Day 22: How Alcohol Can Change Your Life

Technically, I’m on week 4 and I should be joyful and excited and focused on the end of this.  But with basically skipping week 2 due to travelling and general laziness, I’m starting week 3 today.  That’s 22 days since the start, and about 17 days on the plan.  About 10 days of those have included going to the gym and I’ve had 2 therapy sessions as well.  Oh, and I’m also 191 days sober.

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When I tell people that I don’t drink anymore, I get a big mix of reactions.  Usually strangers raise an eyebrow or dismiss me as some tightass who refuses to have fun.  Bartenders roll their eyes and begrudgingly pour me a soda water, or tell me about their own sobriety story.  Newer friends are of two camps: their either a little put off or too supportive, telling me about their uncle or family friend who went to rehab after crashing a car drunk and losing their family so they “TOTALLY know what you’re going through!!”  For those that are close to me, it’s usually a “good for you!”  or “wow, I don’t think I could do that” or even “really, why?”  And that’s probably the easiest answer of them all.

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See, I used to drink.  Unlike many people of my generation, it only started in college and went into adulthood.  I went to a Jesuit high school and was the eldest child and only girl in my family, so I wouldn’t dare even try alcohol while a teenager.  I think the only time I did was at my friend Liz’s house where we would sneak sips of peppermint schnapps and act like we were wasted while looking around to make sure we weren’t the only ones who “weren’t feeling it so I’m probably immune to alcohol.”  Then, the moment I stepped onto my college campus, the drinking began.  I finally felt free to do what I wanted without the narrow eyes of my parents, the shackles of being the perfect older sister, or the need to show up to class every single day.  And as a theatre student, becoming a raging alcoholic is basically included in the curriculum.  There were enough upper classmen with houses that parties were thrown every weekend, and get togethers happened every weekday.  All together now… Tuesday Night Beer Club, Wine Women’s Wednesdays, Thirsty Thursdays, Party Fridays, Bender Saturdays, Hair of the Dog Sundays, oh how the list goes on.  Opening night party!  Closing night party!  White trash party!  Dress to Get Laid!  Anything but Clothes Party!  It’s My Birthday Party!  It’s Her Birthday Party!  It’s No One’s Birthday Party!  Whatever happened, we found a way to celebrate.  And those celebrations always included copious amounts of alcohol.

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Now this is not to say this was an uncommon practice on a college campus.  We had plenty of frat parties we went to as freshmen, attended bars as we slowly began to all turn 21, and continued drinking while home for holiday breaks.  But as 19-22 year olds, that isn’t unusual.  And our bodies were able to bounce back with barely a hangover some nights!  Hey, I made it to a 7am class every once in a while, I promise!  Sure, there were mistakes made (Sugar Lips) and plenty of mornings recounting the events from the night before while nursing some mimosas with my half-dressed roommates.  Blackouts occurred, but we always had someone who could fill us in on the holes in our memory.  It even turned into a game, a journey of “what did I do last night and how hilarious was it??”  Eventually, everyone became aware of the kind of drunk they were.  Some slept with strangers and made the quick walk across our small but open campus home in last night’s clothes every Sunday morning.  Others woke up to a much smaller bank account due to their sudden drunk generosity and copious amount of cigarettes that stayed in their desk drawer until they graduated.  Me?  Oh, I was a sad drunk.  I cried.  A lot.  About the pressure of school, or how I didn’t get a part in one of the school shows, or how I was gonna miss everyone so much over Christmas break.  But mostly it was about boys, which is usually the source of most straight girl’s drunk tears anyway.  Boys who I fell for without reason, mostly because I needed someone to focus my energy on instead of myself, good friends of mine who I would suddenly imagine being THE ONE FOR ME, but who I never told directly because why would I do that that would lead to rejection and I can’t handle that so I’ll just run away byyyeee!

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The funny thing about destructive behavior is that it can’t usually just be turned off.  I didn’t get handed my diploma and suddenly think, “I’m an adult now, I should stop drinking excessively and eating whatever I want.  I should start exercising regularly and waking up early and applying for jobs I’m qualified for and begin saving money!”  HAHAHAHA NOPE.  And now with the opportunity to have MONEY to spend on alcohol and friends apartments to crash at as well as a bevvy of new Chicago bars to christen, my journey to a full-blown drinking problem picked up pace!  Sure, there were plenty of great nights with friends laughing and dancing while slinging back drinks and making new memories (as best we could with 6 tall boys in us), there were New Years parties with kisses and glitter and fancy clothes, and even some late night bars with dancing until 4am and then stumbling to a pizza place for a late night slice and dealing with the heartburn in the morning.  But it didn’t matter because we were LIVING LIFE.

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And the blackouts continued.  Less frequent, but still scary.  And the crying worsened.  I became someone’s responsibility most nights, a drunk mess begging for food and comfort while being pulled up the stairs to my apartment by someone who NEVER ASKED FOR THIS SHIT.  I was driven home by the cops once after falling asleep next to a tree.  I drunk cried to my mom about a boy I didn’t even want to date sober but I was a lonely drunk.  I made out with strangers and stole IDs.  I lost a lot of important, valuable things.  I woke up with hangover after hangover, looking like death and smelling even worse.  I begged for attention and love and sex and made a fool out of myself more times than I can count.  And to me, this was normal behavior.  I wasn’t drinking every night, maybe once or twice a week.  On a lonely night, I’d have some wine (a bottle) and on night’s out I’d stick to whiskey (7-9 drinks).  And my friends did the same.  Every time we’d go out, we’d all drink to excess, looking to numb whatever shit was going on in our lives: drama with our parents, trouble at work, loneliness from being single, frustration with a partner, whatever we didn’t want to face we drowned in alcohol.  And we danced.  And we ate.  And we laughed.  And it was fun!  But it came to a point where it was all we did, and my body wasn’t able to take it anymore.

