Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.
For me, getting gutsy has meant completely changing my life by choosing to face down and defeat an addiction to alcohol.
I swallowed my last alcoholic beverage on my partner’s birthday in November of 2013. Truthfully, I don’t remember whether we were drinking red or white wine, how it tasted, or if I was even enjoying it. I do remember that my focus that night was on how much wine was left vs. how much longer the liquor stores would be open and not where it should have been - on the occasion we were celebrating. The evening was indicative of how alcohol-obsessed I had been for the past few years. My thoughts were constantly occupied by these nagging, relentless urges, regardless of the time of day or tasks at hand. Alcohol was on my mind 24/7 and I just couldn't seem to escape the constant need to know when my next drink would be and where it would come from. Addiction seems so obvious and easy to spot in retrospect, but when you are living in it it can seem, well, normal.
My drinking habits weren't normal, however, and by the end of 2013 I had known that for quite some time. That year in particular had been peppered with half-hearted attempts to “cut back” and “moderate” my drinking. I was working in the alcohol industry at the time and the thought of giving up the security of my job and the status that accompanied it in order to sober up was inconceivable. Besides, I thought, being a non-drinker would make me a social pariah, and who wants that? Certainly not me! I couldn't have been more wrong.
In October of 2013, a month before my final drink, I found myself travelling to Toronto to attend a beer festival for work. I struggled with finding a balance that weekend, desperately counting my drinks and trying to moderate, only to falter each night and imbibe much more than intended. By this time I had done some research and worked my way through all of those quizzes you find in the pamphlets that tell you whether or not you should seek help. Red flags were waving everywhere, and I knew that moderation was an exercise in futility for me. Yet, as always, I continued to try, only to beat myself up mercilessly and enter a spiral of self loathing and destruction when I failed.
It was a small disagreement towards the end of the weekend that brought the impossibility of my situation into sharp focus. The details of the disagreement don't matter; what matters is that in those moments it was as though every bit of disgust and disillusionment that I had been harboring and trying desperately to reconcile myself to with regards to my lifestyle and my chosen industry finally became too much to ignore. I was overwhelmed with loathing for what my life had become and couldn't stand the thought of continuing to live the way I had been living. I was sick of alcohol being my identity, of feeling ill and ashamed every morning, of being out of control, and of battering my own potential with bottle after bottle of fermented heartache. The discomfort of remaining in my situation finally outweighed the discomfort of leaving it, and I decided it was time for a change.
The next afternoon I flew home and the following week, after almost five years in the industry, I quit my job. The lack of ceremony with which I departed was almost refreshing; I simply stated my intentions, packed my things, arranged for my bicycle to be dropped off by a coworker, and walked out of the building. It was over. The most frightening thing that I had ever done was now behind me, and I was ready to move forward.
It took a month for me to finally quit drinking, but when I opened my eyes on the morning of November 22, 2013, I knew I was ready. Feeling vaguely ill and ashamed of myself for allowing the status of our wine supply to overshadow my partner’s birthday, I decided that just for one day I would not drink. Each morning from that day forward I made the same decision and, without a word to anyone that first month (outside of an anonymous online message board), I began to heal.
In the months that followed I would begin to make other positive changes in my life, including quitting smoking, losing weight, finding a new job, trying new hobbies, and opening up about the experience through writing and talking to anyone who was curious enough to listen. I learned how to interact with other people without relying on alcohol as a “social lubricant” (read: crutch), and the toxic relationships in my life began to fade away only to be replaced by more substantial friendships. In short, everything got better, and I was finally free to let go of my past regrets and pursue a much brighter future.
In the fall of 2014 I returned to university part-time with the intention of finishing my degree. Becoming a student after five years away from school was terrifying, but I have since found myself more than capable. In fact, this term I have increased my course load to full time studies in order to accelerate completion of my degree. I am now looking forward to graduating in the fall, after which I will pursue a career in public relations and communications for nonprofits in the realm of mental health and addictions. I want to use my interests, insight, and skill set to help organizations that are providing support to the people who need it. It is the best way I can think of to make the most out of the second chance my new life has given me.
Getting gutsy has completely changed my story from one of shame and self hatred to one of endless possibilities, and I will forever be grateful to that younger version of myself for taking a chance on an alcohol-free life.