This is going to create accountability, which is why I’ve been avoiding it forever, but it’s is a huge elephant in the room for lots of anxious people, so here goes. The giant elephant is alcohol. I want to start out by saying that I know that getting rid of booze is completely off the table for lots of people, but just hear me out ok?
It’s been one year and 3 months since I’ve had a drink and I can tell you unequivocally that there is nothing that I have tried over the past 20 years to manage my anxiety that has matched the benefits I have enjoyed during this past year of teetotalism. The first few months, not so much.
What’s particularly ironic about this is that over the course of my life, nothing has managed my anxiety more effectively than alcohol. I used to get a sense of calm just knowing that I could have a drink. So, for my whole life, alcohol has been both contributing to my anxiety and relieving it. No wonder it’s so hard to give up. For me, it was like a dysfunctional relationship that ‘feels so good’, but you know it’s bad for you in the long term. The fact that it’s repeatedly normalized and promoted everywhere doesn’t help either and I think that it’s why I’ve had to work so hard at not being embarrassed about being someone who doesn’t drink. Nowadays, I am actually starting to feel proud of it. Proud of it because it is what works best for me, not because there is anything wrong with drinking per se.
It's no coincidence that lots of people who identify as alcoholic remember exactly how incredible that first drink made them feel. It’s not the alcohol that was magnificent though, it was the break from their anxiety that caused a feeling of elation. When you have anxiety, things like therapy, exercise, meditation and medication can all work, but finding the right combination of these things takes an incredible amount of time, patience and faith, things that are often in very short supply. They also require a commitment to making fundamental lifestyle changes. It only takes 10 minutes to drink a delicious glass of dry red wine.
For me alcohol was like an anxiety management credit card. When I was anxious, drinking or just knowing that I could drink would make me feel better. Alcohol was dealing with my anxiety for me, but it was charging and I was going to have to pay up sooner or later, the only question was what the final balance would be. As a drinker, I was missing the opportunity to find ways of managing my anxiety myself. I wasn’t growing. Meanwhile, the underlying issues were just lying in wait, growing bit by bit, making the alcohol more necessary as time passed. This is how addiction develops and then sustains itself.
When I cut up the anxiety management credit card (alcohol) it wanted payment in full. Anxiety came at me in full force. Since I didn’t have the card anymore, I had to find new ways to deal with the stuff it had been dealing with for me. That….was very hard. It meant being very uncomfortable for long periods of time, and trying anything and everything until I found little things that worked. It also required faith that things would improve eventually. Slowly, I began to chip away at the balance with my new found ways of managing anxiety. Nowadays, I'm really making progress and I don’t plan on looking back. This is a life worth trying.
Anyone interested in connecting with a sober community, I recommend the following podcasts:
The Bubble Hour