This is the short story of an average mom who quit drinking and improved her life. Its purpose is to provide hope and inspiration for other moms who are also ready for change.
I was an average mom with depression and a wine addiction.
At 8pm on New Year’s Eve 2016, I sat on my couch sobbing. I was three weeks into my alcohol free life and I was miserable. My husband and children were out skating and enjoying the celebrations with neighbours, but I couldn’t bring myself to join them. I could not stop crying. I was incredibly depressed. Somehow though, I was also feeling a tiny bit hopeful as I devoured my stack of self-help books about quitting drinking and addiction. I was convinced the books were going to be my ticket out of this miserable state. I knew the time to change my life had finally come, and there would be no turning back.
My main problem was my assumption that quitting drinking would catapult me into a world of health and happiness. I thought I would instantly feel clean and free. I figured if I could eliminate the booze, all the depression and stress would disappear. It turns out I was wrong. When you quit drinking, it is just the beginning of the journey to joy – a long and rocky road full of unexpected twists and turns.
Looking back, I’m glad the experience was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. It took a lot of hard work, contemplation and tears. Alas, this is how we do our best learning in life – when things are tough.
I wrote a letter to myself that night, which I have since burned in a moment of frustration. It went something like this:
Dear Sweet Karyn,
You are not as hated as you feel at the moment. You are loved.
In a year from now your weight will be lifted and you will be grateful for the strength you have in this moment to make your future better.
Your kids will live in a home where daily drinking is not normal. They will learn that life is sweet without alcohol. You will show them through your actions and you will break a pattern. Your kids will be better people for this.
You will start a recovery yoga class and create what it is you need. You will help others along the way. You will write a book about this experience and you will talk to schools and other groups about your experience. You will take the sting out of the word ‘addiction’.
You will be forgiven and you will experience redemption.
You will also experience doubt. There will be people who will attempt to put you down, insult you and belittle you. You will find a way to rise above.
Stay the course Karyn. You have already won.
I am pleased to say that it has been almost two years since that miserable New Year’s Eve I spent crying on my couch and life really is better. The depression is lifting; there is a brighter smile and sense of calm.
Indeed my life is improving by the moment and I am proud of what I am manifesting for my children. However, it required some pretty bold moves to make it all happen. These major life changes included: quitting my job, telling the world I was an addict, taking a bunch of courses, starting a new business, expanding an old business, counselling, coaching, taking medication, re-building a marriage and finding new friends.
I am living proof that an average mom with a wine addiction and some pretty severe depression (and I’m going to say this is a very common description of a middle class, North American mom) can make huge changes in a life where she once felt stuck. There is nothing special about my abilities compared to any other mom. I simply decided to make the changes, used my resources and believed in myself.
If you are wondering about what quitting might look like for you, know that it is possible! This is coming from someone who once raved about this wine label or that, and what wine goes best with what foods, or what wine could be served as the 4th bottle at a dinner party. Now I am someone who will never drink again – happily. If I can do this, you can do this too.
There was no rock bottom, but I was swimming in shallow water.
I have read about 20 memoirs of women who have quit drinking and every one of them includes a dramatic rock bottom story which makes it all very compelling and interesting. You find yourself reading along with intrigue and relief as you compare yourself to the poor woman who found herself in a hospital or waking up in bed with someone she didn’t know, or ruining someone’s wedding. Not everyone has a rock bottom. For me it was a series of less-than-amazing moments that led me to thinking my life was not awesome. In fact, my life was fine if you compare it to most people living on the planet, but it was not what it could be. I was living and behaving way beneath my potential and I was ashamed of myself for that. Each day I was becoming more and more sickened by my own existence. I was disappointed in myself. My desire for change brewed from a long series of bad scenarios, rather than one hum-dinger.
Here is an example of what a typical day was like for me before I quit drinking. Let’s say it was a Tuesday in November. My alarm would go off at 5am causing me physical pain. My head would hurt from the wine the night before and the lack of sleep that comes with the counter effects of the depressant, alcohol. My first thoughts we extremely negative…
Oh my god, I can’t do this. My head hurts, I can’t handle my day. I can’t go to work. I can’t stand work. My chest hurts, I need to calm down. I need more sleep.” Snooze…
After hitting the snooze button at least three times I would slide out of bed and head to the bathroom. Immediately I would get out the eye drops and pry my red eyes open to for delivery of the liquid bleach. I was dehydrated and toxic. I needed water. Two glasses of water and a coffee came next, maybe an Advil. Then I would eat a banana or power bar or something quick to soothe the burn in my stomach and to nourish myself for my morning run. I would rarely miss a run because this is what made me feel like a healthy person. I wanted to be a runner, not a drinker. There was a constant dichotomy of messaging in my head…
I’m a healthy running person.
No, you are running to clear up the mess from last night. You are a chip-eating, Netflix-watching, wine-drinking mom who can’t deal with her shit.
No, I’m just like everyone else, doing the routine and getting by…. exercising, working, drinking to relax at the end of the day. I’m fine.
I’m not fine.
Just run, you will feel better.
A run would always make me feel better or at least start to restore my energy back to feeling ok. Running was helping to bring me from far below the baseline to just beneath it. I don’t think I ever really knew how good it could feel to start at the baseline, and through running, feel better than normal or energized even. After 25 years of running I still didn’t know that it was actually about fueling the tanks and building strength and resilience for the day. This wasn’t something I got from running until after I quit drinking.
