Two Years No Beers

Today I’m answering one simple question: Why did I quit drinking alcohol?

My original plan was to answer all of your questions in regards to my choice to live a sober life, but once I began writing I realized this topic is a whole post within itself. I plan to answer all of your questions in the future, and explain, in depth, how quitting alcohol has proven to have more benefits than I originally could have imagined. The last two years that I’ve spent sober have revealed more to me about myself and life in general than I bargained for, and I’m so grateful. Being completely sober in the face of political unrest, job uncertainty, and isolation during a worldwide pandemic has challenged me to confront myself and grow, a lot. But those stories are for a different day.

Why did you quit drinking in the first place?

This question is the most frequently asked.

I think there is a common misconception in our society that you are either an “alcoholic” for life or someone who can responsibly consume alcohol for life with no real consequences, and little space for those of us in between. You are either someone with an incurable “disease” that will crave alcohol forever – someone who has hit rock bottom and makes a choice to turn their life around, or you’re just a “normal” person who drinks. I think that this is a completely false dichotomy that keeps many people harmed by alcohol but not “addicted” in a self destructive loop that society deems acceptable. Alcohol is the only drug that after you quit, you are then stigmatized as having a problem. I chose to quit alcohol for two major reasons: the health of myself, and the health of my marriage.

My husband and I have been together almost seven years, married for almost three. We spent the first year of our relationship drunk. That truly is not much of an exaggeration. I was suffering emotionally from years of trauma and the resulting post traumatic stress, aware that I was suppressing my feelings, and therefore, healing with alcohol, but not ready to stop. I can’t speak for Kanan so we’ll suffice it to say that he drank with me, and didn’t contest to the frequency, the excess, or the destructive behaviors that resulted. I don’t think that either of us hit a symbolic “rock bottom” from drinking. Most of the things I did were terrible, but normal in this country, and even encouraged in your twenties, so I didn’t feel the need to confront them until much later. Passing out on the floor of my bathroom and being hung over for three days – must’ve partied too hard! Had an emotional breakdown in the movie theater after a couple pitchers of margaritas? Tequila must make me emotional! The problem with this thinking is that when you miss work because you’ve been drinking (I did twice) or drive home drunk (I’m not sure how many times I did this, but I argue that if you’ve ever consumed alcohol as a driving adult, you’ve likely done it too) you can brush it off as a fluke and move on. Drinking is so normal that we endanger ourselves and others emotionally, mentally, and physically but as long as you’re not “addicted” you’re fine.

As the years passed we were drinking less as we advanced in our careers, had more responsibilities, started working out more and eating healthier. I was trying to work through my issues using mainly diet and exercise but had no idea that the alcohol I was still consuming on a regular basis was keeping me stuck by wrecking my already fragile mental health. At this point, I never went out drinking, rarely had more than two drinks at a time, and thought I was being “responsible” by typically only having one beer a day after work. Just enough to keep alcohol in my system at all times.

I’m going to interject for one moment to point out how absolutely asinine it is to use veganism, lifting, Pilates, yoga, kale, massages, facials, running, stretching, vitamins, juices and supplements to try to obsessively heal my body and my depression and anxiety, while frequently drinking ethanol – a depressant and a toxic substance known to cause a myriad of mental and physical health problems, like cancer, depression and anxiety.

There were two things that pushed me to quit. The first was the atomic-level arguments my husband and I would get into if we were drinking. Don’t get me wrong; we still have disagreements, heated discussions, and hurt feelings. We are not perfect and we certainly don’t always magically agree just because we stopped drinking alcohol. However, we no longer have any disagreements resulting from alcohol consumption itself – like someone being out too late or not communicating properly – or any illogical and booze-induced disagreements over random topics that went way too far simply because alcohol makes your brain incapable of logical reasoning. I had a thought one day: How many married couples could have avoided divorce if alcohol was simply not a factor in their relationships? Probably a lot. My parents included. So I made the decision to choose the longevity and health of my marriage over the promise of a nightly “wind down” that you inevitably always pay for in other ways. I am grateful that my husband agreed and we quit together.

The other piece of that story is about me. I drank nightly to help me relax. Not a lot. One beer, maybe two if it was an exceptionally hard day. But it was perpetual and constant. I didn’t ever think I was addicted to alcohol and I still don’t consider myself an “alcoholic.” I had left behind my college days of binge drinking and acting irresponsibly and so by American standards what I was doing was perfectly normal and acceptable. I now owned a business and the stress was unending. The commitments never stopped. One night after popping an edible and washing it down with a beer, my husband frustratingly tried to explain to me that I had a problem. I was resistant – existing in the binary framework of normal versus alcoholic. I wasn’t an alcoholic, so what’s the issue? Until he said something that changed my mind. He said that I was drinking to escape my life. If I needed to get high or drink every night because I was so depressed or stressed, maybe I should figure out why I’m those things in the first place, and fix that.

