“Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me.
For years, I would tell myself the same thing after a night of drinking one too many: When I’m 30, I’ll finally have this all figured out.
I had no idea how it would happen, but until then change could wait. I was sure that once I reached that milestone my life would just magically fall into place.
Unsurprisingly to perhaps no one but me, things didn’t exactly turn out that way.
My 30th birthday came and went, and I was no wiser than I had been the day before. Yet again I marked the occasion by drinking too much and saying things I wished I could take back. The next morning, soaked in regret and shame, I lay in bed trying to piece together the night.
From the time that I started college at 17, alcohol was by my side whenever it came to having fun. The insecurity that gnawed at me before going out disappeared. The hang-ups whispering in my ear dissolved. When I was drunk, I was carefree, confident, and outgoing. I didn’t want to mess with a good thing.
By my twenties, a part of me worried that I took things too far. I didn’t need a drink to get through the day. I wasn’t tippling from a secret flask. I drank socially. I drank at parties. I drank at bars. I drank a lot, but so did every twenty-something around me. Yet most of my friends seemed to get to a point where they called it quits. I, on the other hand, seemed to have a broken off-switch.
My drinking wasn’t the only problem. I was expert in self-loathing. Everywhere I looked, I saw unmet expectations. I had so many flaws. So many things to fix. I was terrified of failing and obsessed with measuring up. I felt broken. All I could see was a litany of problems that I had no idea how to tackle. But I knew one thing: relief was always waiting for me at the bar.
Of course, the temporary respite I got from a drink (or three, or four, or too many to remember) only led to more problems and more shame. Again and again, I came back to the same questions: Why couldn’t I drink like everyone else? What was wrong with me?
I desperately wanted things to be different. I wanted alcohol not to be an issue. I wanted to drink like a “normal” person. I wanted to be the funny, confident, outgoing version of myself without needing a glass in my hand.
I was stuck in wanting. The problem was that wanting required nothing of me. All I had to do was sit back, stew in self-pity, and wish that things were different. All the while wondering: Why me? Why did I have to deal with this?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I stayed stuck in wanting because it was safe. I didn’t have to take action or risk feeling uncomfortable. When all was said and done, although I swore up and down that I was desperate to change my drinking, I was terrified of the discomfort necessary to make change a reality.
I didn’t want to feel the restlessness of saying no to my desire. I didn’t want to brave a party sober. I didn’t want to answer people’s questions about why I was drinking club soda. I didn’t want to feel awkward, insecure, or judged. Wanting was a security blanket that got me nowhere.
What I needed was commitment. If I truly wanted to create change in my life, I needed to commit to doing things differently. A commitment to take action. A commitment to venturing outside of my comfort zone. A commitment to say no, even when saying no felt anything but easy. I needed to embrace discomfort, the very thing that pouring a drink had for so long helped me avoid.
And that’s what I did. I shifted from wanting to committing. Less than a year later, I took a break from drinking. As I crossed days off a calendar, I promised myself that I would finally understand why I felt like I needed a drink in certain situations and more importantly how not to. If I really wanted to learn how to be carefree, confident, and outgoing on my own, I had to practice showing up that way without a drink. Along the way, something amazing happened: the more I stopped running from discomfort the more I discovered I was a lot braver and stronger than I ever thought possible.
Reaching some arbitrary milestone or sitting around and wanting things to be different was never going to magically fix what wasn’t working in my life. True change required commitment and a willingness to be uncomfortable. I had to move toward the things that made me want to run and hide so that my brain could learn they weren’t nearly as scary as I thought.
It wasn’t always easy. Commitment asked me to keep showing up for myself even when my brain insisted it was too hard to continue. Even when I was consumed by worry, doubt, and fear. Commitment urged me to keep going even when I didn’t feel like it and a little voice inside of me declared that today had been too hard, I was too overwhelmed, and that one drink wouldn’t hurt.
What I discovered transformed everything. My drinking wasn’t a sign that I was broken or an indication that something was wrong with me or my brain. I had unknowingly taught myself to use a drink to cope with how I felt because no one had ever shown me another way. Alcohol quieted my merciless self-critic. It put me at ease in social situations. It let me blow off steam after a hard day’s work. It gave me permission to throw caution to the wind and actually be spontaneous. But the more I relied on a drink as a quick fix, the more I depended on it to feel better. Suddenly, my drinking made perfect sense. I was simply doing the best for myself the only way I knew how. Now it was time to do better.
Today when my birthday rolls around I’m no longer hoping that my life will magically fall into place, because I’m committed to creating a life that way more exciting and fulfilling than anything found at the bottom of my glass.
Post Submitted By: Rachel Hart
Rachel Hart is a master certified life coach, the host of the podcast Take a Break from Drinking, and the author of the book Why Can’t I Drink Like Everyone Else?: A Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding Why You Drink and Knowing How to Take a Break. You can learn more about her work at rachelhart.com.