After the run I would make a healthy breakfast for myself and my kids and quickly get ready for work. I could feel the anxiety build as I put the work dress on. (I no longer wear any dress I ever wore to work – too much bad energy). More negative thoughts would rush through my head…
“What will my boss say to me today? How am I going to get this done? My chest hurts. Why doesn’t anyone do anything about the way she treats people? Should I do something? Can I afford to lose this job? Will I get fired?
Just do the work, don’t let it get to you.
I can’t, it gets to me. I feel sick. What is the right thing to do?
Get the work done and get out of there.
No job is worth this, there are other jobs.
Stick it out, this part will be over soon and things will change.
Things aren’t changing. I’m going to puke.”
At work I felt abused and afraid and it seemed to be a pattern for me. I did not stand up for myself in ways I should have and my stress was amplified. I did not have the resilience to tolerate what other people can easily handle in the workplace. Regardless of who was responsible for the toxic environment, I knew it had to change. I was getting very sick.
I have always despised the office environment. The thought of sitting in a chair and checking off a to-do list that serves someone else’s agenda, was infuriating. Most of my jobs have been in the non-profit field, so I would tell myself that the end cause was good and therefore my efforts were worthwhile. I never did see the results of my work however. What I did see was my boss, donors and in some cases volunteers. The volunteers gave me hope, but the rest of them gave me ulcers.
Had I taken the time to ask myself what I truly wanted, I would have realized I am more suited to working with people directly in the field, on the ground and face to face. I want to be of service rather than at someone’s mercy. I took many jobs like my last one over the past 20 years. I sold myself out for what I thought was a good paycheck and out of fear of change.
So, after a full day of work my nerves would be shot and I would quickly shift to parent mode. I would zip straight home to meet the kids at 3pm after school. Snacks, backpacks and dinner prep followed, as well as cleaning up from the chaos that happened in the morning while I was at work. Pets needed to be fed, laundry and groceries. I had from 3pm until 6pm to make it all happen before my husband came home. This was my favourite time to drink.
There were no small glasses of wine. I would just keep topping up one very large glass. Sometimes I would take a break from drinking over dinner time and then start back up after dinner. Sometimes I would skip dinner and just descend to my basement for Netflix, chips and wine. I made sure my family was always provided a good dinner, but unfortunately they were robbed of a good mom to share their stories with at the end of the day.
Typically my kids would be asleep by the time I came up from the basement. It would only be 8 or 9pm when I went to bed, but for someone who had been sipping since 3pm, I was typically in a full state of numbness or worse, tears.
Tears aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m all about getting your feelings out. But these tears were more the chemical depressant that was coursing through my veins. I was crying about things any sober person would shake off. I was wallowing and it wasn’t pretty. By three in the morning I would wake up feeling regret, anxiety and desperation. I would ask myself…
Why did I need to drink so much? I’m not doing that tonight. I’m not going to drink tonight at all. I’m going to go to yoga. I’m not a daily drinker. This is not me. Why did I do that? Greg (my husband) hates me. My kids miss me. I miss them. I’m so detached from everyone. Everyone hates me. Why am I like this? I always thought I was a winner – but I feel like such a loser. What happened to me?
And then, my alarm would go off and the cycle would start again. I never had the strength to just decide not to drink when I came home at the end of the day. I would always end up telling myself a story about how I deserved a break.
Moments of awakening to the notion I might have a problem.
There were some occasions where I stepped out of the safe environment of my own home and realized my performance was not impressive. For example, one night after a few glasses of wine at home, I joined a group of girls at a friend’s house for our regular viewing of the TV series, Grey’s Anatomy. This particular night, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself about being between jobs and after listening to one of the girls complain about her union situation at work, promptly unleashed on her about her lack of gratitude. I basically told her if she didn’t have her current job she would end up just like me – out there competing with younger, smarter and better candidates than her. So, she had better suck it up and shut up and so on. She left in tears, and then so did I, only after the other girls told me I was just jealous that she had a job and I didn’t (true) and that I was a bitch (true). I apologized to the poor girl a few times afterward, but since then have kept my distance from the group. They have also kept their distance from me. Looking back, I know I would not have acted that way if I weren’t drinking. My behaviour was disgusting and I have been ashamed of that night for years.
I’m not known to say the right thing even when I’m sober but the chances of messing up are lower now that I don’t drink. I used to feel the need to call or text people to apologize for being so rude or for stirring up conflict at what should have been a cordial event the night before. I would shit-disturb when I was drinking and for what reason? Attention I suppose, but now that I don’t drink my desire for attention has dissipated. I actually love not drawing any attention to myself at a party or better yet, not even attending the party.
Oh how things have changed. Having once suffered greatly from FOMO (fear of missing out) I now do my best to find time to spend alone. I am grateful for the small number of friends I have gathered and my precious family. It took a while to get to this point however.
The last party I attended as a drinking person was a book club a.k.a. wine club. It was a Christmas party and the host had gone all out to put a delicious spread of appetizers together, paired with a special red Christmas cocktail. I was the first to arrive so I happily sampled the fancy treat – twice. It was a fun evening and not unlike many of our previous get-togethers. This time things were different. It felt surreal to me, almost like I was sitting outside the group as they were talking, watching myself interact and paying attention as a witness to what was happening, as it happened. It was a moment of mindful drinking I suppose. There was laughing and there was gossip. There was kindness, music and fun, and as the night came closer to the end, there was frustration and anger. People didn’t get along as well as they did when they arrived. People got snippy.
At the end of the night I woke my husband up to drive one of the girls home. She refused to take a cab and the rest of us were not about to let her walk across town alone at 2am in the winter. On the other hand, we were not about to offer to walk her home either. So, Greg got up from his restful sleep and chauffeured my friend, and the rest of us home without complaint. The next day I was greeted with the silent treatment.
