This was a nostalgic post to read back to. It’s one of the starkest examples of how much has changed in my life, even just in the past two years.
In this episode, I read part of an old journal entry from when I was still struggling with life and using alcohol to cope:
“I want to have a happy moment. I feel very sad, very alone. I always felt that somehow I was an outsider looking in. I would wonder if they thought I didn’t belong there too. I really wish I could get to the root of my psychological problems and fix them. Something must have happened during my childhood.
I don’t know why I hate life so much. … I feel like I take things to heart too much. I hurt too easily and for too long. I’ve been a depressed person all my life. I have felt alone all my life. I have felt like I don’t belong anywhere all my life. I have become the most cynical, unbelieving, untrusting person.”
I just want to give my younger self a huge hug. ❤
Those feelings of aloneness, unbelonging, and sadness and not feeling truly safe with or seen by others were ultimately the reasons I kept drinking. I wanted to escape and numb myself to the pain and sense of hopelessness that came along with those feelings.
In the episode, I talked about the things that helped me eventually move away from abusing alcohol: a new, more stable romantic relationship; returning to singing, my first creative passion, as well as starting to song write; and shifting from feeling a lack of purpose and hope in my life to having a clearer life direction (i.e., applying to a Master’s program), which in turn opened the door to shifting my financial struggles.
I was glad to hear and remember that even though I was gaining more external “successes” in life, I still realized that my deep internal issues and feelings of pain, aloneness, sense of unbelonging, profound sadness, and anger wouldn’t just magically disappear as a result. Because they hadn’t.
I was 30 and still wondering why I felt depressed. And although it did seem like I had more “control” over my drinking, I was still susceptible to abusing alcohol.
There was deep work that needed to be done. I just didn’t know what that work was.
* * *
At the time of the episode, in April 2018, I was looking more deeply into my “abandonment wound” and “worthiness wound” (the latter coined by Thais Sky) – because when those wounds were triggered, my default reaction was to want to drink.
That exploration led me to learn about trauma (specifically, in my case, developmental and complex trauma), which helped me to finally identify the root of my “psychological problems” – not in fact problems, but the impacts of those experiences of trauma, some of which did occur during my childhood. That understanding ultimately allowed me to find ways to address those issues.
It’s been the hardest and most empowering journey I’ve ever been on.
A few months into my alcohol-free journey, which began in April 2020, I couldn’t see myself getting to one year. It just seemed like an insurmountable achievement. I also couldn’t imagine life being as exciting or fulfilling without drinking – so in some ways, I didn’t have a strong desire for it.
But at the start of the pandemic, I knew something was off. I talk more about how my alcohol-free journey started in my podcast episode “Why It’s So Hard to Stop Drinking (S2, E3 | The Soul’s Work Podcast).”
As I said in my 1-year-alcohol-free Instagram post in April 2021, getting to one year involved a complex approach that included the trauma-healing work. Doing that work has taught me how to sit in massively uncomfortable feelings – including the ones that came up early on in going alcohol free – given that I no longer had my biggest coping mechanism to turn to to numb me out.
This work also helped me to get to the bottom of why I felt so alone and like I didn’t belong. I worked on (and still am working on) healing those core wounds, which are related to developmental trauma, and I now believe more than ever that I do belong on this planet and with the people around me. It doesn’t mean I always feel aligned with my environment, and it doesn’t mean I always feel that people are seeing me for who I really am. But I believe I have a place. I have a right to exist as me.
So doing this work has been the game-changer when it comes to understanding why I felt all these profoundly disheartening, painful feelings my whole life that kept me turning to alcohol for comfort. I now know why, and don’t feel the confusion and shame that came along with believing that I was just fucked up.
Getting to one year alcohol free also required the unconditional support of a community that had lived experience of the issues; educating myself on the neuroscience of addiction; and replacing my “trusted companion” with other, more positive things.
I also took a course called This Naked Mind Intensive, which I think was exactly what I needed at the time – a program that didn’t make me say that I was never going to have another drink again, and instead had me examine and challenge my deepest beliefs about alcohol.
I’m sure that all the other things I mentioned also had to be in place for this program to be as effective as it was for me, but it’s yet just one more example of how getting to the root of the issue (versus just trying to change behavior) can be what leads to sustainable, embodied change.
By embodied, I mean – in this case anyways – that I don’t even crave alcohol anymore in the first place. So there’s no reason for me to fight myself to stop a behavior I’m feeling compelled to do.
* * *
Of course, as I emphasized in the episode, this is my one, unique journey with alcohol. Could I have done all this even in my own life when I was in my 20s and living very differently, with much less supports and privilege? I’m not sure that I could then. Maybe I would have needed something else or even more support (that may or may not have been available to me) to achieve sobriety.
Regardless, I never thought I could get to this point. Now that I’m about two months shy of being 2 years alcohol free, I just marvel at what we humans are capable of. I don’t say that in an idealistic way, because I know what a long, holistic, messy process this was for me. And I know that this could look vastly different for others who are experiencing alcohol dependency.
Others might need an abstinence approach. Others might be too severely addicted to just stop cold turkey and need more intensive care. Others might not have the privilege to avoid their triggers as easily. Others may not have the financial privilege to afford therapy or these kinds of courses (or other supports) that could make a difference.
So, as always, I don't share my story to say, "Here's what to do." I just share it to let anyone who needs to hear it know you're not alone in this. You aren't messed up. You aren't broken. And there is hope of experiencing a different relationship both to alcohol and yourself.
With love, Janice xo
P.S. You can listen to "My Drinking Story (S1, EP11 | The Soul's Work Podcast)" on: the website | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Podchaser | Stitcher | Please subscribe + leave a rating and review to help others find the show! ❤