Jamie thought she had a love of drinking. For her birthday, she got naked and realized there was no love lost between her and alcohol.
On September 26, 2017, I woke up in a hotel room in a foreign city. I felt like I’d been poisoned. It wasn’t rock bottom, as most people would define it. I’d certainly blacked out before and the feelings of dread, confusion and humiliation were all too familiar.
I wasn’t losing my job, family or friends, but that particular morning, I reached through the fog of a blistering hangover and cemented the realization that I’d had enough and needed to change. It was my birthday.
That night, I was scheduled to attend another event, one I’d been happily anticipating: dinner, drinks and entertainment served up in an ancient castle. I imagined celebrating my birthday during a fancy, sophisticated party. Instead, I was limping through, suffering.
After downing my third frosty flute of pink fizz and realizing that the hair of the dog was failing me — I neither felt better nor managed to catch enough of a buzz to forget that I felt like rubbish — I headed back to the hotel and started researching. I couldn’t remember what had happened the night before, but I knew I was unwilling to live through another morning like that one.
Love of Drinking
I’d never tried to quit before. This is partly because I thought I had a love of drinking; partly because I knew the traditional models didn’t make sense for me; and partly because the only thing that scared me more than drinking myself miserable, was failing to stop.
When I stretched out onto my hotel bed and cracked open my laptop, I was looking for a different way to abstain. My love of drinking had undoubtedly lost its luster and fear of failure was no longer a viable roadblock, so I had just one thing left to tackle – the method.
AA was a tricky concept for me. A couple of ex-boyfriends had suggested I give it a go even before I felt ready to quit. Although I might not have been able to identify why…..I knew that the twelve steps were not for me.
The religious aspects were problematic. Although AA insists that their references to God can be personally interpreted to fit any spiritual approach, when I read about the method, to me, it is so steadfastly built around the concept of a Judeo-Christian god, that I was unable to divorce the religious trappings from the necessary steps.
I did not feel powerless against alcohol. I stopped entirely twice, when pregnant, and a few other times while trying to conceive. No cravings, no temptation, no problems. And my life was not unmanageable. Outside of the occasional out of control night, I was managing things exceptionally well and had been for a long time. I hated myself for the rotten nights, sure. But I was not failing to manage the rest, which represented the vast majority of my life.
AA has a lot of focus on moral inventory and admitting wrongdoings and being humble. If anything, I was already spending far too much time harshly judging myself and my value. My husband was sick of my apologies and I was sick of hearing myself outline what I did wrong. I was mentally pummeling myself on a daily basis for my love of drinking. The thought of signing up for a set, sanctioned program where I criticized myself further was unbearable. If I got any more humble, I’d be a hole in the ground.
Willpower Isn’t Enough
While I didn’t feel powerless, I also knew that I did not want to rely on willpower alone. I didn’t want to carry the stigma of a recovering alcoholic – not because I think the stigma is valid (it isn’t), but because it simply did not match the person I am.
Knowing I didn’t need to white knuckle through sober pregnancies, I was refusing to sign up for an entire life of temptation and deprivation. On some level, I knew what I needed was to renovate my mindset and I was seeking a guide.
This Naked Mind
I don’t remember how, exactly, I read about This Naked Mind, but once I did, I was certain the concepts were exactly what I was trying to find. The book would answer my question about how to unlush my life. However, for sobriety really to stick, I knew I’d need to do more than just crack open the book. I needed to lose my love of drinking.
Been There, Done That
About fifteen years ago, I accidentally quit fast food. I didn’t eat it too terribly much — a Happy Meal about once a week for lunch and of course, Taco Bell to feed a hungover. It wasn’t ever something I planned to give up, but then I watched Supersize Me. The entire movie is anti-fast-food propaganda, but it didn’t entice me to give it up until the credits.
The filmmaker runs an experiment demonstrating how slowly super-preserved fast food rots, interspersed with various facts about how the ingredients are sourced. One of those facts was that the meat that makes up a single fast food burger can come from as many as 200 cows. I don’t know what it was about that particular fact, as the entire film is filled with vaguely disgusting trivia, but the 200 cows turned my stomach and that was it. Just like that, I gave up fast food for good.
Later, I realized it likely wasn’t that particular fact that turned me off, but rather, that the information came on the tail end of a 2-hour onslaught of anti-fast food propaganda. I knew I’d been manipulated by the media, but because I believed the manipulation resulted in a healthier outcome, I rolled with it. And so, I decided to replicate the experience for my dependency on alcohol.
I went about this in what might be a weirdly meticulous way. First, I told my husband my plans (not sure he believed me), then I had my last drink at a small house party on September 29, 2017. I didn’t feel the need to drink that night. On some level, I was already done. The host was someone I only knew professionally and she had been talking for weeks about how excited she was to have some wine with me, to let our hair down and relax. It felt like it would be a bigger deal to abstain than to just have a glass of Prosecco.
Leading up to that night, I focused on how much I desired to change my relationship with alcohol. While I intended to enjoy my last drink, honestly, I just wanted to get it over with so I could start my sober life. I meditated, cleared my schedule as much as possible (not very much) and the next day, I started reading This Naked Mind.
And it worked. I read the book slowly – before bed, on my commute, during lunch. I allowed myself to reread chapters or pause and reflect, to let the lessons sink in. Unlike fast food, there was not one single fact that flipped the switch, but two concepts fundamentally changed my point of view.
Are you over your love of drinking? Start reading This Naked Mind and unlearn all you knew.
I fell deeply in love with the possibility of freeing myself, entirely, from the emotional labor of drinking. I’m a mother of two relentlessly active toddlers. I have a demanding, full-time career, and I’m building my family’s lives as ex-pats in a foreign country with no nearby family support. I maybe even squeeze out a little time to pick up a hobby (I wish) or date my husband (not nearly enough). My life is overwhelming by definition. It had never occurred to me, the benefits of simply removing the taxing mental and emotional work behind multiple, daily decisions determining whether or not to drink and how much. The freedom promised was, forgive the pun, “intoxicating”.
The assertion that locked my newfound resolve into place was that alcohol is poison. Like the 200 cows, it’s a little mysterious why this particular fact resonated with me so much — it’s not like I was previously ignorant to what alcohol is and how it affects people who drink it. But again, I decided to lean into my natural aversion equivalating alcohol with poison and even now, when I see wine poured into a glass, I visualize the bottle with a dirty, toxic label and imagine that the liquid is dark, viscous and poisonous. Sometimes it even looks a little sludgy. My love of drinking is gone, and has been for a long time.
For my quitting story, the quitting was the easy part. I made a plan and it worked, so I stuck with it, and I’ve never questioned that I’m better off and want to keep going. For me, the hard part was learning to live as a sober person, and that’s another story, but until I discovered This Naked Mind, I never dreamed that I’d not only quit for good, but that I’d do it painlessly, without the plague of temptation and stigma of relapse. But I did it, one year ago on September 29. It has been both shockingly easy and deeply difficult, a sober paradox that is occasionally confusing but ultimately, richly rewarding, day after day.