I hate the silent treatment. This time it was torturous. There was something brewing in me, something beyond resentment. I wanted to free myself of this lifestyle, this cycle, this less than satisfactory existence. I didn’t want Greg to have one up on me, but even more so I wanted to be a better person. It was time to stop drinking.
The decision to stop drinking wasn’t a one-time thing
There were various occasions when I tried on sobriety under the guise of something called a ‘diet’ or ‘cleanse’. I was in no place to tell people I thought I had a problem with drinking, but I was curious about how hard it might be to quit. Not surprisingly it was very difficult to quit, and I never made it more than two months in any given stretch. I would use the excuse that the new eating plan was just too restrictive. The truth was, it was too difficult to maintain any eating regime when my secret focus was on quitting drinking. I was shocked at how strong my cravings were and the extremely odd times of day they would occur. I wondered if I would ever be able to have a life where drinking wasn’t a priority.
I would like to say I was able to quit drinking when I was pregnant, but I can’t. I was able to cut down to one glass, which I had nightly during both of my pregnancies. I never had more than one glass, with the rational that the wine was relaxing me. My father, a doctor, insisted that one glass would not be harmful. Now, when I see posters in restaurants and grocery stores warning pregnant moms not to drink, I feel shame. I took a risk with my children’s health, because I was too selfish to endure the short-term discomfort of being without my wine.
I used to lie in savasanah at the end of yoga classes and cry about my hypocrisy. On the one hand, I was striving to live well and promote a culture of health and happiness, and on the other hand, I was pouring toxins into my body on a nightly basis. How could I teach people about balance and peace within, when my personal insides were in turmoil? I knew, at a root level the answer was in quitting drinking. I did not want to accept that I was addicted to it, yet I knew I was hooked and that I would soon need to stop. I was so conflicted between what I truly wanted for myself and what I was actually doing to myself. I didn’t know it then, but this inner conflict was the catalyst I would need to finally quit – for real.
Sitting around a pool one afternoon about 6 months before I finally quit drinking, I was talking with a bunch of moms about our addictions. We all used the word so lightly, “Oh, I love chocolate” or “I’m just addicted to those chai lattes from Starbucks”. Nobody was releasing anything too deeply personal or any real truths about themselves. It’s like people were fishing around in the conversation to see just how bad other people’s addictions were (or how much they were willing to admit) and where they stood in comparison. One friend shared that her brother was a smoker and she was a dieter. She claimed that addiction ran strong in her family. She then said something that really stuck with me… “Isn’t that the definition of addiction? Knowing something is going to kill you, but doing it anyway.” I felt sick when she said it. Prior to her statement I had brushed over my drinking calling it a habit, saying “I don’t think it is an addiction, rather something I really like to do. It’s all under control.” I’m sure the rest of the women at the pool that day were thinking…“OK Karyn, whatever you say… sure it is just a habit. Sure.” Needless to say, when I finally quit, there wasn’t a line-up of people gasping in disbelief.
…knowing it could kill you… knowing it could kill you….
The words my friend had said kept repeating in my mind. I knew drinking could kill me. I was closer to this morbid consequence than I would ever want to admit. I started to scan my body to look for symptoms of alcoholism…
…stomach pain, irregular and loose bowel movements, irritability, fogginess, depression, moodiness, dehydration…. and my liver – what did my liver look like? What about the stuff I can’t see – my poor organs!!
As I became fearful of my sickly forecast it occurred to me that the reason we all succumb to our addictions is because we push off acknowledgement of the future. We avoid, procrastinate and use excuses like “you only live once”. If we could somehow keep the future top of mind, we could muster the will power to cope with right now. I had practiced affirmations in the past for yoga, marathons, school work – why didn’t I just do the same thing with drinking? Well, it turns out the answer to that question was the confirmation that I was indeed, without a doubt, addicted to alcohol. I couldn’t just quit drinking using affirmations or will power - because I was physically and mentally addicted.
Even though we know it could kill us, we do it anyway. Addiction robs us of the ability to stay focussed on the endgame because we are not only mentally triggered to do our drug of choice in the moment, but we are physically and chemically wired to crave it. In order for me to quit drinking I would need to learn everything there is to know about alcohol and how it works in my body and brain. I needed to know why and how I came to be addicted to it and then how to quit – more importantly, how to stay quit.
The day I quit drinking for good, came just after the Friday night book club a.k.a. wine club event that ended with the silent treatment. As per usual I got up and ran the next morning, fighting a low-grade headache, which was pretty typical for a weekend. On the Saturday evening, I found myself without a bottle of wine in the house. So as not to increase the tension at home, I decided not to go to the liquor store to buy more wine. Instead I wandered the two blocks over to my mother’s house at cocktail hour and sat with her for a couple of glasses of wine. The visit was nice, but as I sat there drinking I wondered if I could ever pull it off without a glass of wine in hand? I sat there sipping wine with my mother as I have done since I was a teenager, watching the fire and contemplating my boozy life. I realized I didn’t want to drink in that moment, but I also realized how the first few sips instantly relieved my headache. Gawd, I was in withdrawal! I was only able to feel better, by drinking more alcohol. My dependence had reached a new level of pathetic, and dangerous. I walked home from my mom’s place and went to bed crying. I saw myself as an alcoholic that night for the first time. The shame was overwhelming.
