Confidence and The Drinking Habit
I think I had my first beer when I was fifteen. That’s not a very unusual age in Ireland. I was served, no questions asked, in my local pub. It was all very civilized. I guess I could pass for eighteen and nobody back in the eighties was particularly bothered about these things. The next challenge was to get into clubs and all that required was, as I approached the club entrance and the bouncers, memorizing a date of birth that made me 18.
For those awkward late teen years and into adulthood I had alcohol as my trusty side-kick. For this shy introverted young woman, “liquid courage” was a socially accepted confidence aid that I enthusiastically embraced.
My drinking career continued pretty much uninterrupted until March 28th 2022 when I surprised myself and stopped drinking.
Apparently I’m not an alcoholic, which I figured was the only reason that would possibly incline anyone to ever stop drinking. I’d fill out those questionnaires online and never “make the grade”. At medical appointments I would shave off a little when asked directly, but figured that was just standard operating procedure. I ate healthily, worked out, and rarely if ever got drunk anymore. Frankly, who has the time once you’re past your twenties?
But I liked to drink. Alcohol had been my loyal partner throughout the years, serving as a social lubricant, a nerve-suppressing, confidence-boosting magical elixir for all those potentially uncomfortable or awkward moments. Everything was smoother when alcohol came along and she pretty much always came along.
She was the perfectly natural addition to any and every celebration. Alcohol was the indispensable companion when life landed a harsh blow and it was time to drown those sorrows, or even minor inconveniences and disappointments.
Alcohol was there for my first kiss with my husband (and every boyfriend, and lesser-status adventure, before him). Alcohol, dressed in expensive heavy crystal, sparkled at black-tie events with me. She fitted in equally well in a plastic cup on the infrequent camping trips I got roped into. She was accommodating and versatile and everyone expected to see her on just about any special, and not quite so special, occasion.
Alcohol was ever present, totally normalized, and very much enjoyed until I noticed what I did not want to see.
Taking Action and Seeking Help
I booked an appointment to see my primary care physician. On the booking call the office assistant asked me, quite naturally, why I wanted to see her. “Just a follow-up from my last visit”, I answered non-committedly. She paused, but thankfully left it at that. When I visited the office for my appointment, the assistant doing the check-in where they take your stats and vitals, asked the same question and I again evaded. When my doctor eventually came into the room she had no idea why I was there.
“I like to drink”, I said. “I can drink and tolerate a lot and I’m worried about that”. That’s all I said.
It had taken a lot to get to that office and to say those two things and my doctor knew it.
We had a long conversation during which I cried a lot. A shameful secret had been shared; I was in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and I needed help. I had read a lot about alcoholism which was a big reason why I had never done anything about my drinking habit. None of the stories resonated. Those people were “drunks” and had some biochemical something or other, genetic, inherited and altogether unfortunate and fun-stealing factor at play that just took them squarely out of the drinking game.
They all had these dramatic stories of being out of control. I looked at their 12-step program journeys and thought, Nah man! That’s not somewhere I belong. I was after a slight re-set not a never shall you ever for the rest of your life absolutist prohibition. Eek! All I needed was a tweak. It was like a relationship where maybe you need a little space, but divorce is not even a remote consideration.
Finding What Works For Me
Hello my new best friend Naltrexone!
I already knew about Naltrexone before my doctor mentioned it. In fact it was exactly what I was there to get a prescription for. I had found out about it whilst reading the story of a British actress who discovered it only after she had eventually gotten sober after years and years of struggle. She was lamenting the fact that this drug wasn’t spoken about more often, and more openly, and how it could have helped her decades earlier. She had slipped into her own heavy habit as she leaned more and more on alcohol to bolster her confidence and soothe her lows in the competitive landscape of Hollywood.
Naltrexone basically cuts off the desire for another drink. You take it as prescribed by your doctor, which for me was daily initially and then only before major events that might trigger too much drinking. It sends a really effective internal signal that literally turns off the desire to drink. I left the doctor’s office with my prescription in hand, and a referral for some therapy that I agreed to just to keep her happy.
A couple of weeks later I was out and trying drinking on Naltrexone. It was magical for me. The first drink went down fine but later a second was very different. I had enough and left it unfinished. Success!
A year later I was in a much healthier place with my alcohol relationship. I used Naltrexone as needed. I got pretty fit. I even ran a marathon. I was the poster girl for Naltrexone and the success story my doctor shared with others who were questioning their relationship with alcohol. I had sorted this problem and it was firmly in the rear-view mirror. The relationship had been reset. I was in a groove. I would never drink at home, only when I went out. I went out at least every two weeks. This new system was working just great, and then Covid came.
Being Open To Changing Circumstances
There had been no alcohol in the house for a couple of years but now I would not be going out anywhere for who knew how long. At the beginning nothing changed too much. But then I added wine to the shopping list. We tried to shop only every two weeks during the early Covid days. Sounds ok, and there’s nothing to see here. Nothing dramatic happened. There was no wild escalation in alcohol consumption.
What there was however, was a growing awareness that I was thinking about it again, and managing it, and wondering how I would choose to drink in these new circumstances. Chocolate consumption was not getting this amount of headspace. Very little was getting this amount of headspace.
I still had Naltrexone but I was bored of the internal conversations that were becoming on occasion more like high stakes negotiations. The biggest fear was the thought of ending the relationship entirely. Divorce?? I had been in this relationship since I was fifteen for god’s sake! Divorce seemed like an admission of failure. It would mean that I was unable to fix this, and I bloody hate not being able to fix shit!
