April 04, 2022

Let's Talk About Alcohol

Once again, this is going to be a very vulnerable post that I really have to post when I'm feeling brave and mentally stable (not depressed). I wasn't planning to ever write about this so candidly, but recently something happened and I feel compelled to write my thoughts. (This is a SUPER long post, by the way.)

Someone that I am close to (let's call this person "Charlie"--a gender-neutral name--to maintain privacy. I'll also use they/them pronouns for the same reason.) Charlie and I have always been close; we deal with a lot of the same issues surrounding mental health--particularly anxiety.

I've known for a long time that Charlie has had a problem with alcohol, but it wasn't to the point where most people would consider it "rock bottom"--things like DUI's, losing family, losing jobs, losing houses and cars and spending all available money on alcohol.

Charlie likes to drink in certain situations--downing drinks during the days/nights off work. I won't get into those details in order to keep Charlie anonymous. However, Charlie was also able to show some restraint--no drinking on work nights. In this sense, you wouldn't think of Charlie as a Frank Gallagher-type alcoholic (Frank Gallagher is a character on the show Shameless--a stereotypical "drunk"). Charlie is a functioning frequent-binge-drinker whose problem has been getting worse over the years by using alcohol to self-medicate.

(For clarity, "alcoholism" is no longer the preferred label; it is now called "alcohol use disorder"--AUD for short. And it is more of a spectrum--from occasional binge drinking to drinking all day and all night.)

Last week, Charlie shared with close friends and family what was going on and that they'd decided to go to a treatment center for 30 days. I expressed just how proud I was and I REALLY admired their vulnerability in sharing such a personal struggle. I never had the guts to be *that* open and detailed about my relationship with alcohol. It's because of Charlie that I decided to write this post, actually.

On Thursday, Charlie entered detox/rehab in California (far from home). The people who'd learned what was going on were surprised--they didn't realize how bad the drinking problem had gotten (or that it was a problem at all). I talk with Charlie frequently and I felt it was only a matter of time for them to seek help. (I quit drinking in February 2021, but I never pushed them to quit; they knew that alcohol was a problem and I knew that nothing I said was going to push them into quitting. I never judge anyone with an addiction.)

Problem drinking is more of a spectrum than a yes or no whether one has Alcohol Use Disorder. I would be willing to bet that a LOT of people fall into the spectrum and don't really realize it. The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition) that is used to diagnose mental illnesses considers these symptoms for Alcohol Use Disorder:

For AUD to be diagnosed in the U.S., the individual must meet the criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APS). 
The criteria include having a pattern of consumption that leads to considerable impairment or distress. 
At least three of the following criteria should have been present during the past 12 months:

  • Alcohol tolerance: The person needs a large quantity of alcohol to feel intoxicated. However, when the liver is damaged and cannot metabolize the alcohol so well, this tolerance may drop. Damage to the central nervous system may also reduce tolerance levels.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: When the individual abstains from alcohol or cuts down, they experience tremors, insomnia, nausea, or anxiety. They may drink more to avoid these symptoms.
  • Beyond intentions: The person drinks more alcohol, or over a longer period, than they intended.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down: The person is continuously trying to cut down alcohol consumption but does not succeed. They may have a persistent desire to cut down.
  • Time consumed: The person spends a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol consumption.
  • Withdrawal: The individual withdraws from recreational, social, or occupational activities that they previously participated in.
  • Persistence: The person continues consuming alcohol, even though they know it is harming them physically and psychologically.

I'd written before that I felt the need to quit drinking. However, my life hadn't spiraled out of control from it: I wasn't losing my family or friends; I would never drink and drive; and I never became angry or mean when drinking alcohol. In fact, I was probably more pleasant! However, I knew that it was a problem, especially considering that I used alcohol to alleviate my anxiety (self-medicate). And I definitely downplayed it, including here on my blog.