When I woke up in the morning, I jumped onto the Amazon website and ordered about fifteen books on quitting drinking. I am proud to say those were my very last glasses of wine that night after book club, in my mom’s living room. The books couldn’t have arrived soon enough. I cried my way from Sunday to Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning, I sent my family an email to tell them I would not be drinking anymore. This email sealed the deal for me. I would not go back on my decision this time.
This email also included details about my mental health, which I assumed they did not know about, but surely suspected.
Understanding Addiction and Depression
I was not the only one who thought I should quit drinking. My personal counsellor had advised me to quit as part of a list of options to improve my mood. I was seeing this counsellor because of a long-time cyclical depression that was getting worse. I had tried a number of medications, cognitive behavioural therapy, naturopathic options, yoga, meditation, hormone therapy and exercise. Nothing was touching it. My doctor diagnosed it as PMDD which is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or severe PMS. It is listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders, under Depression. Honestly, I still don’t know if this is really what I had been suffering from, but I do know addiction was a contributing factor. I left ‘quitting drinking’ to the very last item on the list of suggestions from my counsellor. My email to my family went something like this:
I’ve been seeing doctors and counsellors for the past two years to try to deal with a problem which has been recently diagnosed as PMDD. Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. It is a form of depression. I will no longer be drinking alcohol at all, as it contributes to depression. I do not expect you to understand, but I would appreciate it if you tried to support me in my effort not to drink at any family occasion, ever again.
My email leaned heavily toward the mood problem rather than the addiction problem. At this point I was unable to admit to my family I was addicted. Also, I truly did not understand the relationship between the depressant alcohol and the mental health disorder depression. With a heck of a lot more learning, I became very familiar with the notion of concurrent disorders.
To understand the interplay of depression and addiction, I started with reading books– plenty of books. One of my favourites was William Porter’s Alcohol Explained. This book breaks down the depressant and stimulant effects of alcohol in detail. One of the key concepts that stood out for me, was how our bodies become efficient at responding to a depressant (alcohol) entering our system at a certain rate (let’s say 5 drinks in a typical sitting). When we start our drinking session the body responds with providing the balancing stimulants at the amount matching the rate we typically drink at – so 5 drinks worth of stimulants. This is why it is so difficult for people to stop at one drink. We feel anxious and jittery if we don’t have the remaining four drinks because we are pumped with stimulants. His message is that the body is always striving for homeostasis. To protect us, our body will counter any threat to our system. A depressant is a threat at the rate of five drinks because it will slow the heart rate to dangerously low levels, and cause other detrimental effects, if it is not responded to appropriately. I found this information fascinating. Not only that, but the knowledge was turning me off of my attraction to alcohol. I was beginning to prioritize the long-term health over the short term pleasure.
The problem beneath the problem
In her fantastic book, Women, Food & God, Geneen Roth says “It’s not about the food, but it’s not not about the food”. This confusing sentence is meant to describe the situation where there is a problem (emotional) beneath the problem (food issues) in any given addiction scenario. She discusses the need to dig deep in the psyche to figure out what emotions trigger a person’s eating disorders in order to start the healing. It may, however, be necessary to first deal with the food intake (or lack of) if it is posing an immediate threat to the person’s life. When I apply this theory to my experience, I would say the problem beneath the problem surfaced about the three week mark, into my alcohol free life. I was severely depressed – hence the New Year’s Eve spent crying and combing through self-help books.
Nobody can really say what the catalyst was that started my depression, but the consensus amongst doctors was that I was just prone to it. I had some hormone problems and a case of low resilience. I thought it was odd to use the word ‘resilience’ when describing my illness. To me it was more of a physics term than a psychological term. With more reading, I came to learn that ‘resilience’ has to do with one’s ability to bounce back in adverse situations. Resilience can be built through connection in one’s family, school or community. It can also be built through education, experiences and loving relationships.
I can see how I might have come to this state of ‘low resilience’ looking back at my drinking career. I used alcohol to avoid difficult things and to numb emotions. When other kids were learning how to take rejection or to work hard to get the grades, I was learning how to use alcohol to avoid life.
I started drinking when I was thirteen. I was an average kid, with good grades, fairly sporty and came from a good family environment. I did have a bit of a chip on my shoulder however because I was dealing with the death of a best friend from my childhood. I had a lot of guilt about her death because at the time she died we were not on good terms. Prior to this time, we grew up across the street from each other and spent almost every day together from kindergarten to grade six. Although my parents meant to protect me from pain, their approach to helping me cope with her death was to avoid conversation about it. I was confused, sad and lost for much of my junior high experience – enter drinking, mean girls and puberty.
One particular mean girl befriended me in grade eight. She may not have even been aware of this at the time but she was struggling with her sexuality and was acting out, amongst other problems I’m sure. She was my drinking enabler. She was also as I learned later, a very dangerous person. Once I discovered that her feelings for me were certainly more than I could handle, I cut off the relationship. The booze and cigarettes she was hiding in my bedroom were too big a risk, not to mention the bad actors she continued to bring around. Frankly, she scared me. Indeed, severing our relationship was the right thing to do, but it came too late. A lot of damage had been done. Teachers didn’t like my attitude, my parents were disappointed in me and I lost my drive to achieve in school and sports. When the mean girl came after me with threats, fists and bullying tactics that would make today’s bully look like a bunny, the community turned away from me. Teachers ignored the writing on the wall in the bathrooms at school and my friends chose her side. Eventually, when I came clean to my mother, she supported me. She too, was scared of this girl. Over time, I made some new friends and made my way through high school, but I did not enjoy it. My grades went up and I came out the other side as an average and unimpressive student. I was recently asked what someone would say about me in a high school yearbook. I said “most likely to shine later in life”.
