Mental health struggles aren't beautiful.
The first photo was taken a week before a suicide attempt in 2011. The second photo was taken last week.
I struggled horrifically with addiction, depression, anxiety, and mania during my teens to mid-twenties when I was finally diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, became medicated, and quit alcohol. That was two years ago now.
In addition I embarked on a quest of spiritual growth to find the meaning in my life. My purpose in life is to simply brighten others. I have drive, and a desire to better the world. I am determined to do this through my story.
I've been really low and lost and I know I'm not alone. And I know that anybody who encounters it is not alone, but it's easy to feel alone when it's all you can think and feel. You are not alone. We are not alone.
I am not a disease. I am not depressed, manic, bipolar, or anxious. These things are a part of my life, but they do not define me. I am not my illness.
Nor are you.
It gets better. Please, believe me. In 2011 I thought it couldn't possibly. In 2014 I thought it would only ever get worse. It's 2017, and I know that every day is better now than the one before it, and will continue to be.
So let's talk. If you need somebody to talk to, talk. Don't hide it. 1-800-273-TALK is an excellent resource and one that I once relied on.
Your friends, family. Hell, send me a message if you're struggling.
Don't hide yourself or feel ashamed. We are all human, and we all have stories. Don't end your story early. Press on. I promise, life becomes beautiful.
Okay, I'm a total anomaly. Along my travels I've met a few people who like me, don't drink or use drugs, and people like us are few and far between. Maybe even people who choose one or the other, or people who are taking a break. A lot of people I know frequently take a break. But at the end of the day, there is a lot of drinking that goes on the music scene, and why not? It is socially acceptable. Not everybody I hang around with gets blackout drunk every night, or even every weekend. A lot of my friends drink casually, while I don't at all.
I get the same question every time I meet somebody new who finds out I don't drink.
"Is it hard?"
It's a hard question to answer on the spot, because I want to say yes and I want to say no.
When I first moved to Victoria I was completely entranced by the music scene. I had gone to local shows when I lived in Duncan, but I focused a lot of my teenage years on the rave scene and all that goes along with it, the copious amounts of party drugs. Drinking wasn't necessarily a thing. In my teen years drinking was almost a last resort. So to come to a new city with music, instruments, and booze was almost like a complete and total culture shock for me. I couldn't believe that people could be so talented, and that they were just you know, regular people, that I could have a beer with. The lifestyle left me starstruck. I started drinking more than I ever had in my life.
I frequented a minimum of three shows a week, just because I could. Because in this city there is always live music, on any given night you can wander into a bar, lounge, restaurant, and find live music. And I drank at every single one, because I simply thought that it was what you were supposed to do. I drank at the afterparties, I drank at the bars, I had pre-drinks beforehand to save some cash.
I associated live music with drinking, and when I quit drinking I felt a cloud of sadness as I thought to myself that that was a part of my life I would have to give up as well.
About three months into my sobriety I had spent it all avoiding bars, music, and the scene. I started to get that familiar itch, that craving, that desperate feeling that something was missing in my life - but it wasn't booze. It was music.
I started to think to myself, can I do this? I can probably do this. I'm going to try to do this and see how it goes.
The first show I went to was hell, I'm not going to lie. I was riddled with anxiety of being in a bar. I quickly ordered a ginger ale so I could have something to sip on. I was shaking and afraid, and the only time that I felt remotely calm was when the music was playing, when I reminded myself that I was there for the music. I drank my ginger ale. I walked about the crowd and got beer spilled on me. I stayed strong. Looking back I was totally playing with fire. I also had my trusty defense mechanism, my car. I knew I wouldn't drink and drive, therefore I knew I wouldn't drink and leave my car somewhere. I also had the power to leave at any point.
After that initial first experience I didn't necessarily feel any stronger, but I had the sensation that I could do it again. Maybe the anxiety would lessen, maybe over time, things would and could get easier. I went home and I stocked up on ginger ale. It's become my security blanket.
So I decided to do it again. I don't remember if it was any easier. I remember it felt like an accomplishment. I felt like I knew that I had done it once before, and I was going to do it again. I started going to shows again. Not three a week, maybe one every two or three weeks. Just to prove to myself that I could.
Slowly, and then quickly, my life started to become about music again. Not only was I going to shows, I was coming home afterwards and playing my guitar. I was going to karaoke and I was singing. With each and every show and time I went out I had another night under my belt. I had a brand new sense of pride. I started introducing myself to people, meeting people, making friendships, and it felt so good.
Initially I was afraid to tell people I didn't drink. I thought that maybe people would judge me, or hound me on it. I wasn't ready to tell my story or answer any questions. I let people assume there was either booze in my ginger ale, or they wouldn't notice. Initially, only the bartenders knew my secret and grew to know my drink. Then it started happening and I started using my voice. People started to know that I didn't drink. And then the question - "Is it hard?"
So my answer is - yes. Yes it was fucking hard. It didn't happen overnight. I had to dip my toes in the water and weigh out the options. I knew that a life without music and all of the stuff that comes along with it, was going to make me miserable. So also my answer is no. Because cutting music out of my life for me just wasn't an option. It will never be.
