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The Disturbing Drinking Culture

When I quit drinking seven months ago, I began paying even more attention to the strong drinking culture in our society indulges in. I used to think the “coffee now, wine later” mugs and the “rose all day” t shirts were cute. Now, I find them downright disturbing. While shopping in Marshall’s today, I found a nightgown that said “hangover shirt” and thought to myself, why are hangovers being glorified?! Hangovers are our bodies telling us how much we over did it the night before, not something to chuckle about. I know my hangovers were accompanied by headaches, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, severe anxiety. There was nothing funny about a crippling hangover.

There are a number of ways the drinking culture is not only accepted, but almost a rite of passage for everyone. I began drinking in high school as a way to fit in and to be more comfortable in my skin. The number of kids in my school who didn’t drink or dabble in drugs were very few and far between. I was talking to my mom on the phone last week about my drinking in high school and she admitted that she thought it would just be a phase, and that all kids have to go through the partying stage. I don’t know if anything or anyone could have stopped the behavior. I justified the partying because all of my friends were doing it and all of my friends were in honors classes, making good grades and on the path to college… that we could handle partying.

Binge drinking in college is another example of the party phase young adults go through. The reality is, a massive number of college students lose boundaries with alcohol early by binge drinking often. I had my fair share of happy hours, frat parties, thirsty Thursdays, and house parties while playing games like flip cup or funneling beers. Eventually, the drinking days became every day of the week. Managing classes through a hangover while trying to hold down a part time job was absolute torture, but the option to abstain from partying was unfathomable. In college, students drink to get wasted. No one at parties were establishing healthy boundaries with alcohol, or drinking water in between every keg stand. The consequences of binge drinking are terrifying

The following statistics were compiled and released by the Addiction Center regarding college students and binge drinking:

About 1,825 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries

More than 690,000 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking

More than 97,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape

About 599,000 receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol

About 25 percent report academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall

More than 150,000 develop an alcohol-related health problem

 

This isn’t a culture, this is a crisis.

 

Most survive college, only to find more sophisticated ways to get hammered. There are winery tours for a girls day. Brunching at fine restaurants with bottomless mimosas. Happy hours after work. We become beer connoisseurs by understanding the difference between a double IPA and a Belgian tripel.

We even find ways to blend the exercise world with drinking. Any race I have participated in had beer trucks and free vouchers for us to “celebrate” with. There are 5K’s located at local wineries, so after running the vineyards, you have the option to stay and drink their wine. Wine and Vinyasa Yoga is a new movement I see advertised often. Now looking at these events through sober eyes, I find myself extremely uncomfortable with how often exercise and drinking are intermingled. So many of us in the recovery community turn to exercise to keep us balanced, however feel automatically excluded from these events because of the party that is to follow after the workout. Not to mention how counterproductive it is to drink after vigorous exercise. Alcohol can affect muscle recovery and growth if ingested right after exercise. The concept of pairing booze and breaking a sweat is contradicting and infuriating.

The marketing world has paid attention to our growing drinking culture and jumped on board, making water bottles that say “not not hungover”, pillows that say “Xanax and chill”, workout attire that says “workout now, wine later”. Why is numbing out from life being glorified? Why is this being marketed?

Every stage of life from the formative years through to parenthood has an alcohol soaked undertone. When I became a mother, I fell right into the marketing trap of taking a “timeout” from parenting to reward myself with wine. The consequence of that was numbing out and checking out of life in such an unhealthy way. I see it on my closed Facebook mama groups. Moms posting pictures of their glasses of wine with a caption saying, “it’s been a rough day”. I have even purchased wine that is labeled “Mommy’s Time Out,” justifying my drinking because my mama tribe was doing the same thing. The idea of taking a load off and numb out from the life I helped create now feels so wrong. Instead of drinking, why aren’t we marketing more productive and fulfilling ways to take a break from a hard day? We need to be better than this.

I understand taking a break. I understand being completely overwhelmed and wanting to run from the world for a bit. The problem with running away from things that overwhelm us is those same issues will be there when we check back in. Choosing to drown our sorrows in a bottle of Malbec only means that when we sober up, we are left with the same issues we tried to run from and added a massive hangover with crippling anxiety. Problems never go away, so it’s best to face them head on with better coping mechanisms than a bottle (or 2) of wine.

I find that exercise helps me tremendously with staying mentally balanced. My local Y offers childcare for an hour and a half so I can take a break from mothering for a small amount of time guilt-free. Filling my cup up by taking a workout class with other women is a million times better than numbing out with wine. The best part about this is I come back to my family better than I left them. I’ll take feeling stronger, more confident and strong over being sluggish, foggy, nauseous and anxious while trying to be a functioning parent any day of the week. Exercise has replaced alcohol in my toolbox as a way to decompress, boost my mood and feel accomplished. One of these days, I hope to see a fresh juice vendor at the end of the finish line instead of a beer truck.

Statistic reference from Addiction Center https://www.addictioncenter.com/alcohol/binge-drinking/

Braving the Waters in Early Recovery

My first few weeks of sobriety were rough to say the least. I felt raw and exposed with nowhere to run. Looking back on the first few weeks without alcohol, I realize I was “white knuckling” through life. I knew quitting was the best for me, but I couldn’t see the positives in getting on the wagon in early sobriety. I wasn’t sleeping well and when I did get some shut-eye, I would have bizarre dreams. I suffered from crippling headaches and became really forgetful. I was short fused with my family. I cried all the time. At the time, it was hard to see the positives that were happening.