Now, I’m not going to say that the death of my childhood friend or my relationship with the bully were the reasons I started drinking or the cause of trauma which led to addiction, but they were significant parts of a series of not-so-amazing experiences that led me to choosing to drink instead of learning to cope with my problems. Drinking went hand in hand with depression since I was thirteen.
Drinking continued in high school, university and in my adult life in what I thought was a pretty typical way. I liked to party, and I would often make the wrong choice to go to happy hour at the pub than to my room to study. I played varsity sports, got good grades and made my way through university and college. Still, I was an average and unimpressive student. I was jealous of people succeeding around me because there was small part of me who believed I could do something extraordinary with my life.
The pattern of drinking and mediocracy continued into my marriage. It wasn’t until after I had children, when my cycles of depression became more severe, that I began to drink daily and heavily. Going back to work full-time did not improve my mental health, in fact it worsened the situation. I would find myself up against women in the workplace who I thought were monsters. Perhaps with more resilience I could have handled some of their incredibly inappropriate and abusive behaviour, or maybe not – maybe they were indeed monsters. The good news is that once I quit drinking, my respect for myself started to grow. I would not be treated badly anymore. Finally when I was pushed to my max – I quit my job!
In the moment I quit my job I felt a huge rush of joy and excitement. Something I had not felt in a very long time. I immediately thought…
Oh, freedom and peace is finally here! I’ll never take that crap from anyone again! Everything is going to be alright!
And then the more sobering thoughts started to come to mind…
What am I going to do now? How will I afford this? Greg is going to be resentful. My kids will have a mom who doesn’t work. Will they respect me? What can I do to make money?
When I quit my job I was seven months into my alcohol-free life. Still, I was not feeling the joy and light I was anticipating when I first kicked the habit. But, quitting my job gave me the scary but wonderful opportunity to take a look at my life and ask: What do I really want?
I knew what I didn’t want. I did not want to take another desk job, nor did I want to ever have another boss telling me how to spend my days. I wanted to do something meaningful with my time but I had no idea what that was going to be. I now had ample time for introspection. It was time to get connected.
Growing up and getting connected.
So it turns out if you spend thirty years of your life drinking to avoid your problems, you never develop adult life-skills. You handle your life like a thirteen year-old, with essentially no coping skills. I took a look at my relationships with my husband, my family, my friends and my (now past) co-workers. They were childish, gossipy and unstable. I did not have any genuine relationships.
My problem beneath my drinking problem was connection. Boundaries, communication, trust and loyalty were essentially new concepts. I was baffled when my relationships with friends and family crumbled after I quit drinking.
It is difficult to see that you have a problem, when you are surrounded by people who drink and live similarly to you. In order for me to quit drinking I had to step outside of my current story and see myself as different. I had to consciously choose a new lifestyle and in-so-doing, separate myself from the people, places and things I had become accustomed to.
With friends, this wasn’t difficult to do. Some friends actually helped me to make the break by blatantly rejecting me. Others simply adapted and adjusted to who I was becoming. Now I have a very small handful of friends and I cherish them. I am polite and cordial towards people I used to drink with. I try to remember that we still have things in common and that everyone deserves love and respect. We drifted apart because I changed. I became a different person. I suspect my changes also made them uncomfortable with themselves. My presence was a buzzkill for them and so they cut me loose. I’m okay with that.
My relationship with my mother has also changed. As the months of my sobriety passed, I slowly began to accept the idea that as we become adults, it is normal for the roles in a family to change. It is expected and healthy in fact, for the child to become an adult and to start giving care back unto the parents. Growing up for me was about learning to look after my mom, instead of expecting or wanting her to look after me.
Quitting drinking had the most impact on my relationship with my husband. Prior to quitting drinking the tension was high. I often felt he did not respect my opinions. It seemed as though he was treating me as a lower-class citizen in my own home (because of my drinking) and I resented his piousness. Part of the reason I wanted to quit drinking was to even the playing field. I wanted to win an argument and fight with him on even ground. Once I successfully quit drinking, and spent some time in counselling, I realized the ultimate goal was not to win or to be right. The purpose of our relationship was to find harmony and respect between us. We started to see how we were similar, rather than different. We both love our kids and we are both funny people. Ultimately, we both want to be happy. I’m not going to say our relationship is totally healed, but we are in a much better place. Sobriety helps us to keep our priorities and emotions in check.
The healing connection I have been looking for has been found through my relationship with my children. Prior to quitting drinking I felt we were becoming distant. Once the drinking stopped, my patience and tolerance grew stronger and my capacity to be present with them became was bigger. I feel like I am actually in their lives now, rather than hovering outside just playing the role of mother. Loving my children is the only unconditional love I have ever known. My children are my heart.
Marketing and the making of a wine-mommy
Part of growing up involves letting go of ideals. I used to think it made sense to strive to become a certain archetype such as good mother, working mom, athlete, martyr or partier – the list goes on. I was constantly disappointed in myself because I was unable to pick a role or do it well. We build our identities based on ideals rather than what makes sense to us in our lives and what we really want. Why? I’m going to suggest it is because marketing companies set ridiculous standards and then tell us to drink when we reach the standard, or drink when we don’t. Either way, bottoms up!
On the one hand as women we are portrayed as powerful working professionals, out there competing with men for equal paying jobs in the workplace. On the other hand we are portrayed as nurturing, feminine mothers, playing a subordinate and supportive role in the home. These standards are hard to combine but there is one little stream of marketing that has managed to appeal to all subscribers – the wine meme.
