Last week I was filling out a new patient health questionnaire, giving details on my exercise level, water intake, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco use, when, for the first time ever, I marked the None box beside alcohol.
I used to lie on those questionnaires, downplaying.
It’s been one year. One dramatically different, altogether quiet and peaceful year. A month into sobriety, I had a glass of wine at a fancy dinner. It seemed like the thing to do, but it didn’t taste good and I felt like a fraud, drinking only to fit in. I ended up leaving it. In hindsight, I can see that dinner was a turning point, just as checking the None box was another. They are clicks, switches, personal proofs I relish encountering from time to time to remind me that I am done.
In my 20’s, I used to say that I was suspicious of anyone who didn’t drink, as if they were lacking and abnormal.
I spent my 30’s in a whirling social life, part glamorous, part bohemian, all indulgent, with alcohol as the frosting on a crumbling cake. A friend’s words ring in my ears to this day: “We love Kellie; we just don’t love drunk Kellie.” I was the girl who was too drunk to drive home at most parties. I would reliably show up with champagne at any Saturday morning event. I could have a blast doing anything so long as cocktails were involved. And of course, they always were.
Booze is so ingrained in our way of life that I’m inclined to become something of a conspiracy theorist: i.e., this great numbing of the masses is one of the many tools meant to keep us as distant as possible from our birthright – the Peace that Passeth Understanding. It should be a universal wisdom allowing our release from suffering, our enlightenment from the dark grasp of the ego, our salvation from a hell we wrought and wrangled ourselves.
Many years ago, author and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer said something that rocked me to the core…his own teacher had helped him to understand that so long as he was drinking (he had a one-beer-a-day habit) he would not be able to reach his spiritual goals. Heaven on earth wasn’t possible. Enlightenment was out of reach. Even from just one beer a day.
Such was the power of the almighty drink. Such is our propensity to create false gods.
Drug and alcohol addiction have a nasty stigma in our culture, as well they should, being life-destroyers and all. But in terms of spirituality, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, addiction is addiction is addiction. Sugar, shopping, success, sex, social media, etc., …it’s all a paltry replacement in our sadly human attempt to fill the void left gaping and raw from denying our connection to God.
Drinking just happened to be the one I needed to address first.
I was lucky. I had a drinking partner who loved me, loved Us. We quit together, even while we were apart and drowning. Once we had rebirthed our commitment and moved back in together, it was easy to put Us first. Socially here at The Angle, there was almost nothing we did without a drink in hand or imbibing heavily beforehand. So we quit all that too.
I’ve struggled here in this isolated place having zero friends that I see consistently. But, I was a selfish friend anyway. I was a lousy employee, a mess-making daughter, a neglectful sister, a whining writer, and even a bad mom.
But as the sober weeks wore on, each one easier than the last, life started to change. It became slower, sweeter and infinitely more satisfying. I don’t fear missing out as I used to and I don’t feel left-out, though we often were in the beginning.
My intuition is back. My patience – once I got through the physical and emotional detox – has increased. My desire to create is more purposeful and much more determined.
My skin and hair are healthier. My vision is sharper. My reflexes are keen and dependable. My struggle with extra weight is ever-present, but it’s now about making Tony’s favorite pasta and Iris’ favorite granola bars, rather than about consuming a thousand calories from a bottle on a barstool.
I hadn’t known how to love, how to give, how to listen, how to be still as I do now. The emotional ups and downs still come, but they are manageable because I’m aware instead of numb. Guilt, self-hatred and death used to plague my thoughts. No longer.
The first time I reached to join hands with my little family around the dinner table, it felt terribly awkward. I didn’t know how to pray so I looked them in the eyes and said quietly, “I love my family.”
That’s what not-drinking has become for me. I love my family, I love my man, and I’m starting to love myself enough to want what God wants for me.
I know it’s important to bless my past. I even bless the booze. I’m grateful for the journey. After all, it brought me here.
Here to this place where not drinking is normal, where the love of my nuclear family is just the beginning, where Check boxes help define how far I’ve come.
Life after drinking is worth the challenge of change. Life after drinking is finally living.
(Column 53 – Published in the March 14 Warroad Pioneer)