Well, it is a little bit. But it’s more about different kinds of sobriety, embracing all the feelings – the comfy feelings, and the very uncomfy feelings – and prioritising myself when things got really hard.
On December 22, 2019, I discovered that my father had passed away. We had a tortured relationship but I loved him, and the news of his death shattered the inside of me into the image of that painting The Scream … at least that’s what it felt like. In that same moment, and although I hadn’t had an alcoholic drink nor even thought about having one for a very long time, my eyes immediately were drawn to the “good” alcohol cabinet.
Nobody would blame me, right? It would absolutely be acceptable to numb this moment.
And I mean, I wasn’t a “heavy” drinker or a mean drinker back when I did drink … I only stopped because I didn’t like the relationship I was developing with alcohol and I’d already seen where those kinds of relationships can take people. I quite liked the taste of really good wine and I LOVED the taste of rum. Nothing wrong with that! The problem lay in how I started using alcohol to manage my feelings … tricky social situation? Alcohol. Got some anxiety building up? Alcohol. Feeling bored? Alcohol. Drama? Alcohol. Lonely? Alcohol.
You get the picture.
About 5 years before I ACTUALLY stopped drinking, I knew I had a problem. And yes, it took that long for me to make that final commitment – there had been several prior attempts at quitting, but they didn’t stick for a variety of reasons. Now I realise the biggest reason was that I really didn’t think I could live without alcohol. I was afraid of becoming a boring person, somebody nobody would want to spend time with, and that my life would lose fun, spontaneity, and celebration. I think I was afraid that I (and my life) might not be enough without alcohol. It’s very sobering to write that!
One day, I was in the throes of a mild hangover, with enough presence of mind along with nausea and that headache, to make what I thought would be the last decision about drinking. I’d had enough. I was done feeling like crap in the mornings. I was done experiencing the opposite of all the things I thought alcohol was giving me. Alcohol gave me MORE tricky social situations, more anxiety, more boredom, more drama, and more loneliness. It was fracturing important relationships, worsening my health, eroding my confidence and happiness. I’d done amazingly well in quitting alcohol, managing all the intricacies of quitting – and there are many more than I thought there were – without a lot of drama or pain.
So I was very surprised that night in December while I was doing The Scream in my head, to find my eyes heading over to that cabinet. REALLY surprised. And I don’t know about you, but when big things happen in my life I almost always am fascinated by the details of the moment. Even while I was reeling, I was also thinking “wow, look at me checking out the gin! How weird is that!”.
And in that moment, I was able to make a decision to do my first big trauma sober because if drinking had taught me anything it was that bad feelings aren’t erased by alcohol … they merely wait for you to sober up a little when you’re least able to manage them well. I really like that I made that decision for SO.MANY.REASONS.
I had space to walk it through in my head and thought about the pros and cons …
Pros = Feeling the feelings
Cons = Feeling the feelings
Right, excellent! Decision made.
Now of course, this would be a strange story if it was just about alcohol and nothing about food. I am a nutritionist after all! So I’m going to tell you about another crazy thing that happened that night. Once I’d made my decision to be sober from alcohol my eyes darted over to the fridge and my brain reminded me about the ice cream in the freezer. Now, I haven’t eaten ice cream for a very long time – years in fact. I really love ice cream, but it really does not love me back, so I don’t eat it. I hadn’t even thought about it at all until that moment. My feelings were going all out for the numbing!
And that’s when I decided I’d do this trauma “food sober” as well.
Again, nobody would blame me because that concept of using food or alcohol to cope with or help with the difficulties that we encounter is pretty much ingrained in most of us, and I include myself here too. This was my first sober trauma as an adult. And I want it to be very clear that I would not judge anybody (including myself) should they choose to use food or alcohol in a situation like this. It’s just that for me, at the age of 54, I was ready. Plus I have this thing about wanting to feel good.
I LOVE feeling good. I love feeling healthy, strong, smart, and happy. I love feeling empowered. Drinking alcohol and eating food that my body doesn’t like has never made me feel good and I guess part of my reasoning to do this sober was in not making myself feel worse by using substances that my body really doesn’t like.
I have to say that I haven’t felt good the whole time since I found out about dad’s death. I’ve felt shit a lot of the time to be fair and there’s been a lot of crying. I’ve also felt loved, grateful, cared for, smart, empowered, and healthy. I’ve felt all the feelings and I’m pretty happy about that. It’s going to take a long time to sort out my feelings about my father, our relationship, and the weird circumstances around his death, quite probably the rest of my life. But it’s been a great experience doing this sober because this is the first time some very strong emotions weren’t muddied by alcohol and ice cream.
The grief has come in waves, at inconvenient times, and with a lot of intensity. But it didn’t destroy me. Instead I’ve been reasonably good about getting my self-care game on. And I think that might have been key to riding those waves. I did know that if I was going to do this sober that I’d need to be very kind to myself, and do the things that I know really support me. Walking, good food, tea, diaphragmatic breathing, sleep, and the Calm app have been the most consistent ways I’ve supported myself during this time.
Self-care does not come naturally to me, in fact most people who know me at all know that I really struggle with implementing it on a regular basis but big trauma requires big self-care. It’s helped me a lot.
I wanted to share how this unfolded for me, and to perhaps let somebody reading this know that it is possible to manage feelings just by letting yourself feel them. Whatever you take away from this, I hope it supports your commitment to prioritising yourself and your needs no matter what you’re facing, because you are important.