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In order to start getting my life and jumbled brain in order, I started seeing a therapist in August of 2014.  It was more to just talk about my problems and issues because I was sick of pushing that on my friends and family and I needed a professionals opinion.  We got along great from the start and I began to truly trust her opinion and ideas on how to better my life.  And then she suggested I start looking at my drinking habits as a negative aspect of my life and I scoffed at her.  Nothing is wrong, I don’t have a drinking problem, everyone I know drinks as much as I do, it’s really fun, I don’t drink all the time and I don’t feel the pull of alcohol, so I don’t need to stop!  But as I began monitoring my drinking and realizing that, while I wouldn’t drink all the time, when I did I would do it to excess and always get far too drunk, I found patterns.  My life would be stressful, I wouldn’t be enjoying my job or I wouldn’t be booking any shows, and I would both hide those feelings of disappointment and sadness while covering them with drink after drink until I couldn’t feel them anymore.  I tried pot, but it just made me more aware of those tough emotions.  I’m not one to experiment with other drugs so I stuck with what I knew: the sweet, sweet warmth of whiskey.  I tried maintaining a drink count when I’d go out, but keeping track is hard when you stop counting.  It was all or nothing for me, either I didn’t drink at all or I binge drank, going for the gold each time we went out.

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Then one night it all came crashing.  I hadn’t been really drinking since the new year because I wanted to focus on a show I was in and also wanted to see how long I could go with no alcohol (15 days and it ended with a German grape-flavored shot).  I decided to have people over for an Oscar party and thought, “Tonight, I’m gonna let loose and drink a bit.  I’ll be with friends and there will be food and it’ll be fun so I’ll grab a few bottles of wine and champagne and just see what happens!”  Except I barely at lunch and dinner, and started drinking at 3pm.  And continued drinking throughout the night.  I don’t remember half of the show and can’t recall who was all there.  But the worst part was the morning after when I woke up with a broken foot and the worst hangover I’ve ever had in my whole life.  I don’t know how I broke my foot (I still don’t know, neither does anyone who was there that night including my two roommates), but I knew I needed to get to my job because it was Monday morning and I was still a little drunk and I needed to make money (IF YOU NANNY TWO BABIES FOR A LIVING DO NOT GO INTO WORK WITH A BROKEN FOOT AND A BELLY FULL OF DAY OLD ALCOHOL.  YOU’VE BEEN WARNED).  Not only was my foot swelling up rapidly, but I ended up vomiting in my mouth and having to swallow it THREE TIMES because the parents hadn’t left the home yet.  You guys, I was a mess.  I don’t know how I didn’t get fired that day, or how I didn’t drive my car into a river in shame, but I got through it.  And at that time I decided that I should take a longer break from drinking.  In fact, I had one more drink after that, a beermosa (courtesy of Andy Kukowski) while binge watching season 3 of House of Cards.  After that, I just didn’t feel the need to drink.  Walking around with a big boot and the memory of what an idiot I was really makes you stay away from the golden juice.  But the final nail in the coffin was my therapy session where we were almost done, and my therapist said, “I’m afraid that if this isn’t your rock bottom, then what will be?”  And at that moment, I knew she was right.

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And I hated her for how right she was.  I began to cry, and she asked me what I was thinking and feeling.  So I spilled all the fears that immediately flooded my mind.  That I’ll never enjoy a drink again.  That people will judge me for not drinking.  That I won’t feel the comfort and warmth of being buzzed or drunk.  That I’ll have to make all my hardest decisions with a sober mind.  That I’ll have to meet people and date without the fuzzy love of a nursed drink.  That I’ll have to accept myself as I am instead of hiding behind a bottle of wine.  That every emotion I have with have to be dealt with up front instead of being forced down into my gut.  And that was a LOT TO DEAL WITH.

But only some of those things came true.  Sure, I had my last drink, but it’s not something I crave.  I don’t have the comfort of alcohol at social gatherings or on dates and that has led me to find out more about myself and who I am and be true to that in front of strangers.  I’ve still made some important decisions and haven’t died of the stress without booze.  And dealing with emotions is still hard, but I tend to move past them quicker if I face them head on instead of putting them away for later.  Sure, there are times when I go out with friends to a bar or restaurant and yearn for a drink with my food, or want the energy a drink gives me so I can get crazy on the dance floor.  Or I’ll be on a first date and want to have the comfort of a drink to take away the nerves and edge that comes with meeting a new person.  And I will always want a cold beer on an extremely hot day.  But I know myself, and I know that going back to the way I was is a huge possibility if I start drinking again.  I don’t want to be that mess again.  I see that mess most weekends in other people, and I’ve moved past that stage of my life. Sure, it’s a little out of the ordinary for a 27-year old to be sober, especially while in a career that is built around networking and socializing with drinks.  But I’ve never felt more grounded, more whole, and more myself than these last six months.  The support I receive and feel from others is incredible, and it’s one of the biggest factors that keeps me sober.  And while it can be a real battle some days to choose water, soda, ANYTHING over a drink, I feel that with support of my friends and family, weekly chats with my therapist and most important of all TALKING ABOUT IT, I can continue this sober journey with the confidence and faith that my life is changing for the better.

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If you have ANY questions for me about sober living or a drinking problem, or you just want to talk about your own struggle with addiction or a substance problem, please feel free to contact me either via FB or email (erincdaly87@gmail.com).  I’m not a therapist and cannot give advice but I am always willing to be a listening ear and talk about your options and choices.  And if you’d like more information on addiction or substance abuse, you can visit Alcoholics Anonymous at http://www.aa.org.

-E Daly