It's been almost two years I haven't had a drink. It's been almost two years of me going to shows, of me going to the afterparties, the pre-parties, the campfires, the open mics, the festivals. It's been almost two years of ginger ale, and sometimes I mix it up with cranberry juice. It's been almost two years of clarity, of always getting myself home safe, of never blacking out, it's been almost two years without a hangover or the mental anguish of the way I used to drink. It's been almost two years of doing what I love, with a fresh perspective, and loving myself and taking pride in it. It's been almost two years of finding out that even though in this scene drinking is a norm, that there are countless people who support me. That there are people who take pride in me as much as I do in myself, and aren't afraid to open up to me about their own struggles with drinking.
It's been almost two years of shedding the alcoholic skin and being comfortable in my own skin.
On December 24th I celebrate my two years sober. This year, like last year, my sobriety will be my greatest Christmas present to myself, but every day it is the greatest gift I could have ever bestowed upon myself.
Sobriety for me has become the norm. I've spent more time now of my life in Victoria, in the scene, beside and part of the music, sober, than I had before drinking. The sober times outweigh the drunk times. The memories outweigh the blurred regrets.
Once upon a time it was hard. But slowly and so slowly with confidence, with support, and with enough love for myself ... now it's easy. Sober is just who I am.
I think I made a promise to stop counting the months, because now I'm counting the years. But it was really interesting this morning to scroll through my On This Day on Facebook and see last year I was celebrating 8 months sober. I did some quick math and thought ... holy shit.
It's crazy to see the positivity on my On This Day since I quit drinking, compared to my drunken or passive-aggressive Facebook statuses from years past. Those make me cringe. When I look at posts from the past twenty months, I can see authentic and genuine happiness.
Without Facebook's little reminder, I would have been completely oblivious to a monthly milestone. In all honesty, today has been a day just like any other day - wake up, errands, work, creativity, relaxation, and indulging in some much-needed Me Time, today has been a definite Me Day. And that's the funny part - is that today has been just another day, just like yesterday, and tomorrow. How quickly I have adapted to my life without alcohol. I every so often get that strange and sudden realization of how long it has been without a drop and I feel this incredible pride. It's no longer a struggle.
And in four short months I will be two years sober.
For me the most interesting challenge to remain in sobriety has been what I have chosen to do with my sobriety. I've learned through trial, error, and a relapse in 2013, that you can't just quit drinking and have that be that. For me I have learned to take pride in my creative projects and to express art on any medium necessary, and to truly create. I hang paintings, poetry, drawings, dream catchers around my room, I wear my clothing and my jewelry. I play my guitar. I do things that make me happy that I can take pride in.
In the past few months I have also started writing - more than I have in a long time. I've been writing my story. I've been writing about my struggles, my addiction, and I am now writing about my recovery.
I don't want to think that the years I spent wasted were wasted years. I know that I can't just not drink, that I do have to do something with my sobriety. I'm looking forward to sharing my story, my whole story, no holds barred, and publishing my memoirs this winter.
Growing up as an addict I used to turn to recovery memoirs to offer me some sort of hope and strength. At first I told myself, "These people, these are the ones with the real problems," and as time went on I found I could no longer deny the similarities I saw within myself. I then found myself skipping over the gory bits and diving straight into the end - how could a person find themselves clean, sober, and happy? During my writing this has been my struggle - I want to skip the bad and go straight to the good.
But you can't. You can't have the good without the bad. You have to honor the struggle, because it is part of the person that you are - my addiction has turned me into the person that I am. As with my anxiety, I am grateful, yes, grateful, for the experiences I've had, including my struggle. Because without things to overcome, I wouldn't be the person that I am. If you don't climb the mountain, you'll never reach the top.
Almost two years.
I look back and I honor and cherish the changes that have come into my life after cutting out one simple thing - drinking. Life on its own isn't always roses, it comes with a new challenge every day, and for the past nearly two years, I have been facing everything in life head-on, with a clear perspective. I've changed my entire attitude in twenty months. I've found things to take pride in, my projects, and myself.
So tonight, how am I going to celebrate my sobriety? I'm not going to. I wrote a post a few months ago about celebrating sobriety, and I'm going to re-iterate what I wrote then -
That I will continue to celebrate myself every day. Today marks a milestone of accomplishment, but I'm not going to celebrate simply because of that. I'm going to wake up every morning with a reason to celebrate. I will celebrate, every damn day.
I can't believe I did it. I spent three nights and four days out on a mountain, camping amidst strangers, friends, family. I stayed 100% sober and clean. I conquered my fears and anxieties. I left my city. I made amazing friendships. I saw wonderful musicians and acts. I sampled delightful foods and rekindled my long love-affair with churros (mmm!) I was organized. I even remembered to practice self-care after a day of a killer migraine, whoops!
I left on Thursday afternoon. I thought to myself that if I didn't go then, I never would. I had no idea what to expect, or where I was sleeping. I packed my car with food, clothing, toiletries, blankets and pillows, intending to just wing it and most likely sleep in my car. There was no real set plan. I was freaking out. My friend Emily called me and asked if I would drive her up with me. I initially wanted to go on my own. The drive is two hours and I wanted to be alone with my music and my thoughts in case I needed to pull over to freak out. Luckily, Emily gets my anxieties, and I get hers. I decided, fuck it, I'll drive one of my best friends and we can be each other's support. I'm so glad I did!