I really started to worry about it in 2018 and in 2020. (If you may remember, I quit drinking for 2019 as an experiment to see if/how it would change my health/life.) In 2020, I thought maybe I could go back to having a small glass of wine now and then, or even a small glass of wine in the evenings like I did for many years (4-5 ounces of red wine) with no problem whatsoever. Well, that lasted all of a few days. Within a short period of time, it was right back to the 2018 problems with alcohol.

One glass turned into two, and then two into a whole bottle throughout the evening. When one bottle eventually turned into two, I was really concerned. I also hated waking up feeling like crap.

It's extremely common for people with bipolar disorder to have addiction issues--alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex, shopping, etc. Personally, alcohol was my way of coping with anxiety. I have generalized anxiety disorder and if you don't know what that feels like, it's horrible. This short video will make you feel the anxiety that people with generalized anxiety disorder feel pretty much all the time...

Hahaha! I laugh, but it's a good example of the knot in your stomach when anxiety takes over. (Which is exactly what is happening to me right now at the thought of actually publishing this post!)

Anyway, alcohol always eased my anxiety (at least temporarily). It made me a funner person, more social, more talkative, and generally happier! (I want to stress that these feelings were temporary; once the alcohol wore off, I felt terrible about myself.)

Luckily, I was able to quit drinking on my own. (I was afraid someone would recognize me if I did something in a group setting.)

I even remember my last time buying alcohol: I went to the party store (which is called a convenience store or liquor store or other things in different areas--in Michigan, a party store is basically a convenience store that sells snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, and a few essential groceries). The owner always kept "my" wine in the back cooler so when I walked into the store, I would head right into the back and get it. On that day--the day before I quit drinking--when I came out of the cooler, there was a man trying to pick out something his girlfriend would like to drink. I asked what kind of things she liked and then suggested a couple of things to him. He got into line to pay and I was in line behind him. He apologized to me and said he thought I worked there which is why he was asking me questions! Hahaha. He, the owner, and I all shared a laugh.

It was funny at the time, but later I realized how sad the whole situation was. Being on a first-name basis with the owner, the fact that he kept my wine in the back cooler for me, the fact that I was able to suggest drinks for someone's girlfriend and he thought I worked there... and I decided to quit. That day was Valentine's Day, so my first day of sobriety was February 15, 2021.


The last time I mentioned being "sober" on my blog, a couple of people commented that I shouldn't use that word because I quit drinking on my own without a support group and because my life hadn't fallen to pieces--a.k.a. "hit rock bottom"--and the comments kind of bothered me. It wasn't easy to quit! It was actually harder to quit drinking than it was to lose 125+ pounds.

When you lose weight, people compliment you and notice as you get smaller. They ask questions about how you're doing and praise you for a "good job". But when you quit drinking--for whatever reason--it's more internal. Once you make that decision, you have to do it without the external motivation. People certainly watch you at get-togethers, maybe to hope to catch you drinking, but nobody says anything about your abstinence in settings that may be triggering.



One thing I discovered that was really important was acknowledging sober milestones. To someone who quits drinking, a simple, "Hey, congrats on 90 days! That must be super challenging for you. I'm proud of you for sticking to it when I am sure it must not be easy," goes a long way.

I was very excited about milestones, but I only celebrated them in my head. Maybe people thought that because my life hadn't fallen to shit before I quit drinking, it didn't mean that much; or that it wasn't hard for me to quit. (I do have a friend who became sober on May 1st and I hope to share his story as he approaches the one-year anniversary. He made sure to text me for my own important milestones and it meant a lot to me! I did the same for him--and still do.)

If there is one piece of advice I can offer to loved ones of those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) who became sober (no matter how they did it) it's this: Acknowledge their efforts, even long after they quit drinking. Something that would go a long way is saying something like, "Hey, I know this must be so hard for you being around all these people who are drinking. I just want to let you know that *I notice* your effort and I am really proud of you." Sober people can make abstinence look really easy! But they may be struggling inside and a little acknowledgment could be just what they need to hear.

