Since the ripe old age of 14, I never woke up after a night of experimental/heavy drinking or in later years simply one or two glasses of wine with self-congratulatory thoughts. Never did my thoughts say, “you were a rock star last night with that booze…I am so proud of you!” or “wow, did you see how you drank scotch with the boys, you are one step closer to living your full potential.” Instead, I awoke with an overwhelming sense of shame and anxiety. As the years progressed, unlike what a lot of experts say, I drank less…rather than more.
But my thoughts and deep feelings of shame remained the same. And whether I was overdoing it (from time to time) or imbibing “casually” I was continuing to have this nagging feeling that what I was doing was robbing me of my physical, spiritual and mental health.
And as it turns out, I was right. Those negative thoughts and feelings were really my more conscious/wise/realistic self-trying to get my attention. According to David Nutt and others researches within the medical field, there is no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a toxin that kills cells. Annie Grace, the author of “This Naked Mind” makes a compelling case for how we all have been duped by the alcohol industry. In bold language she reminds us that alcohol is Ethanol, an Arsenic, Carcinogen, and a depressant.
It is poison. I knew all this. Don’t we all? But for some reason, I chose to zone out each and every time these stated facts were given to me. And I am obviously not alone. There are plenty of highly educated professionals that drink copious amounts of alcohol who know better and yet choose to consistently ignore the facts.
Since that time, I have been haunted by the fact that I allowed myself to be so duped despite the fact that my master’s in social work focused on alcohol and drug addiction and that I have been in the field of psychotherapy and life coaching for over twenty years!
The Jan Brady Syndrome
As I enter three months of an alcohol-free life, I am beginning to find my bearings and become more clear as to why I and many others drank/drink alcohol and ignore the facts. I believe that those of us who are the “middle children (aka Jan Brady syndrome)” on the alcohol use spectrum are ignored and often forgotten. It reminds me a bit of individuals who suffer from a type of depression called dysthymia.
People who suffer from this disorder experience persistent low-grade depression that often goes undiagnosed because they don’t exhibit significant symptoms. It breaks my heart when I meet these individuals because this type of depression is very treatable and the length of time they suffer is unnecessary and tragic.
I believe what I now term the “middles” on the alcohol use spectrum suffer needlessly because:
They can’t find themselves in the literature or in the crowd
Whether it is in the rooms of AA, through TED talks with Jolene Parks (grey area drinking) or in the doctors’ offices, the middles often go unnoticed. They are not drinking a bottle of wine per night nor are they are showing dramatic health consequences. We rarely see ourselves in books or on the movie screen. As a result, these individuals tend to avoid taking a deep dive in their personal relationship with alcohol.
As a result, they are unaware and not conscious of the fact that they are slowly poisoning themselves.
The old cliché…If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
How often do we hear ourselves or others say this? Let’s just admit that in the USA we are way behind in the idea of prevention. We tend to ignore things until it hits a crisis point. Middles don’t ever reach the state of crisis in the drinking realm. And so they waddle along in life ignored because they don’t wear an SOS sign on their backs. In fact, what they might deem as their own rock bottom is often scoffed at by heavier drinkers. Middles look healthy and so have an easier time embellishing the truth on their alcohol usage if they are assessed when visiting their doc….if they visit them at all. Because they are not slurring their speech or imbibing daily they and others may miss the warning signs that says, “red alert” you are no longer in control. They also don’t realize that drinking over a long period of time is slowly but surely feeding your body with toxins. Where are the health benefits in that? What we don’t hear in our daily literature and news feed is that 15% of breast cancer cases are alcohol-related. And that alcohol plays a significant role in many cancers among other health-related issues.
Nobody worries about us and so we don’t worry about ourselves
No one close to me would ever say I had a problem with alcohol. I was fun. Entertaining. And had little external consequences. Something had been nudging me for quite a few years to consider an alcohol-free lifestyle. However, each time I did I was met with remarks reassuring me that I didn’t have an issue and that perhaps I was being dramatic or on a trendy health kick.. In fact Middles are more likely to contend with overt and sometimes obnoxious inquiries as to why they are not drinking. I kid you not, I have been queried by many waitstaff and had to deal with a few eye rolls from bartenders when I order a mocktail. And then I actually have to define what I mocktail is. Making an already shaky decision, shakier.
How an alcohol-free life has benefited me
Physical, spiritual and mental clarity
Speaking for myself, I understand now how alcohol was negatively impacting my physical, spiritual and mental health despite being a casual drinker. Yes, one glass of wine was robbing me of sound sleep. This has been huge for me! My symptoms of ADHD have significantly diminished if not disappeared. I just assumed I was spacey because it has been a familiar feeling as long as I can remember. I sleep better and require less sleep. My early morning time clock remains functioning every weekend…consistently. I start the day energized. I am now listening to myself on a much deeper level. I often found myself craving a cocktail when I was hungry and tired. So now I actually have a full meal and when I am tired, I go to bed. Sometimes as early as 8:30 pm. I am that much more intuitive and mindful of myself and others because of this new found clarity.
Free up mind space
I feel like I am walking my talk now. We have a new high school student in the house and it is an absolute relief that what I am preaching….no drinking…I am also living. He is staying out much later on the weekends and when he texts last minute to be picked up I can now confidently jump in the car feeling 100% clear and not tired from the one beer I just had. One drink wiped me out after a long week!! Some of my clients struggle with addiction or have trauma related to their family history of addiction. I feel aligned with my own and their healing by taking a stand against something that is robbing all of us from living our full potential. I feel that much more peaceful that I am not contributing to the profits of the alcohol industry. Think about it…..so much trauma stems from alcohol. Sexual assaults are often alcohol-related. Alcohol poisoning. Drunk driving. Families arguments, abuse on every level, divorce, job loss. You get the drift. The consequences are endless. I have a new-found confidence knowing that I can still have a blast and have deep belly laughs without the booze.
The most challenging thing for me since going alcohol-free is boredom. I realize I was tolerating some pretty boring situations that were simply not aligned with my core values. And so the word “no” is happening more. I am also learning that I am much more of an introvert than I ever suspected. I am learning that its okay to want to be alone, to leave a party early and not feel like it is all up to me to bring fun into a situation. It’s okay to be quiet. And so I am tending to my time more wisely and also choosing to do things that make my alive-o-meter go bing!
So why should Marsha get all of the attention?
And Greg and Bobby and Cindy. If you feel uncomfortable with your own relationship with alcohol you are not alone. It’s hard to say no to such a deep cultural norm. If you are waking up to the brainwashing that is happening to all of us through the constant alcohol ads specifically designed to hook you, consider taking a stand. Use your voice. And seek help. I am here to tell you it has been no easy task redesigning my life without alcohol. It has been an active part of my life for 37 years! Holy Moly! Know that I see you Jan Bradys of the world. And let’s get our name on that spectrum. Cause we Middles deserve to have a voice too.
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