I walked away from Chardonnay and gin on July 8th, 2017. I was never a “low-bottom” drunk. Never convicted of a DUI. Never slept in a gutter. Never lost my job or home to excessive consumption. Never drank at work. I just had a habit of having a drink (or three) every evening. After years of cutting myself deals like only drink after 7 PM, or only on the weekend, or have a glass of water between each drink, or only two glasses; I found that I could not moderate. I always let myself down. It’s like the Lay’s Potato Chip ad from many years ago, “Bet you can’t eat just one!” All my negotiations with myself ended in disappointment. I could not, would not, moderate.
I was two months out from my ex leaving me with a home ravaged by a hurricane. I was trying desperately to find something to hang onto. Something to ground me. I found a new meditation practice called the “Happiness Program” from the Art of Living; the instructor suggested that we abstain from alcohol over the three-day weekend. I didn’t. I couldn’t. A friend had invited me to a Tai Chi class at 7 PM at night. I could not possibly attend anything at 7 PM at night without having a glass of Chardonnay. I realized, “Cath, if you are pregaming for Tai Chi, you’ve got a problem.” Then another close friend texted me a book suggestion shortly after we had celebrated my birthday, The 30-Day Sobriety Solution. I was taken aback. It felt like the world was conspiring to get me sober. The final “straw” was the leader of the Art of Living was going to be in Boone for a free meditation on July 9th. The event was at night and there would be no alcohol. I wanted desperately to go. On July 7th, I took my last drink, and started the book. On July 8th, I went to see Wonder Woman at the movie theater at 4 PM so that I could be in theater at the dreaded, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” hour. I’ve been sober ever since. It has not been easy but it has been worth it.
My 4 gifts of sobriety:
I am fully and completely present. For good or bad, I am experiencing everything. Embarrassment, anger, sadness, loneliness, excitement, anticipation, joy, awe, connection — I feel it all. I feel the feels. It is never dulled, numbed or erased. I can remember looking forward to the numbness, the buzz, the burn of the alcohol going down my throat. What was I escaping from? The present moment. I feel the crunch of frost on the grass as I walk my dog at 5 AM, I see the glint of blue on a bird as it flies off in the forest, I hear the siren break the silence on a Saturday morning, I smell the orange of the tea as I type. It’s all the there. The gift is being able to experience it without the veil of alcohol.
I can make memories; I can create memories. Perhaps it’s part of being present, but I can remember standing on the desolate beach of Ocracoke, I can feel the wind on top of Mount Washington, I can remember magically gliding across the Everglades with people I cherish the most. Nothing lives in a haze anymore. I have always marveled at my daughter’s amazing memory. She can catalog every movie or television show we’ve (I’ve) ever seen. I suggest we watch something, and she’ll say “Mommy, we saw that five years ago.” Now I’m creating those memories and keeping them. I remember being with my dad for the last time. His hair askew, his tiny frail body lying on the narrow bed, his oxygen tube, him thanking me for my blogs. It’s all there. Fresh, real and alive. The gift is being able to recall a memory of it in vivid technicolor.
There was a time when I had to make sure I was stocked on my drink of choice. I had to keep a minimum inventory. It’s much like when you go on a car trip. I would think about drinking a Grande Latte and where the next bathroom might be in an hour. Now I am untethered. I have no expectation about whether a restaurant serves alcohol or if my friend will stock the brand of Chardonnay that I like. There is no burden of planning ahead. There is spontaneity in the moment without the trappings of booze. It’s freedom. I am free to float through life without the need of tying myself to some substance. I am enjoying the gift of being untethered.
Sobriety has brought the gift of saving. I was nowhere close to retirement three years ago. I was fully prepared to work into my 70s. The surprise it that not only have I been saving all the money I spent on wine at home, but also on all the places I would go to “enjoy” a glass of wine. The collateral damage of wanting a glass of wine while traveling meant spending money and time at places just to imbibe. Trips five years ago were planned around some beer or wine experience. I’ve been reading a book my daughter recommended called The Sober Lush. The authors talk about indulging in raw honey like New Zealand’s Manuka honey. At $34.99 for a 8.8 oz jar, that’s outrageous. I wouldn’t even bat an eye at spending $40 for a bottle of wine at a restaurant 5 years ago. Now I indulge in simple pleasures like honey but I’m not going to drink a bottle of honey in one night. The gift of sobriety is the savings of time and money.
I was talking to a client who was trying “Dry January.” She struggled most with the hour between 4:30 and 5:30 PM. The ritual of the day wind down and the glass of wine to punctuate the day. My answer has been club soda with lime in a wine glass. It’s effervesced, sparkling and celebratory. That feels like a lifetime ago now. The tug at five o’clock is gone and replaced by the gift of being fully alive in the moment. And there are countless gifts from being sober; probably the most important of which is the preservation of my health. In the 30-day Sobriety Solution they have you take a selfie on day one and then again on day thirty. The transformation was startling. Gone are the puffy eyelids, the bloated face and inattentive stare. Beneath it all is a vibrant, grounded woman wading out of the river of alcohol to awaken to a brand-new day on dry ground — Transformed.