When people do something hard--take an important final exam for a class or a job, lose a lot of weight, run a marathon, pay off thousands in debt, etc, they usually get a lot of praise and/or congrats. When someone gets sober, they are much less likely to receive that because they weren't doing something "above and beyond" in life; they were "fixing a problem". I hope this makes sense.

I'm not exactly sure where I fell on the alcohol use disorder spectrum, but I know I was on there somewhere. Once I saw how brave Charlie was by being SO vulnerable--Charlie has terrible anxiety just like me--I started thinking about how maybe I should be more open about it. When my friend who became sober nearly a year ago admitted it to our group of friends, he learned that several other people we know have problems with alcohol as well. It just feels shameful to admit it, so people keep it to themselves. It would be so refreshing if everyone would talk about it!



By his speaking out, and Charlie speaking out, and now *me* speaking out, I'm hoping that others will be less ashamed of admitting it to themselves or others. I think it helps so much to have people around you who know what you're going through and they may be able to relate.

Well! Since Charlie will be in rehab for 30 days, I told Jerry that I'd like to give up something for 30 days in solidarity. My sister decided to do the same. I've chosen to quit snacking after dinner--which is when I tend to consume way too many calories in nuts or nut butter. For at least 30 days, I'll have tea or La Croix after dinner, but no snacks. That's a tough one for me! But when I find it hard, I know that Charlie is probably facing the most difficult challenge of their life. And theirs doesn't stop after 30 days.

Something I told Charlie before they left for rehab made a big impact in their mentality of quitting alcohol. So here is what I said:

When thinking of quitting, the first thing our minds go to is "forever". Rather than thinking of the good things that are bound to happen, we think of forever--we can never sit around a campfire and drink beer with friends; we can never get together for wine with our girlfriends; we can never have margaritas for a fun Cinco de Mayo party; we can never share a bottle of wine with our partner during a romantic dinner date; and so on. That's when a lot of people dismiss the idea of quitting drinking.

I told Charlie that those thoughts are "romanticizing" drinking alcohol. We romanticize those ideas in our minds and all we can focus on is that we can never do them again. I said that we shouldn't focus on "forever" and what we can "never do again"--we need to stop romanticizing the drinking because how often do those situations actually give you those feelings you imagine? And it's not that we can never do them again--it's just that we have to adapt to doing them without alcohol.

A lot of people quit before they even start simply because they think of all the things they can never do again. But since I quit drinking, I've done several things where I normally would have had drinks: sitting around a campfire, flying on an airplane (flying sober was terrifying), parties/get-togethers, dealing with stress after a long/exhausting day, etc.

This photo below was shortly after I got off of my first sober flight. (This was in 2019 when I quit drinking for a year; I haven't flown anywhere since!) Flying is a huge trigger for me because I have SO MUCH ANXIETY around it, and alcohol calmed my nerves. I "celebrated" by getting some overpriced frou-frou coffee drink from Starbucks. I just remember feeling so relaxed and GOOD in this photo. I took the selfie to capture that moment.



My dad had a drinking problem (I was too young to really remember) but he went to rehab and got sober when he was about my age. And he hasn't had a drink in over 40 years! There are a couple of other important people in my life that I really hope will make the decision to quit drinking someday soon--I really worry about them.

If I wasn't sober, I'd think I was drunk while writing this post because I feel like I'm totally spilling my guts here and it's something that I feel like I will be very judged for! But Charlie's honesty really inspired me. And if I'm judged harshly, so what? I am continually growing and learning and changing to hopefully be a better version of myself. :)

Thanks for reading, Friends. xo

22 comments:

  1. I am super proud of you for having the courage to discuss this as well as give up alcohol on your own. Your thoughts on it are so spot on. Well done. Thank you for sharing your journey and occasional struggles.