The fun part about Port Renfrew is there's no reception. I had opened Google Maps when we were out in Victoria and followed the signs to Port Renfrew, and once we got there we were totally lost and had no way to find directions. We ended up out in Botanical Beach, we turned around, we were just laughing. We had music, we were having a grand old time. Finally, FINALLY, we found the sign. We began the descent up the mountain and joined the line of cars waiting to enter. It was both of our first years so we had absolutely no idea what to expect as far as the layout, where I was going to be parked. I dropped off Emily at the festival roundabout with all of her camping gear and I was directed to my parking spot and began to hike back up the mountain. Only about a ten minute walk from the entrance, but up a mountain. My legs and body are still aching.
The view didn't disappoint.
We walked in and got Emily's temporary camp set up and ran into the main stage where The Dudes were playing. I was transfixed. I quickly found an old friend of mine who I hadn't seen in YEARS and we decided we were going to be Tall Tree Buddies! Like myself, he's sober, so it worked perfectly. Quickly, Emily found her crew and Trevor and I watched The Dudes and then hiked down to my car and grabbed my blankets and clothing. This was it. I was really committing to this idea of camping. I hadn't been camping in over a year and I struggle with anxiety around the idea of camping - especially amidst hundreds of people and multiple stages of music. I wouldn't say that I freaked out, but I definitely had moments of anxiety. I did what I always do in moments of anxiety - I disappeared into the tent and retreated from the crowd. It helped. I slept and I eagerly awaited the next day.
The Thursday night Trevor and I had discovered this little nook with a sign that said Be Kinky and we laughed. We wandered down and found a single hammock surrounded by trees. It wasn't visible from the main stage and it was secluded and amazing.
The next morning I woke up around 10. Trevor had started on his volunteer shift from 9-3, so I woke up, did my makeup (this was the first and only day I bothered) and got dressed and headed to the main stage for a coffee. I wandered up the hill and saw Trevor and another volunteer Diego right by the fence. I asked what they were doing and they said setting up hammocks. No way. I grabbed my coffee and headed down to where the single hammock was and saw them setting up more - awesome! All told by the time the project was done there was about eight or nine hammocks set up in this little grove. One of the volunteer supervisors came by and said he really wanted to paint the walls going down to it. We'd started calling it Hammock City, so I followed him and grabbed a tray of paints, rollers, and brushes. While the boys set up the hammocks I painted the walls.
Behold, Hammock City!
Music was playing on the main stage, on the Valley Stage. There was music everywhere. Right near our newly-created Hammock City stood a large teepee, the Wishing Tent.
I was intrigued. I had to go take a wander inside. The sign outside the door said no shoes, so I took off my shoes and I walked inside. I felt like I was inside a different world completely. The music was still playing but I couldn't register it. There was an atmosphere inside the tent that existed solely within its walls. I was transfixed and I was solitary, standing between the wishes of strangers and probable friends. I started reading and was overcome with a plethora of emotion. I picked up the pen and a piece of paper and wondered to myself what I had to wish for. I stood for a few moments and my mind drew a blank. I filled an entire piece of paper explaining that I wished I hadn't spent so much time regretting in my life, regrets about my anxieties. I wished for things to always stay the same, whether they be good or bad. I placed my wish on the wall and I walked away from the Wishing Tent, full of mixed emotion and a sense of change. It was a beautiful experience.
I stayed in Hammock City until one of my best friends Ghosty was going to play on the Stump and Stone stage at 3:30. I ran to the Stump and Stone stage and danced my ASS off with my best friends in the front row.
After Ghosty I stuck around the Stump and Stone stage to catch Band of Rascals. It was my third time seeing them perform, and I've gotta say they've officially become one of my favorite bands. I fucking LOVE Band of Rascals, these guys have amazing stage presence and wonderful energy and their sound is so solid and unique. Even though it was pouring rain, the stage filled up and the energy of the band amplified the crowd - people were going crazy despite the rain. Of course I bought their CD, and you can find them on Spotify and purchase their album on iTunes. Here's Held in Thought, my absolute favorite song by these guys.
I have to admit that by this time the festival atmosphere was starting to get to me. It was raining, I was tired. It's hard to get a good nights sleep when the party is going on all around you. Again I retreated to the tent for some well-deserved rest and crawled out once again when Current Swell hit the main stage at 10:30. Current Swell is such an amazing band to see live. The stage was packed, everybody from the festival dropped what they were doing to go see these kickass headliners and they provided an atmosphere that made me feel right at home. I watched the crowd and felt like I was truly a part of something bigger than myself. It was so beautiful.
Eventually my exhaustion caught the best of me and I headed back to the tent for a night of what I thought would be good rest. Wrong! I forgot, I'm at a music festival. Stages go until 3, 4, 5AM, and start at 10AM. Oh well, that's what coffee's for ... right?
Around noon on Saturday I decided to crawl out of bed. Screw makeup, coffee. I found my roommate finally! She'd made it up the night before but of course among hundreds of people I wasn't able to find her. But I finally found her! We grabbed coffee and decided to wander about the campsites in the light of day, exploring and finding friends. I walked around with this sad but relieved feeling - it was the last day of the festival. In some ways I wasn't ready for it to end, and in others I was completely exhausted. In the end the exhaustion won around 2PM and I headed back to the tent but the noise followed me and I couldn't sleep, I couldn't relax. My head started pounding. I made the trek down the mountain to my car and pulled a blanket over me and charged my phone. My head was truly killing me and I had a bit of a "duh, whoops" moment when I realized that even despite the rain I wasn't properly hydrated. All I had drank for two days was coffee. So I pulled out a water bottle and started chugging. Eventually I felt well enough to go back up. I couldn't miss Kytami performing at 5PM at the Stump and Stone stage. Headache or no headache, I could not miss this show.
