From years of daily drinking to moderation and restored health.

Photo by Ammar ElAmir on Unsplash

For me, being a moderate drinker is possible, even after years of struggling with alcohol addiction. Enjoying a few drinks only now and again is something I never thought I could do. Yet here I am, after over a year of effort and self-discipline (and plenty of self-defeat) I find myself able to have just on or two glasses of wine – or none at all – in a social occasion.

I was a daily drinker for over two decades. I carved my days around when I could get my hands on first of many cold glasses of wine. Now, I can get through the day without the white-knuckling at 5:00 p.m. I can go to a party and drink sparkling water without feeling anxious. I can go to a concert or sporting event and have one beer, and leave it at that. I can be around others who imbibe in their normal fashion without judging their behavior or secretly monitoring how much they’re drinking. 

Since becoming a moderate drinker, my productivity in general and my mental and physical health have improved drastically.

This change didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of soul-searching, trial and error, and the sort of brutal honesty with myself I hadn’t allowed myself in years.

Best perk of all is that I am a “morning person” now and can wake up with a clear head and good intentions that actually have a chance in the world. 

What is also helping me work through moderation is the belief that any attempt to get at the root of one’s addiction must take into account how chemicals behave in the brain. After reading more on this subject, I realize that for me, recovery and change are not dependent upon some internal struggle with moral failure and the surrender of my will to a higher power. For me, the gradual  but substantial reduction of alcohol restored the normal functioning of my brain.

By starving it from its regular hit every day at the same time, my brain recovered. Was it hard? Did I “fail” on some days? For sure. I still struggle. But I am able to keep going – and still have a drink or two now and again – without reverting back to my daily habit of drinking way too much.

Check out my ebook, No More Waiting: A Story of Moderation after Decades of Drinking if you want to learn more about how I became a moderate drinker and overcame my daily dependence on alcohol and recovered my true self.

Say “Yes” to Sobriety and Watch the New You Emerge

Ah, the Greeks knew it all, didn’t they? This concept is an ancient idea, but why is it only now when I am sober that it comes to me like a brand new idea? Without health, is it possible to

  • Make the connection between mind, body, and spirit while draining a bottle of crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc every night, cruising through inane and embarrassing posts on my Facebook feed?
  • Listen to what my body is telling me while my subconscious brain swims in a fog controlled by the defeating patterns of addiction?
  • Look squarely in the mirror each morning after drinking and see the reflection for what it is, instead of fooling myself that “I don’t really look like that?”
  • Go to the gym and walk on a treadmill at a steady pace three times a week, make a stop to the liquor store immediately afterwards, and call that a workout regimen?

The answer to all of these, of course, is one big emphatic no.

For years my modus operandi centered on my ability to drink wine every day. After work, chores, my daughter’s activities, obligatory family events, or anything where alcohol was not present, my number one priority was to get back to it as fast as I could. I had a mental image of what wine was at home. Maybe a bit left in the bottle from the night before, already cold and waiting (rare). Maybe most of a bottle cold and waiting, the second one I opened from the night before (common). A warm one still in the wine rack? No problem. There was a special place carved out in the freezer just for such emergencies. I had a favorite (large) wine glass. I even knew if it was in the dishwasher, or in the cupboard ready to pulled and used for that first, lovely crisp swig.

Between doing obligatory things and drinking, I avoided mirrors and eye contact, I scoffed at slim joggers and yoga mat-carrying thirtysomethings, and often ate huge bowls of macaroni and cheese or plates of Pizza Rolls at 11:30 p.m., somehow with the idea that it all seemed perfectly reasonable to have a second dinner before crashing.

Denying my drinking problem and ignoring my health went on for years. Years. When I look back now I realize it could have been much worse, but everyone’s experience is relevant and real, no matter how you define “rock bottom.”

I am guilty of having had confirmation bias. I don’t drink as much as so and so… to At least I’m not homeless. Little insidious mantras that upheld the force of my own version of addiction.

