Can you tell me about your path to sobriety? What led you to the decision?
In the summer of 2013, I was coming out of hands-down the most destructive relationship I had ever been in. I had been drinking a lot for a long time, but this summer was different. I was blacking out when I was alone, three to four nights a week. And my anxiety was off the charts. Just waking up with anxiety hangovers. You have this weird guilt looming over you all day, trying to remember—but also not wanting to know—if you did anything stupid.
Then one particular night—I don’t remember any of this—I started expressing suicidal thoughts to a friend. Suddenly I stopped talking, which set off the alarm bells to my friend, who kept calling me. She basically said, “If you don’t answer your phone right now and let me come pick you up, you’re going to force me to call 9-1-1.”
According to her, when she came to the door, I was sobbing and had a knife in my hand. She grabbed it and threw it and made me get in the car. On the way to the hospital, I was grabbing the steering wheel, and when we got to the hospital I tried to run out.
Finally, they got me admitted. I woke up and I was hooked up to the IVs. A nurse came in and told me that my blood alcohol level was over .30. You start getting higher than that and that’s when you get close to lethal alcohol amounts in your system.
That was where it started. I immediately got into therapy; I stopped drinking; I stopped smoking. I just did this complete 180.
What are some of the big, high-level changes you’ve noticed since being sober?
My decision-making is just better. One of the biggest things is my impulsiveness. I swear the alcohol stuff must—I don’t know what it is—just change your brain chemistry somehow or short-circuit something in there. When I was drinking, I didn’t have it in me to stop long enough to say no to something. I was constantly doing things like overdrinking, overeating, hooking up with people that I didn’t want to be hooking up with, bingeing on everything basically.
There was no willpower available at all. To quit drinking is an exercise of willpower. It is this muscle that you need to strengthen, and so maybe that’s where it came from.
Also, it’s been long enough now that when I’m feeling stressed or upset, the desire or impulse to cope with alcohol doesn’t exist anymore. I have more space to just let myself process whatever the emotion is that I’m in, instead of immediately trying to drown it out.
Has the pandemic affected your sobriety at all?
No, not even a little bit. There are weird triggers every once in a while, but it never has anything to do with anxiety or stress.
I went into a liquor store to get a mini bottle of champagne as a congratulations for my colleague who just passed a big exam. I never go into liquor stores, and there was something about walking through it where I suddenly got transported back in time to walking through the liquor store looking for things to buy for myself.
So I think it’s triggered sometimes by sights and smells, but not because of anxiety or stress.
The pandemic forced me to make a change that I had been considering for a while, which was going on medication. It kind of backed me into a corner, and was just like, “Hey, you need to take better care of yourself.”
What does your sobriety program look like?
Definitely therapy. I’ve been to therapy on and off over the past seven years.
My current therapist and I do a lot of EMDR. It can be difficult because it asks you to step back into some really deep and painful memories, and you literally have to re-live it so that you can move through it. A lot of those memories that we’re moving through are from times when I was drinking and doing really destructive things.
I also have this group of sober moms that do Zoom meetings every day. I always appreciate having other sober people to talk to.
What you said was interesting; people talk about dealing with trauma by medicating with alcohol or drugs, but there’s also dealing with the trauma that happened when you were drinking.
Yeah, and it’s hard, but you have to face that stuff. The reason I went back to therapy is because I was starting to resent myself. I didn’t want to hold on to these things anymore. I could feel that a lot of the pain from that time was taking up space in my physical being.
I finally said, “I resent how this trauma is showing up in my body, and I resent how it’s showing up with how I communicate and interact with the world. I don’t want to hold onto the anger anymore that I feel towards people that assaulted me when I was drinking, and I don’t want to carry the guilt with me anymore of the stupid things I said when I was drinking.”
When I’ve gone through these EMDR processes, it has been able to communicate to this part of my brain—that I haven’t been able to reach on my own—that you are so much farther away from that person. The you today would never make those decisions; the you today advocates for yourself and believes in you and makes really good decisions. And the you today knows how to not beat yourself up for those things and learn from them and move on. It’s just two completely different selves.
It’s good to not have those things in me anymore. I want space for more love.
Yes. I used to feel like there was something inherently wrong with me, but I have so much internal self-trust now. I trust myself to take care of myself, and to make good decisions, and to advocate for myself. It’s such a different experience.
Yeah, like in my session yesterday, my 35-year-old present self had to go back in time and talk to my 24-year-old self. But what was really powerful was that—one of the things with EMDR is it’s all about what is popping up in your brain—and I heard myself say to myself, “You’re safe now.”