The first time I saw Kytami perform was at Rifflandia of last year. One of my friends Deriek from Spaceboots was performing with her then and it was his first performance with her. In the months since Rifflandia, Deriek, Kytami, and Phonik Ops have gone on to do countless performances around Canada and the US and have just killed it. The Tall Tree performance was no exception. I don't know where she gets her energy from, but this girl kills it, every time. At the end of their set Kytami and another violinist had an unrehearsed 'violin-off' that amazed and stunned the crowd.
I was exhausted and I felt ... musically complete. Is that a thing? It's now a thing. I still had Hollerado to watch at 8:15 and Mother Mother to close the festival at 10:15. I went to rest in the tent and went back down to the main stage to go see Hollerado. About halfway through their set it finally kicked in that I was literally festivaled out. THAT is a real thing.
I relied on coffee and my sense of adventure to get me through the weekend but I had actually had enough. I was still having fun and loving the atmosphere but it finally had gotten to me. I went to the tent and I stayed in there even through Mother Mother's set. I could still hear the music perfectly and I knew the crowd was going nuts. I was content to listen to it through tent walls.
Near the end of their set, the band started speaking and I can't remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of being proud of yourself, your bravery, and your courage. "You climbed a mountain," was the line that stuck in my head and brought me near to tears.
Maybe I didn't spend as much time out and about as I had anticipated. Maybe I hadn't taken enough photos, or had taken too many. Maybe I had felt anxiety and exhaustion. But I did it. I fucking did it. I realized I had climbed not one mountain, but two. I had climbed the physical mountain that the music festival was on, and the mountain that exists inside my head every day - anxiety. I had done this sober, surrounded by the people I love and the people who love me. I had seen some of my best friends perform and felt pride and awe. I had experienced beautiful and spiritual revelations. I had spent the weekend in nature and just going with the flow. I learned that you don't always need a plan, and sometimes things happen out of your control. I had remembered to take care of myself first and foremost and show myself the love that I had needed. I had genuine and authentic fun.
I conquered Tall Tree.
I conquered my fears.
When the festival lineup was announced in April I had thought to myself, "I need to be a part of this, I need to go," but the voice called anxiety in the back of my head asked me, "Wait, can you really go? Can you really camp? Can you really spend all that time surrounded by strangers? And finally, can you actually do this sober?"
Screw you, anxiety! I did! And I can do it again!
Tall Tree 2016, thank you for the memories. Coming down off of that mountain meant coming back into reality, into real life. It wasn't until I hit Sooke that I realized I was back in the land of the living, reception, my phone started going off with messages, traffic lights, WiFi, pavement, electricity. The music still flowed through my veins, and even today, it still does. Coming down from Tall Tree feels like coming down from a drug trip, but I will remember everything.
Tall Tree 2017, I'm coming for you, again.
I wrestled with this question myself for about four years before I finally got sober.
When I was twenty I wasn't happy unless I had a bottle of wine every night. My ex challenged me to go one week without liquor and I managed it, but every night I had that itch, that craving. I wanted a drink, damnit! This was one of my first signs. I hid it from everyone for so long that I even managed to hide it from myself.
I turned to alcohol during times of despair, which was the first indication of a problem. If I had a 'bad day' I would buy a bottle. If I had a good day I would look for something bad to justify it. I would create unhappy situations.
I frequented house parties, switching between social groups so the same people wouldn't see me wasted, over and over again.
I hid liquor around my bedroom. I kept bottles of wine underneath my bed. Before I had anybody over I had to do a sweep of the apartment to make sure there was no liquor showing.
I thought I was so clever and fooling everybody. I never let anybody get close enough to me to realize that I had a problem. I couldn't have a partner because they would have to see how often I drank. I couldn't have best friends, for the same reason. I kept everybody at enough of a distance to make sure nobody really saw how bad it was.
I've been sober nearly a year and a half. The last time I was sober was in 2013, I quit December 29th and I relapsed in May 2013. When I made the decision to sober up I still couldn't tell myself that I had a problem, I just said that I'd had enough for now - enough of the hangovers, spending money. I never once said that I had a problem. I was easily coerced into drinking again. When one of my friends brought a truck over to help with the empties she saw how many bags I had, stepped back and said, "Woah..." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had just been to return empties a month before that. I had gotten a $3000 return from my student loans and drank it away in three weeks.
And I still couldn't admit that I had a problem.
I lied about my drinking and ultimately the only person who suffered the consequences was myself.
When I quit drinking in 2014 I still had a hard time telling myself that I was an addict. Sometimes it's hard to talk about. When I tell people I don't drink they ask if I have a problem. I catch myself, my familiar reply has become something along the lines of, "Well one night I drank so much wine I should have been hospitalized, mixed it with medications, because I was sad." No. I have grown comfortable telling complete strangers that I have an addiction.
I never went to AA so I never got to say the words, "My name is Jessy and I'm an alcoholic," but it is something that I say to the mirror every day, to remind myself. It all boils down to honesty to myself.
I have a drinking problem.
Currently my addiction is under control and on June 24th I will celebrate 18 months sober.
