Burning Down the House: My Decision to Quit Alcohol.
“I thought I was alone who suffered.
I went on top of the house,
and found every house on fire.” ~ Baba Shaikh Farid
Quitting drinking for me was the easy part — anybody can quit drinking. It’s becoming sober that is the hard part — all those damn feelings. And there are a lot. A lifetimes worth, in fact. I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s experience with quitting alcohol. It is serious business and people die from quitting the drink. I’m just trying to make a point:
When you finally get over the alcohol addiction, surprise! The feelings are waiting for you on the other side in a big shiny bow and they are damn hard. And kinda terrifying. And it’s why most of us started drinking in the first place. Because it softened something, made things feel easier and less scary.
I don’t have the rock bottom story that everyone wants to hear when someone quits imbibing. People love to hear the big story: Did you kill someone? Crash your car? Run over your neighbor’s cat? Burn your house down? Burn your neighbor’s house down? What happened? Why are you doing this terrifying thing?
They don’t want to hear that you were just fucking tired of feeling like shit. Tired of being anxious, angry, sad, and so goddamn lonely. What are you going to do in the summer? What about champagne?
Recently, while i was spiraling in rage once again (another one of my things), I hit the proverbial wall and realized a very hard truth, that 10 months into ditching booze I could not go any further in my sobriety alone. I had to finally accept that I’m not just quitting drinking, I am seeking something. Something bigger than myself.
This diehard atheist had to acknowledge that I am not the center of the universe and the world does not revolve around me and all of my problems. What? I know! I had to acknowledge that it was time to finally start the process of actual recovery. And I need to start telling the truth. It was time to ask for help. And I knew exactly where I could go.
I realized something else in that moment: admitting we are powerless is not the weakness, it is the goddamn power.
I love the first three steps of Russell Brand’s version of the 12 steps, from his book, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions:
Are you a bit fucked?
Could you not be fucked?
Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?
Well, then. Yes. I don’t know, but sure as hell hope so. Definitely not.
It should be no surprise to read here then that I joined AA. Because, well, I’m kinda fucked. Hi! And nothing changes if nothing changes. And I do whatever Russell Brand does. And because I want a better life. And why the hell are those AA people always so damn happy? Fuck those assholes. I need a drink. But really? Why are they so damn happy?
It’s simple really: Because they tell the truth. About everything. All the damn time. And without shame. And it is heartbreaking. And humbling. And one of the most beautiful and powerful things I have ever witnessed.
There is so much shame around admitting we have a thing, or that something is wrong and maybe we don’t feel quite right in our skin. But your pain is not special or precious, or even unique. Everyone has it. Everyone. Just google your thing. Find your people. Say one true thing and everything changes.
Stop holding on to it all so tightly like it’s a prize to behold and let it out into the world so it can do what it is supposed to do: save your life. Let other people be witness to it. The point is, when you start to tell the truth to other people who are telling the truth, magic happens. A kind of alchemy.
The second time I shared in an AA Zoom meeting (because pandemic) I saw all these smiling faces in their little Brady Bunch squares raising their arms clapping and cheering. See? Weirdos! I thought maybe Russell Brand perhaps manifested behind me (because magic) but when I turned to look, he was, of course, not there. Damn!
So then why was my new Brady Bunch fam so excited about me and what I was saying? Well, because truth-telling. And they get it. When I finished speaking and the moderator unmuted himself, he said simply, Welcome home! And I was. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had finally come home.
I let all my shit out into the world, unleashed everything, and it was seen and heard, passed around and lifted up and out into the big mysterious Zoom universe.
And it set me free.
You don’t have to join AA to be free. It’s just what is working for me (and Russell). All you need is a desire to stop drinking (or whatever your thing is) and spoiler alert: we all have a thing. You also need to tell the truth. Always. About everything. And be nice, for Christ’s sake. To yourself and everyone.
These days, I mostly stay home (because pandemic) rationing cute little portions of Haribo gummy bears. Okay, that is a lie. I ration big hunky bags of Haribo gummy bears. And drink way too much kombucha. Yes, I know there are trace amounts of alcohol, calm down! I particularly love about 10 gummy bears at a time with a sip of kombucha.
Sometimes I will even add one of those cute little packets of Emergen-C to it (because immunity) and enjoy all the fizz! I’ll work on that later. But for now, I am letting myself feel all the joy in this very simple (and perhaps a tad quirky) pleasure that I feel no shame in.
The truth is: Most people who drink want to stop. They have a sneaky suspicion there is something more, but they don’t know what. Just more. Quitting alcohol is not defeat. It is badass and a literal superpower. Alcohol is an actual addictive drug and you are not supposed to feel all happy and like your best self the way big alcohol advertises in the photos. Those photos are not real.
There is nothing classy about alcohol. Not one single goddamn thing. You are not crazy, alcohol is making you feel like shit. Listen to yourself, not the booze. Booze (or whatever your thing is) has been lying to you from the start. And it will lie to you forever.
It does not make you sleep better, more confident, a better conversationalist, more sexy, a better lover, more fun, a better dancer. Definitely not a better dancer. Trust me on that one.
My mind still resembles 200 people screaming on a roller coaster ride, but I can tell you for certain:
There is so much relief in surrender.
So much magic in telling the truth.
We are not our stories.
And we are not alone.