The social media wine meme suggests that no matter what causes your stress, whether you work or stay at home, wine is your best friend. Social media messaging tells us our kids, our jobs or our patriarchal spouses are the reason we deserve a drink at the end of the day. They say we can rest assured that every other mom across the continent is partaking in their wine of choice to ease the shared tension we experience along with millions of other women.
Whether we are winning or losing, we are drinking. We think we are giving ourselves a break when in fact we are lowering our chances of success in any of our major life areas. Drinking is not a reward, it is a consequence. It is a consequence of the influence of marketing and peer pressure, keeping us addicted and keeping us living beneath our potential. Drinking is slowing our progress towards equality and robbing us of our unique spirit.
Beyond the wine meme, alcohol marketing pops up everywhere. Not just the direct marketing like billboards, magazines and the internet, but it has permeated our society in almost every way. Weddings, funerals, spiritual meetings, all involve alcohol. Celebrations, disasters, dinner time and breakfast time – they are all drinking times. Breakfast time! I mean really, when you think about it, doesn’t it seem absurd how many breakfast drinks exist out there!? There is no need to have vodka in your orange juice.
Just as the world is set up for couples and families, so is the world set up for drinkers. Drinking is the only addiction, that when you quit you are considered to have a problem. People think there is something wrong with you if you don’t partake. For example, if you don’t order alcohol in the restaurant your server will immediately give a sigh of disappointment – there goes the inflated bill and the potentially sweet tip (little do they know I tip more now because I have more cash and I’m not so grumpy). There is not a day that goes by that alcohol isn’t involved. It is utterly unavoidable.
The upside of social media – online support groups.
In January of 2017, a few weeks after I quit drinking, I started a yoga class for anxiety, depression and addiction. I also created a facebook group to share affirmations, information and inspirations. My intentions for this group were create a place for conversation, but it turned out it was mostly me posting. I also realized that because I had invited all my friends on facebook to join (and not everyone was a fan of publicly discussing these stigma-ridden subjects) that my page was causing tension. After about a year, I dismantled the page and decided to join a couple of groups online that were specifically dedicated to understanding and supporting people in the areas of addiction and recovery. I don’t regret creating my original group page because there were a few individuals who reached out to me through private messages. These connections are very valuable to me – we need to know we are not alone.
I was so impressed with one of the online groups I attended, called SMART Recovery, that I decided to become a facilitator. Living in a small town, in-person SMART meetings were not accessible. The closest meeting was in Toronto, two hours away. I actually preferred the convenience of meeting with others from my living room online, than sitting in a circle in a room. I just found it less awkward. SMART Recovery offers tools and strategies for people who are dealing with addictions. They teach very practical life-skills and do not promote any kind of religious or spiritual approaches. I use these tools now in my coaching practice and in my daily life. If you are trying to do this on your own, I encourage you to find support for your efforts through a group like SMART. Working with a community helps to build a sense of connection. Connection is a key factor in healing the damaged and addicted brain.
Joy and Neuroscience.
At the time I enrolled in the SMART Recovery facilitator course, I also enrolled in the Addictions Studies Certificate course at Mount Royal University in Alberta, Canada. I was becoming fascinated with the subjects of addiction and recovery, not just to support my own recovery but as a means to be of service to other people. I did not know how it would all unfold, but I knew I would somehow turn all of this new information into a career adventure. Maybe I would get a job working in an addictions facility? Maybe I would become a counsellor or give motivational speeches to public schools? Ideas were brewing as I immersed myself in my studies.
One of the most interesting things I learned about recovery was the neuroscience of joy. In my courses ‘joy’ was described as the experience in brain that happens when you are genuinely glad to be with somebody. There is an exchange of joy through face to face, eyeball to eyeball connection. This is the kind of exchange that happens between babies and parents or caregivers. It stimulates neuron activity that builds the parts of the brain responsible for emotion and self-regulation. Those who experience low levels of joy end up with a lesser capacity to self-regulate and are therefore more prone to impulsivity and addiction. Those who experience higher levels of joy, become more stable people with a lesser tendency towards addiction. The good news for the addicted person is that our brains are plastic, meaning that neurons can build new pathways for learning and development. Even later in life, through joy, we can build resilience and increase our capacity to manage addictions.
So, with that information about joy, I had now I had figured out that the key points to overcoming addiction were firstly, to stay focussed on the long-term gains, and secondly, to find more joy in life.
I went on to learn about models of addiction, neuroplasticity, co-dependency, enabling and other subjects related to addiction and recovery. I learned tools and strategies for helping others to overcome their addictions and mental health disorders. I was so excited to have filled my brain with this knowledge, but I did not know I was going to apply it. In keeping with my future-based approach it would make sense that I landed on coaching.
Hiring a recovery coach and becoming one too.
In March of 2017 I had returned to teaching yoga and was enrolled in my Addiction Studies and SMART courses. As I contemplated what would come next, I searched the role of Addiction Counsellor. Amongst the google searches the terms Sober Coach, Addictions Coach and Recovery Coach came up. I was curious about the role of Coach, because as an athlete I could relate to the motivation that comes with a coaching relationship. I liked the idea of setting goals and making progress. I wanted to coach people to achieve success. Heck, I wanted success myself. I needed to learn more about this.
