Our society lives and breathes for a quick fix. We scoff at the idea of having to sit with uncomfortable emotions or physical sensations.
Have a headache? There’s a pill for that.
Having trouble sleeping? There’s a pill for that.
Having a hard time accepting your weight? There’s a pill (and a program) for that.
Experiencing sadness or anger? You guessed it … there’s a pill for that.
Kids stressing you out? There’s a pill for that too.
And if you don’t like taking pills, beer, wine or liquor will suffice. Whatever it takes to get the job done. And by job I mean attempting to control how one feels.
I know a lot of people who enjoy the taste of alcohol. I was never one of them. I drank for the effect that alcohol produced. From the very first time alcohol touched my lips, I drank to change how I felt.
I will never forget the first time I drank. I was 15 years old and on vacation with my extended family in Cancun. Growing up, I always seemed to get sick on holidays or during vacations. This trip was no exception. I developed a nasty head cold while we were there and was so miserable one night at dinner because I couldn’t breathe well enough to eat. My dad suggested I take a shot of Tequila to clear my congestion. I was desperate and willing to try anything. I drank the Tequila that night. I drank so I could breathe. And it worked. It cleared my congestion and left me with the knowledge that alcohol was a viable solution to this problem.
A few years later I turned to alcohol again to relieve me of a problem. I was severely anorexic and eating dinner with my family had become hellacious. I had run out of excuses as to why I wasn’t eating and my family had started to notice my eating disorder. In an attempt to prove to them that I was OK, I started to drink so I could eat. The alcohol quieted the eating disorder voice in my head enough for me to consume a normal meal without the torture of constant calorie counting and fear of gaining weight. The alcohol, again, proved to be an effective solution to my problem.
I continued to drink so I could handle life. When I felt overwhelmed with school, I drank so I could feel calm. When I felt social anxiety, I drank so I could talk with ease to strangers at the parties. When I felt depressed, I drank to feel happy. I drank to fit in, I drank to relax, I drank to let go. I drank to be someone other than myself and to feel anything other than what I was feeling.
Then I was raped. At 19 years old, while I was still a virgin holding onto the idea that sex was meant to be a deep, intimate connection between two people who were in love, I was raped. I drank to escape. For years I drank to escape the feelings, the memories, the unhealthy ways I coped with what had happened to me; I drank to escape it all.
After a few years of drinking heavily, I drank because I physically had to. My body was so used to having pints, even liters of alcohol in it daily that I physically had to drink in order to function. I drank so that my hand would stop shaking. I drank so that my muscles would start working. I drank so I wouldn’t throw up everything I ate and drank the night before. I drank to escape the physical hell that my body was experiencing.
I drank for years because it worked. I am an alcoholic but drinking was never my problem. Drinking was my solution to whatever problem I was experiencing. Drinking was my solution until it stopped working. There came a point, actually several points, where drinking no longer served as an adequate solution to my problems. So I had to stop.
But I didn’t just have to stop drinking, I had to stop searching for solutions to my “problems.” When I got sober, I learned that my so called problems, most of the time, centered in my brain. The way I saw the world and perceived what was happening around me was skewed. Sure, I had legitimate problems, but my inability to accept life and all of the experiences, good or bad, that make up this experience we call life was my problem.
Sobriety is not simply abstaining from alcohol or pills. Sobriety is about learning to live without a quick fix. Learning to accept situations and experiences as they are. Learning to sit in uncomfortabililty. Welcoming the array of emotions that surface when we stop numbing ourselves. And knowing that it’s not my job to fix how I’m feeling.
Sobriety, for me, has been a continual practice in letting go of outcomes. And feelings are often the outcomes I need to let go of. Physical and emotional pain, both of which are intricately woven into the human experience, are not meant to be escaped. It is not my job to rid myself entirely of pain. Sobriety is a constant balancing act between taking the required action to deal with physical or emotional pain in a healthy way, and accepting the purposeful presence of pain.
Nobody likes to be in pain or experience uncomfortable emotions, but I have found immense freedom in accepting that pain is part of the human experience and I am not exempt from the human experience. Everyone experiences pain to varying degrees. Yes, it’s often uncomfortable, but I’m learning that the more I embrace the uncomfortability instead of running from it, the more I am able to fully experience life.