I didn’t really know how to deal with life when I gave up drinking two and a half years ago. Wine was my go-to coping mechanism for any up or down I faced. I drank to celebrate, and I drank to forget. I drank when I was bored or lonely or unhappy or angry or stressed or shy, and when I was none of those things.
The point is, I drank. A lot. Four or five times a week. By myself. I could see it was a problem, but I couldn’t see what my life might be like without it.
I gave it up after a particularly stressful couple of months at work that saw me on the road a lot. I never sleep well when I’m sleeping away from my husband, so I drank myself to sleep, alone in my hotel rooms, hating my life but not quite ready to fix it.
But I did. I came to the point where I knew I couldn’t go on like that anymore – not without ruining my marriage and my life – so I committed to quitting drinking, and I did it.
It’s a tough thing to admit you’re an alcoholic at 27. Alcoholics are grizzled old men day drinking in bars. Alcoholics are boozy old women who sneak flasks into work. Alcoholics are people who can’t hold down jobs, who get into car accidents after driving drunk, who live on the street and tremble when they need a drink.
They’re not people like me – young women who pick up a bottle of wine after a long day at their lucrative job when they’re on their way home to a nice condo and a good husband.
Moving past that mindset – that stigma – was one of the hardest things about quitting drinking, one that I’m still struggling with today. I mean, I don’t want you guys to think I’m an alcoholic. What a terrible thing, to be an alcoholic when you’re not even 30.
But it’s because we don’t talk about it that we don’t realize it’s a growing problem among young people. One-fifth of women between 25 and 34 drink “riskily” in Canada, according to the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse. I know I’m not alone in this – but I’ve never had someone share with me they have their own problem with alcohol.
And there’s no handbook on how to overcome this as a young(ish) person (well, maybe there is, but buying a book on alcoholism would be like admitting I have a problem, and denial has been a constant companion in this journey.)
I mean, what do you do when everyone around you is drinking? What do you do when your social life centres around pubs and tasty, tasty Guinness? What do you tell people when you order diet pepsi instead of wine? How do you cope? How do you spend your time?
You figure it out. You order non-alcoholic beer, or offer to be the designated driver, or blame a headache, or pick up a bottle of non-alcoholic wine for family dinners where wine is always on the table. You find new ways to spend your time, like bootcamps or yoga or movies or long walks. And you find new ways to cope. You blog or you meditate or you pour your heart out to your spouse.
You figure it out. Because you have no other choice.
Removing alcohol as an option has given me so many other options. Now, I can weather frustration and anger and loneliness without trying to numb my feelings. Now, I know I can reach for so many better things to sooth my soul when I’m feeling down. Now, I can have the odd glass of wine (or even the odd overindulgence when I’m out with friends) and enjoy alcohol as it’s meant to be enjoyed – socially.
Admitting I have a problem with alcohol – admitting I’m an alcoholic (ugh, there’s that word again!) – has been hard, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But I figured it out. Because I had no other choice.