August 5, 2016, was the worst day of my life. August 6, 2016 was the day I took my power back by finally surrendering to my secret demon, alcoholism. Many of you know the gist of it but not many know the gory details of my crash and burn. Some of you may still be confused, because on the outside I did my best to portray a hip, with-it, successful image up to that bitter “Blackout Friday”, as I call it now. My messy insides, which I had become increasingly worse at hiding over the years, were showing just enough to scare those closest to me, or be noticeable to those with similar demons. I was a fearful, awkward, whiny, codependent, self-medicating shitshow of a little girl trapped inside a grown woman’s body. All my problems were someone else’s fault and I somehow felt sure that normal, moderate drinking and drug use and a happy life were always just around the next corner, slightly out of reach. I just had to unlock that elusive, magic secret I believed was out there, and then I could enjoy my drinking and my life like everyone else seemed to be doing.
But let’s take it back a bit. I started drinking at age 18 because it WORKED and I wasn’t stupid. Actually, I was quite good at life, smart, successful, high-achieving, loyal to my friends. The thing that alcohol did for me was simply adjust the introverted part of my personality which I loathed. Booze turned up the volume on my social skills and self confidence. It made me more comfortable being me. And I loved that. Alcoholics and addicts aren’t stupid; usually far from it. Maybe we’re a little awkward. Maybe we’re a little bored with life. Maybe we’ve got some trauma we don’t know how to let go of. So we’re smart enough to find something that smoothes out our edges, helps whatever shit we’ve been through seem less grave, and makes life a little more fun.
The crux of alcohol addiction is that it takes over your life in slow, sneaky creep. There’s no crisp, identifiable transition day, on one side of which you’re “normal” and on the other side of which you are addicted. I had a lot of fun with my drinking and partying for a long time. But almost from the very beginning, I would black out. I thought it was normal. It’s only on the other side of my drinking days that I realize there really are people in life who have never blacked out from drinking, or only done it once. Before, I always thought they were lying. Time passed, months and years and travels punctuated by trying alllllll the drinks in each new country. Couchsurfing, party hostels, bartending jobs, getting into home brewing and wine tasting— all easy ways to enable myself. I started to have fun times mixed with “oops-I-blacked-out-and-I-hope-I didn’t-do-anything-stupid” times. Then the hangovers got worse and worse, and I had to drink them away. It was the only thing that worked. A vodka shot in my Yerba Mate in the morning to smooth out my hungover anxiety, turned into a water bottle filled up with Pinot Grigio during my lunch break. How my coworkers didn’t realize this, I’ll never know. Maybe they did, and just didn’t care. I was still good enough at my job, but nowhere as good as I could have been. I took great pride in being the “fun boss”, and would stay at my party-atmosphere workplace drinking with the co-workers I managed until “one beer” became a 1am blackout and another night of bad sleep, before doing it all again the next day.
Towards the end, I drank like my life depended on it, because I felt like it did. Alcohol began having the opposite affect on me — energizing me to the point of mania, instead of calming me down. So I’d be drunk, slurring dumbly, repeating myself, in a blackout, with so much energy I didn’t know what to do with it besides decide to “dance the night away” (my real self doesn’t even like clubs or raves or dance parties much), annoyingly try to communicate grandiose, artistic revelations and discoveries about how wonderful life was that I would never remember, try to have deep (at least I thought they were) chats while closing down the bar, only to end up eventually throwing up in an alley or something, stumbling home and passing out on the doorstep ‘cause I couldn’t find my keys, and then eventually reaching unconsciousness in my bed for only a couple hours until I sobered up enough to wake with horrible anxiety and an atrocious hangover. Increasingly, I’d decide it was as great idea to do drugs before I reached the passout stage. These decisions would inevitably be regretted once I did want to go to bed and couldn’t, due to whatever amphetamines or psychadelics were racing through my system. This problem could only be solved with Xanax. I could never come down from anything without drinking beer like someone dying of thirst drinks water. IPA, Tecate with lime, or cheap Trader Joes wine was my crutch for any uncomfortable experience. Getting in screaming fights with my husband that I would never remember was a go-to release for frustration. I stopped sleeping. I would only pass out temporarily, then wake up with horrible anxiety, or knock myself out with Xanax.
Each time something crazy like this happened I deemed it “a learning experience” which I would surely not repeat. Except I would. Probably the next weekend. At several different points I decided yoga or running would save me, signing up for month-long yoga challenges or buying Groupons for new yoga studios, or registering for races I could never keep up with training for. Despite my failed fitness attempts, I eventually began to lose weight because I stopped being able to eat while drinking. Through most of my drinking years, I was notorious for getting the “drunk munchies” and eating tons of junk food to soak up all the booze. In the end I could barely pick at burritos, eating only a couple bites, while chugging beer and whiskey. Just like the alcohol-induced mania, I now see this as another sign that my mind, body, and spirit were all desperately screaming at me to stop.
