3. I can survive without self-medicating.
Let’s talk about a very touchy subject for a moment, shall we? Self-medication! It’s one of my favorite pastimes! I can’t really recall exactly when I started using alcohol as a crutch/self-soothing tool/anti-anxiety medication, but I can tell you that it was a very long time ago. For years and years, I used alcohol to help me cope with all of the hardships of life. Or so I thought. In reality, it never really helped with anything. If I had a stressful day, I’d have a glass of wine. If I liked a boy and he wasn’t giving me the attention I craved, I’d have a cocktail. If I got into an argument with a friend or family member, I’d have a drink. If I did something I wasn’t proud of and didn’t know how to deal with it, I’d just have a drink and forget about it. If I got depressed about being a waitress in my thirties, I’d have a drink. If something terrible happened to me and I didn’t know how to process, I’d go to happy hour.
One drink always turned into many drinks and it got to the point where I was using alcohol to actively try to shut off my feelings, desires and thoughts. The only problem with doing that is that alcohol can only shut things off for a short time. I would still wake up the next morning with the same thoughts, the same feelings, the same desires…and all of them were tired of being ignored and pushed under the rug. If I had had too much to drink the night (or day!) before, which I often did, I would also wake up with very heavy guilt and shame about drinking — guilt and shame about not being present; guilt and shame about not being myself; guilt and shame for dimming my own light. I was intoxicated probably 50% of the time, which means I wasn’t myself about 50% of the time, which is a lot! That’s half a person, half a personality, gone!
A few years ago, I somehow found the strength to admit to myself and a couple of other people that I was doing this. I was self-medicating. I wasn’t just a “social drinker,” like I had always wanted everyone to believe. I was drinking with purpose. I was drinking to try to hide how unhappy I was, from not only those around me, but also from myself. Unfortunately, admitting I had a problem with drinking was only the first step. Actually stopping the habit was a whole different can of worms. And even though I knew I wanted to stop self-medicating, I didn’t want to stop all the way. I associated fun with drinking, and I wasn’t ready to give it up.
So, I started trying to cut back. I would set goals for myself, like, “Tonight, I’m only going to have two glasses of wine (unless one of my customers buys me a drink). Or, “Tonight, I’m not going to black out.” Or, “This week, I’m only going to drink on my days off.” Most of the time, I wouldn’t share these goals with anyone, but I wouldn’t meet them, either. I thought it wasn’t that bad, because the only person I was letting down was myself, right? I was so wrong! Letting myself down over and over and over again is the single worst thing I’ve ever done to myself and my self-esteem. I know that now, but I didn’t then.
Anyway, the whole point of me telling you about this nasty, nasty habit I had is that I finally feel like I’ve been able to break away from it! I attribute that in part to my unborn baby. Before I got pregnant I was already starting on my journey away from self-medication. I had recognized the problem; I had learned to accept my feelings better. I had decided my feelings were there for a reason…they were usually trying to show me something or teach me an important lesson and I couldn’t learn the lesson if I was drowning the feelings in alcohol. I had successfully cut back on drinking and convinced myself that life without it wasn’t that bad. But, I would still slip up. I would still go back to my old ways and every time I did I would wake up with the same guilt and shame.
Then I got pregnant, and I stopped drinking immediately. Now I had this very important reason not to drink, the most important reason ever, growing inside of me. In the last nine months, I’ve gotten to know myself, and my anxiety, so well. I’ve had to feel all my feelings; I’ve had to worry all my worries; I’ve had to fear all my fears and cry all my tears. When I feel happy, I feel truly happy. When I laugh, I’m truly laughing from somewhere deep inside my belly. And I’ve done this all without medication, without alcohol and refreshingly, without much shame. And, guess what? I’ve survived! I’m even a little proud of myself. I’ve found that all the bad things aren’t really as bad as I imagined them to be, as long as I don’t run away from them.
My baby forced me to get to know my true self, an unadulterated version of myself, and for that I will forever be grateful. I can’t wait to enjoy a glass of rosé with friends, but now I know I don’t need it to survive. Now I know that I’m strong enough to feel any feeling and fight any fight and I’m strong enough all on my own. I don’t need any substance to help me. Thank you, baby Lentil. Thank you so much. I hope you never lose yourself as much as I did. But, if you do, I’m here to help you find yourself again. I can’t wait to be your present, vulnerable, flawed, ready-to-face-anything mom.