One year ago today, I made a choice that would change my life. I decided to seek treatment for alcoholism. I spent nine excruciating weeks away from family, friends, and my job in a desperate attempt to recover from a disease that was slowly, then quickly, trying to kill me. Today, I have a life that I didn’t think was possible, one I didn’t think that I deserved. If you find yourself struggling, here are some lessons I’ve learned that may offer hope.
1. First, addiction is a disease.
Addiction is a physical, mental, and spiritual disease. Physically, there is no denying that genetics play a role — many alcoholics come from a long line of alcoholics. Much like the breast cancer or heart disease, addiction was in my DNA. One of my doctors compared the progressive nature of addiction to a cucumber: You can turn a cucumber into a pickle, but you can’t turn a pickle back into a cucumber. I passed the “Pickle Line” in 2015 and went from a fun, social drinker to an isolated, terrified alcoholic drinking alone in my bedroom. Feeling enslaved by dependency can take its toll mentally. But I couldn’t stop drinking. And I fucking hated myself.
2. You will not die from feeling.
My partner threatened to leave if I didn’t get help, and because I was afraid of losing him, I started to attend meetings. I found great comfort in those meetings and openly shared my desire to stop drinking with well-meaning strangers in church basements. In sharing my story, I was confronted by so many emotions I didn’t know were inside of me — fear, shame, sadness, anxiety, anger. And that is okay. Saying your deepest, most shameful fears and emotions out loud can take away their power, like a child sharing their nightmare. Sharing fears with another person, especially someone who can say “me too,” can be a goddamn revelation.
3. You will (probably) lose weight
There are a metric fuckton of calories in wine. Not drinking 2,000 calories a day has had a very positive effect on my health and self-esteem. I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds this year and regained confidence, muscle tone, and strength. My outsides now match my insides.
4. You will grieve the loss of alcohol.
When I thought I might have a problem with alcohol, I began reading books about addiction. The most impactful book about addiction for me was Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. There is a saying in AA that if you go to enough meetings, you will hear your story. This book is the closest I have come to hearing my story. Find yours and read it and then read it again until you feel less alone. Recognize you will miss drinking and give yourself time to grieve.
5. You will get sober for the people you love. You will stay sober for yourself.
Like many alcoholics, I knew that I had a problem, but I wasn’t ready to stop drinking. It took a lot of begging, pleading, and threatening from people who loved me to get me to treatment. Today, I am no longer that woman, the woman who feels unlovable, the one who doesn’t feel “enough.” Today, I love myself. I’m grateful for being given another chance. I have learned the true meaning of forgiveness, both of others as well as myself. But life doesn’t automatically get rosy when you quit rosé — you have to work for it every day as if your life depends on it. Because it does.
6. Your relationships will change.
Just as my relationship with myself changed, other relationships changed too. I am present for my children for the first time in a long time. My mom and I are deeply connected. Other relationships have not fared as well. Forgive yourself and others for that, and move on.
Today, I wake up every morning asking the God of my understanding (in case you’re curious, my God looks kind of like Moby) for help and strength to not drink today. And each night, I thank my Moby-God for keeping me sober, open-hearted, and honest. Then, I sleep.