As I spiraled I began to realize something needed to change. I was still convinced that moderation was possible. After my blacked-out mess of a 29th birthday celebration in Mexico, I gave up alcohol for 40 days and completed the “30-Day Sobriety Solution” workbook, which gave me more self-knowledge about my consumption habits, reinforcing to me that I definitely had a problem. Coming to the end of the book and the end of the month and feeling better than I had felt in years, I completely ignored the last chapter of the book which advises you not return to alcohol at all if you feel like “drinking to get drunk.” I figured I had taken a long break, so I could handle drinking again. This was a mere six weeks before what would ultimately become my last drink. I picked up more projects in my photography/videography business. One of these was pretty damn close to my dream job, shooting several PSAs for a nonprofit organization I had volunteered for in the past. However, approaching this work as an overcommitted alcoholic in denial about how out of control my life was, the underfunded project quickly started to feel like more of a burden than a blessing. It was with this mindset that I approached the day of an important interview shoot for the gig.
Stressed out by too many jobs, a hangover, knowing I was drinking too much again, and poor communication with the nonprofit client, I got through my workday in the only way I knew how — by secretly drinking through it. I was mentally unraveling, calling my mom crying and complaining while drinking wine in my car before going in late to film the nonprofit gig. The whole conversation I ranted about how all my stress was other people’s fault and I was being taken advantage of, bla bla bla. My memory stops shortly thereafter, so to make a long story short what happened thereafter probably goes something like this:
*I was obviously drunk and useless at the gig and since I was late they had already started without me. *I left in a blackout and wandered through a bad part of town, left my whole huge Pelican case of camera gear somewhere never to be found again, called my husband and got him to pick me up and take me home. *Yep, that’s right, I got blacked out drunk before work and left my $1000s of dollars of video and photo equipment somewhere in an alley in City Heights. *I scoured the alleys around the location the next morning but of course, it was Gone. Forever.
Waking up the next morning with the memories and the questions about the previous night flooding back to me, I felt the worst feeling of dread, hopelessness, and humiliation I’ve ever experienced. Still drunk, I immediately jumped into trying to put a Bandaid on the gaping wound in my life, running back to City Heights to fruitless try to find my lost shit. It was long gone, along with my identity as a creative entrepreneur, a successful, put-together woman. After that I bought a bottle of wine, went to work just long enough to make sure they could get by without me for the day, declared myself sick, went to the bar for a shot and a beer, then went home and got in bed. I knew I was done. I begged my husband to take me to rehab. He was so mad he was barely speaking to me, and refused. I laid in bed, useless, detoxing, hallucinating, exhausted, for the better part of three days. Gobsmacked by the reality of my situation and what had transpired, I was mentally convinced and felt emotionally as if I had been drunk for all of 2016, 8 months straight. Although that wasn’t true it wasn’t too far off. I got in trouble with my job and was forced to tell them the truth about what was happening. Mercifully, they were understanding and supportive of me going to rehab if needed. I still can’t believe I didn’t get fired. Of course, I also lost the freelance gig as I had to embarrassingly apologize for my behavior there. All the career embarrassment and financial loss sucked, but it didn’t really register to me in the grand scope of how fucked up I was. I almost didn’t want to live and I had no idea how I would continue to live without alcohol. I just knew, finally and fully, that I had no other choice.
Soon I was out. Out to my boss, out to my mom, out to my husband and a few close friends. I was that girl, the girl who had a problem, the girl who took it too far, the girl who had lost her privileges and was now facing up to a boring life without everyone’s favorite substances. I had no idea how to get back to a normal state of mental health, much less how to start to clean up all the messes I had made, so I did the only thing I knew might help — I went to an AA meeting. And then another and then another. I identified myself as an alcoholic. I smiled weakly when people tried to be nice and welcoming to me. I got a sponsor and a book. “I began the work of owning my own life.” (— Someone else said that, not me, but I can’t find who.) At first I didn’t tell anyone that didn’t need to know. I was constantly fretful and depressed about my many mistakes and how I had let things escalate to this level. My marriage suffered the consequences of not only my years of blackout anger and lying, but also the unevenness of my precarious new sobriety and my husband’s continued indulgence. It would suffer similarly for years…
But I didn’t drink on August 9. Or August 10 or 11 or 12. I went back to work and grinned through the awkwardness and embarrassment and apologies. I only cried in my office a few times. I got through it. And in the same slow, insidious way that addiction creeped into my soul and cracked it into a million pieces, slowly, with barely a whisper, wholeness, (holiness) started to glue me back together. There were rooms full of people who looked similar to me, who had been through similar things or worse, who spoke the truth with authenticity instead of pretending they were “fine” all the time, who didn’t fault me as morally weak for acting the way I had acted. There was sleep. Real, glorious, restful sleep. There was drinking just Diet Coke in a cocktail glass and forcing myself to dance at the first sober wedding I went to, only a couple weeks into my new life. Getting through it. There was the staff party when I played beer pong and acted silly and made my partner drink all my beer. Then the next morning when everyone I worked with felt like shit and I felt great. I was “taking a break” for a long time to a lot of people. Eventually they figured it out. It’s amazing how little people we think care so much about our consumption habits actually care. There was my best friend coming to visit and me being the DD, taking her through Mexican wine country. There were all the parties and bars I went to sober, determined “not to let my life change that much”, ha. There was the first time I laughed a real belly laugh in sobriety. There was the first time I told someone I didn’t have to tell that I was sober and was met with respect. There was real eating, and running, and yoga, and jumping in the ocean without the haze, with every molecule of my body awake to the sensations of each experience.
