If you haven’t heard of “gray area drinking,” it’s something I suggest googling. In short, gray area drinking is the space where seemingly successful members of society who occasionally to frequently drown themselves in alcohol lie. It’s the space between having a serious drinking problem that prevents you from participating in all other aspects of your life, and having no problem at all. Continuously dwelling here is a dangerous place to be.
“I never thought you had a problem”
When I decided to give sobriety a go, I considered stopping without saying a word to anyone. The problem with that was I have never been good at keeping my own secrets, and I knew it was unrealistic I’d keep this one. So one day, as I sat in the luxurious office of my bath tub, I decided to text my closest friends and tell them that I knew my relationship to alcohol wasn’t healthy. It was time to break up, and I wanted them to know.
Here are the responses and reactions I received:
- “No you don’t”
- I never thought you had a problem
- Not like you’re taking swigs of whiskey from the bottle (sarcasm)
- I can support that
- Good for you
- Prouda you
- I love you and I’m here for you.
- Let me know what I can do
- Me too
Each one of these responses came from a place of love, so no judgment. Sometimes struggles with substances are blatantly obvious. Other times they can only be felt by the person who is living them. I wasn’t falling asleep at the wheel, I wasn’t getting into bar fights, I wasn’t blacking out at 10am on a Tuesday. I was able to run a successful business, take care of my child, and make it appear like I was living the dream. So why would anyone have thought otherwise?
What was happening, however, was I felt absolutely terrible about myself inside and out, despite being a girl who looked like she “had it all.” And I had felt that way on and off for a decade. For whatever reason, 20 year old me got terrifyingly good at telling myself I wasn’t good enough at just about anything and everything. This kept me motivated, and the competitor in me liked that, but it also slowly ate away at my soul. I wasn’t a good enough dancer. I wasn’t a good enough girlfriend. I wasn’t a good enough teacher. I wasn’t a good enough mom, friend, wife. The list goes on. No one else ever made me feel this way, but yet it was how I felt.
These periods of time all had one thing in common: feeling not enough and the need to escape. Escape heartache, escape rejection, escape the pressures of new motherhood and my breaking marriage. I didn’t want to sit with the sadness or discomfort. I didn’t have patience for the healing process. I wasn’t ready to look at myself in the mirror and accept what was really going on. It was always in the back of my mind that I wasn’t a “normal” drinker, whatever that means. But I figured since I didn’t have any of the typical raging alcoholic traits, I was fine. Drinking made me feel temporarily calm as it quieted my intense emotions. Until it exasperated them, and inevitably, it will always do that to me, which is why I can’t casually drink like my friends. I want you to understand that it’s what happens to me internally that’s the problem. It’s not always blatantly obvious on the outside.
I thought my routine was working well. I came home and drank wine during the week. I drank wine during the day too. I also drank tequila, which is a story for another day. I drank everything really. I can’t count on my hands and feet how many times I was trashed on summer days when my daughter was younger. Then I’d wake up feeling like even more trash. I’ll always feel guilty about that. She deserved so much better.
Finally one day right before my 30th birthday and in the thick of my latest quarter life crisis, I found myself figuratively knocked on my ass. I had a choice to stay there and rot, or to make some serious changes. I was tired of running away from my own bullshit. I was ready to process all the messes I should have cleaned up years ago. Most importantly, I was ready to FEEL all the emotions I’d been trying so hard to bury. This time I was going to let them flow without telling myself what I was feeling was stupid or made up.
At the same time I made this choice, someone had reached out to me about offering refuge recovery meetings at the studio. Was the universe telling me something? I’d say yes. Between these meetings, a wonderful therapist, and the support of my friends and family, I was able to make it to 30 days sober, then 60, then 90, and then like Forest Gump I figured that I’d made it this far, might as well keep going!
My best advice to you if someone has confided in you that they are struggling, is to be there without judgment. Give advice only if it’s asked for. Try not to label or diagnose. Do not make assumptions. Just support their decision and ask what you can do to help. Listening and being supportive goes a LONG way in the healing process. I am so grateful to my friends who do this every day. You’ll never know how much it means to me!