I am still very new at sobriety. I have started to work with a personal trainer and I don’t eat mac and cheese or other bad food only eaten when drunk. I have lost ten pounds. I am learning to meditate. I cannot get my hands on enough “Quit Lit” and Peanut M&Ms. Green tea is my new drink of choice. I have eye contact with people at work. I am writing more, painting more, and often seeing trees and the grass as though for the first time.

Tomorrow, however, could look very different. Every day I wake up sober with clear eyes and a fresh mind, I am learning to respect both the strength and fragility of this new way of being.

Walking Through and Rising Above the Triggers to Drink

This was written in May, 2019. As a moderate drinker, I know too well the slippery slope I am on, and that the path back to a daily drinking habit is in front of me. I can choose to walk down it, or not. It’s not easy when the world seems turned upside down, let alone when dealing with one’s own perceived or real issues.

Learning to identify the triggers that make me want to drink is an ongoing process, and if I am going to keep up sobriety I need to figure out how to deal with them. I am not referring to the everyday visuals and subliminal messaging of advertising or other media, or how even driving past a liquor store can induce a sweaty upper lip.

The routine journey through my average day can be a minefield of triggers: The rude driver who cut me off. The millennials at the coffee shop who talk way, way too loud, complete with vocal fry and “like” in every other word. The guy at work who calls me the “marketing lady.” My husband’s friend, who I will call John, is a person I once got along with when I drank, but now when sober I see how his opinionated stance is littered with sexist and racist undertones. The hoarding nature of my husband, whose basement studio is cluttered with music gear, miles of electrical cords, and layers of dust he is somehow able to unsee.

If only I could practice what I preach to my daughter when she experiences bouts of anxiety. I tell her, “Rise above it, breathe.” If I could remove my self-centered position from these triggers, and remind myself: This is not about you. The driver doesn’t know me from Adam, and he will do the same thing to 30 other drivers in one day. The millenials’ way of speaking and communicating is probably (keyword: probably) just as annoying as my boomer/cusp GenX cohort sounded to the generation before me; nothing new there. The guy at work is 67 years-old and grew up in a culture where most of the women in the workplace were secretaries. At least he knows what I do! I can’t change John’s mindset or opinions, and he will always be in our lives. Most of all, who am I to say that my husband can’t have his beloved music gear?

Rise above it. Breathe.

Besides understanding that I need to remove the personal from these triggers, I can choose to see what’s underneath them. My reaction to the rude driver is also a sign that I hate my commute to a job that most days doesn’t challenge me or bring out my best. The twentysomethings’ youth and confidence makes me regret how at that age I was relatively introverted and painfully lacking in assertiveness. The “marketing lady” comment isn’t so much about sexism, but about how I don’t really love my job. My awareness of John’s offensiveness raises questions about some of my existing relationships, and whether or not I can keep them now that I am sober, and trying hard to be true to myself. Finally, the dusty, cluttered music gear in the basement symbolizes an aspect of my husband’s life that I can’t really share with him. He pursues his art freely, openly, and has an entire group of friends he shares it with. I am jealous.

Walking through and understanding the triggers that make me want to drink is an ongoing, sometimes painful process. I believe it is at the root of the successful recovery process and it takes practice and patience.

Finally feeling free.

Up until very recently over the past two decades my constant nightly companion came in the shape of a bottle of crisp, dry white wine. After I cleared the bare minimum obligations from my day, I took the bottle from the fridge, grabbed my favorite large glass, and poured myself the first of many drinks, which usually led to the entire bottle, sometimes more. Over the years my consumption stayed the same, and I rarely switched to red wine or any other kind of drink.