I came across a coaching organization called the International Association of Professional Recovery Coaches (IAPRC), which offered the Certified Professional Recovery Coach designation course online. At the same time, a friend of mine sent me a message about her personal coach and mentioned she was a member of SHE RECOVERS ®. SHE RECOVERS ® is an international movement of women in or seeking recovery from a wide variety of issues, including substance use issues, codependency, loss and other life challenges. They have a fantastic website offering a number of opportunities for women in recovery to connect, including hiring a coach.
In talking with this recommended coach, Nicole Cameron from Coach with Nicole, I discovered that SHE RECOVERS ® offered a dual coaching program. I could acquire both the IAPRC and the SHE RECOVERS ® coaching certifications through this dual designation online course. Nicole gave me the personal number for Dawn Nickel herself, the creator of SHE RECOVERS ® and after a phone interview with Dawn, I was not only committed to the Dual Designation course, but I was signed up for Coaching with Nicole. I had jumped in to the world of coaching and it felt great.
As I made my way through the coaching courses I worked with practice clients over the phone. I also worked with Nicole to build my business and strengthen my own recovery. I realized there was so much I had not addressed with my personal recovery that could be supported through conversations with a coach. The momentum was fantastic. The theory I had learned in my Addictions Studies and SMART courses was now being woven into my personal coaching style. I had built a tool chest of exercises and strategies for helping people – and helping myself. Talking with practice clients was invigorating because it made the whole thing so real. I had to pinch myself. I was now Karyn Dowdall, Certified Professional Recovery Coach. I was helping people to set and achieve personal and recovery goals. I was supporting them as they achieved their success. My work was finally meaningful to me. I was feeling my personal depression lifting and my sense of connection with people, deepening.
Since graduating from the Dual Designation course, I have set up my coaching business, created my website and started coaching clients. I continue to offer yoga classes including one dedicated specifically to recovery. I’m also offering a quarterly event called Yoga and Recovery day, where we practice mindfulness, yoga and problem solving strategies as a group dedicated to recovery and vitality. I am so excited to be building this business, and I am absolutely pumped to finally have a job that doesn’t feel like a job. I feel driven and compelled to do my work. I am making a difference for myself and others. Two years ago I could not have imagined I would be doing this.
Busting through Shame and Stigma
One thing I discovered is there isn’t a lot of competition in my field of work. It turns out nobody in my town and very few people in my province and country are interested in telling the world they are an addict, and then offering to help others overcome this problem. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would be willing to do this privately and that is great, but I’m all about challenging stigma. I am finally in a place where I feel like I can comfortably talk to anyone about my drinking history and my depression. It took a while - and it certainly took a lot of practice.
I have started and stopped a number of blogs and added and deleted a larger number of posts on social media. I used to push myself to send a message and then toil in remorse about the personal details I just shared. Each time I found the courage to share my story, I would make a little bit of progress but then I would take two steps back. There were several people along the way who would send me messages to say my words were inspiring or helpful to them. There were also people who sent me private or public messages to challenge me or put me down. I believe the more we talk about both subjects, the more we support the healing process. Most people who are depressed or addicted feel alone and disconnected. In response to this my, honesty and publicity were acts of advocacy - at least this was my intention.
There were people who felt my public posts were attempts to draw attention to myself or make people feel sorry for me. I suppose I can see how this could be their impression. So I adapted and adjusted my approaches to reaching people over the past two years – this book being one of these adaptations. I’m learning to find my audience. If you are someone who is looking for ways to overcome drinking and depression and seeks support through reading, social media and education – you are my tribe. Success! I’m so glad to connect with you and I genuinely from the bottom of my heart want to thank you for reading this book. We were meant to be together!
What the heck is self-care anyway?
According to the social media memes, self-care involves ‘spoiling’ yourself at the end of a hard day with drinking alcohol, eating chocolate or shopping online. I would not recommend any of these approaches. These things would deplete your energy. True self-care rather, would replenish your energy. In yoga, we use the term ‘brahmacharya’ meaning ‘right use of energy’. Drinking for example would deplete you of energy and cause you to waste your personal power, whereas reading would fill you with knowledge and motivation and inspire you to use your power to serve others. Basically, self-care is brahmacharya.
My typical Tuesday has changed significantly since before I quit drinking. I now dedicate a lot of time to self-care. At 4am my alarm goes off and I consciously choose the words to say to myself as affirmation for my day… I’m excited about today. I look forward to my run. I am grateful for my running friends. My kids are sleeping like little angels in their beds. My day is going to go well.
For the first hour of my day, I quietly move about my home in solitude, with the exception of the company of my dog, Stanley. He follows me constantly. I make myself a coffee and write in my gratitude journal. Typically I list everything that comes to mind that I genuinely appreciate and then move onto make a list of priorities that align with my current goals. Sometimes I write out my goals, or draw a picture of a future project. Visualizing the future is my way of using the law of attraction to help me reach my goals. For many months I would draw my website, which listed the various aspects of my business. One page of the website included a link to this book!
At 5am I meet my friend Amy for a jog around the neighbourhood. We chat and the time flies by. It is typically dark out and sometimes snowy or rainy, but we rarely cancel. We are both grateful for this precious time of day. We work a lot of stuff out on these jogs and we support each other in our efforts to be good moms and do good work.
Before the family wakes up, I spend some time stretching and then preparing breakfast. I’ll then poor a bath for myself and be soaking and reading before the first family member wakes up. I like to have one or two books to read at all times. I also listen to audiobooks while I’m in the bath, driving or washing dishes. I love to learn something new and take advantage of any time I can make available to soak up the knowledge.
Then, lunches are packed and kids are out the door and Greg leaves for work. Rather than leaving for an eight-hour work day, I’ve scheduled my hours to suit my needs. I’m teaching yoga classes and coaching while the kids are at school. When I have time in between I can do errands, cleaning or exercise.
