Sobriety . . . I Barely Knew Her
A year ago I gave up drinking, for a month. I do it often, I give things up; dairy, sugar, gluten, meat, just to see how my body responds. As a skin therapist, I’m aware how important it is to know how our bodies respond to what we put in them. These effects are apparent internally and externally.
Everyone responds differently, but collectively we know that our bodies have a hard time digesting most dairy products. When I see a client who has deep cystic acne, one of my first questions is always about dairy intake. There’s a strong connection between those things. Sugar is another one that’s hard on our bodies. It causes inflammation in our cells, often impairing regular bodily functions. It leads to a breakdown of collagen and is evident in the barrier function of our skin and cells. Thirdly, alcohol! The effects of alcohol run far and wide!
It’s always amazing to see how much clearer my skin is when I remove things that have such detrimental effects on the skin cell cycle. However, my problem comes when the month of abstaining is over, and I reintroduce whatever it is back into my diet. I binge when the month is over. I go HARD! I quickly undo all of the progress I just made… me and moderation… not the best of friends.
My Relationship with Alcohol
That is exactly how my relationship with alcohol went… no moderation. I didn’t drink daily but when I did, I was all in. If I open a bottle of wine, the cork is going straight into the trash… there’s never a recorking of that baby! Crack a 6 pack, they’re all going down the hatch. I love the comfort of that first glass. I love how happy it makes me feel to hear the crack of a can. The warmth it brings through my whole body. I like how it tears down the walls of my social insecurities, gets me out of my head, and allows me to talk to anyone about anything. I love how it gives me the courage to get on a stage and sing karaoke, without a care in the world that I can’t carry a tune.
My drinking got to a point that I didn’t need to drink daily, but I wanted to. I loved the confident human it made me. That human shell is the shell I wanted to live my life in. Sure I woke up with some UPIs (unidentified partying injuries) and I would be lying if I said that I never woke up with a human in my bed whose name I couldn’t remember. There was that one time I almost burnt the house down, cooking myself a meal after a night at the bar. I had passed out at the kitchen table, only to be woken up to the smoke alarm and my mum in a panic asking what had happened. “I only fell asleep for a minute” I responded. All while the pasta in the pot was burnt to a crisp and smoke filled the house.
The majority of my drinking was all about good times. Deep and meaningful times, with some of my favourite humans, (including some I had just met in the back of the diviest dive bars). The rush liquid courage gave me, to break past the bouncers and get on stage at a show, to stage dive. Living life young, wild, and free. I liked that version of me. She was who I wanted to be. I was so content living my life as her.
My Young Life
My journey with substance use started as it does for so many of us. Fourteen years old, drinking a deadly concoction of a little bit of this and a little bit of that from what you could swipe from your parents’ liquor cabinet, without being caught. All of it in a water bottle, mixed with some kind of juice or soda and taken to the local park. Puking was always part of it, sometimes passing out, but somehow always managing to make it home by curfew.
At 16, I discovered the rave scene and my drinking was then accompanied by a whole host of chemical drugs. Surprisingly, I always had it under control. It was very rarely a bad time, with everyone promoting PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity and Respect), all up in those dirty underground venues (and even once the science centre). That confident proud girl was present in all these times. Maybe it was innocence or naivety, but that girl could dream and do anything! She was full of hope and love and human connection. She was wonderful and I loved her.
In 2010 I moved from Toronto out to the west coast of Canada, specifically to the party capital of British Columbia… Whistler. The mountains and snowboarding were the main draw, but I can't say the party reputation wasn’t also part of that draw for me. I think Whistler even held the reputation of being the STD capital of Canada for a little while… definitely NOT the draw! All signs were pointing to a good, if practiced safe, time… but I digress. Drinking is synonymous with Whistler.
Solo travelers from all over the world make their way to this little mountain town to fulfill snowboarding dreams in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. They all have hopes of setting roots in a place where work/life balance was the norm, often leaning towards life over work for many. There was always an excuse to go for a bevvy down at the bar; great day on the mountain, friends from out of town, birthdays, and going away parties. Tuesday - Karaoke, Wednesday - Buffalo Bills, Thursday & Sunday- open mic. You always knew what bars had drink deals and on which night. There was an endless supply of new friends and drinking buddies.
Needless to say, with my affinity for socializing and the presence of more bars than shops per capita, my drinking definitely did not slow down in my new environment. My first few years living there were a blur. A fun, amazing, wild, dancing in cages and on tables blur. I met some of the most amazing humans I know out there. I made lifelong friends. In fact, I met our dear Jessica out there (Hi babe!!). If it hadn’t been for my affinity for bars, I don’t think I would have had the experiences I did, of moving to a town where I knew no one, and of being able to create a true hodgepodge of a family - from all over the world. Partying and a love of the outdoors was what we had in common. And I’ll admit, sometimes the partying took precedence. Okay, a lot of the time partying took precedence, but it never stopped or held us back from doing what we loved.
If I went back home to Toronto for a visit, I was ‘Party Katie’. The expectation was that we were going out, getting hammered, and we were going to have an amazing time. As I got older and my friends started having kids, I became their hall pass for a good night out! Some amazing memories were made, and many never even made it into the memory bank but I am sure they were wonderful. And when my two-week vacation bender was over I would fly back out west with a renewed feeling of love and connection for the people in my life that had been there for decades. Then I’d be greeted at the airport by all my amazing west coast family… and we’d go straight to the bar! I spent 8 years in that gorgeous mountain town. The partying slowed a bit, but that confident, life of the party lady was always up and ready for a good time!