Wine had become the most important part of my existence. Day in and day out, it was the elephant in the room, the cause of so much underlying anxiety and stress and stops and starts in my life. The cause of inertia, indecision, or bad decisions. Achingly low self-esteem. Impatience, intolerance, cynicism, and even mild misanthropy. To feel positive about anything seemed false. I trudged through the days. The only time I stopped completely was when I was pregnant. Thankfully, even though I was still in denial at that point, my addiction could be tamed when I was with child. But within months after giving birth and when breastfeeding ceased, my habit returned.

My desire to quit drinking in the way I had been doing for several decades was not triggered by some dramatic embarrassing blackout or rock bottom episode, but from what I now understand was a deep and true desire to change. Facing an empty house, changing relationships, and news of my brother’s alcohol-related illnesses subconsciously moved me, perhaps, to where I am now. I am finally facing up to my addiction. I am trying to get at the why. 

The above is an excerpt from my book, No More Waiting: A Story of Moderation after Decades of Drinking.

No more waiting.

After years of daily drinking, early last year I finally began to take apart the causes and conditions my addiction, and I started this blog.

It’s been about 18 months since I’ve stopped the daily habit, and I’ve come a long way. I wrote a short memoir about this experience as I went through the process of recovery and moderation.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I could go on the moderate path, but I am doing it! I know many readers out there will not agree that moderation is a solution, but in my case it works. My relationship with alcohol no longer takes over my life.

Raised in a large family where alcohol was always present, and then living independently within a culture of drinking and excess, I took a few months to examine my past through mostly journal entries, both old and new. Along the way I began to understand the science of addiction as well as the environmental aspects that contributed to my habit.

Without AA or any other formal recovery program, I went from consuming one bottle of wine or more per day to less than a bottle per week. I continue to gain wisdom and strength from other memoirs written by women who have overcome alcohol addiction.

This is an ongoing journey. I have found the courage to examine and explore my creativity and sense of self-worth after years of denial and destructive behavior. I now try to live each day fully in the present, seizing opportunities and finding new paths toward a healthy life.

What stage are you in your journey to wellness and recovery? The single thing that has helped me the most is knowing I have kindreds out there – like you – who want to be better, do better. Don’t give up. And remember – you are not alone!

Rolling With the Waves is the Only Way to Face Sobriety

Up until very recently over the past two decades my constant nightly companion came in the shape of a green bottle holding some form of crisp, dry white wine. After I cleared the bare minimal obligations from my day, I took the bottle from the fridge, grabbed my favorite large glass, and poured myself the first of many glasses which usually led to the entire bottle, sometimes more. Over the years my consumption stayed the same, and I rarely switched to red wine or any other kind of drink.

Wine had become the most important part of my existence. Day in and day out, the elephant in the room, the cause of so much underlying anxiety and stress, and stops and starts in my life. The cause of indecision and bad decisions. Achingly low self-esteem. Impatience, intolerance, cynicism, even mild misanthropy. To feel positive about anything seemed false. I trudged through the days. The only time I stopped completely was when I was pregnant. Thankfully, even though I was still in denial at that point, my addiction could be tamed when I was with child. But within months after giving birth and when breastfeeding ceased, my habit returned.

Nearly twenty years later, I am finally facing up to my addiction. I am trying to get at the why. Every day is a struggle, but among the low points there are many signs that my brain and body are recovering, and along with finding a sober community online, I am finding hope. Writing helps to uncover the causes of addiction, and why it’s taken me this long to own up to it. Not just in a journal for my own eyes, but here, where I hope to share with others who can relate to this experience. 

My new level of certainty is understanding that change is inevitable in all things. I am taking this principle and applying it to the way I approach recovery. It’s up to me to roll with the waves, to decide how to navigate through them. I own this.

I strongly believe that no one navigation style fits all; for example, AA may be the only way for many people in recovery, but I have decided that other approaches may suit me better. So far, I have worked through my own plan which is based on a mix of common sense, scientific research, and learning from others in recovery through books, blogs, and podcasts. While this topic will come up occasionally, I am not here to dispute recovery methods nor judge those who have found AA or anything else that I may not agree with or adhere to, but may work perfectly well for them.