At the risk of glossing over a long and challenging journey, it was raw, it was hard, it sucked, and it got better. It felt like I was emotionally 18 again. It felt like I had to relearn everything I thought I knew how to do. How to fill my lungs with sweet, clean air and breathe in grace in a world choking on alcohol and drugs. And it was simultaneously awesome, wonderful, freeing, liberating, life-affirming and so gratifying. It was all of these things. I’ll write more about it next time.
There was learning how to not go to parties that I didn’t want to go to.
There was learning who I really was and what I actually liked doing — hiking, camping, being in nature, yoga, reading, not going to parties I didn’t want to go to, being at home with my dogs.
There was the time I forgave myself.
There were the times I got to hug strangers and tell them that it would be okay, because I also royally fucked up my life and just because they did too it didn't have to be that way forever.
There was suddenly seeing the signs and synchronicities and beauty all around me and feeling the otherworldly and unmistakable feeling of my soul expanding at a rapid rate, my life blooming out around me almost too fast, the universe giving me the opportunities I had always wanted but didn’t believe I deserved.
There was August 8, 2017, the day I got one year sober and climbed to the summit of Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet, the highest peak in the continental United States. Because I can do anything.
There was Burning Man sober. The best burn ever. Because I can go anywhere.
There was the day my husband got sober. Because I never gave up on him, no matter how many times I almost did. And the whole time we were going through relationship hell I knew I would be okay no matter what.
There was and there is today, August, 8, 2018. Today I have not touched a drink for two years. Today I am living out a life bigger, more exciting and more impactful than my wildest dreams could imagine two years ago. The things I lost in my addiction have been restored to me plus more. I am a successful digital nomad, living out my love of travel and entrepreneurship. I am a yoga teacher, leading yoga and adventure retreats around the world in hopes of inspiring others to travel and seek growth. I'd love to have you join us. More importantly, I am an honest, true, dependable wife, daughter, sister, and friend again. Most importantly of all, I AM FREE.
Today my perception of my life is as if it has been split into two separate universes, my previous existence so unimaginable to me now that I can barely claim it as mine. The pain I thought would never stop crushing me registers to me now merely as a subtle ache when I write about it, just enough to reinforce my ownership of it, and press me forward, towards the stable peaks of awe and gratitude where I stand, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, gaping, as I watch the whole beautiful world laid out before me.
I don’t want to tidily sum up my story in a trite-seeming “moral” and I don’t begrudge anyone their drugs, alcohol, or freedom of choice. What I do know is there are other people in my shoes, other women who seem to have it all together and are crumbling inside. If that’s you, I see you, I’ll never judge you, and I love you. Send me a message.
A few closing thoughts for the road:
This was my journey, but everyone is different. I firmly believe there are many different paths to recovery and I would love to talk to you about what might work for you.
If you think you’re fine, then put it down. Take a break. Take a month. Take 90 days. See how much better than “fine” you could be.
We are drinking poison, something we put in our gas tanks, something that causes more diseases, accidents, and fatalities than other illegal drugs. We are coating this dangerous, legal drug in trendy labels, masking our dependency under the guise of being cool, hip, into craft. You know how long after I got sober it took me to realize how ridiculous and how big a time- and energy-waster the whole craft beer industry is? About 3 months.
We are simultaneously setting our guts on fire with poison while snuffing out our inner fire, numbing our spirits in order to feel a false sense of chill for a couple hours.
There is MORE TO LIFE people. There is looking in someone’s eyes when they talk to you and really hearing them. There is friendship without any masks. There is vulnerability. There is feeling your feelings. There is yoga and transcendental meditation and communing with the divine and shedding family narratives and all that hippie woo woo shit that actually HAPPENS once you are fully awake and present and ready for it.
No revolution will begin in a bar.