In 2018 I moved to New Zealand. It was the scariest and best decision I ever made. I was 35 years old, single, and it was my last chance for a working visa. So I left my party lifestyle behind in Whistler, hopped the pond and picked up a party lifestyle in New Zealand. My new roommate was always down for a good time, which meant there was always someone around to have a drinky poo with. We’d drink every day after work. I would rush home from work, just so we could hunker down on the couch. Me with a bottle (NZ wine is the most divine) and he with a case of beer. We’d just shoot the shit for hours, laughing and sharing stories, connecting, without a care in the world. After a year of intermittent work and travel, he and I relocated and settled in another mountain town. He had bought a hostel, so I worked and lived there, and got a part time job working in a bar.
That was where the wool started slipping from my eyes and clarity started coming in. Don’t get me wrong, I still had many a good time, but I wouldn’t drink when I worked, and that's when the cracks started showing. My partner had an issue with substance abuse and moderation, which I had never noticed when drinking with him. However, when I was sober, it was a completely different scene. That was my first experience with alcohol really taking a toll on someone I loved. It broke my heart to see his physical and mental health failing, and to see the grasp that alcohol really had on him. He’d come home from a night out with his shirt ripped and no shoes, covered in dirt, not remembering what had happened. Wetting the bed was not an uncommon occurrence. Now not only was I dealing with his issues, but I was spending less time drinking and I realized I didn’t recognize myself sober.
The fun loving, up for anything, uber confident woman wasn’t around anymore. On days when I would have a drink after a shift, customers say to me “You’re so cranky when you work” or “You’re much more fun in front of the bar, than you are behind the bar”. I was so lost. I realized I had no clue who I truly and clearly was. All my personality had been shaped by years of alcohol use. So many of my memories and experiences had been inspired by alcohol. It felt like too much work and impossible to walk away from alcohol. I wasn’t mentally prepared to face the truth and to go against society’s conditioning.
Back to Toronto
Fast forward to last March. I decided to give up drinking for the month. I had only just moved back to Toronto from New Zealand, 6 months earlier. So I was living with my mum while I got my ducks in a row. Covid was just starting to gain momentum. By mid March, Toronto was put on lockdown and I was laid off from work. Living with my mum, who doesn’t drink, was a real blessing. There was no temptation to drink at home and going out to a bar wasn’t a thing. So a month turned into two months, which turned into three. I felt great. I was sleeping well, my memory was better than it had been in ages. My skin was glowing and I dropped 10 pounds almost instantly. I had drive and time to pick up hobbies that I had long forgotten. I was running daily and started painting again. Aside from Tiger King (that feels like 6 lifetimes ago), I watched no tv. I read, and journaled, and focused on therapy. I had mental clarity that I hadn’t experienced in years. It was glorious.
Three months into my sobriety, a family friend who was 8 years sober, gave me her 3 month AA chip. That was the first time I thought about what life could look like, without that devil on my back. I cried at the thought of never drinking again. Literal tears...what in the actual fuck? I had no clue that this substance had such a hold on my life, that the idea of going through life without it made me sob. Who would I be? What would my social life look like? Were my dance moves all booze fueled?! I felt like I was losing a best friend… not the booze, but who I was when I drank. I loved her. I also didn’t want to admit that I didn’t have control over my alcohol consumption.
I read books on sobriety. I read articles on how we are conditioned to drink for any reason… after a good day, after a hard day, when something stressful happens, when something great happens, when we are sad, and when we are happy. All social situations involve booze. I educated myself, all the while taking more and more time away from alcohol. I joined forums of people who were living sober. I talked to people who had been through the rediscovery of self. I hit my 6-month goal. I made it through a summer of park and beach hangs, without drinking. Late night backyard hangs surrounded by people drinking, and it didn’t matter. My friends still wanted to spend time with me. Maybe I wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure some people would call me out, but I was just as happy with a soda water in my hand as they were with their drinks.
At 6 months, I decided to try for the full year. There have been hard days for sure. There have been temptations, like trips to the cottage with my best friend, and the winter holidays, but I take them one day at a time, and I’ve made it through all the temptations that I’ve encountered so far. I think it has been easier because the world has been shut down. Bars aren’t open and shows aren’t happening. I know that new issues and challenges will arise when the world does reopen, but all I can do is look back at how far I have come. I’m proud of this huge accomplishment. I am still scared. I question myself a lot more often. It’s been a hard road, with lots of work undoing the conditioning that made me believe drinking was part of who I was.
My relationship with self-love is something I will forever be working on. There are days where I feel like maybe that girl was the real me, no anxiety and living life free, but then I realize alcohol was just a crutch. Alcohol made me feel like I needed it to be the confident, fun loving person. Alcohol broke down the walls of insecurities, which just means she is in there (that person I love)! I AM her. And with time, she will break down her own walls, with the strength and clarity and confidence that comes from within me! I no longer need that crutch. I am so much happier finding the person I really like, within me, and without alcohol. Maybe I won’t be the first on the dance floor at a wedding, and maybe I’ll sing less karaoke, and maybe one day I’ll be able to just have one, but for now this life choice has bumped New Zealand into second place for scariest and best decision I’ve ever made.
I look forward to when the world opens up and to discovering what this new confident human being is capable of. To experiencing what shows, dinners, and bars are like without alcohol. I am ready to put the work into falling in love with myself. I accept that I do have an issue with alcohol. I have an unhealthy relationship with moderation and substance use. I can now tell you, the liberation from socialised norms and expectations is glorious. The strength to swim upstream and the things I have already uncovered about my true self are empowering and stunning. Let me tell you… the PMA is high babes, and the future is bright and clear!