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing and kudos to your friends and you for taking control of something you felt was out of control. I have been alcohol-free since Feb. 14th for manynsimilar reasons. I am a binge-eater, I am a binge-drinker. It wasn't good for my health or my marriage, and I wasn't a healthy example for my kids. No one ever told me I should stop. In fact many friends encouraged me because that's just what we've always done together (they can many just do it in better moderation). I finally had to realize that just because it wasn't a LEGAL problem, or a work problem, didn't meant it wasn't a problem. My dad has been sober for 43 years and we celebrate his sobriety birthday every year, it's a big deal :) It isn't easy to give up something that can easily be written off as "not that big of deal," so I think it's almost just as hard to quit when you haven't hit rock bottom. But I'm grateful for all of us that haven't gotten there 🙏

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  3. Katie,

    Thank you for being willing to be so honest and vulnerable about this, your weight, and your mental health. These are all things that, unfortunately, society has decided are moral issues or a reflection of one’s character. Instead of people judging others for these types of things, I hope someday we can all get to a point where we understand that everyone is doing the best they can, and treat people with kindness. You have created that kind of space here on your blog, and it really matters. We need more people like you, putting empathy and acceptance into the world.

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  4. Important and well written post. Making the decision to go to rehab is not usually easy and it is one of the first steps to take to get help. It is so important! Getting assistance is very helpful! A professional with many years of experience in the mental health and alcohol and other drugs field, expressing the acceptance and understand that you showed in your post is so important to the community, as is sharing your story!

    I also appreciate your comments on choosing to stop drinking. Deciding to stop drinking or other things that are not healthy actions is hard and we should support those around us. I dont drink and when I decided to quit I got exhausted explaining why. There were questions because I come from a state where "drinking is what you do" and that is what we all did. Now my family and friends dont think anything of it that I do not drink and i dont have to explain why. It's truly no one business why

    Also, You can use sober! Definition of sober:

    1a: not intoxicated

    b: abstaining from drinking alcohol or taking intoxicating drugs : refraining from the use of substances.



    Thank you for sharing. And all the best to Charlie, they will have a lot of work a head of them but it is worth it. Remind Charlie that each day, hour, minute and second can be a milestone. Getting through that event or acticity where you always drank is so important to reflect on and celebrate when completed without alcohol.


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  5. Thank you SO much for sharing. I have drank one time in the past 2 years. I decided to quit for many reasons (I was a binge drinker and downplayed it for about 6 years of my life). After I hit 30, I would get so sick from drinking and I couldn't do it anymore. I'm so glad I decided to stop.

    Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I don't think you understand how many of us will relate to you. I am so proud of your accomplishments!

    I am sending so many prayers and hugs to "Charlie." I know they will be successful. They are lucky to have a friend like you!

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing. I have been sober for long periods but have never been able to commit to make it a lifetime. I know how hard it is and I will always be the biggest supporter of someone who is or wants to get sober. I lost my fiancé to alcohol 4 years ago and that was one of the worst things I have ever gone through. I don't wish that on anyone addiction is a scary and overpowering disease that can affect anyone.

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  7. Thank you for this post, Katie. I really feel like our society has normalized drinking so much that we've actually normalized AUD as well - there are so many people with concerning drinking patterns who don't even recognize the problem. It's helpful to see the criteria outlined and discussed out in the open.

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  8. This is a super inspiring post! Thank you so much for sharing! And you have SO much to be proud of!! Being sober for this long is no mean feat, everything you have done is so amazing!! I am sending many positive thoughts and good vibes towards your friend Charlie and wishing them much success! This was a beautifully written post and I enjoyed reading this <3

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  9. Wonderful, amazing post. VERY insightful at capturing so many of the "nuances" surrounding alcohol use/abuse. With AUD in our family, I recognize many of the issues you raise. Thanks for another truly helpful post. I hope Charlie does well and thrives without aloohol.

