Shattering the Shame: Why I Haven’t Openly Talked About My Sobriety

“The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you.”

-David Foster Wallace

For the past ten years I’ve known I had a problem with alcohol.  Time and time again, my drinking caused me to be unpredictable, irresponsible, and downright destructive.  Despite knowing all of this, I spent the better part of the decade trying to “drink like a normal person.”

I grew up glamorizing a glass of wine, going to Sunday brunch, and dressing up to sip champagne.  Over the years I’ve proved to myself that there was nothing romantic about it, yet over and over I tried to take control of something that was out of my hands.

There have been many reasons I’ve held back from sharing my truth.  I’ve been worried I would be judged, ridiculed, or rejected.  I’ve romanticized the “good old days” and avoided sharing that I don’t drink; sometimes it just seemed easier for me have a drink than to explain myself.

I was afraid of being seen as broken or a burden.

I recently had a conversation with a woman I respect and look up to about the shame I carry about being an alcoholic.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve worn a mask of “having it all together” to avoid facing the problems that lie underneath.  I never realized it, but she recognized how my facade of looking and acting a certain way has blocked my ability to truly heal and accept myself for who I am.

I’ve held onto the shame so tightly that I didn’t even realize I had it.

Since I hadn’t been completely honest with myself and others, I went back to drinking more times and I can count- and it never, ever got any better.  I know this today, and I need to continue to remember it in the future.

Instead of continuing to pretend, I decided it was finally time to openly share my struggles- and my strength. From Brené Brown to Glennon Doyle, I’m in good recovery company- and hopefully my own journey will help someone else one day, too.

We only grow when we do something that makes us uncomfortable.

Faux Extrovert

The other day I picked up the book “Quiet” at the library. It was a timely find, as I’ve been reflecting on my own self care needs, causes of anxiety, and everyday interactions with those around me.

As I read the first few pages of Susan Cain’s book, one paragraph struck me:

“Now that you’re an adult, you might still feel a pang if guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much,” a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers.”

Oh, how I relate.

Lately I’ve been exhausted; not due to a lack of rest, but with the amount of social interaction I have had. This has been a month of healing, but it has also been a month full of groups, social activities, and sharing my story, thoughts, and innermost challenges. In a community setting it can be difficult to find the space and time to sit and reflect; there’s always someone talking, somewhere to go, or someone critiquing what I say. Sure, I have no problem speaking up, but I am easily drained when I don’t have time to just be.

Over the past decade I’ve been extremely outgoing, which served its purpose when moving to new cities, recreating myself, making friends, and succeeding in the workplace. Alcohol helped with that, too. However, alcohol no longer serves, either.

It’s time to embrace who I truly am- on my own.

As I’ve written numerous times before, I grew up as a shy only child, spending my days drawing, reading, and writing. “Boredom” is not in my vocabulary- I’ve always known how to entertain myself through creating. However, somewhere along my path I became a social butterfly, only to find myself lashing out when my batteries weren’t charged. I never considered that my mood swings were partially due to a lack of energy.

Someone explained the definition of “introvert” to me years ago: someone who gains energy from alone time. An introvert is a very misunderstand type of person; they’re not necessarily timid or weak- an introvert holds a modest strength that doesn’t need to be proven through loud words, social interactions, or attention-seeking.

As I dig deeper into the person I once was, who I’m becoming, and the person I want to be, I have realized the power in quiet. Truth be told, extroverts tend to annoy me. How can these people be so loud? How can they be so needy? Can’t they just learn to sit still and create something instead of constantly consuming?

Of course, it’s not my place to judge people who gain energy from activities and social interactions; diverse personalities make the world go ’round. However, I have always gotten along best with fellow introverts- those who are introspective, creative, independent, and calm. I prefer one-on-one interactions to groups, deep conversations to small talk.

I’ve also learned that I don’t have to pick up a drink and be the life of the party; I can find my tribe by being myself. I can develop meaningful relationships, a purposeful career, and live a happy life by embracing my introvert characteristics.

Susan Cain describes people who pretend to be extroverts just like I have; it’s a breath of fresh air to leave that facade aside and own my introversion. I may not be loud and aggressive today, but when I do speak up, I do have something meaningful to say.

I’ve found solace and strength in my writing, and for that, I am grateful. I’m no longer afraid to speak my truth- my whole truth- and admit my struggles. More on that later. As for now, I’m enjoying my Saturday afternoon curled up with my book, writing in my journal, and soaking in the sunshine from my window.

Quiet is a beautiful thing.

Starting the Conversation: Asking for Help

It’s been both an emotional and enlightening month. As I reflect on June- how it began and how it is ending- I truly feel I’ve come full circle and am finally understanding what I can do to fulfill both my purpose and passions.

I can’t do it alone, though.

My friend Nicoline is in town this weekend from NYC- the same friend I went to visit two weeks ago. I’m thrilled to have her here for both her company and her insight on life. She feels like a kindred spirit or sister to me- so having her around is comforting.

Tomorrow marks one year since Joe passed away- someone who was special in both of our lives. She was with him until the very end, which is something I don’t think I would have had the strength or patience for.

I hadn’t heard of a person dying of alcohol complications at 35 before, despite being involved in the recovery community since 2011. It was always an overdose, suicide, or another disease that killed friends or family of mine- not liver disease at a young age.

Despite the complications, he continued drinking. Right until the end. It makes me wonder, what went through his mind to give up all hope? Why didn’t he see the light?

Even when given the opportunity to be put on the organ donor list, he lost it due to his continued drinking. I had spoken to him near the end of his life, and Nicoline shared with me that my insight was helpful and comforting to him. For that, I am glad. However, it makes me sad that there was never a point in his life where he thought quitting was a possibility, or that treatment was an option.

This is why I am starting a conversation.

After the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, people around the world asked, “why? They had everything.” I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this- must of all, frustration for the lack of understanding of how complicated mental health is.

Having everything” means nothing when you don’t have inner peace.

When I met Joe, he had “everything,” too. A director job at a mobile tech startup in New York City. A great one bedroom apartment in Chelsea with exposed brick and updated appliances. Stories of work trips to Switzerland and many friends from all around the world, who he referred to as his “Ship Fam.”

However, he always had the “fun guy” image. I don’t think he ever built an identity for himself. That’s what Nicoline and I talked about last night- how he never was willing to let go of the party guy persona. He didn’t know any other way.

Building a foundation of confidence, self worth, and purpose is key to anyone’s recovery, whether they’re a drug addict or suffering with depression. There’s no difference what the drug or vice is; it all comes down to the person’s foundation.

When I decided to get help, I knew I needed to start my own foundation without crutches, family, or friends to hold me up. I knew I needed to live minimally, modestly, and mindfully in order to finally see the world clearly.

So, I came to Boston to build my own foundation.

It’s been quite a journey to say the least. I am forever grateful I started my blog when I did- just two weeks out of treatment. I was fortunate to meet some amazing people who helped show me the way, which ultimately lead me to a deeper spiritual foundation.

I hope that I have been able to help a few people by sharing my stories, and now, finally beginning to explain what happened to me before I came to Boston.

I didn’t have any hope. I thought my dreams were dead, I didn’t have anything to show for myself, and all I could do to cope was to date and drink.

Thankfully, my friends and family intervened- because they knew my potential and worth even when I did not.

~

My hope is to continue this conversation and inspire others to build their own foundation. It’s not easy to start from square one, or to let go of the negative things in your life that hold you back from success, but I promise- it is worth it.