When I transitioned my coaching practice to focus on women who want to change their relationship with alcohol, I debated whether I should talk about my own story. The issue is steeped in shame, and shame, of course, feeds on silence.
There was one problem: it meant opening up to the world.
People who know me, know I don’t drink. I don’t hide this fact, and I don’t shy away from answering people’s questions. But telling the world? I’ll be honest, I was scared.
How much should I share? How open should I be? I reminded myself that, although my ego believed otherwise, seven billion people were not going to visit my website the minute it went live.
Still, I wavered.
One day, while talking to another coach, she told me, “You know, Rachel, you can do this work without ever talking about your story. People do it all the time.”
In that moment it clicked.
Yes, of course, I could coach women on their relationship with alcohol and not talk about myself. But as soon as she gave me the go ahead, I knew that deep down it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
I vividly remember when I first stopped drinking at 22, and in the years that followed, how desperately I wanted to find women I could relate to. Women who were smart and accomplished. Women were both successful and also faced a tumultuous relationship with alcohol. I was desperate for examples because I felt alone.
The handful of times that I stumbled across these women gave me a glimmer of hope. Usually, it required reading between the lines. A casual mention that she had spent in her twenties focused on partying only to “clean up her act.” A reference to a time in her life when she “went overboard” or “made bad decisions.”
I clung to these words even though they offered precious little information, but I was also left frustrated wanting to know how they did it.
In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed writes:
“The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you’re talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated.”
Her words could not be more true, and they’re why I want to be open about my own experience.
Shame keeps us quiet. It keeps us small. It keeps us alone. Shame convinces us our suffering is ours alone. Having spoken with so many other women like me, I now know nothing could be further from the truth.
Every woman I know has at some point struggled with the belief that she isn’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or successful enough. These beliefs make us feel diminished and unworthy. All of us turn to different coping strategies to avoid feeling this way.
Some of us are crazy-busy collecting brass rings, racking up accomplishments that we hope will disprove these beliefs. Others take on the mantle of perfectionism, hoping they can escape these thoughts by eradicating their flaws. Still others do what I did and find ways to numb the emotions that hurt.
You might associate numbing with drugs and alcohol, but I can attest that there are a million ways to dull a feeling. We fill up our lives with things we don’t need, escape from stress by rewarding ourselves with food (usually too much and too fast), overschedule our lives so to avoid having a moment alone with our thoughts, or sit in front of the TV for hours on end, choosing to occupy our minds with make-believe so that we can’t dwell on what’s really bothering us.
This is why I’m sharing my story. The more we as women realize that we’re in this together, despite how it may appear on the surface, the easier it will be for all of us.