Holy shit.

And there it was. The person who’s opinion I respect most in this world is telling me that the way I’m living my life is fucked up, and therefore my mental health is fucked up and I’m using a substance (or substances) as a really ineffective band aid to absolve myself of responsibility to fix it. After three months of mulling those words over, I decided to quit. Slowly reducing the amount of alcohol I was drinking bit by bit, until I toasted to a happy life over a table at my bachelorette party, knowing that with the support of these amazing women, and my husband, I could do anything. That was two years ago.

I know a lot of you are probably wondering if I relapsed. If I miss booze. If quitting was hard. If I traded alcohol in for weed instead. I plan to answer all of those questions in future posts, but the short answer is no. Alcohol (and weed and pills) was a weight on my shoulders that’s gone forever and I never want to carry that weight again.

Because I spent so many years being afraid of what it might mean if I quit, I kept drinking how we’re “supposed” to drink in this country – safely and in moderation, only that’s a complete lie. There is no safe way to consume a poison and no way to moderate the destruction that follows. I was drinking just enough booze to keep myself in a constant state of denial. Never reaching my potential. Denial that my anxiety induced depression was a thousand times worse because of what alcohol does to your brain chemistry. Denial that I could eat all the kale in the world and that still wouldn’t change the fact that alcohol is linked to several different types of cancers. Denial that I needed constant therapy and a clear mind to help me remember the things alcohol helped me forget. Because you can’t heal from things you never confront, and I was storing so much trauma inside myself that it was literally killing me.

There aren’t any cravings. There is no regret. There has never been a moment when I’ve doubted myself or wished I could go back. Every once in a while when I think that alcohol sounds good (the same way a burger sounds good if I smell barbecue…even though I’m a vegan) I pour myself a delicious non-alcoholic beverage in a fancy glass, throw a lemon slice in and think about how grateful I am that I quit drinking alcohol.

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For more information on my personal journey with alcohol, see my 1 year post: https://www.google.com/amp/s/thereallifeveganwife.com/2019/08/17/one-year-no-beer/amp/

An Open Letter to the “Impatient” Woman

Dear Woman with the “attitude” and “short fuse,”

Dear “angry,” “ungrateful,” “loud” Woman who cannot accept the way things are and does not find it admissible to smile through your pain, trauma, and frustration,

Dear Woman who is “impossible to please,” “difficult,” and therefore “less likable,”

Dear Woman who is physically unable to separate the personal from the political,

From the moment we open our eyes until we close them at night Women are taught we must exude patience and politeness.

Our very existence seems to demand it. Our safety requires it.

Anger is not an option. We must trade our strong voices for silence and passivity.

Depending on how many intersecting identities you navigate, society will expect more or less patience of you on a daily basis just to maintain some “normal” order in your life.

I’m writing this so that you know that you are not alone in your frustration. In your inability to dig and maintain a well of unlimited acceptance for a society and world that justifies and silences not only your pain, but your joy and experiences.

But more than that, I write this to remind you that since you were a girl, taught to be polite and submissive, you have trained yourself to have all the patience in this world. To carry all of your weariness out of site and replace it with surface-level tolerance in order to make others comfortable, or to save your own life.

I don’t believe we need any more patient women.

We are suffocating in our collective patience.

What we own are a spectrum of emotions that can change the world if we refuse to suppress them. A throwing away of expectations to be “agreeable.”

But I do understand that raising your voice and renouncing patience is a privilege within itself that not all Women have the access or promise of safety to express.

In one single day:

I have patience for the man who cat called me in front of the business I OWN.

I have patience when an article reminded me that November 20th was Latina Equal Pay Day. This means that Latinas had to work all of 2018 and until that day in 2019 to catch up with what white men were paid in 2018 alone.

As a Woman and a Latina Business owner, I acknowledge the sacrifices of my mother and I work hard to lessen that gap. Aware of the privilege I have from looking more white than Mexican, from having the last name Wilson, instead of the last name Corral. I have patience as I reconcile my identity daily.

I have patience as I work through this generationally slow process of “progress” built on the assumption of “gender equality,” the myth of merit, and the positive spin of color blindness.

I have patience when I remember that “domestic labor,” care for our elders, and childcare in the home is generally unpaid and done by Women. This is “normal,” and when we ask for a thank you instead of the paycheck we deserve, we are being “unreasonable nags.”

