I Regretted Writing About Sobriety Until I Received a Stranger’s Email
In a time obsessed with image crafting, public vulnerability feels dangerous and damaging. Honestly, the opposite is true.
Coming into recovery I fell in love with a world where vulnerability, truth and authenticity reigned.
In 12 step (and Smart) meetings, people talked about their worst experiences and how they had risen from their ashes to become better, more useful versions of themselves.
It was refreshing to hear this long-kept-secret stuff from strangers. To discover that my greatest shames were uniquely commonplace. Cautiously, I began to join in, to admit how I was really feeling, what my experiences had really felt like.
Based on spiritual principles, the 12 steps tell us we need less material wealth and more spiritual health. Through sharing and service we aim for self-transcendence rather than self-actualisation. Lofty aims, and pretty far from what I was taught at school and at home.
In our greedy, self-obsessed times, it can be difficult to stay on track with even aspiring towards a spiritual life. What’s in it for me? is my default setting. And so the vulnerability of writing about my worst times when everyone else is putting their best foot forward often feels dangerous and damaging.
Lately, I’ve struggled to maintain Beautiful Hangover, the website I began in order to share my story of learning to live without booze.
If the alcohol problem is so firmly in my past, why am I still revealing its dark underbelly? If so few seemed to have noticed that I had a drinking issue, why not just move on and focus on all the positive ways in which my life is opening out? Write another novel. Read…
When I got this email, it reminded me. I post it here anonymised, with permission from the author.
I just spent the past 45 minutes or so binge-reading your articles.
The following quote in particular compelled me to reach out to you:
“There is almost no evidence of how my drinking was destructive
outside of my own psyche. This is not the same as saying there is no
evidence of my drinking problem. I need to stop gaslighting myself.”
I have spent months now fervently reading sobriety blogs, articles,
forums, etc. and nothing I’ve found has hit home like this article — and specifically, this quote — did.
I was recently diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder. I went to a
psychiatrist to get a second opinion on my mood disorder, and instead
she told me, in no uncertain terms, that before I can begin to address
my mood disorder, I need to address my proclivity to self-medicate
with alcohol and weed.
The thing is, absolutely no one in my life would ever believe that I have a “problem” with alcohol (I rarely smoke anymore, that was more of a problem in college). I don’t regularly blackout, I don’t show up to work intoxicated nor have I
received any DUIs or destroyed any of my relationships — all the
tell-tale signs of a drinking problem, right? Just like you said in
your article, the only evidence of my drinking problem is within my
I have tried and failed to quit drinking several times, and honestly
the fact that no one around me thinks that I need to quit makes it a
million times harder to quit. (The last time I decided to quit my
roommate, who loves to drink, with me, literally rolled her eyes and
said “Are you doing another one of your ‘no drinking’ things again?” I
love her, but…not helpful.)
I told myself this morning I wouldn’t drink again until my friends’ wedding in two weeks, but like a robot on autopilot I picked up a bottle of wine on my way home from work and am maybe a teensy bit drunk right now as I’m writing this. I can feel myself slowly spinning out of control, but no one around me takes me
seriously, and I just feel… fucked.
Can you offer any advice?
I started Beautiful Hangover because my drinking was so undramatic.
No one thought I had a problem, except me, deep down (and often in the midst of my worst hangovers.)
“Like a robot on autopilot I picked up a bottle of wine…” Wow, Slowly Spinning, how many times did I do that?
And yet I felt like such an imposter seeking help for my teensy weensy problem that it took me weeks to tell even my boyfriend that I was doing so. It took me nine months to find the courage to tell my dad. It was over eighteen months before I told my brother. I still haven’t told certain drinking friends.
The way my life changed once I removed alcohol gave me all the concrete evidence I need that drinking was a serious problem. If I hadn’t discovered the courage to listen to myself and quit, based on the evidence I found in my own psyche, I might never have uncovered that.
A voice that rose from within knew I could have a different kind of life, something gentler and more authentic, that better suited my sensitive spirit. A life where I didn’t have to drink to get ‘in the mood’ or to be louder or more fun, where I would be accepted as myself. In spite of the relative lightness of my problem, it was incredibly difficult to stop and stay stopped. And I didn’t manage straight away.
Here’s my reply, in case you relate to Slowly Spinning’s dilemma.
Dear Slowly Spinning,
Thanks for reaching out, and well done, I know how hard it is, and how lonely you feel when you know, deep inside, that you’re broken/breaking and no one around you seems to have a clue.
So please listen to yourself and me when I reiterate what I hear from your email — you are struggling with alcohol and you likely can’t fix this on your own. Often the people around us when we are drinking are unable to help us with our problem. Some don’t want to hear about it because it ruins their enjoyment of wine. Others might find it uncomfortable because it makes them question their own relationship with booze.
If the people around us can’t help, we have to seek out people who can. Human beings are stronger together, and we don’t have to do anything alone.
After being stuck in the way you describe so eloquently for a while I knew I needed to do something different. Over the years moderating by myself had failed hundreds of times (maybe thousands) and I finally realised I needed help.
I found a community of sober people and I don’t think I could have stayed sober without them. And I wouldn’t have wanted to. Not only because there’s a part of me that still longs to get high more than anything else, but because getting sober with other women has been one of the most fun, fascinating and healing experiences of my life.
It feels quite weird at first because meetings generally take place in unglamorous places, and there are ritualised elements. Certain things get repeated, there’s even occasional holding hands. But if you can get over the weirdness and see that inside the framework it’s a group of people helping each other learn to live clean and sober, in a world that doesn’t encourage it, then it can be a beautiful thing.
Getting sober is hard, and it takes a while to feel natural, but it is, without doubt, the most loving, challenging and exhilarating thing I have done for myself. I’ve learnt so much in the process. One of the biggest lessons has been how to listen to myself.
Re-read your letter. Imagine it’s from someone else that you love very much. What would you say to that person? Say it to yourself.
Community has been a huge part of my recovery, and still is. We have to find the people who will not roll their eyes when we tell them that we don’t want to drink. They are out there, I promise. I’m one of them.
Slowly Spinning’s email reminded me that I didn’t start my blog for myself.
It was an attempt to clear the way for the other women like me and Slowly Spinning. Problem drinkers at risk of staying stuck because their drinking isn’t a problem for anyone else. These are the people that I write for (and I include myself in this group.)
My life improved so much when I finally escaped the loop of drinking/not drinking/control drinking that I am inspired to help other people discover for themselves.
Sharing the truth of your struggle in the face of constant pressure to live your best life feels risky, but when you reach the ones you can help, it’s worth the discomfort. We are here to serve each other, and for whatever reason, for now, this truth is one that happens to be mine.
I’m tired of apologising and hiding and pretending to be something I’m not. Perhaps you are too.
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