A few years ago, before hitting my therapist’s couch, I was seeing an acupuncturist to help me with what I assumed was stress. My suffering had been increasing, I wasn’t sleeping, I had night sweats and uncomfortable neck and back pain. After she performed her initial exam, which can be a little odd and includes looking at your tongue, she told me I was suffering from liver fire. I shared this with my group of friends and we all got a pretty good laugh out of it because of how often we drank together and figured this had to be the culprit of this so-called liver fire. It turns out that this absolutely can be a factor, and probably was in my case.
I can pinpoint when I started to attempt moderation to this acupuncturist visit. I suddenly became nervous that I might be harming my body and I so desperately wanted to sleep that I thought cutting back on alcohol was worth a try. It was then that I decided to go 30 days without a drink, which lasted 19. That was early 2015 and all my attempts at moderation since have failed. I started setting rules for myself, and only drinking on the weekends was one that I tried repeatedly. I think the most I made it in any given week was two days and that probably only happened about three times. I also tried allowing only one drink on a weeknight, but that never worked because having one always makes me desperately want to have another. Or, I would pour an extra giant glass of wine and call that my one, when in reality it was probably closer to three. The weekends were an entirely different story, and moderation rarely came into play. I lived the binge drinker’s life when Friday through Sunday rolled around. The worst part is that the weekends are the only time I have with my husband because of his travel for work, but we were ‘enjoying’ it together, even though doubts about that enjoyment lurked behind my drunken haze.
Things started to weigh on me more and more over the last year. The thought that I might have a problem with alcohol was in my head frequently since that day at the acupuncturist, but I could see it growing worse. Besides the sneaking of extra drinks behind my husband’s back, or putting liquor in my tea on my way to work, I wanted to get the party started earlier and earlier on the weekends. I was looking for any excuse to crack open a bottle of champagne by 9 or 10 a.m., because bubbles aren’t like actual drinking, right? I felt guilty about it and waited for my husband to give me a disapproving look when I’d suggest the idea that I wanted champagne so early in the day, but he always just said ‘go for it’. It wasn’t his job to stop me and quite frankly, he trusted me. What I don’t think he realized then was the pain that I had inside that I was just trying to numb out. Hell, I didn’t even quite see it, but I knew that something about this didn’t feel right. Despite this, I ignored the voice in my head telling me this was not good and listened to the one that told me to make sure there was always a chilled bottle in the fridge, just in case.
My emotions started to get the best of me when I would drink, and it seemed that red wine made it even worse. I don’t think there really is any difference, but it became a bit of a running joke in our house that every time I’d have an excessive amount of red wine, I’d end up in tears. Although I’d experienced a handful of booze-fueled emotional outbursts in the past, over this past year, they suddenly became related to not wanting to drink anymore. I would sob and literally fall to my knees and tell my husband that I think I had a problem and this needed to stop. I would wake up the next day feeling humiliated about my behavior but would then try to justify that I only said those things because I was drunk and I didn’t really mean them. I also used the times loaded with alcohol to confess to E some of the difficult things I’d been working through in therapy, and I hated that. I carried so much guilt and shame around this, because even though it’s natural to let down your guard when under the influence, I wanted to be able to do it without the alcohol. I felt like I wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise.
Then came an event in early October that scared me. I was in Asheville, NC for a business meeting, which turned into entertaining investors throughout what’s known as Beer City, USA. We started drinking around 3 p.m. and I tried to watch my intake, making sure to sip water in between drinks. I was going at a far slower pace than they were, so I figured I was okay, but I definitely wasn’t. At some point in the night I carried on yelling at one of them about his viewpoint on the recent shooting in Las Vegas because I completely disagreed with him. Not a cool thing to do, but he was too drunk to seem to mind. Still, the thought that I behaved that way makes me cringe, I am not one to ever act out or shout at anyone, let alone with a business investor. I then got wind that one of my favorite groups was performing at small club in town, and around 10 p.m., when the investors peeled off to call it a day, a co-worker and I decided to see if we could check out the show. Now, I was already heavily intoxicated at this point, but after a bit of bravery, I was able to talk my way into the sold-out show. I was beyond excited and of course, had to celebrate by heading straight to the bar. I downed, and I mean downed a number of plastic cups full of cheap white wine, made it through the show, and then somehow made the walk back to the hotel down the road. Nothing overly dramatic happened, but I recall not being able to remember which room I was staying in and embarrassingly to ask the front desk for help in figuring that out. That is the last thing I remember until waking up in the middle of the bathroom floor and having obviously been throwing up. I was completely disoriented and didn’t know where I was. I remember being afraid of dying in this strange room and how lonely and terrifying that felt. I knew in that moment that I had to make a change, and so I sort of tried.
I decided to give moderation another go, but only after pouring myself some hair-of-the-dog early that next afternoon, because the hangover was so severe that I could barely lift my head (the two-hour car ride home was a killer). The next day, I started listening to recovery podcasts, primarily working my way through countless episodes of The Bubble Hour. I would go for daily walks with an episode. I would come home from work and pop one on in an effort to keep me from drinking. Some days it worked, some days it didn’t. But, I was definitely trying harder than I ever had before. I don’t know what shifted, but somewhere in the midst of that, I just gave up. I distinctly recall telling myself that maybe I was overthinking this whole drinking thing and that it was possible that I was putting unnecessary ideas into my head by listening to those podcasts – that somehow I was creating a problem that didn’t really exist. Just like that, I started right back at the bottle every single day. I intentionally threw out the idea that I had a problem and chose to go back to ignoring it.
I already talked about this previously, but after a couple of months and countless drunken hazes passed by, I was flipping through various podcasts on my phone one morning, trying to find something new to listen to for the drive in to the office. When nothing sounded particularly appealing that day, I found myself returning to The Bubble Hour as the description of an episode with Andrea Owen had popped up and caught my attention. The description included something about isolation, which I had recently been discussing with my therapist that I was doing to myself. So, I gave it a listen. It was that day that I looked at everything differently. Hearing Andrea’s words forced me to see that I was wasting my life. I suddenly saw that I was wasting my creativity and that I was never going to do the things I’m passionate about if I kept up the drinking, which had only gotten worse since the October incident. Maybe the universe threw that episode in my direction, or maybe it was pure coincidence, but to me, it feels like divine intervention and that is all that matters.
So here I am, it’s been over three weeks of big change, and I’m walking into Day 9 of total sobriety. It’s scary and really hard, but I’m doing it and, in this moment, I am proud of myself. In my best Faye Dunaway – Mommie Dearest tone, I want to shout “No more liver fire, ever!”