*Originally written and posted on The Mighty in 2017*
When you grow up surrounded by addiction, you take notice. You see things in others and in yourself that some people might miss. You learn quickly addiction is not always black and white. A lot of addiction lies in the gray area of life.
When I was young, I often found myself with a drink in my hand. I thought it was key to my mental health. Yes… you read that right. I thought it “mellowed” me. I thought it took away my anxiety.
I was a lot more fun to be around after a couple of drinks (though it rarely stopped there). I felt more like the real me. It cleared my mind and took away all my worries. I felt like a “normal” person.
I stopped drinking when I became pregnant with my son and rarely drank while he was growing up.
Once he was a teenager I started drinking again. Never as much as I did before being a mom, but still, I felt the same old feelings again.
Vodka was always my choice. That first sip felt like freedom. I knew the second it hit my tongue that in mere moments, I would start to feel the person trapped behind my anxiety press forward and take charge. I liked her.
But here’s what I didn’t like. Even though it was always just a couple of drinks and I wasn’t getting drunk, I noticed something didn’t feel right.
I would (and still do) spend all this time trying to learn about my mental illness. I’d manage my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety with meditation, EFT, breathwork, and yoga to name a few. I’d get outside as much as possible to allow nature to do its work. I’d try to eat healthy, whole foods and I’d drink more water than anyone I know. I was growing and making all these huge strides for my mental and physical health.
And then I would drink. After drinking, I would often wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. I’d lay there questioning why I was drinking. I became terrified that I was headed down the path of so many of my family members. Was I an addict? Did I need this? How much is too much? I started noticing I was reaching for the bottle when I was stressed, celebrating, or even on a random Tuesday night. Never an obscene amount, but the bottle was there.
I made excuses in my mind.
I’m not getting drunk. I deserve a break. I deserve to feel free from the constant anxious thoughts.
But the truth remained. I felt like I was doing something wrong. I had actual guilt about a cocktail.
After much thought, I realized that alcohol is not just alcohol for me. Alcohol represents everything I’m moving away from. Everything I want and work for. Everything that I need to be healthy. It reminds me of a time in my life when I thought I liked who I was, but I was only covering up who I was. I didn’t want to accept myself as is. I wanted to be free and wild and unapologetic. I used alcohol to get there. It was a crutch, an excuse, a ticket to the head of the line…no work needed!
The reality is, that nothing gets resolved that way for me, and my anxiety. It only puts off the inevitable. The anxiety was still there when I sobered up. I had to realize that for me, alcohol only added to my anxiety. It brought on more second thoughts, more doubt, and more fear.
Am I an alcoholic? No, and I would never claim to understand the plight of an alcoholic, but I think I’m desperately afraid of being one. I realized drinking makes me feel like I’m living in the gray. I choose to be wild, free, and unapologetic when I’m sober. I don’t need or want alcohol to be the reason. Instead, I use self-love and unabashed self-acceptance to free that person trapped behind my anxiety. She presses forward and takes charge. I like her even more.
What’s the best choice you’ve made for your mental health?