How’d you decide to get sober?
I knew that my drinking had gotten heavier in the pandemic. As I started getting better with my eating disorder, I didn’t have an outlet for anxiety.
When COVID hit, I had recently started my business [as a therapist]. I had to change everything to telehealth and figure out scheduling. I was super overworked and compartmentalizing a lot of my own stuff.
I got to a place where I felt like I needed to have a buzz to sleep. Otherwise I was so anxious at night, trying to process my own shit while holding stuff for other people. I felt like all my coping tools went out the window.
Then one night in fall 2020, my wife and I were hanging out with friends outside socially distanced. I blacked out and don’t remember a lot of the night, but I do remember that I did real harm to my relationship. That was kind of a wakeup call for me. I was like, “I’m not in a space where I have good coping tools right now, so I’m going to try not drinking and see what happens.”
I will say: the withdrawal process sucked.
Yeah, that first two and a half months, I was so exhausted; I have never been that tired in my life. My brain was so foggy. Then for a couple weeks I was ecstatic, and eventually it went back to baseline.
Yeah, I had really bad headaches, brain fogginess, and exhaustion. Then one day I woke up and had the most mental clarity I’d ever had in my entire life. I felt the most in tune with my mind, body, and spirit I had ever been. That mental clarity has helped me deal with my own trauma in therapy in a way I wasn’t able to do before. And being sober completely saved my marriage.
Another thing was that I came from an evangelical family, and right after undergrad when I was still closeted, I married a man. I hated having sex, so I would get blackout drunk to not remember. I was also sexually assaulted by a really close friend when I was in grad school, so I was using alcohol as a way to forget what was happening.
When the pandemic hit, I fell into an old pattern. I was like “I don’t have coping tools for this, and I’m supposed to hold space for other people?” I felt like I was failing as a new therapist.
What was it like getting sober during the pandemic?
Honestly, I think it was easier than if I had tried to do it when we could go out. So much of my social life revolved around alcohol.
I was quarantined with a partner who has never had any issues with alcohol or substances. I have a bunch of friends who have also gone through this who were like, “I’ve got you.” I was able to reach out to you and other folks, and I realized there were more people out there. I think it was really important to find queer community with sobriety.
What are some things you do for your recovery?
I’m finding things to do that don’t involve alcohol, like roller skating. My wife and I have been hiking every weekend. I’ve gotten back into yoga. I’ve been getting more into astrology, as a tool for journaling and introspection. I’m in therapy. I’ve been doing inner child work, which has been really helpful as a closeted queer child who had to live in an oppressive family environment.
My anxiety can be a protector in some ways; it doesn’t want me to feel rejection, hurt, shame or guilt. Sometimes when a caregiver part or an anxious part can’t keep those vulnerable spaces from activating, we have what’s called reactive parts. That’s alcohol use, suicidal or intrusive thoughts, binge-watching or scrolling mindlessly on our phones, dissociating. Those reactive parts are like, “This is how we squash those feelings.” I’ve been thinking of it as, “How can I balance this, so all these parts work in tandem?”
Just yesterday in therapy I talked about rethinking the times people had called me self-destructive. I was like, “I’m realizing it’s the opposite; I was trying to take care of myself.” I identify as having an addiction, but I don’t think it’s just alcohol. Getting rid of alcohol was really important for me to do a lot of work. But I also have a history of eating disorders, and I do a lot of things in compulsive ways to try to squash that anxiety, trauma, and pain.
Yeah, internal family systems is the therapeutic technique. I use it a lot in my own profession, but I’ve been using it a lot with myself. There can be good anxiety; it can give you warning signs for danger or anxious butterflies when you’re excited. But if your anxiety is driving you, you’re losing your core self. I try to show gratitude for those parts—and one thing that has been really hard is to show gratitude for those restricting or drinking parts. Yeah, they’re undesirable, but they got me through some really hard times.
I acknowledge that this stuff had intentions to protect me, but I also hold myself accountable and make right for how I’ve hurt other people.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in yourself since you got sober?
I have so much more energy. I was able to detox from an antidepressant I’ve been on for over a decade that has really scary side effects. I found out about an underlying health issue that affected fatigue, attention, and focus, and got treatment for it. I don’t know if I would have ever known. I feel more present in my body. I’m coming to a place of feeling neutral about it, and I’ve never felt neutral about it.
I’ve also noticed that I’m able to connect better with the folks I’m working with.
At first, I felt really ashamed, because I was like, “I’m a therapist; I’m not supposed to be fucked up.” But I realized that my experiences give me a different thought process and set of skills than just reading out of a textbook. Not that I’m disclosing about it, but I have these tools that I have worked on, so I can validate people in a very genuine way.
That was all the questions I had, but is there anything you want to add?
At first, I was having a lot of imposter syndrome around sobriety. I was really wrapped up in labels. I was like, “Am I an alcoholic? Am I not?” Then I realized: I don’t think it matters. The fact is that I was using alcohol in an unhealthy way.
I think it’s nice that all the folks I’ve talked to have different ideas of sobriety. Just because my situation is different than another person’s doesn’t mean they’re not both valid. The beauty of hearing other people’s stories is realizing that there is no one way.
*Name has been changed