The bottom line was that I had grown up with alcohol in my corner. Who am I without my loyal and dear friend Alcohol by my side? Won’t every celebration be duller and “less than” without her there? What about those occasions where I’m socializing or doing the networking thing with new people – will those not be super weird and more uncomfortable without my bestie by my side? Will I recognize myself? Ugh! Even scarier; will I like myself?
Tired of the what-ifs I decided to find out and, with a little app called “Reframe” preloaded on my phone, I enjoyed a glass of wine (or to be honest it was probably three) on 28 March 2022 and then embarked on my dry year.
Being a rather competitive type, I figured this alcohol-free zone could be a training ground of sorts for me. I didn’t want anything to have control over me, and I had to admit that alcohol had morphed into being a bit of a controlling bitch. Sure it all looked very seductive and cute in the early days with that Sex And The City energy as I pranced around the cocktail bars of London and Madrid in my singlehood. In the early parenting years alcohol beckoned me in the guise of “self-care” and “mommy time”.
Ultimately she became like that person you’ve known for forever, who you find it difficult to say no to, and who ultimately never has anything new or interesting to say when you do hangout. The break-up becomes inevitable.
What Was The Hardest Part About Stopping?
Hands down the first 6 weeks. During that time doubt was a big player with an internal dialogue saying that this abstinence business was entirely unnecessary and I could just call it a “health kick” and go back to business as usual in due course – which should be sooner rather than later.
What Surprised Me About The Journey?
I thought that it would be a lot harder to not drink around people who were used to seeing me drink. I didn’t tell anyone I wasn’t drinking and so when I was around family and old friends, I imagined it would be a lot trickier than it was. There were a few raised eyebrows but nothing more. I even ordered a pot of tea in a bar in Ireland one night because I was bored of the non-alcoholic options. In fairness on that occasion most of the people I was with were too drunk to make much of it.
What’s The Weirdest Experience I Had During My Dry Year?
I was in Italy for vacation during the summer and as part of one of the excursions I booked I found myself on a vineyard tour. I’m in a fecking vineyard in Italy man?! At lunch I was being given glass after glass of wine to taste, all of which left the table untouched. The staff were looking at me like, why the hell are you even here?! It was included in the price man, and the tour bus just stopped here!
Will I Start Drinking Again?
None of your business! Apparently you’re not supposed to ask that question or to ask someone who is alcohol free when or why they stopped. Fair enough I guess. That seems pretty respectful. For me the answer is I don’t know. I have no drinking plans. After not drinking for a year, during every season, and for every celebration and stressful event that normally was a cue, the question becomes; why would I drink? My current answer is “I don’t know” which I guess may mean that I won’t.
Confidence, Drink, and Authenticity: Some Thoughts
I can say that I am confident that alcohol is no longer that controlling bitch or seductress to me. She’s just there, and I choose to leave her there. I also happen to have an annoying chronic condition for which I’ve learnt recently alcohol is a major trigger so there’s that in the mix also.
Alcohol was clearly a confidence-enhancing substance for me at the beginning of my drinking career. I navigated many situations with the very socially-acceptable drink in hand. I wonder for how many others it served, or continues to serve, the same purpose? I am pretty confident that I’m not alone in this.
Not so long ago I heard a business mentor tell a story of how she had quickly downed a glass of wine to calm her nerves before doing her first major live event. There were smiles from many listening and I guess the intent was to demonstrate empathy that she too felt nervous taking on new challenges. I found the share disturbing.
I’m finally getting towards the end of the book-writing process for my second book. The theme is authenticity and this theme of alcohol as liquid courage and a social lubricant is intertwined I feel. For me at least alcohol probably acted, on more occasions than I’d like, as a barrier to authenticity. I was often using it to inflate the highs and soften the lows. I used it to prop up personas and to feign intimacy.
Me on alcohol is never going to be 100% authentically me I guess, and that I have come to see as something that personally, I don’t need or want.
Do I Feel Less Confident Without Alcohol In The Mix?
No. I think I’ve built a pretty strong confidence muscle over time that took over the heavy lifting that alcohol may well have been doing in those early years.
How Will I Celebrate My AF (Alcohol Free) Anniversary?
A pitcher’s worth of margaritas on the terrace of The Ore House On The Plaza in downtown Santa Fe I guess. Nah I’m just messing with you! I will be celebrating my year by going out to a great restaurant that I discovered by accident recently here in Santa Fe. It’s called The Apothecary Restaurant and it serves no alcohol but instead has the most amazing non-alcoholic drinks, or “handcrafted elixirs” as they describe them. Sparkling water is fine and all but this girl needs some sophistication on the liquid refreshment front on occasion.
If You See Yourself In My Story: Some Thoughts
It’s okay. You’re not defective or broken or a failure. You’re human. If you’re worried that a habit you enjoyed is perhaps morphing into something less helpful, there are plenty of ways to address that. There will be a pathway that will be right for you. To be honest I probably would not have gone to my doctor’s office if I hadn’t known about Naltrexone and the fact that it was a prescription only drug. That fact forced my hand. My best advice is to start a conversation with your doctor. Nothing changes until we take action.
Now, in case no-one has told you this yet today, let me be the one to have the honor of reminding you;
You are magnificent. The world is a richer and more beautiful place because you are here with us all.