I got divorced in 2015, at the age of 25. At that point, I had been drinking daily (and often heavily, full of regret) for almost 5 years. The pain I felt when my husband first told me he was no longer in love with me – a mere 11 months after tying the knot – was enough to send me straight to the bottom of the nearest bottle. During our initial separation, when I was still trying to decide what to do and where to go, I drank a bottle of wine by myself every single night. I never really felt like I wanted to, but part of me felt like I had to. I couldn’t image any other way I could possibly cope with and re-fill the gaping hole that was left in place of my heart.
At the time, I was living out in Colorado, where I had moved with my then-boyfriend (now ex-husband) after graduating college in 2012. We finally got everything we thought we wanted: our own apartment in Denver, salaried jobs with benefits and paid time off, an adventure in a new part of the country, a chance at building our own little family. We had it all. And together, a few years down the road, we threw it all away.
Oh, but our wedding, though – let me say, despite everything that happened, I can still happily recall it as one of the best days of my life. Friends and family gathered from all around the country to celebrate. We drank, we danced, we laughed. Everything in that moment seemed right.
11 months later, I was looking into the face of a man who, in an instant, became a stranger to me. We were sitting together at “our favorite bar” drinking craft beers, and between sips he told me he simply couldn’t focus on me or us anymore. He had to take care of himself. He was going though some sort of spiritual transition, he said (which I later learned meant “wanting to see other women who aren’t you”, but I digress). I didn’t understand what he meant, and even as I tried to ask, I could see that he was already starting to slip from my hands.
The next three months unleashed a torrent of arguments, drunken cry-fests, pleads for another chance or even just an explanation, and tumbling haphazardly though a cloud of disbelief doused in alcohol. His quick and seemingly merciless disconnection from me and the life we built literally brought me to my knees several times, and I wept and wept for what I’d lost – for what I thought he had given up on.
And at night, when I was alone, I never once tried to stop myself from hitting the bottle – and hitting it hard. By the time we officially separated and I moved back home to the midwest, I was drinking to the point of near-blackout almost every night. I was jobless, living in my parent’s basement, and in the process of getting a divorce. What could drinking do to damage me that hadn’t already been done?
I never believed there was any other way to get through that period of my life other than getting progressively more and more drunk. I dated men who were drinkers, professed my love for them while completely intoxicated, then soothed my ego after inevitably ending those relationships by indulging in a bottle of red, or a six-pack of IPAs – sometimes both. All the while I kept thinking, “maybe I really am broken. Maybe something’s wrong with me, that makes me unable to stay in a relationship with someone. Maybe I can’t do this at all.”
Again, and again, and again.
My divorce was the jumping-off point that drove my drinking to the extreme. I dove to the bottom, tried swimming back up for air and got caught in the undercurrent again. I drank, lamented my broken life, drank, looked for love from external sources and felt that euphoric “new love” high several times, drank, felt the relationships slip away from me, drank, lamented my broken sense of commitment when those relationships ended, drank drank drank, thought about my brokenness and how to fix it – ooh, maybe I’ll get a new job? or date someone new? – drank, and the cycle began over again.
Because I never really believed, until now, that there was a reality beyond drinking, I never took my half-hearted commitments to quit drinking very seriously. I gave in at the slightest nudge of peer pressure. I figured, “life’s short and tough, why the hell not?” I thought, “things are so rough, my relationship/job/living situation isn’t going to work out, so why bother with staying sober anyway?”
I never believed, until now, that maybe things could be better if I took away the drink. Not perfect, not the best – but better, with the good things incrementally building up over time to outweigh the bad until eventually, the good seemed too good to throw away for something like my favorite beer or a weekend bender.
And there’s the change, really, that I think is vital for anyone getting sober: you have to make yourself believe that something better than drinking is possible. You have to tell yourself that things will be nicer, lighter, easier to handle on the other side. You have to keep telling yourself that until you really do believe it. And then you have to keep repeating it, again and again and again.
Back to my failed marriage, it took me a long time to believe that I’d be able to live fully and happily again without “the love of my life” by my side. Part of it was accepting the fact that my idea of what my marriage was – this perfect thing that no person or object could threaten or tear apart – didn’t actually live up to the reality. It was not perfect. It was not healthy. It suffered several small fractures until finally, it broke clean in half. It was not something that needed to go on. And I didn’t really accept that until I forced myself to acknowledge that what I believe about something may not always what’s true, or right.
Similarly, for a long time, I didn’t think my life could be better without alcohol. It was part of who I was at my very core. It was intertwined with my relationships and my social life. I had absorbed the idea of booze into the thread of my being… until I started to realize that soaking my identity in alcohol wasn’t making anything better. It wasn’t serving me. Drinking was holding me back – it was not perfect. It was not healthy. It was not something that needed to go on.
So on this 28th day of my sobriety and in the days to come, I’ll continue to say, “No thanks. I’m not drinking today.”
What I really wish I could say, though, is this:
No thanks. I’m better now. I’m letting myself walk away. My reality is different now and I’m re-learning how to live without it. My relationship with alcohol was only causing me pain, and the more I gave to it, the more it took away. So, I’m done. We’re over. I don’t need it anymore.