I still get cravings. I still get bad days. For me, today is a bad day. The thought of "Oh I can drink this away" surprisingly hasn't arisen (until writing this of course, but it's more of the realization that it hasn't affected me) - but it does. I have terrible days and I think to myself, "I can drink this away." This speaks volumes to me, it says that I do still have a problem. That I am still an addict. I very rarely used alcohol as anything but a crutch - something to numb the pain, to make me less anxious, more friendly and outgoing. Through the years of abuse it had the exact opposite effect - I became morose, depressed, and anxious without it.
There is a difference between alcohol use and alcohol abuse. When you start drinking to forget, to numb the pain, to quell the anxiety, when you start lying about your consumption, hiding bottles, denying you've been drinking, telling yourself and others that you don't have a problem, you have a problem. If you need to defend and justify your drinking, you are not using alcohol, you are abusing it.
Alcohol abuse is a short-term solution to long-term problems, which will ultimately amplify themselves until you hit a breaking point. I still self-reference my breaking point, my three day hangover, the way I felt. I reference this to remind myself that no matter how bad of a day I am having, or have created, nothing will ever be as bad as the day that I realized that for the rest of my life, I can never enjoy a social drink. If I were to drink, it would all come spiralling back out of control and I would end up at that breaking point again. That's somewhere I never want to be, ever again.
What I try to cover with these entries is my personal experience with the problems I face. I understand that every person handles and experiences everything individually. I hope that if you are reading this and struggling, you've found something you can relate to. I hope that if you are reading this and are in a place of recovery, you can look in the mirror and find pride in yourself.
Here is a short quiz to determine whether or not you may have a drinking problem.
We can beat this. It's not easy, but I promise, it's worth it.
Believe it or not, this is still something I struggle with. Just last night I went out to a show and I caught myself looking around, wondering about this question. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like everybody had a drink, starting to loosen up, get giggly, friendly, dancing, and I felt like the same old me.
Don't get me wrong - I love me! I especially love sober me.
When I used to go out I would get drunk to loosen up and have some fun. Which could have been okay if I'd known when to stop. But also I was abusing alcohol and relying on it to come out of my shell. And sometimes, I came out of my shell a wee bit much. Back in the day I remember being at a show and getting wasted, double vodka slimes times 8 wasted. Whoops. After the band finished, a few people jumped up on stage and started jamming, and out-of-my-shell confident me decided to jump up on the microphone and improvise lyrics. Even though I was drunk I soon realized I was making an ass of myself. I jumped off the stage, grabbed my jacket, and caught a cab to McDonalds (ew). I'm happy to say that stuff like this doesn't happen anymore, but I still cringe at this memory.
The first thing I do when I get into a bar is go put $4 into the Keno machine. I have a pretty good Keno rule (I know myself and my tendency to over-indulge) - if I win, I don't put any money back in. If I lose, I don't put any money back in. Simple. It gives me something to do, something to have fun with. Plus, it's a way cheaper habit (especially the way I play) than my old bar tabs (also, yowza).
Next up I grab a ginger ale. I can't remember the last time I got charged for a ginger ale at a bar. Which is rad! My bar budget for the night includes a show ticket (usually around $10), my Keno plays, and always spare change for a ginger ale or the Holy Grail -
$1.25 for a game of pool. Bar tables are usually terrible, and there's rarely chalk, bent cues, a lopsided table with scratch marks in the felt, but pool is a blast. Even if, like me, you're not very good at it. I go throw my $1.25 on the table and claim the next game. Usually it ends up that someone challenges me, or invites me for a game of doubles, and you end up meeting all of the crew who's come out to drink and play pool. And maybe sometimes you'll win a game or two.
Oh, right! You're there for the show! There's always that. Get into the crowd, go listen to the music, watch the band, learn the words, dance, and stop caring what you think people might think. Most of the times in bars people assume I'm sipping on a rye and ginger. Nobody has to know there's no booze in it. In fact, people are usually shocked when they offer me a glass of beer and I turn it down. People think it's cool that I don't drink.
Mingle. Socialize. If you're like me with social anxiety, you don't need to drink to loosen up - everybody else around you is already doing that. The more uninhibited and drunk others get, the easier you'll find it to socialize with strangers.
I always have my fail-safe back-up to ensure that I won't drink in bars - my car. I drive myself everywhere for a few reasons. One, so that I can leave when I'm ready to, and not rely on a taxi, or a ride from anybody else. And so that I don't drink. I will not drink and drive, and I sure as hell won't leave my car parked outside a bar, so if I have my car, I won't drink. Simple! Same rule goes for myself for house parties, or any event.
The first time I went to a bar after I quit drinking was a mere three months into my sobriety and I was terrified, and I learned from it. I didn't have my car, and it freaked me out. I learned to have my car as a back-up. I learned that ginger ales are free! I learned that I could really get into the music and forget that I wasn't drinking. I learned I didn't have to get drunk and make an ass of myself. Most of all, I learned that I could still go to a bar, not drink, and have fun.
It is possible. These days, I do it on a regular basis.
Is not an easy process. Oh wow is it difficult.
I've been on both sides of the spectrum. I've been the addict left, and the one who has had to leave an addict.
The biggest thing you can do is to recognize when it is time to leave. When the addict is interfering with your daily and personal life and manipulating and exploiting you. An addict will do whatever they can to keep you around, to let you enable them. I know, because I've done it. I'm not proud of it.
I have also been prone to drawing addicts into my life, as relationships, as friends. I have had people rely on me for their sobriety and that gets hard.
The only way I have found to do it is - tough love. Cut them off.
