I Called On Courage By Name
Last week, I appeared on Rogers Daytime to share my story. I was afraid to do it, and so I figured that was a really good sign that I should. I used some of what Kathie Donovan taught me when we sat down to talk about her book Inspiration In Action: A Woman’s Guide To Happiness. As I got mic’d and briefed in the Green Room, I asked fear to sit down and I called on courage by name to help me through the interview. It did. I ended up just feeling really blessed to be able to share my story in such a public way. Derick Fage and Tammie Trellert also helped to calm my nerves. They are the best in the business.
(Click above to watch the interview)
You see, the reason I started this blog and came out in a bigger way is because I am tired of hiding behind the truth; tired of dodging questions about why I don’t drink, ducking out of social situations where alcohol will be served, and generally feeling ashamed about being an alcoholic. Feeling ashamed of me. I was so tired of wearing the mask of what society deems a “normal” person and I just wanted to be seen, and appreciated, for who I really am. So, who am I, really?
Perhaps a good place to start is to consider who I am not.
I am not alcoholism. Alcoholism is a part of me, but it is not all of me. There was a time, when I was drinking, that I can honestly say it was almost all of me. But not today. Not since I have stopped the chaos and drama and hell that is alcoholic drinking.
I remember so many times either sober, drunk or hungover when I would ask myself “what are you doing?!” “What are you doing with your life?!” “What do you want?” “What are you good at?” “What do you want to do?” “What are you supposed to be doing?”
I was seeking and searching and floundering and drowning. I was gasping for air, and although I knew deep down that I wasn’t supposed to be merely existing, with each day beginning and ending the same way, I wasn’t finding the answers I so desperately sought. I heard nothing. And so I filled up the hole with booze and it made me feel better. It made me forget that I was lost. It gave me purpose.
Alcohol was my hobby, my passion, my personality and my best friend. I planned dinner parties and get-togethers with booze as the main event. I discussed beer and wine with enthusiasm. I was an extrovert while I was drinking (I am actually more of an introvert), showing up as the life of the party, the hostess, the party girl. Alcohol allowed me to lower my inhibitions and engage in risky behaviour.
Alcohol made my life dramatic and exciting and interesting. I loved it…while I was drinking. Waking up the next day, I loathed it. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t wake up and have some kind of regret for something I had said or done or for the company I was keeping. Every day, I found ways to hate myself more.
I realize now that all those times I was asking myself what I was supposed to be doing, I didn’t listen to the answer that indeed came. I ignored the whisper for fear of what it would mean to my life; the truth that told me I needed to stop the drinking before I could get closer to any more answers.
I kept hearing that truth, to stop the drinking, in the soft whispers of my heart. I knew deep down that quitting was the next right choice; but that is not the answer I was looking for at the time. I wanted my subconscious to say something like “go and be a massage therapist” or “go to school for X” or “get a job at a bank”. I wasn’t ready to receive the inner wisdom and guidance of my own spirit. I wasn’t ready to quit drinking and find a healthier path. I wasn’t ready. Until life made me ready.
The Whisper And The Brick Wall
Oprah talks about the whispers and if we don’t get the whisper, then we get hit on the head with a brick, and if we don’t get the message after that, then the whole wall comes crashing down. I get that. My whole world had to come crashing down around me before I finally got the message that I could not live the life I was meant to live while being locked in the prison of my addiction to alcohol.
I often get asked the question: “So, how did you do it?” I have people close to me who are struggling with addiction and they ask me what I did and how I do it, day after day, for over 13 years. Well for starters, the first days are the worst. It does get easier over time; that I know for sure.
And although I wish I could answer that question in a way that would make it easier for someone dealing with addiction, here’s the truth as I experienced it:
I needed my life to be broken into a million little pieces before I could lay in the wreckage and writhe in the hole I had dug for myself, battered and broken. I had to be so far down in that hole that I could make only one of two choices…to either change or die. So, I chose to look up and realize that I was so far down that all I could do was push off, the way you do when you jump into a swimming pool and reach the bottom. I had to push off with all my might and begin to create a whole new life based on all new choices. And in doing so, new information began to appear for me.
If you’ve ever heard the expression: “How do you eat an elephant? You grab an ear and just start chewing”, that about sums up how I managed my life in those early days. There were challenges and obstacles around each new corner, and I just had to keep making the next right choice. I created my road map. Until then I could relate to the saying “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”. For the first time in my life, I had goals and I was making decisions that allowed me to achieve them.
I quit my job and enrolled in business school. I opened my mind to the possibility of learning. For the first time in my life, I began to believe that I could actually be smart. I made decisions to push myself at every turn; to never quit and to work harder at school than I had ever worked at anything in my life. I was beginning to like who I was becoming and it felt good. I woke up clear-headed and full of excitement about a new day of learning and doing and being.
I prioritized sleep and woke up refreshed; I ate healthy food that fueled my body; I discovered exercise and I worked out 5 days a week (which helped me to manage my stress in a positive way); and I removed unhealthy relationships from my life so that all I was left with were people who loved me, supported me and encouraged me to achieve my goals.
The Path Back To Myself
So, how did I keep doing it, day after day, after day?
With each day of sobriety, I was breaking free from the grips of addiction. As days turned into months, and months into years, I developed greater perspective on it. Instead of lamenting my drinking days, I began to loathe alcohol and what it does to people, families and relationships. I developed compassion for myself and others dealing with addiction of any kind. I began to understand and respect myself in a way I had never done before.
I started to like myself more and more as I achieved each new goal. I loved being predictable, reliable, present and authentic. I loved caring about conversations I had with people without the distraction of my addiction nagging me to make sure there was enough wine; to make sure the server poured as much into my glass as theirs; to try to remember whether or not I had a bottle in the fridge or if I’d have to stop on the way home…
The thing is, I didn’t just “quit drinking”. I created a whole new life: I chose all new behaviours; I created all new habits; I developed a brand new relationship with myself; I did everything differently. And I wanted to be sober more than I wanted to be drinking.
In doing so, I learned to trust myself. The more good choices I made, the more I could rely on my decision-making ability. The more days I had sober, the more I trusted me.
Although alcoholism is not me, alcoholism will always be a part of me, and I have learned to respect it, appreciate it, love it and gain strength from it. I regard my addiction as the greatest blessing and teacher of my life; it set me on the path back to myself and toward a life of purpose and passion. It has allowed me to reach greater heights than I ever thought possible, or would have ever been capable of, had I never experienced it.
We Go Through Things For Others
So, why did I share my story on TV?
My friend Kathy Smart often says, “we go through things not only for ourselves, but for others”. That resonates with me. It is my sincere hope that my journey can be used to help those who are living with the shame and guilt and fear about their struggle with dependency of any kind; whether it be addiction to alcohol, drugs, pills, food, sex or anything else that keeps you from loving yourself and living the life of your dreams. If you are suffering, please know that you don’t have to. It takes guts and courage and the decision to change your life, but it can be done.
I shared my story for you.
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.