Rebecca struggled with believing change is possible or that she even deserved to change. Finally with the help of This Naked Mind she has not only realized that change is possible but that she is also worthy of change.
I took my first drink at age 10. I’m not sure why – but I believe it was out of curiosity and a desire to feel different than I did. After that, I had an insatiable appetite to drink alcohol whenever I could get my hands on it. I was always a social outcast as a kid. As soon as I started to drink alcohol with the other “bad kids” I felt that I had finally cracked the code. I would figure out much later in life that I am on the autism spectrum, and looking back at my immediate latching onto alcohol as a means of socializing makes crystal clear sense. Drinking gave me some sort of social capital among other deviants.
Not Believing Change Is Possible
By age 16 I had a serious addiction to the point where I was drinking in the morning, drinking alone in my bedroom at night, and occasionally vomiting in my sleep. I idolized successful drunks, felt angst and misunderstood, and found an escape in the bottle. Part of me now understands that I was uncomfortable growing up queer in a rural mid-western town. Part of me now also understands that as a child I was avoiding the uncomfortable truth that I was sexually abused as a young child and had no ability to experience healing. I felt cool when I was partying and didn’t really give a second thought to occasionally vomiting in the high school bathroom from being so hungover. So desperately I wanted to get through adolescence. Believing adulthood would be where I would have more control over my life.
Feeling buried under the trauma of sexual abuse. Like a caged animal with adults at school and home telling me what I was allowed and not allowed to do. Alcohol was something that made me feel some semblance of control, until it stopped doing that, and started to make me feel like I had no control at all.
Out of Control
When I moved out at age 18, all bets were off. I had a fake ID. No one could tell me what to do, and my rebellion primarily placed me in drunkenness. I drank every single day, without fail. Age 18 was the first time in which I decided that I needed to quit drinking. My anxiety was debilitating; I got to the point where I couldn’t even leave the house without being seriously intoxicated. I started to lose touch with reality. My first attempt at sobriety lasted 12 hours, at which point I sent my partner out of the house to retrieve me a six pack so I would no longer have to feel the way I did.
Alcohol no longer made me feel good, and it also did not make me feel “normal.” It made me feel not bad – or perhaps maybe slightly less horrible.
It now was no longer the giver of euphoria, it no longer was the giver of social connection. It was what caused me to feel depression and anxiety, and it was what helped numb the feelings that it caused. I was stuck.
The Rules We Set Before Believing Change is Possible
I began to implement rules – like no liquor, only drink on Tuesdays, no drinking during daylight, no drinking alone, etc. Absolutely none of them worked, and the more I failed at the rules I set up for myself the more anxiety, depression, and deep deep shame I felt. This mindset became my norm and I forgot that it could be any other way. I began to surround myself with people who drank like me. This also became my norm and then I forgot that there were any other kind of people. I found other queers, and I found punk. Becoming a typical drunk punk, working at restaurants for a few months at a time until I either quit or got fired. I made a list once of every job that I either quit, didn’t show up for, or lost due to my addiction. There were 17 jobs on that list. I made up a lot of excuses to justify my behavior because there was no way that giving up alcohol could be the answer.
Between ages 22 and 26 I stayed more sober than I ever had previously, but this is also when my secret drinking began. I had made some big declaration to everyone I knew that I had quit drinking forever and I certainly didn’t want to let everyone down. I was white-knuckling it using only willpower to keep sober, and as I understand quite clearly now, willpower is a muscle and therefore it fatigues over time. This was a time before podcasts and before a lot of the quit-lit books of today had come out. It seemed like the only method of sobriety besides willpower was AA. And at that time I was very anti-spiritual and I certainly did not want to admit I was powerless and give myself over to God with a capital G. (Although I am more spiritual these days, I more or less still feel this way.)
It’s easy to see now that my attempts at sobriety using only willpower with no other coping skills were doomed to fail. I had cravings, really really intense cravings, and sometimes I could get over them or ignore them and sometimes I would sneak around and drink whatever alcohol I could find behind everyone’s backs. I kept lying and saying I had however long of continuous sobriety. Also not understanding that ANY length of sobriety is a worthwhile accomplishment. This lie began to wear me down. The shame, the depression, and the anxiety were getting worse – as though that were even possible.
Eventually I began to openly drink again because I made the mistake of thinking that I could “moderate” after my four years of more or less sobriety. I quickly returned to drinking as much as I had before. Then more than I had before. I drank in the mornings almost all the time just to not feel so fucking terrible. Waking up in the middle of the night with super intense anxiety, I would drink to fall back asleep.
Somehow during this time I managed to buy a beautiful piece of property off grid in the Ozarks. I thought if I moved, if I lived somewhere new, that maybe that would cure me. It did not. Shortly after moving, I sexually assaulted my best friend while extremely drunk. A few days after that, unable to stop drinking even for a few hours, I checked myself into a mental hospital and received a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, Alcohol Use Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and C-PTSD. I was too wasted all the time to have any idea I had a serious mental illness. Apparently I was drinking to self-medicate my depression, my mania, my anxiety, and my trauma. I had never learned how to do anything more than just barely survive. I didn’t know how to tolerate much less understand my emotions.