I know. I know they'll get the validation and enabling from somewhere else, but it doesn't have to end with you.
And you'll hear it, the lines they'll drop to get you to stay out of guilt.
"I need you."
My response - I need myself.
My response - I'll suffer the consequences.
"I can't make it without you."
My response - I can't make it with you.
It is so much easier said than done. An addict needs somebody by their side to hold them and to tell them that it's okay that they relapsed, that they have someone looking out for them. It is so hard for an addict to truly be alone and accountable for the consequences of their actions and addiction. No addict can truly get better with somebody by their side validating their failures and telling them that it will be okay. It's a nasty vortex to get sucked into, one that will leave you feeling unfulfilled and miserable. I think that women can relate to this, I know I can. I know I have nurturing tendencies and that I want to make the world better, person by person. I know I have a lot of love to give.
I know also that for the sake of my mental health and my own recovery, I need to turn around and give that love to myself first and foremost. It is important to me and my own addiction that I focus on myself first and foremost. And if I wasn't an addict myself? I think it's still important to put yourself first and remember that you can't save everybody. Not everybody has the coping skills to deal with an addict - I sure don't.
You need to value yourself. You need to put yourself first. You deserve so much better than being walked all over. You deserve to be happy, whether you receive that from yourself, another, or both. Ideally, always yourself.
Addiction truly touches us all and it's painful and it's sad.
For more resources on how to cope with an addict in your life
Addiction Recovery Guide (USA)
Did you know also that AA/NA meetings are not strictly for addicts? You can also work through AA/NA to cope with a partner/friend/family member's addiction, as well as create a mental support group for yourself in coping with another's addiction. Always be sure to check whether or not the group is closed, open, or gender-specific.
Addiction causes suffering, but you don't have to suffer for the actions of another. It's so much easier said than done, but once the pain outweighs the effort, you may find it easier to simply walk away. It is so difficult, but not as difficult as the pain that an addict can cause.
You deserve better.
It's not easy coming clean about your recovery. Admitting to recovery means admitting a problem and that's not an easy thing to do.
When I first quit drinking I didn't make it public knowledge. My close friends and family knew about it but that was it. I think the more people that know, the heavier the weight feels on you - in the beginning at least. These days for me it's a breeze publicly admitting to both my sobriety and my drinking problem. But it took about six months of continued sobriety before being able to admit to myself that my drinking was a problem.
Since then I've met friends and formed relationships and in social scenarios when offered a drink, I have always said, "I don't drink." To me it seems easier to say that than, "I've quit drinking." When acquaintances find out you've quit drinking, there's always questions, and sometimes they aren't easy to answer. It was easier for me to say I didn't drink. But at this point in my recovery I'll tell anybody my story happily.
The reactions you get are interesting, sometimes heartbreaking, and every one will truly be eye-opening. People will define themselves based on their reaction to your sobriety and recovery - believe me.
I've found close friends and family to be incredibly supportive.
Of course my family first and foremost has been my rock. They've watched me struggle intensely with issues regarding self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, you name it - they've watched it all since I was a child. Alcohol for me was a trigger for the negative emotions in my life. When I told my family that I wanted to quit drinking they encouraged it. Actually my mother and I used to enjoy having a glass of wine together with dinner, and sometimes a few more ... whoops! This wasn't enabling. We used to bond with wine. When I go to visit her now, we drink juice or soda together. This is something she's changed about herself when I'm around - that support has been amazing. Thank you, Momma.
My close group of friends has seen the same struggles. These are even friends that I used to use and drink with in years previous. These are the friends who talked behind my back and called me Jess the Mess and had no idea how to get me help. Little did they know I'd come to help myself! These are the friends who have always been here for me and while our relationships then may have been based on common interests such as drinking or using, we have managed to forge an intense friendship without any artificial stimulants. How amazing! These friendships I have come to treasure most intensely.
New friends! I've made an entire new friend group since my sobriety. People who have never seen me drunk or high. To me this speaks volumes because these people take me at my word about my problem and addiction and still support me fully. I drink ginger ales right, I still go to parties and shows, and I drink my ginger ales (in a green can). I have one friend who every once in a while looks at me out of the corner of my eye, spots the green can, and imagines for a split second it's a Cariboo beer. I've seen his face fall, his hand hit his heart, his body crumple, and then he realizes it's a ginger ale. This is also the same friend that bought me a shot of apple juice to commemorate my first open mic. These are the people who have loved me for me - maybe even more of the me that my lifelong friends may have gotten to know (so far!) - a truly authentic me that I was able to discover through sobriety and self-love.
Then ... there's the enablers.
I won't even call them friends. There are always going to be these people - just recently I got a Facebook message from an old drinking buddy regarding one of my celebratory sobriety posts. "What the fuck? You're sober? Oh, and for fourteen months? You sound like some idiot talking about their toddler. Booo, you're boring sober, you were more fun drunk. Come camping and get drunk, I won't tell anyone." This was extremely upsetting and I let myself sit on it and contemplate it before responding. I removed him from my friends list and explained exactly why - I don't require outer support for my recovery, I rely on myself. I like to celebrate my successes. I avoid people who are detrimental to my mental health.
I allowed myself to think about the entire scenario and I recalled the way that this person and I used to binge-drink together and it hit me - he was unable to deal with my problem, because it would mean having to admit to his own. It's so much easier to tear down somebody who is bettering their life, than to be forced to analyze your own. To convince your buddy they don't have a drink/drug problem, because you want somebody to use or drink with. In the earlier stages of recovery this is so dangerous.
