This time, sharing is tough, I mean really tough. I am writing about my experience as an alcoholic and how it has affected my being truthful and living with anxiety. That sentence is probably one of the most difficult ones I have ever written. Harder than any break ups, harder than choosing to start my own business in an area where people don’t have much money … more difficult than ANYTHING I have ever done. Why? Because I have been very selective in sharing the fact that I am an alcoholic. The people who have that information have been carefully chosen for varying reasons. I acknowledge that to go public (so to speak) with this information via this blog is huge for me. One reason I have been careful about admitting that I am an alcoholic is because of the stigma attached to it. I am a professional with a business to run. I am dependent on my work for my livelihood. My fear was that if people knew this truth then they would assume I am not competent to help them.
As a person with an alcohol problem (I have been sober for over 22 years), I pay attention to what others say about alcoholics. And I know what I say to myself. In fact, the worst messages came from me while I was drinking and often times still do. Messages of failure, excuses why not to stop drinking as well as why I was drinking. Truly it was endless. Even now on occasion I find myself reasoning, with myself, about why it would be safe, why it would be okay to have a drink, or two, or three or … well you get the picture. This is the universal plight of addiction - the truth of what those of us live with day in and day out. Mental activity is an on-going refinement process. It is also the path to learning active self-love. The journey to self-love can be a rocky path.
Sobriety is an ongoing battle, and some people (alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike) see that as weakness, or even worse as laziness on the alcoholics part.
What I have come to realize is true for me is that one of the main reasons I drank alcohol was because I felt better when I did. Yes, it is that simple. I suspect that in large part I was covering up anxious feelings which made me feel uncomfortable. Having a few drinks took the bad feelings away, at least for a while. I have come to understand that alcoholism, truth and anxiety all go hand in hand. Masking feelings of anxiety (or any feelings) with alcohol just prolongs dealing with the reasons for the anxiety. Denying the feelings of anxiety by numbing out to them was not allowing myself to face the truth of what was wrong in my life. The answer involved no longer drinking.
When a person stops drinking I believe that they have to learn to live all over again. They have to learn how to live each hour of the day free of alcohol and know what to do with the feelings and thoughts that come up. Especially the ones they were running away from, the ones they used alcohol to numb. What I have also found is that alcoholics, when sober, have fewer sober memories to draw from for understanding who they are, what they really want, and what they need. Many of the memories of the past years are distorted by alcohol.
When I think about how I felt about something in the past, those memories are colored by the alcohol I was drinking at the time. I feel as if I lost a huge chunk of my life. As I look back over the years, the Dawn of today and the last 20 years … does not resemble the Dawn of the drinking days in so many ways. I feel as if a new life began when I turned 37. Many of the things that were fun and gave me enjoyment previous to becoming sober did so because of the influence of alcohol. Now as I make choices about what I want and what I enjoy, what makes me truly happy it is often challenging. So much of what used to be fun, what I thought was a good choice was all experienced while involved with alcohol.
Certainly in the last 20 years I have been able to have fun and make great choices about what I want. But as this dance with anxiety and the truth gets more intense I am realizing that much of my present sadness comes from a limited collection of sober memories to support my life today.
Good times and happy memories can be part of what helps direct us forward when we make choices about what we want or don’t want to do. I have fewer of them than I realized as I started considering my history in this context. My "good-time happy memories" are frequently distortions because of my use of alcohol at that time! It can be challenging when I am deciding what I want to do. I think I might enjoy something and then remember, “oh yes, it was fun because I had had a few drinks.” I have also found this to be true when I want to think about how I was as a person, how much energy I had, what a great mood I was in, how flexible and patient I used to be in the past. So much of my being those things was made possible because of the alcohol. Now, sober, I am harder on myself, more critical. I wonder why I can’t be more easy-going like I used to be.
And then I realize I am remembering a woman who used alcohol to make life “seem” to run smoother.
Shining the light of Truth on all aspects of my life has caused me to realize that the condition of my life, the results that I am living with from the choices I made over the last 22 years have been greatly affected by the limited sober years I have lived my life.
Now, as I am learning and evolving more quickly, no messing around, no time for letting fear paralyze me any longer. I have roads to travel and joy to experience - all without alcohol. Is this easy? Not always! But the freedom from living under the influence of alcohol has given me the ability to see the truth more clearly and face the feelings of anxiety in a more solution-oriented way.
A note from Laurel
Thanks Dawn for kicking us off with this important topic. We will be focusing on addictive patterns for a few weeks, acknowledging the life-draining, power-draining force of them. We want to support you in making changes consciously in order to create the life that brings you fulfillment and joy - every day :)