After a very necessary conversation my husband had with me three weeks into my sobriety, I began to seek out activities that brought peace and healing within. He essentially told me that since I chose to quit drinking, I didn’t have a single good thing to say about it and it was time to work on being more positive. He was absolutely right. It was time to stop being a dry drunk and start actually recovering.

So that’s exactly what I did… I began seeking recovery!

Below are a few things that helped me through the first few months of sobriety.

I Exercised

Even through my active drinking, I kept a good workout routine. I now rely on that natural serotonin and endorphin boost that I achieve with a heart pumping workout. I belong to our local YMCA and I absolutely love the sense of community it offers. The Y has a kid zone, so my daughter can spend time with peers while I take a class. I enjoy fitness classes that combine strength and cardio. I also love the trainers who help guide the class and push us to give it our all. The group setting doesn’t allow me to slack off in my workout.

I Rested

Toward the end of my drinking run, I boozed at home most of the time. When the sun went down, the urge would hit and I would open a bottle of wine or a beer and begin the bingeing. When I quit drinking, I would go to bed after our daughter went to bed. It took some time for me to quit associating night time to drinking at home, so to avoid that urge, I would hole up in our bedroom. I didn’t sleep well the first week or so, but when I began to establish a better workout routine, I started sleeping more soundly. When I woke up, I felt refreshed not groggy. I hadn’t felt so refreshed in years!

I Read

In order to improve the usage of my down time, I began devouring books. My go to genres include; self help books, nutrition books, thrillers, and science fiction. However, I really found comfort in reading about books about women who were in recovery. The first week of sobriety, I read Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle. Her book knocked the wind out of me with how brutally honest she was to herself and her audience. That book was exactly what I needed in the first week to keep going. I wanted to be authentic again to learn who I was without the barrier of alcohol to soften the blow of life. I needed to be present again to participate in living no matter how much it hurt. To achieve living in my truth, the booze needed to go. I had no idea how to be sober, but she helped to guide me in the right direction. Reading allowed me to stop obsessing about drinking and focus on other stories.

I Built a Sober Community

I did not know many people in recovery when I quit drinking. Most people in my life drink. I needed sober sisters fast. I joined women’s recovery closed groups on Facebook. I joined mama groups as well. I made an Instagram page geared toward recovery and clean living which helped attract a group of other sober people. Sobriety Instagram pages are full of stories of recovery, inspirational quotes, and others sharing what keeps them clean. I also attended a few AA meetings. The meetings helped me see what long term sobriety looks like. Listening to others share their stories about how their lives are fulfilling without alcohol was so important for me to hear in the early stages of my sobriety.

I Created a Pinboard

The day I decided to quit drinking, I started a private page on Pinterest where I posted inspirational quotes about sobriety, books to read about quitting drinking and sober blogs to visit. Having a lock on the Pinterest page meant no one else could see it but me. I visited that page every night the first few weeks to help me prepare for the next day of deciding not to drink. As cheesy as it sounds, it was a pin board cheering me on with funny or inspiring words.

If you in the first weeks in recovery and are feeling lost, just know you aren’t alone. I felt completely lost, but kept digging for things to make me more comfortable in my own skin. Keep seeking. Keep searching.

Tools for Recovery

The tools we seek during the healing and recovery process has everything to do with how successful we are in sobriety. In the last few years of my active drinking, I felt unhappy and depressed with where my life was. Self medicating and numbing the feelings became the norm instead of actually dealing with why I felt sad. When I started realizing how unhealthy it was to escape the real world by binge drinking,  I wanted to change but didn’t know how.  I spent time researching what recovering addicts and alcoholics used to stay strong in recovery. More importantly, I wanted to know if life could be fulfilling and fun without booze.

I started to realize people in recovery can cope with the ebb and flow of life by seeking out healthier coping skills and resources. I began to accumulate tools to put in my recovery toolbox prior to quitting, so I could learn how to deal with the inevitable stresses life brings. The first tool I found was in the form of a podcast. I was getting ready for work on Monday morning and having the toxic inner dialog I always had at the start of the week. The weekends were spent binge drinking and by Monday morning, the shame and anxiety I felt came spewing over. While searching for some sort of resolve, I searched “alcoholism” in my podcast app so I could listen to something helpful while getting ready. The first podcast that came up in the search was the Shair (sharing helps addicts in recovery) Podcast. I downloaded and listened. Then I binged on all episodes available. I was hooked! Omar Pinto, the host, has a guest each week who is in the recovery world. The guest talks about how they were introduced to drugs and alcohol and the wreckage it caused, how they hit rock bottom and what their life looks like in recovery today.

One of the first interviews I listened to was a wife/mom who was addicted to alcohol and almost lost her life to the disease. Listening to her talk about her years of being sick then finally getting better, something clicked in me. For years, I have been uncomfortable with how much I drank, yet never felt like there was an option to quit. It was in that moment, I visualized my life without the anxiety and depression that alcohol brings.  In her story, relationships have changed for the better because of sobriety, especially the relationship with herself.

Listening to her story was the first time I realized I can have an even better and more fulfilling life without alcohol. Listening to stories about addiction and recovery became an essential tool in my tool box. The relationships I had with the important people in my life had the chance to grow even deeper. I had the power to change anytime I wanted to. I listened to Omar’s podcasts for over a year before I made the decision to quit drinking. Each episode I devoured was one step closer to joining the sober community.

If you would like to listen to Omar’s show, The Shair Podcast, go to your podcast app and search “Shair”. There is also a private accountability group on Facebook called “SHAIR Podcast – Addiction Recovery Group”. It’s a wonderful online forum for people in recovery or seeking a community of recovery.

The Shair Podcast
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