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My first experience getting drunk was my 19th birthday. I remember every detail, which should tell you I wasn’t that drunk. I spent half my birthday party worrying that I was going to get sick. Feeling drunk was new and scary to me. I had heard stories and witnessed enough of the painful side effects of drinking that I was already terrified of experiencing them. Fearing the consequences of binge-drinking was good, in theory it would keep me from drinking too much.

My drinking progressed at a pace that seemed normal for my age. Moving from Los Angeles to New York City when I was 24 made it easier to drink with less caution. New York City had reliable public transportation and bars were open until 4am. By this age I was a seasoned drinker and I had determined that alcohol made me a better person. When I drank, I transformed from a painfully shy young woman with a laundry list of insecurities into everyone’s new best friend, outspoken and cracking jokes without reservation. In a brand new city, alcohol was my favorite tool for pulling me out of my shell.

In a brand new city, alcohol was my favorite tool for pulling me out of my shell

I was hypnotized by alcohol but I adhered to my responsibilities. This lifestyle felt harmless. After all, everyone around me was doing just the same so I didn’t think twice about my drinking. I had a full-time night shift production job where it was permissible to drink at work. My supervisor drank a six-pack of beer every night in his office. Most mornings I bounced out of bed just fine. I had other hobbies and I stayed active. I even trained for and finished 3 full marathons in as many years, all the while putting away a bottle of wine at least 3 or 4 nights a week.
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It took a few alcohol-fueled wakeup calls for me to start questioning my behavior. Blackouts became a semi-regular experience. I would be awake and engaging with the world but have no memory of it the next day because part of my brain was offline. Crying spells and fits of rage were not uncommon when I was drunk. I became aggressive and sometimes hurtful to people I loved. The fears I had at 19 about the consequences of drinking too much were long forgotten. After a decade of drinking like this, it was time to stop pretending I had everything under control.

By my early 30s I became committed to drinking in moderation, “drinking like an adult” I would call it. I would take a month off from drinking to prove that I could go without. It was easy for me as long as I had a timeline with an ending. Each time the dry periods ended, I naively believed I was cured of my problematic drinking habit and that it would be effortless to moderate.

Instead of achieving moderation, I ended up in this cycle where I abstained for weeks and then drank entirely too much in one night. I never intended to go overboard but, again, everyone around me was drinking heavily. I easily got caught up in it. My fiance became worried and frustrated, and I continued to defend my drinking because these nights didn’t happen that often. It was still an improvement from my daily bottle of wine, I thought. When I was successful at moderation it felt like a mental circus act. It was impossible for me to be present in those experiences and enjoy myself because my mind was so consumed with staying in control of this beverage that had only ever proven that it was in control of me.

because my mind was so consumed with staying in control of this beverage that had only ever proven that it was in control of me.

I tried for a long time to change my relationship with alcohol. I was on a rollercoaster that finally ended, but not without one last wakeup call. It was my bachelorette party, a night I promised myself I would remember. All I wanted was to remember it. I planned to drink water in between cocktails and pace myself. I woke up in my bed the next morning not knowing how I got there, evidence of debauchery strewn all over my apartment.

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I threw my hands up, accepting once and for all that this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted for myself. The fun I thought I was having while drinking did not outweigh the pain and torment that followed. In Sarah Hepola’s memoir Blackout she accurately describes the aftermath of a drunken blackout, “There are times when you want to die. And then there are times when one death is simply not enough. You need to borrow other people’s lives and end them, too.” After my last wakeup call, I remember saying out loud, “I think I need to just stop drinking.” My entire body deflated as the words crossed my lips, overcome with sadness at the thought of giving it up forever and at the same time not believing I was capable. It felt so unfair. Why couldn’t I just learn to drink like other people? Why did it have to come to this?

It felt so unfair. Why couldn’t I just learn to drink like other people? Why did it have to come to this?

I was confused and desperate for a solution when This Naked Mind was recommended to me. I decided to take off one month from drinking and dive into this book. Within the month my desire for a drink was completely non-existent. In all my previous efforts to improve my relationship with alcohol, nothing ever clicked like this. I wasn’t struggling, I didn’t feel deprived, I didn’t even need to tap into my willpower for help. I didn’t feel envy or judgment towards drinkers around me, of which there are many. I was finally seeing alcohol for what it is, and my mind and body stopped craving it. I was totally amazed by this transformation.

I quickly learned that everything I wanted from alcohol I actually only achieved through avoiding it. Initially I became a drinker because of my conditioning from society, where 90% of adults drink, in addition to being surrounded by a drinking culture which has only become more prevalent. I bought into the hype that alcohol creates good experiences and has loads of benefits. I no longer drink because I now know that is all untrue. The conditioning that had been shaping my unconscious mind, thus my belief system for my entire life, had been reversed. The reasons I drank made no sense to me anymore.

I drank because I believed alcohol made me a better person. I thought that lubricating my shy personality with a few drinks made me more fun to be around, more comfortable in my skin, and turned me into the version of myself that I desired: less inhibited, full of adventure, totally fearless. In truth, alcohol made me worse. Often times I hated who I became when I drank. Though friends would usually tell me I was fine, sometimes that I was even hilarious, hearing these stories about myself made me cringe. When I don’t drink I can guarantee I’m giving everyone my authentic self. No alcohol-drenched slurred conversation. Have you ever talked to a drunk person when you were sober? It can be painful. I never want to be that person again.

Like most people, I drank to relax, to feel calm and relief after long stressful days. Not surprisingly, based on my own experience, alcohol actually creates anxiety. The tension and stress I experienced that I wanted to relieve with alcohol stemmed from a psychological need to fill a void that alcohol created in the first place. I removed alcohol and the void went with it.

I drank to have fun. Believe it or not, I have a lot of fun without relying on booze. The bottom line is, if I am unable to find joy in a situation, it’s most definitely not the lack of alcohol to blame.

The bottom line is, if I am unable to find joy in a situation, it’s most definitely not the lack of alcohol to blame.

I often drank to numb emotional pain. Alcohol will never eliminate emotional pain. It will only delay confronting the issues and make me less emotionally equipped to deal with them. Speaking of pain, I no longer have to worry about being bedridden from a hangover, entire days wasted in pain that I brought on myself. There is no need for overcompensation of my brain chemicals trying to re-establish balance, resulting in an emotionally painful deep depression.

Having made the decision to quit drinking, I feel a sense of empowerment from within that, as a drinker, I always assumed I would get from alcohol. On the contrary, alcohol was a trap, a powerful force that had a grip on me for years and only through exposing the realities of the trap did I feel free and empowered. Not only that, I am physically and emotionally healthier. Self-care is a priority and not something I could have achieved through continuing to poison myself. I don’t drink anymore because all of these feelings are more euphoric and fulfilling than any experience alcohol has provided me.

I don’t drink anymore because all of these feelings are more euphoric and fulfilling than any experience alcohol has provided me.

Mary-Wedding

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