You may find your friendships aren't quite what they used to be, with people you used to call close. This is a hard-hitting reality. I experienced a huge loss of self when I realized that there were people in my life that I had nothing in common with - save for drinking. I could have chosen to relapse. Instead, I chose to go out and find and make friendships with people who were genuine - people who may drink here and there, but people who will call and ask me to come to the beach, or go canoeing, or 4x4ing, or any other sort of activity that creates a real human bonding. The people who don't rely on intoxicants to form friendships.
At the end of the day I define and control my relationship with alcohol, my friends, and myself.
The greatest person that I have encountered in my sobriety is myself. I love my friends, and I love my family, and the insurmountable support that they have given me. I even love the people who haven't supported me, because they have taught me important lessons about myself and how much value I have to place upon others.
So if you've either supported me, or opposed me, thank you!
CeA friend asked me this yesterday, "How do you celebrate your sobriety milestones?" We laughed about it for a minute.
Then it hit me and I was saddened by just how much of a social construct alcohol truly is in celebrations, milestones, etc.
I didn't have a proper answer yesterday, but after sleeping on it and thinking about it, today I have an answer to that question.
The first step is to celebrate every single day. A huge part of my recovery and sobriety was finding something to celebrate every day. A few months ago I started a journal, my book of Good Things. Every day I write down something good or positive that happened that day, or that I accomplished. I use this book for reference to remind me why I quit drinking and chose to focus on my recovery in the first place. Sometimes you have bad days, it's inevitable. Addiction and relapse rely on negative emotions like depression and stress. Imagine having a little devil on your shoulder saying, "It's okay, this will make you feel better."
You have to turn around and say, "No. I will make me feel better."
I started of course by counting my sober days. Then my sober weeks. Then my sober months. I tried not to post on Facebook for every monthly milestone, but I wanted to celebrate and share my successes and hopefully inspire others - which I did and have!
My first proudest milestone was six months. I quit drinking in 2013 and made it four and a half months. When I hit that six month milestone, I felt stronger and more accomplished. I felt like I could truly beat this.
My nine month milestone hit right before a large music festival I attended, and I celebrated it to myself. I was nervous as all hell to go to a music festival surrounded by booze and drunk people. I don't do well in large crowds. After I made it through the four day festival without a drop of liquor, I celebrated again.
I couldn't believe when I hit a whole year. It was December 24th of this past year and it was my Christmas present to my family, and to myself. I posted all over Facebook, phoned my extended family, and woke up that morning grinning. I wasn't looking for validation by doing this. I am the only one who validates my sobriety. It was important for me and for my family to know that I am finally beating this disease. On my one year my wonderful boyfriend bought me a bouquet of roses (which I still have today) and took me for breakfast.
I celebrated separately with different friends and family members. I bought myself a bottle of sparkling grape juice. One of my biggest things was finding something else to drink at bars, and I chose ginger ale. Most people know me as the girl who rolls around town with a 20 case of ginger ale in the backseat... I wanted something different. I wondered if I would be triggered by drinking something that resembled liquor. I wasn't. I drank my glass of sparkling grape juice and felt accomplished.
My favorite part of celebrating my one year sober was knowing that from here on out I don't have to monumentalize the weeks or months anymore. I can start counting the years from here on out, my anniversaries.
But the important part is to celebrate every day. I don't wake up and think to myself, "I'm X amount of days/weeks/months sober," I wake up and tell myself, "I was sober yesterday and I will be sober again today." I find something beautiful in every day to make that day sober worth it.
Every party. Every show. Every stressful moment. I make it through all of them and I go to sleep feeling accomplished, and I wake up feeling accomplished and at ease.
I not only celebrate my sobriety every day, but I celebrate myself, my conviction, my strengths, my achievements, my goals, and my attitude every single day. Celebrate yourself as well as your milestones. Celebrating yourself will become the foundation of your recovery.
My glass of sparkling grape juice, celebrating with my boyfriend and his daughter.
Welcome to me, circa 2011.
They say a photo is a thousand words. I don't know if I can keep it under a thousand here.
My excuse for this night was that it was St. Patrick's Day. But guess what? It was a Tuesday. It was an excuse.
When you are an addict, you look for an excuse to use. You can restrict it to 'recreational' use, or tell yourself that. Tell yourself you're only going to use on special occasions. Then a weekend. Then you start trying to tell yourself that a Tuesday is a special occasion.
It was the exact same scenario when I quit cocaine in 2008. I had thought to myself that I could use recreationally. I realized that I couldn't. I realized that before I even tried. I had struggled with cocaine use for a year before I quit, and when I quit, I quit for good. Almost.
When I quit blow I still wanted something to fill that void. I turned to alcohol, because it was legal and socially acceptable. I could go to a bar and get drunk, sit at a family dinner and get drunk, go to the beach and get drunk, and there wasn't the same stigma as using drugs at these events. I could buy it in a store. I could justify drinking because it was legal and acceptable. I could abuse it, because for young adults it's acceptable to get wasted. Even on a Tuesday.
I abused alcohol the exact same way that I abused cocaine. It went on for years. I was the life of the party, I was always happy and giggling. I was so outgoing and bright and had no problem starting up a conversation with a total stranger, thanks to liquid courage. By nature I am a shy and anxious person, while on the other hand I am outgoing as well. It's a real conundrum! Booze helped me solve that riddle. I started to like myself more when I was buzzed, tipsy and drunk, and forgot to love myself at all sober. That's right. I had to get drunk to care about my well-being. It was about four years into the abuse when I realized that I could no longer look myself in the mirror.
