaced; Go to brunch… and get shitfaced; Go on vacation…and get shitfaced — on the beach.

I was conditioned in my personal hell of slowly drinking myself to death which made it hard to consider an alternative reality without alcohol. So what exactly do sober people do for fun if they don’t drink? I was bored before I even thought of an answer to the question.

Here’s a snapshot of my fears of becoming sober:

  • No one will invite me to anything
  • Parties won’t be fun
  • Sex won’t be fun
  • Weddings won’t be fun
  • Nothing will be fun

    F*ck FOMO

    When I stopped drinking, I was determined to live normally, sans alcohol. I went to all my regularly scheduled social outings and crammed my calendar full of events with high hopes I’d be too busy to notice I was sober.

    There’s a reason you’ve heard the AA phrase “people, places, things.” People, places, and things can serve as significant triggers in the early stages of sobriety.

    About a week into my sobriety, I went to brunch with some friends from college (people) at the height of hot girl summer. At brunch (places), drinking consumed my thoughts. I’d be deep in conversation yet hyper-aware of any alcohol-related occurrence (things): each time the waiter came by with the mimosa carafe, how crimson the blood of Mary was, the clinking of champagne flutes at a neighboring table.

    I had to restructure many relationships, prioritizing my relationship with myself above others. If this meant not returning a phone call or text, declining a dinner invitation, or even severing ties to certain people, places, or things, then so be it. I’d made a HUGE change, and my lifestyle should have reflected this.

    Final remarks

    Once I became aware of my problematic drinking, the real work began. And I thought quitting alcohol was the tricky part.

    Reality v. expectation

    The desire to control my drinking by moderating my consumption shifted to disappointment/frustration once I realized that willpower alone, or the simple desire to stop drinking, wasn’t enough to sustain my sobriety. I didn’t understand the science behind alcohol’s addictive nature and how many years of heavy drinking impact cognitive functions, specifically damage to the prefrontal cortex: the area of the brain responsible for influencing control, attention, impulses, memory, and cognitive flexibility. Understanding how addiction changes the brain helped me stay on track with my sobriety goals.

    If you’re considering sobriety or perhaps want a little break from alcohol, consider these sober truths. I encourage you to be honest about your drinking patterns.

    Don’t obsess about where you fall within the spectrum of Alcohol Use Disorder or if you’re a full-blown alcoholic; And whatever you do, don’t take those ambiguous ‘Am I an alcoholic ?’ questionnaires, which make you want to drink while tallying up your points. Instead, honestly answer these questions: how would you define a healthy relationship with alcohol? Based on your definition, is your relationship with alcohol healthy?

    Thanks for reading! If any of this sounds familiar, check out https://www.instagram.com/the.soberbutterfly/

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