I have patience for my clients choosing between a career and children. Or work and childcare.

I have patience for my friends who’ve lost children or choose to be childless when people ask why they’re not pregnant yet.

I have patience for the husband who says he “helps out” with house work as if he does not live in that house.

And for the father who “babysits” his own kids.

I have patience when a man at the coffee shop tells me to smile as I wait in line.

I have patience when I remember that more than one out of every three women in the US will experience sexualized violence in their lifetime.

I think about this every day when I move my car to the front of my business because I feel unsafe walking to the parking lot in the dark at 7pm. Yet, I am patient.

I have patience when I think about my experiences with stalking, harassment, and emotional and verbal abuse. I try my best to be polite when I am triggered and expected to remain “emotionally stable” and “grateful” because I am no longer experiencing those things on a daily basis.

I have patience when I’m asked if I’m upset because I’m “on my period.”

I have patience when I learn that women are the fastest growing prison population with their incarceration rate currently growing at twice the pace of men’s. Roughly half are in prison for nonviolent drug and property offenses.

It is still legal across much of the United States to shackle women giving birth in prisons, or to deny them prenatal care altogether, forcing them to give birth alone in a prison cell. I have patience when I read this.

I have patience when I read about a woman in Alabama being charged with murder for killing her rapist in self defense. Aren’t Women allowed to “stand their ground?”

I have patience thinking of all the women and girls without access to food, clean water, health care and education.

When I’m told to be less angry and vocal about this injustice because I am “lucky” enough to have these things, I have patience.

In the US, 3-4 women will be KILLED by an intimate partner each DAY. I read this and remain patient.

To the Woman who experiences more injustice in one week than I have in my entire life, I know this letter will fall short. But I try to be aware of my privilege and address it as such.

This letter is not meant to be a compete rendering of every injustice.

It is an open acknowledgment of how impossible it seems for Women to be patient and polite in this world. But we are. Because our survival has, and still does, depend on it in many cases.

Despite every hint and clue that would lead someone with any bit of common sense and emotion to scream and shout with anger, disappointment, frustration, and sadness, we still find the strength to remain “composed.”

Dear Woman who continues to live, experience, and learn about these realities and remain “agreeable” at the end of each long day,

Dear Woman who goes home and simply cannot fake politeness for one more second and is accused of being “short-tempered,”

I hear you. And I’m done being patient.

_____

The easiest way to disregard a woman’s voice is to package her as a scold.

– Michelle Obama

Digital Declutter Diaries Part 2: I Can Feel

Being underwater dulls everything down. Light and sound. You try to laugh but it’s hard. You try to see but that’s hard too. You try to listen but nothing sticks. The details are all lost anyway.

All you know is that for some reason it feels as close to good and familiar as you can get with your head dunked slightly below the surface. Everything’s fuzzy. Slower. After a while it becomes normal to feel that way. Watching your life through a blurry lens of indifference and numbness.

You try to believe you’re happy. But deep down you understand that knowing you should feel happiness, and actually experiencing it are two different things. You think you’re sad, but at the end of the day you could take or leave whatever made you feel that way. Disappointment isn’t real, anger is just a response to another thing that isn’t real. Love feels real, but comes with a handful of emotions that are fuzzy now too.

So back underwater you go. Lukewarm.

Sometimes you can’t help it and you get upset – you don’t even know why. But you enjoy being angry, because at least it’s something. The few things you do care about, you distance by a few degrees just in case.

That was me. That is me still, sometimes.

Compartmentalized.

I had accepted this as my normal. It’s like being outside where everything feels bad for so long that you put a protection around yourself that makes everything feel about half (or less) of what it should. It’s okay at first. But then time went by and I started to worry that I’d completely forget how to really be happy, or sad. Or anything. I just wanted to feel a genuine emotion that I wasn’t capable of putting inside a box and neatly stacking on a shelf of 10,000 never-again-opened boxes. It had become SO easy to do that.

What’s it like to feel real joy? Or gratitude? Or disappointment? Without immediately putting it in check with the opposite emotion.

Neutralize it.

During this process of decluttering my mind I realized that my emotional shutting down happened in two stages.

The first began as a defense mechanism-type response to an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship I was in for about four years in my early twenties. Until I conducted this experiment, I hadn’t even realized, let alone accepted that what I had gone through was actual abuse.