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  10. As always, Katie, you keep your blog real, and we love you for it! Everything seems easier when we can talk about it.
    Congrats on your sober milestones and your hard work. Charlie is lucky to have you as such a supportive friend :) Best wishes to them and to everyone else going through this challenge right now <3

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  11. THANK YOU! I'm in year 30, headed toward year 31 of no hangovers, no rolled cars, no fist fights, so yes. I get it. And I'm so grateful to people like you who tell the truth, do their best to explain it, and know a ton of people won't understand. You did it anyway. HURRAH. Also sending Charlie all the good vibes. As a good sober runner friend of mine says when anyone celebrates a sobriety milestone, "Hooray for our team!" We get it. Hugs all around.

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  12. Alcohol Use Disorder?? Leave it to America to use an easier, softer way to describe being a drunk. I am a drunk who's been sober for 15 years through the help of an AA meeting every single day for the 1st 7 years of my recovery. I found the time to drink every day, I went to a meeting every day. Would it have been that bad if someone recognized you at an AA meeting? If you take steps to stop drinking, believe me, people already know you have an alcohol problem. The advice you gave "Charlie" about the words "never" "forever" are not what works to get sober. You think about today only. I will not drink today, maybe tomorrow, but not today.

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  13. I am 43 years old and have NEVER had a drink. Not once. My grandparents were alcoholics and my grandmother that I was very close with died falling down her stairs while drunk when I was 11 years old. That was enough. Drinking killed my grandmother and it did not appeal to me in the slightest. I'm at the opposite end of society's judgment, "how is that even possible?", but I've never let it bother me. I know it's the right decision for me because my mom and I both have addictive tendencies. I did however marry (and divorce) an alcoholic. Much love and support to you, Charlie, and anyone else fighting that demon.

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  14. Yup, so much. My bestie and I quit drinking during the pandemic. Once you stop you look around and realized how ingrained and normalized drinking/ getting drunk is in our society. The whole mom-juice thing? Really? It's crazy. We both tend to use the term "alcohol free", but yeah, I'm sober. And better, healthier, wealthier for it! I have PTSD, and like folks with GAD, alcohol is an easy way to self medicate that anxiety. One plus side, I do see a lot more mocktail and AF versions of alcoholic beverages, so I know we aren't alone!

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  15. Both my mom and my dad abused alcohol in some way, so I've been very careful about my alcohol consumption because I don't want to go down that path. I think because of that, it has made me so aware of how many friends binge drink. Like you, I don't judge and don't say anything, but it does make me worried.

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  16. I have been alcohol free since October 2020. I do not think I was on the spectrum but I didn’t like why I drank. I feel nothing but joy and freedom. I made one big decision and freed myself from all kinds of small decisions.

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  17. Thank you so much for this!

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  18. Hugs to you and Charlie. Thanks for sharing, you matter and are important. You are helping others be their true self. Bravo!!

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  19. Our society places such an emphasis on drinking, especially for middle-aged moms (all the "It's wine o'clock" and "mommy needs her adult juice" type crap). So it's really nice to hear a different perspective. Thank you for being brave and thank you for sharing your story!

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  20. Thank you for your vulnerability Katie, and congratulations on your sobriety! Your honesty and persistance through the ups and downs has kept me reading for over a decade now. You've been inspiration for me to keep going or start again many times over the years. Sending a big virtual hug!

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  21. Katie -- You're always an inspiration! Thanks so much for your vulnerability and truth-sharing. You know, we all struggle with some sort of addiction, kudos to you for starting another new journey. I'm so proud of you and appreciate you sharing yours and Charlie's story. I stopped drinking for Lent (just as a cleanse not a religious thing) and hope I can sustain this lifestyle for longer than 40 days. Keep the motivation coming! Sending cyber hugs. ~xo

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  22. Thank you for this. It hit me just at the right time. I have been down playing my drinking issues for awhile now. I am on the road to recovery and your post just helped me see I can do this. Again thank you!

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