I hated myself sober.
I grew to hate myself drunk.
My anxiety crept up on to me so slowly that I never saw it coming. The booze stopped working. I was anxious when I woke up in the morning hungover, I was afraid to check my phone to see what drunk things I had texted friends or exes. I couldn't own a phone that accessed Facebook, because I would be constantly posting drunk photos or status updates. Then the anxiety got so bad, the liquor couldn't shake it. I started to drink more and more. It took getting hammered before going to an event for me to feel comfortable, and then drinking more and more while I was out.
I had a breakdown in 2014. I think my body gave out and I had enough. I lost my job and I was afraid to leave my house. I was on a wait list to see a psychiatrist and I drank the whole time, trying to keep myself level and keep my emotions in check. My psychiatrist asked about my drinking and I lied to her and told her I didn't have a problem.
I had a problem. It was becoming apparent.
During that time I was diagnosed with a type two bipolar disorder. Suddenly everything preceding that moment made sense. The manic highs where I would avoid sleep, the depression where I would live on a couch for weeks at a time. The poor decisions. The drug abuse and drinking. And the self-esteem.
If cocaine is a stimulant, alcohol is a depressant. But they sort of go hand in hand and work the same way. Cocaine will deplete your serotonin and leave you depressed. Alcohol will work as a black cloud, causing a constant depression you need to drink your way out of. After years of abuse and an undiagnosed mental illness, I had really fucked myself over.
I didn't even quit drinking straight away! I drank for another two months or so after being put on my medication. That was a definite mistake.
On December 23rd, 2014, I went all out. I bought a 1.5L bottle of shiraz and I drank it before I even went out. I was sitting at home. It was a Tuesday. I was watching television, reading, writing, a normal night at home called for a liter and a half of red wine. My friend phoned me, they were having a party. He picked me up, and we stopped at the liquor store. I bought another bottle. I downed the thing in nearly an hour. He drove me home before 11, and we stopped at the liquor store again. Bottle number three. Remember, I was already three liters of wine deep.
But damned if I didn't drink the third bottle.
Four and a half liters of wine.
I sat on my couch and I cried and I cried about everything there was to cry about. Looking back, I was sad for myself. I didn't want to live. I didn't want to be myself anymore. December 23, 2014 was the worst night of my life that I can recall, and believe me, after that much wine, it's all a bit of a blur. I will never forget that sadness. It was a sadness that followed me around and alcohol amplified it.
I'm grateful that it did. That was the last time I've had a drink. The hangover the next day was excruciating - it lasted the better part of three days. I missed Christmas dinner with my family, my hangover was still so bad.
I haven't had a drop since. I've stayed on my medication. I've stayed sober, and clean.
I had to learn to love myself all over again. Looking back, I don't know that I ever really did. During my teenage years I struggled with self-esteem and drug abuse issues. Loving myself was never a real priority for me. I started by finding hobbies I could take pride in. I started playing guitar, I wrote a book, I started up Tattered. I went to the beach every single night with a cup of peppermint tea, listened to music and let the thoughts of the day wash away. I started singing in the shower. I went out without makeup and learned to love the face in the mirror. I read inspirational books and got into the habit of having a coffee and a cigarette each morning in the sun while I read and shared inspirational quotes. I started meditating and collecting healing stones. I took a break from the party scene.
It hasn't been without its struggles. Three months into my sobriety, St. Patrick's Day was on a Tuesday. I went out, and to a bar. I ordered a ginger ale and gave myself one hell of a pep talk. It was so hard being in a bar with drunk people everywhere, but I was going to do it. It was karaoke night. So I went up and did karaoke - the first time I had ever done sober karaoke. Remember how I said I'm shy? I was able to sing in front of people easy if I had at least a six pack under my belt. I sipped on my ginger ale and I sang my heart out. When I was done I had another accomplishment under my belt.
That's how I feel every time I go out, now. Shows and parties aren't a problem anymore. I associate things in my mind, "The last time you saw this band play you were sober, you got this." I remember everything. I always have my car keys, I always have to drive myself home. I get a sense of pride when I spent two dollars at a bar the whole night on ginger ale. I'm not afraid of my bank balance the next day, or any sent text messages. I can breathe a lot easier. Even though I do still experience anxiety going out, it's nothing compared to how it was before.
I can look at myself in the mirror and love myself. I don't need to wear a mask of makeup. I don't have to have glazed eyes and an unfocused drunken leer to find myself attractive or lovable. I don't look for acceptance in booze or lovers. For the first time in forever, I love myself, and have consistently each day more and more since I broke up with booze.
I haven't yet defined my relationship with alcohol, and I'm not focusing on it right now. I'm more concerned with defining my relationship with myself, first and foremost. In a lot of ways it was easy to quit, it just made sense. When I think about being sober forever, it terrifies me. But when I think about drinking again, that scares me even more. I think that gives me a good perspective into my addiction. I know that AA says you have to admit you're powerless to it, but I'm not. I don't want to be afraid of alcohol. I don't regret the time in my life that I spent drinking or using, because I think I love myself more for overcoming the things that I have. I have more of a sense of pride because I know where I've been.
And now you do too.