The first time I stopped drinking was a week after my 22nd birthday. Four months into post-graduation life in the big city, I decided enough was enough. Something had to give.
Alcohol was the focus of my social life in undergrad, even though I attended a women’s college that was more concerned with grades than partying. Like lots of the hyper-successful women around me, I took pride in doing things perfectly. Accumulating gold stars. Getting everything right. Alcohol released me from the grip of perfection. I got to be silly and spontaneous and even a little reckless.
Better yet, it rescued me from a deluge of hang-ups. With a little bit of a buzz, all my awkwardness and self-consciousness disappeared. I stopped caring what everyone thought of me. I became attractive, outgoing, and confident. The “me” I wanted to be.
So why stop? I didn’t need alcohol to get through the day. I wasn’t tippling from a secret flask. I drank socially. I drank at parties. I drank at bars. I drank a lot, but so did every twenty-something around me.
Partly because I felt like I always took things too far. Other people got a point in the night where they called it quits. My brain seemed to lack a shut-off mechanism. I got too drunk.
Partly, I was sick of my behavior. I was tired of waking up and piecing together the previous night’s events. I was tired of wincing when a memory of something stupid I had said or done came floating back. Antics that were funny during college weren’t making me laugh anymore.
But more than anything, I stopped because I didn’t know who I was without alcohol. I entered college at 17 and got drunk at my first party before classes even began. Alcohol quickly became a crutch when socializing that I didn’t know how not to need. I felt like the real me was hidden behind a haze of booze, and I wanted to meet that girl.
When I started searching for help, the only resource I found was AA. But it just didn’t feel like the right fit. Not the labels alcoholic or sober. Not surrendering to a higher power. And most of all, not the idea of being powerless.
So off I went, figuring out my own way. I navigated parties and bars without alcohol. I woke up on the weekend without hangovers or the shame from bad decisions. I even started dating someone. I probably turned down a thousand drinks that year. Everything should have been great, right?
The problem was, I didn’t particularly like the girl I discovered. She had so many flaws. So many things to fix. She was terrified of failing and obsessed with measuring up. Terrified of making the wrong decision. She hated how she looked in the mirror and hated that she relied on attention from men to feel attractive. In a city of eight million people, she so often felt completely alone. The haze had finally lifted, and all I saw was a litany of problems I had no idea how to tackle.
On top of everything, I was tired of being the odd-man-out among my friends. I was tired of having to constantly explain myself and answer people’s questions. I was tired of rebuffing well-meaning friends who asked if I could make an exception just this once. I wanted to go back to being like everyone else.
After a year of saying no, I didn't want to do it any more. Throughout my twenties I flip flopped between drinking and not drinking. Beating myself up that I couldn’t figure this out.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way for you. When I removed the haze, I had no idea how to address everything I was using alcohol as a crutch for: social anxiety, crappy self-esteem, and a general sense that I was screwing up life.
It took me a long time to understand that my focus was all wrong. I spent so much energy trying to be a “normal” drinker when what I really needed to do was look at what I was using alcohol to solve, and solve it differently. That changed everything.
Slowly the girl I couldn’t stand, became the woman I grew to love.