Part of the self-care routine is to be sure I eat well and take vitamins and probiotics. If there is time throughout the day I will prepare salad materials, or make myself healthy shake for a snack. In the evening, rather than watching Netflix, I will read books, listen to meditations or go to yoga classes. I spend time with my kids and chat with my husband. It is easier to be with them now that I don’t feel the pull to try to ease the tension from the day with booze. There is barely any tension left to require relief from. At least the kind of tension that used to exist. These days my tension comes from aspiration. I have set goals and I am anxious to achieve them. I am inspired and motivated to improve my life and help others to the same. There is still a struggle, but the karma (action) is different. With the right use of power, I feel stronger, more balanced and I look forward to my days with positivity and hope.
HOPE is Helping Other People Evolve
I’ve often heard the process of getting sober called ‘an evolution’. When a person decides to change their habits and chooses a more vital lifestyle, they evolve in a number of ways. Evolution implies the making of a more advanced model of you. Consider the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Within the cocoon, the caterpillar melts itself using enzymes triggered by hormones. Its legs melt away and wings and mouth parts are formed. It becomes a completely different insect. Almost everything about the creature has changed. Once it becomes the butterfly and escapes from the confinement of the cocoon, it is free to be the most beautiful version of itself.
The best part about comparing the human to the butterfly is notion that you can never go back. Once a person is transformed, they can no longer go back to being who they once were. They become enlightened to life without alcohol and the freedom and knowledge that comes with that. They know what it is like to feel good. Just as the butterfly has no desire to go back to being a caterpillar, the recovered drinker has no desire to go back to crawling through life. Prior to metamorphosis, the caterpillar will molt (shed its skin) several times. The drinker will experience a variety of setbacks or relapses and attempts at change. Eventually, the big change comes. Once it comes, we are permanently changed.
Part of the evolution of becoming a sober person includes the desire to help others. Once you have been through the process and can see how sweet life can be, you are compelled to help others along the way. Not everyone will want to be helped but for those who are reaching out and ready to make the change, there is hope. Hope comes through our connection to others. HOPE is about Helping Other People to Evolve.
As much as you feel attached to your friends and family and your life as it is right now, you will need sober friends if you are going to quit drinking. You will need someone to support you and connect with you in a way other people cannot. Don’t just pick a non-drinker. Pick a friend who used to drink and now consciously chooses not to drink. Pick someone who knows the struggle and can talk with you about it when you need to. This might be someone in a 12-step group. It could be someone from an online support group. It could be someone you meet at an alcohol-free event. Find someone who is like you, who you can talk to. This is important and not impossible. I used to think it would be impossible to find a friend like this, but if you call in the law of attraction this person will appear for you. Go out and actively try to meet these people. They are looking for you too.
I’ve never actually met my first non-drinking friend, but he has been a huge part of my evolution. The author of Alcohol Explained, William Porter became my friend after I reached out to him about his book. We discussed his book and plenty of subjects around sobriety and quitting drinking. Eventually, I asked him to be a mentor for me as I navigated my way through the process of recovery and becoming a coach. He has a positive and practical perspective on life – and a great sense of humour. I truly value this relationship.
In person, I have also made an alcohol free friend. I have a tonne of respect for this woman and we can certainly relate when it comes to our drinking backgrounds. We are both from the same community and would sometimes find ourselves in the same circles. We were both wine drinkers. At the end of the day and would reward ourselves, feeling quite justified. Independently, we chose to quit drinking about the same time and eventually made our way to each other through yoga classes. We are now sober friends. We enjoy yoga, running and talking about our lives. The conversation rarely touches on drinking, but when it does I feel very grateful to connect with somebody who can truly relate.
If I can do it, you can do it too!
I wrote this book because I wanted to connect with like-minded people. I wanted to share my story with moms who may be feeling overwhelmed with the idea of quitting drinking. Two years ago I could not imagine quitting – even though I had known for many years I was addicted to it, in an increasingly unhealthy way. I was ashamed of myself and wanted help but refused to ask for it.
I remember going to the bookstore at a yoga retreat and finding a book on the shelf about using yoga to beat addiction. I wanted the book so badly but could not bring myself to take it to the counter because the title would out me as a person with a problem. I was so embarrassed, wondering what the girl at the counter would think of me. I assumed she would think I was a powerless, desperate and out of control loser. This of course, was the opposite of the truth. Despite my limiting thoughts about myself I was a powerful, motivated and caring person with a burning desire to break free and live my best life. I know you are that person too. If you are reading this book right now, you have managed to embrace the title “Quitting Drinking” and have already come a long way! I named it such because I wanted to call it like it is and debunk some of the negative stereotypes (stigma) around people with addictions. I am also using my own name to write this book, because I want to everyone to know this is my real life and I am not ashamed of it. I want you to know that you can reach out to me and we can connect as friends.
Basically I want you to know that if I can do this, you can do this too. We are the same in that we have it within us to change our lives for the better. As long as we are alive, there is opportunity to evolve and expand. I encourage you to evolve toward vitality by making the change to a sober lifestyle.
HOW TO QUIT DRINKING
This is a compilation of exercises and strategies to help you quit drinking and improve your life…
(coming up next…)
After being on both sides of drinking culture I can say it is better over here. Come join me!
Listed below are resources I would recommend if you are quitting drinking. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website at www.coachingwithkaryn.com. Please follow my blog!
I would love to hear from you, especially any stories about…HOPE!
Resources: Some of my faves…