Yet for years I lived in a constant state of isolation, uneasiness, fear, and defensiveness. I lost myself navigating the complexities of loving someone with mental illness, depression, and sometimes uncontrollable, unpredictable anger. I developed resulting post traumatic stress, and have often found myself exhibiting those same destructive behaviors – learned out of necessity to protect myself, then. Now I’m finally realizing that I can stop living a defensive life. Everything isn’t an argument; constantly worrying about my plans going off track is unproductive. I don’t need to always be on the highest alert.

Back then I retreated inside. Put up protective barriers. And apologized. A lot. I numbed myself to my reality because after years of mental manipulation it becomes extremely difficult to separate what’s real from what someone tells you are just your own “unreliable” emotions. It’s even harder to accept what you know is true when the good times are good, and when everyone around you seems to think everything is mostly fine.

And then there is the shame and the fear. I chose to be there, so obviously something must be wrong with me because I stayed. I’m not a “victim.” I’m smart and capable. So it must be my own fault for not leaving. It’s my own fault for not bringing it up until now. It’s my own fault.

I spent years worrying about his mental health and everything I was doing “wrong,” while my mental state and self worth deteriorated. But I couldn’t see what was happening.

That lightbulb didn’t even begin to flicker until about a month ago when I read Gavin DeBecker’s book The Gift of Fear. I thought long and hard about all the behaviors that he argues are precursors to violence, and how our intuition knows before our minds do that something is wrong. Back then I had gotten very good at ignoring my intuition and rationalizing behaviors that I now see as completely dangerous and unacceptable. I never once worried about my own safety, focusing primarily on getting him help for his mental illness. Only now that seven years has passed do I realize that I should’ve been extremely concerned about my own mental and physical well being.

The second stage of my emotional shutting down happened after he died, about three months after our final breakup. For more information about this please reference my first ever post, Context.

A huge part of my identity and self worth was caught up in a person who made me feel disempowered and small. Overnight, I lost everything I thought stabilized me, and I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible. I feel guilt now, as I write these words. But staying silent hasn’t helped me to heal. And protecting his memory and family should’ve never taken precedent over my own mental health.

The tragic reality of what happened to him, coupled with the awkwardness people feel discussing death and trauma had effectively rendered my experience within that relationship invisible. Somehow petty and unimportant. So I threw myself into a full fledged effort to convince myself it was petty and unimportant. And I simply cannot live that way anymore. In sharing my experience, it becomes visible, and there is freedom there. For me, and others like me.

I think that ever since I was a little kid I’ve known that I feel very deeply. That I can absorb energy from those around me, and that I can sometimes tap into the pain and sadness and love and happiness of animals and other people that I may not even know. Until I got into that relationship, I felt confident to exude that passion is everything I did. In my learning, in my work, in my friends and family. I felt deeply and unapologetically about everything. And I wasn’t even the slightest bit ashamed or afraid to show it to the world- thanks parents.

In a nutshell, I loved being me and I was not afraid to show it, and tell everyone about it.

And then all that passion and self confidence evaporated and I accepted it.

My therapist has asked me on multiple occasions if I minded being alone. My answer has always been a hard no – ask my husband; he knows. I love spending time alone. What I believe she should’ve been asking me (now that it’s 2020) is if I like being truly alone. Without all the things that make it so easy to never actually be by yourself. No phone, no internet, no TV. Because my answer would’ve likely been something like: I don’t know. Because I’ve never tried that. Solitude wasn’t something I had prioritized.

I thought I’d been healing myself the best ways I knew how. And I suppose to a degree, I have been. But I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall, beyond the healthy eating, and exercise, meaningful work, therapy, and positive, supportive, loving people in my life, something still eluded me. Something still felt like a hole in my heart. A missing piece.

After a month of solitude, and A LOT of thinking, I realized that the missing piece was partially realization and acceptance. Moving through my past. The other part was remembering the confidence in my own spirit and abilities that used to come so easily, and the permission to feel everything and anything again.

I condensed about five years of therapy into one month, just by allowing myself to really think. I’ve already started to see glimpses of my “old self,” but in a new way, still trepidatiously approaching emotion. I can finally begin to heal the parts of me that have developed as coping mechanisms, shields, and responses to trauma. I can forgive him and let him go – he was hurt too.

I’m not sure if my mind had guarded me from my full reality on purpose, or if I was in denial. I’m not sure if I was being protected from recognizing my past as what it truly was until I was strong enough and stable enough to handle it. Or if I was consciously shoving it aside because it was too difficult to look at.

All that matters now is that I am beginning to see love in little things again and am so overwhelmed with gratitude on a daily basis for every wonderful and painful part of this life.

_____

Artwork by: TanyaZCdesign https://www.etsy.com/shop/TanyaZCdesign