Breaking up with Alcohol
Updated: Aug 28, 2021
Most of us are in a relationship with alcohol whether we drink or not. You might be strangers, new acquaintances, longstanding best friends, or committed lovers. Regardless of where you and alcohol are at, it’s probably played a role in your life in one way or another.
It’s also important to know that an individual’s relationship with alcohol can change drastically over time. Although genetics can factor into addiction, they don’t have to. You’re not ‘born an alcoholic’ and you can develop an issue with substances or drugs at any time in your life.
"You're not 'born an alcoholic' and you can develop an issue with substances or drugs at any time in your life."
My personal relationship with alcohol was complicated. From a young age, I knew we weren’t good for each other. But it was difficult to walk away from alcohol. In its true narcissistic fashion, it told me what I wanted to hear: that it would drown my worries and fears, bring me peace and happiness, and simplify my life. Of course, those were all lies…but by the time I had figured that out, it was too late - I was in love.
My love affair with drinking continued throughout my teen years and early 20’s – where we found our stride. After hitting the self-destruct button more times than I can count, I finally realized that the toxicity between us had to stop. Alcohol didn’t like the thought of me leaving, though. It promised me that if I gave it one more chance, it would stop making my life unlivable.
So, I agreed to continue our arrangement with new guidelines. The new rules meant less drinking and more self-control – all things that I started to get a pretty good hold on as time went on. I started to believe that I was out-growing alcohol. But it turns out, it was just growing with me.
While my attempt at moderation was well meaning and quite an improvement, it didn’t end up doing me any favors in the long run. Regardless of cutting back, alcohol was still an active presence in my life. So, slowly but surely and just like any unhealthy relationship, it chipped away at my soul more and more as time went on.
Because I stayed with alcohol, everything that I felt shame over in relation to my drinking continued to build up and subsequently weigh me down. The shame and guilt grew worse and worse, my self-esteem crumbled, and I felt like a shell of who I used to be. I was so unhappy, but I felt trapped.
I experienced these horrible feelings due to alcohol while concurrently continuing to drink in an attempt to do away with the same horrible feelings.
One of my favourite quotes of all time is: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again - but expecting different results” – Albert Einstein.
That’s exactly what I was doing in my relationship with alcohol. I tried thousands of times to make things better between us. You would assume that when I stopped trying, things would have gotten better, but it was just the opposite. Once I finally quit trying to force alcohol to become a 'normal' part of my life, I realized that I couldn't...and I gave up.
I gave up on the thought of ever leaving it behind and I accepted my fate: “I am a drinker. I will always be a drinker and that’s okay. Society says it’s okay. Really, it’s okay, Brit. You’re fine. You’re miserable, but you’re fine. You’re falling apart inside, but it’s alright. Just keep doing what you’re doing – it’ll work itself out eventually”.
The new perspective that I tried to force on myself didn’t work for long. Ultimately, it only compounded my shame and guilt, and made me feel downright disgusted with myself.
I often think about the last day that I drank…and the months leading up to it. I always ask other sober folk what made them decide to quit – how did they find the courage to break up with alcohol? Everyone’s answer is different, yet similar.
Some were forced to quit because they would have died if they hadn’t.
Some started with “Sober October” or “Dry January” and just kept a good thing going.
Some hit bottom…hard. And it was the wake-up call they needed.
Some were forced with an ultimatum – their addiction or their life/family/job/relationship.
And some, like me, had had enough. The strength I needed accumulated slowly over time until one day I walked away. And like most breakups or losses, I grieved.
I spent the first few weeks in a state that I can only describe as shock and denial. “Who am I now, what do I do with myself, how do I navigate through this?” are things that I constantly asked myself. I didn’t fully believe in what I was doing either – it didn’t feel real yet and I couldn’t accept it as being real yet. I felt numb to it most of the time: unable to tie any specific emotion to what I was experiencing.
I never thought that my choice to quit drinking would have such a powerful effect on me.
My feelings of guilt and shame didn’t end with quitting either. During the first few months, I reflected a great deal on the damage I had done to my body, mind, and soul. I regretted every drink, every moment that I wasted…wasted. I worried, thinking “maybe it’s too late and the damage is done”. I felt deserving of the worst possible outcome because of what I had willingly done to myself.
"I felt deserving of the worst possible outcome because of what I had willingly done to myself"
Around the time that I had two months under my belt, I was still feeling like an awkward baby deer learning to walk. I was still going through many days ‘one minute at a time’ and eventually started to crawl out of my skin. The thought, “When does this shit get easier?!” played on repeat in my mind. I wasn’t feeling numb or guilty anymore. Instead, I started feeling angry.
“Why me?” I thought. “Who in the fuck has me under their magnifying glass and has decided to ruin my god damn life by never allowing me to drink again?” Everyone annoyed me. My own existence annoyed me. I just wanted to sleep away the agony and wake up repaired and rejuvenated. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.
I heard someone once say something like, “you have to FEEL it to HEAL it” and that’s so annoyingly true.
‘Feeling it’ sucked. Clearly, I hated feeling things – that’s why I drank to begin with! I started bargaining with myself. I wondered, “Could I moderate now? What if I just drank on weekends – and only, like, 3 drinks on Friday and Saturday? Everyone else still drinks and they’re okay…I think. Most people didn’t even think I had a problem. They’re probably right - I’m fine. Why am I even doing this?!” Thoughts of moderation quickly consumed me and I panicked. I couldn’t remember even one reason why I had quit to begin with. It was honestly as if my mind’s slate had been wiped clean, and I was left with one prerogative: return to alcohol.
Fortunately, sensible me had made a solid plan when she still had her head. I had written down a comprehensive list of all of the reasons why I no longer needed alcohol in my life. I had narrowed that list down to my top 5 reasons and saved them to my phone. I didn’t have to read past my first reason before changing my mind. I’m a mom - so you can likely guess who those reasons were.
So instead of drinking, I sat there with my stupid feelings and felt everything. And what I felt wasn’t what I expected at all – it was grief. I became absolutely overwhelmed with grief.
I grieved over not being able to moderate.
I grieved over never drinking again.
I grieved over the years I lost to drinking.
I grieved over my former self…and then I let that shit go.
From that day forward, it was like the rain finally stopped coming down. It got easier, life felt normal, simpler, and happier for the first time ever. I felt pride over how far I had come, and my confidence grew.
I felt overcome with gratitude for what my life still had in store, instead of guilt over the time I had lost.
I started feeling moments of random happiness instead of dread.
Finally, I accepted that I could no longer drink, and not only that – I was okay with it.
I broke up with alcohol.
I’m not writing this to try and sell you on sobriety or to convince you that my life is perfect now. I still have hard days, but they’ve become less about drinking and more about healing.
Today was one of those hard days. In my previous life, I would have treated myself to a glass of wine or three and called it a night. I would have woken up with regret and hating myself just to restart the process of what would likely be another bad day.
Today, I’m choosing to end this shit-tastic day better than it started. Because, my best day drunk still comes second to my worst day sober. ✌️