Trying It All
The only thing I knew how to do was drink. Over the next couple of years I kept trying to get sober over and over and over and over, and I would make it a few days of a week and then I would fall back into it. Knowing I had to get sober because I could not hurt someone again like I had hurt my friend. Each time I stopped drinking for a few days I would learn something new, or at least try something new. I had 7 different therapists. I attended a relationship skills class for queers. Tried EMDR. Got a membership at a yoga studio. There was acupuncture. I even had a psychic remove my “negative energy.”
Trying More To Believe Change is Possible
I tried to eat healthier, drink more water, take all kinds of herbal supplements, and get on a regular sleep schedule. I volunteered. Learned how to meditate. Kept a gratitude journal. I learned about mindfulness. Even though I thought it was some annoying woo-woo bullshit, I kept hearing it was helpful. So I kept practicing it. I started to read books on the science of addiction. I knew some people with horrible addictions were able to get sober. Yet, some people died from their addictions. Which would happen to me?
But, I kept drinking and quitting and drinking and quitting. I could not crack the code; I could not figure out the fucking secret of how to just stay sober. It’s simple enough on the surface but it seemed like my brain was trying to kill me, like my brain was totally against me. Believing change was possible seemed impossible.
Always Back To Alcohol
Every time I went back to the alcohol I felt worse and worse about myself, I continued to hurt the people around me, and my friends started giving up on me. I don’t blame them. My pattern was to drink a lot and act crazy and hurt people, and eventually people decided they couldn’t deal with me anymore. So I would lie even more about being sober when I wasn’t because I knew that sobriety was the only thing that could bring my friends back. And, the shame got worse. I thought I did not deserve to live. Despite two DUIs I kept drinking and driving after that. I was hospitalized two more times. These times were against my will.
No Rock Bottom
People like to talk about rock-bottom moments, and how they are like a wake up call, or something. For me, there was no rock bottom. If there was then it was where I had set up camp. The more horrible things I did, the more awful shit that happened, the more I believed that I was a bad person and that I did not deserve love or happiness. My hangovers became so debilitating that I could not get out of bed the entire next day after drinking. I was unable to eat food most of the time.
Then, my father randomly dropped dead. He seemed to be in perfect health and he had a massive heart attack and disappeared forever from the Earth. This event took me outside of myself for the first time in a really really long time and gave me a view of a bigger picture than just my personal suffering. After his death I stayed sober for three weeks, then quickly began drinking in excess. I started drinking Gem Clear which is like 190 proof or something. It’s basically moonshine. I wanted to die. Feeling extreme survivors guilt because why did my dad who is a good fucking person have to die, and here I am… the scum of the fucking earth and still allowed to live? Trying to kill myself with alcohol didn’t work. Eventually I was suffering so badly that I decided I would do ANYTHING to get sober.
I embraced the tactics that I had been learning over the past few years and along with going to AA. I was absolutely desperate. Most people at AA were very kind to me, some were condescending pricks, but in the end the program did not resonate with me. I did not want to go to meetings all the time where everyone was obsessed with alcohol. I also didn’t want to say I was powerless. As a queer, mentally ill, assigned-female person in this society I’ve already had enough power taken away from me. I wanted to feel powerful and I wanted to leave alcohol in the past.
Believing Change is Possible
So I began listening to recovery podcasts, continued with my positive changes in exercise, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and meditation. Gratitude and mindfulness eventually became my norm. I plowed through every book on addiction and recovery that I could get my hands on. For that next year I was about 95% sober, still occasionally secretly drinking. Currently I’ve been sober since November 17, 2019. The difference between this time and all others? I BELIEVE change is possible for me. Believing I’m capable and that I DESERVE to be sober. I deserve love, happiness, contentment, joy, and friendship. Now, I believe these things. That key mental shift in addition to all the other changes in my life has caused sobriety to stick.
For the first time in my life I also have no cravings, or very rare and very small cravings. I have learned so many coping skills, and the honest truth about alcohol. I owe a lot of my sobriety to the authors of the recovery books and the producers of the recovery podcasts. They repeat the truth about alcohol to me over and over, while offering concrete coping skills to live an emotionally healthy life.
Are you ready to start believing change is possible? You can with This Naked Mind. Download the first 40 pages for free now!
Proving Change is Possible
In the past six months I have started to build my dream home, reconnected with friends I thought would never talk to me again, have found hobbies and activities that are genuinely fulfilling, and I’ve also fallen in love. I still have difficult times, especially navigating bipolar disorder, PTSD, and being on the autism spectrum in a world of people who mostly aren’t like me. But now I am able to healthily navigate the challenges of life and instead of merely surviving, I am thriving. I never thought a sober life could be this good. My anxiety has been reduced by about 95%. That is absolutely amazing to me. I used to genuinely believe that alcohol was the only thing that helped me with my anxiety. The truth is that it was causing it, but I had no idea. I see so many people I love still stuck in addiction and I hope someday they come meet me on the other side. It’s better than I ever dreamed it could be.
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