Domesticated Misery

When I first quit drinking alcohol, sobriety was a welcome escape from a vicious cycle. It was April of 2020. COVID lockdowns had brought life to a standstill, removing the myriad of activities that buffered my addiction to alcohol. Obligatory appearances had been like bumper pads on a bowling alley. They kept my ball out of the proverbial gutter. When they disappeared, so did my ability to control myself. The days began to blur. Happy hour started earlier—it’s always five o’clock somewhere. I slept longer and later—and woke up exhausted anyway. I felt agitated. Angry. Trapped.

The reason I drank every day was because I believed that alcohol eased my stress. I thought it was the one thing that truly made me feel better. I’d also quietly accepted that I couldn’t resist without an obvious reason. There were many evenings I’d ask myself, “Why can’t you take the night off?” The answer was a twisted version of reasonable. “Why can’t you just relax and be grateful for your life? Some women have to work a second job in the evenings. You’re very lucky.” It was an out-of-body experience to watch my arm pour the vodka into my Yeti—I no longer bothered with a ceremonial cocktail glass. The disconnect faded into relief as the liquor hit my lips.

On a brisk sunny morning, I had a moment of clarity. I was out for a run, listening to Glennon Doyle talk about her inner cheetah’s longing to escape from the cage of domestication. “I’m not crazy. I’m a goddamned cheetah.”

My inner cheetah roared in solidarity. “TRUTH! I want to run free!”

The Domesticated Escape Route

I paused Glennon, googled the AA hotline, and made the call–walking and talking for almost two hours. By the time I got home, I had hope, help and a plan.

The well-traveled path to overcoming addiction is the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. Admit you’re an alcoholic and powerless against alcohol. Surrender to a Higher Power. Inventory your moral failing and character defects. Make amends. You’re welcomed into a supportive community and issued a new, life-long identity. Once an addict, always an addict.

I donned the Scarlet Letter A for a few weeks. I tried to get comfortable saying the words, “Hi, my name is Colleen and I’m an alcoholic.” But once my body detoxed, I adjusted to the new reality. I didn’t want to drink anymore. Yet I was being told to repeatedly admit that I am an alcoholic. And that if I didn’t fear relapse, I would relapse. My inner cheetah began to roar again. I was simply exchanging one set of limiting beliefs for another.

Conditional Love: If Only? Then What?

When sobriety is the goal, love is conditional. If you stay sober, then you are worthy. If you drink, then you are guilty. This type of thinking is what created the problem in the first place. Drinking was good—you were bad. Now, drinking is bad, and you are good. Unless or until you’re not. The problem isn’t solved. Projecting our sense of self onto anything traps us in fear and judgement, and limits our ability to love ourselves and others.

Using sobriety as a measure of success and failure keeps you locked in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. You end up relying on shame and guilt for motivation. Being good today might make up for yesterday’s bad. But tomorrow, when you hear Take This Job and Shove It on the radio, being good feels like a punishment. You want to rebel.

Your inner cheetah is still locked in a cage.

Alcohol doesn’t actually have the power to make you good or bad. It’s an inanimate substance, just like laundry detergent or paint thinner. Or coffee. Or soda pop. Drinking (or not drinking) doesn’t change who you are. It can change how you feel—both good and bad. It can influence your behavior—both bad and good. But only you have the power to decide what any of it means—and if it means anything at all.

I’ve decided that sobriety is not a good goal for me. I don’t want to be defined by alcohol in any context. Instead, my goal is to be my own best friend, and to love myself and others without conditions.

What would change if you gave yourself permission to love yourself with no strings attached?

Dear God, It’s Me–Normal

Before I experienced sobriety, I had trouble embracing the idea because I believed that drinking alcohol in moderation is healthy. That’s what we’re told. That’s what we teach our children. I thought not drinking meant there was something wrong with me. I prayed that God would fix me—and help me to drink like a “normal” person.

But it wasn’t me that was broken. My experience with alcohol use disorder is quite normal. Alcohol is an addictive, neurotoxic, depressive, class one carcinogen. Getting addicted to an addictive substance is normal—it’s to be expected. Drinking alcohol is (just one of many reasons) why it’s unusual to be healthy and happy in our culture. We’re trapped in belief systems that are unchecked by reality.

Consider how we care for our children. We make them take naps and eat vegetables and limit screen time. We don’t let them drink alcohol. Why?

Because we don’t want to poison their brains and bodies. We want to give them every possible advantage. We want them to be healthy. Smart. Safe. We know that alcohol is harmful.

Reality vs. Truth

Regular consumption of alcohol is self-neglect, not self-care. Alcohol doesn’t improve anything. It doesn’t make a good day better, or a hard day easier. It doesn’t anyone more intelligent. Or sexier. Or happier. In small amounts, the placebo affect can offset negative consequences. Regardless, we’re better off without it.

I’ve experienced this as truth. In all contexts and by all metrics, I am physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually better since I quit drinking. Sobriety has given me an edge—I am now ahead of the curve instead of spinning my wheels every day, trying to keep up. The only reason I would ever consider having a drink at this point is because everyone around me still drinks. Right or wrong, good or bad, it’s part of our culture. And truth be told, when I’m the only one who’s not holding a glass of wine, I still feel a bit left out.

But I’ve learned that this feeling is not triggered by truth. Feelings are triggered by thoughts and subconscious beliefs. Reality: emotions reflect what’s going on inside me—not what’s happening in the real world. Truth: if I’m with a group of people, I was invited and included—not left out. The reasons I feel left out are because I am thinking:

  • Something is wrong with me OR
  • Something wrong with them AND
  • I don’t fit in because I don’t drink.

My thoughts about what the circumstances mean to me determine how I feel in a group situation. That’s my reality. The situation itself is neutral–people are gathered in a group doing people stuff. That’s the truth.

Truth is simple. Easily observed. It needs little to no explanation. Reality is really complicated. Because a different version exists in each person’s imagination.

Sobriety is Not a Good Goal

Alcohol has no power unless you decide it has power. Your mind is in charge of your reality. 

I no longer associate alcohol with my identity in any capacity. Sobriety is not the goal–just a form of self-care. As my own best friend, I have compassion for myself as I navigate the complexities of life. I have about as much interest in drinking alcohol as I do in staying up all night and eating junk food, but that doesn’t mean I won’t ever do any of those things again. I’m human! Life is long.

I give myself permission to love myself no matter what—no conditions attached. Live, learn, love, repeat. My inner cheetah prefers to roam in a judgment-free zone.

How to Overcome Alcohol Use Disorder

To overcome alcohol use disorder you must admit that alcohol is causing more stress than it's worth. It's not fun anymore. Drinking too much is a form of self-neglect, not self-care.

group think sobriety

Don't surrender your autonomy to group-think sobriety. Exchanging one set of limiting beliefs for another won't set you free.

Internalized oppression

Is your inside voice a bully? Internalized oppression from patriarchal, elitist and racially-biased "standards" causes fear and shame.

Becoming a Non-Drinker

What's the difference between "recovering alcoholic" and a non-drinker? The words you chose have a big impact on your experience of sobriety. If you don't like what you feel, change what you think.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Do you wish you drank less but find it difficult to stop once you start? Are the legal experts in your head constantly debating the problem—and what you should do? That's alcohol use disorder.
 
You’re not alone. Many of us have been duped into using alcohol as a consolation prize for neglecting our needs--and then criticized for becoming dependent on it. I was able to quit drinking after 30 years without AA, rehab or willpower. My energy, vitality and joy have returned. I help high-functioning drinkers experience sobriety as a superpower, not a disease. 

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