Additionally, I do not want to get into the all or nothing debate. I have witnessed people who have successfully overcome their excessive alcohol consumption, say, by a 90% reduction, and their lives have turned around. The effort to change and the support required to do so—whether you need to quit altogether or step back and drastically moderate—are similar.

I see addiction as a spectrum. One size does not fit all. The main thing is that we support and applaud each other, no matter what flavor or style or method of recovery you stand behind. Our goal is the same: To move on from the past, be the best we can be, and live in the light. 

(This is a revised post from April 2019).

Saying Goodbye to Wine and the Weight of Addiction

Last Saturday at a party I saw many people I hadn’t seen since I stopped my daily wine habit earlier this year. Some people said straight out: “Man, you’ve lost weight!” or “Isn’t your husband feeding you anymore?” or “Wow, you look great!” (my personal fave, cutting to the chase). Others just kind of looked me up and down, clearly noticing the change. I was never really that overweight, but for sure I was borderline; what they saw then but is gone now is mostly the bloated, puffed-out face and figure of a highly-functioning alcoholic which I dragged around for years.

When I drank I was in denial about many things, but one that continues to surprise me is how I could block out just how many calories and sugar are in an average bottle of wine. Add savory, salty, cheesy snacks ON TOP OF DINNER AND ALL THAT WINE on any given night, so yes of course it’s no wonder I looked like the Michelin Man.

While I am more than happy to be rid of the accompanying physical bloat of alcohol addiction, the release of the weight of anxiety means more to me than any compliment I may receive on my appearance. Because I have quit drinking I am better able to handle conflict, awkward situations, and challenges. The daily intake of alcohol made my situation much worse – not better.

My Wine Witch is Sad Tonight, and I Could Not Be Happier

Today, instead of fighting my usual wine craving while driving home from work, I was preoccupied with some ideas I have about writing and working on my illustrations. This is new. I am still stunned that this happened; the first day in four months while driving home from work that I did not have to excruciatingly self-talk my way through a wine craving.

The happiness I feel now during what is pretty much an uneventful day is strange. Most things in my world remain unchanged. I still have the same job, my bills haven’t disappeared, I still struggle with producing creative work consistently, and we still have the same president (that I still can’t believe ever got to the White House). Yes, the month of June is helping with the lush green leaves and clear cobalt skies, mild temperatures, and my daughter back from her first year at college. The reasons to feel good are many, but none of these things would be as great if I was still checking out every night with my bottle of wine.

I “celebrated” by sitting down for longer than usual at the dinner table, sipping my sparkling water, my daughter leading the conversation. I wasn’t uptight about the messy house (dorm room stuff currently takes over the living room), the weeds in my garden, or the unfinished draft of the proposal I owe my boss tomorrow morning.

The normal rhythms and routines of life used to drive me to drink, goaded on by the ever-present Wine Witch twisting my thinking: you have me, you needn’t face those things. Now that alcohol is out of my system, I move through the day evenly with less anxiety. I am more patient with myself and others. Most of all, I now see the time that I used to drink as time that can be used for so many other, better, meaningful things.

I don’t expect tomorrow to be the same, but I am grateful for the hope today gives me.

How Opening the Roadblocks of Perfectionism Helps my Sobriety

While half-lit most days I brought on impossible expectations of myself and others. The hours spent drinking involved lots of dreamy moments waiting for things to materialize, or circumstances to turn in my favor. With a clearer mind now I see that my fabrication of such high standards was not only ironic, as I was in no state to appreciate them, but also futile. My impatience for perfection closed the door to learning new things and accepting the “flaws” that make us human.

For the past several years I’ve been working on humorous thematic illustrations with a view towards creating a stationery line. Somehow I was able to produce work here and there on weekends, before wine o’clock hit everyday at 5 p.m. Others would tell me that I have business potential, there is a market, I should create more, etc. Deep into my wine haze I would skim the internet and gaze at the work of other illustrators and artists, and decide that I am neither up to the task nor am I very good at what I’m trying to do. My drawings were never good enough and the What am I thinking? self-talk quashed any progress. Along with the idea that I wasn’t up to snuff, I piled on excuses as to why I never had the time to think through this idea and produce the work necessary to make it real: My nine-to-five ball and chain, motherhood, and all the time-sucking chores of being a responsible homeowner.

In sobriety my perspective on this self-inflicted “problem” has shifted. The roadblocks of perfectionism and squeezed time are opening slowly, and I can only hope to chip away at their permanent removal. So far, during the four months without my alcohol-addled brain driving the bus, I have worked on illustrations that, frankly, suck. Imperfect doesn’t describe them. In the bin they go! The difference is that now – instead of throwing in the towel and blaming a multitude of factors outside of myself – I see these situations as learning moments. What could I have done differently? I try to figure that out and start again, often producing something decent as a result. Also, since I no longer take up three to four hours each day drinking, there is my “extra” time to draw and work out ideas. I had this time all along, but misused it by letting addiction win.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs is a Key Step in Sobriety

When I drank it was easy to blame my depression and inertia on other people and my limiting beliefs. Instead of looking inward for a way out, I stopped at the barriers I unwittingly constructed myself. Art was a bust because of my dad’s unwillingness to put me through art school. My writing would never be as good as the literary stars on my map. And why would anyone try to sing and play guitar when there’s Joni Mitchell?

These self-defeating patterns of thought ruled my days all throughout my addiction. Even after just four months of clarity, with my brain slowly coming back to life, I see how this kind of thinking held me back from being myself.

In the book, The 30-Day Sobriety Solution, the chapter on how limiting beliefs can make you stuck resonated with me. A light went off.

Your beliefs determine your decisions and your behavior, which in turn, create your future. A belief can be so powerful that if you are exposed to information that contradicts that belief, your brain will actually filter it out.

The 30-Day Sobriety Solution

For years my limiting beliefs surrounded me, holding me in, bolstered by drink. Instead of painting, because I thought I could never be any good at it, I drank. Why finish that short story when no one will read it? Open a bottle instead. Guitar lessons cost money (but never mind the amount of cash I threw away on wine). These beliefs became so ingrained that any time I mustered up the courage to create something, it wasn’t long before gave up. I did keep trying, however, and I have the scraps and remnants of unfinished ideas everywhere.

It’s time to pick them up, dust them off, discard what doesn’t work, keep the rest, and start new things. I am done waiting for some kind of miracle to land. The change has to come from within, and the first step is to get rid of the weeds (my limiting beliefs) and plant my own damn flowers.

The End of Boozy Summers

The beautiful summer weather is here, along with cracking thunderstorms, bugs, and way, way too many opportunities to find some event outside where drink is involved. In the upper Midwest when it finally gets warm people tend to go a little nuts as we learn that the sun still exists and it has not forsaken us. Between street festivals, outdoor concerts, craft markets, sports events, food trucks, restaurant patios, open brewery halls and ubiquitous home barbecues, the presence of alcohol IS EVERYWHERE.

Nearly four months sober I tread lightly in this world of warm weather celebration, where it’s assumed that everyone wants a drink to accompany whatever cool thing they are doing. Why yes, I would like a nice frosty IPA while I move from venue to venue at the art fair. A cool, crisp glass of white wine is the perfect thing to sip on the Italian restaurant patio (while waiting for the 1300 calorie pasta dish). And let’s face it, what good is a lazy swing on backyard hammock without a gin and tonic in hand?

Unless I want to white-knuckle through while everyone else drinks, where does this leave me? Sitting at home watching Netflix, or, at last I can dive into that collection of Chekhov stories, while the warm sunlight dances over the boozy crowds?

To walk among the drinkers and not drink is one of the hardest things about sobriety.