Two years ago, I woke up with my last hangover ever. That morning, I decided to quit drinking and change my life.
Up to that point, no one would have thought, “She has a problem.” From the outside, everything looked fine. There’s a myth with drinking that unless you’re truly a mess — unless you’re risking your job or finances or family — there’s no reason to evaluate the relationship you have with alcohol. From appearances, that wasn’t me. So for a long time, I rationalized my drinking, sweeping it under the rug and declaring it “no big deal.”
Yet, in retrospect, I was hurting myself. I was in deep pain: physically, spiritually, emotionally. On that morning, I decided that enough was enough.
Here’s what I wish someone had told me before that morning of the last hangover: you are allowed to stop hurting yourself.
Even if it doesn’t look bad. Even if you aren’t hurting others. Even if your pain doesn’t look like other peoples’ pain. You’re allowed to stop.
You do not need to be in the lowest pit of despair to decide to change your life. You do not need someone else’s label to define you or disempower you before you stop doing what you’re doing. You do not need to check all the boxes to tell you that that thing you keep doing to yourself isn’t working anymore. (Even if it did for a while.)
You do not have to wait for a sign or hit rock bottom before you just decide to stop harming yourself.
Today, I’m thinking about two-years-ago me. And fifteen-years-ago me, and all the mess in between those two. I’m thinking about the part of me who knew something was wrong, but who couldn’t, wouldn’t (or didn’t know how to) heal my relationship with alcohol.
I want to hold that person with enormous tenderness and care and love. Because that’s the only way through this. The only answer is to hold ourselves with enough compassion, that one day we wake up so full of compassion for ourselves that we can summon the courage to change our own lives.
The trick — to sobriety, to anything we want to change — is not to shame ourselves for all our mistakes, but to love ourselves so ferociously that the changes we know we need to make are no longer terrifying.
Instead, we can see that change as a beautiful gift that’s arrived on our doorstep, just waiting for us.
Which is not to say it’s easy. It’s not. Sobriety can be tough some days. It can be hard to stay present with what is, without using all those old tricks of numbing out. For me, it is a daily commitment applied with rigorous practice. But it’s still a gift. One that I’ve given myself, one that I’ve given my son, one that I’ve given the world. And if that sounds arrogant, let me assure you that my family and this world both benefit when I’m at my best.
What I know now is that you don’t need proof of “enough” suffering before you make that change. All you need is the tiniest iota of faith that there’s something better waiting for you.
Christy Tending is an activist, educator, and writer. She teaches online courses about sustainable self-care to students all over the world, and hosts the podcast Tending Your Life. She lives on occupied Ohlone territory (Oakland, CA) with her family. You can learn more about her work at www.christytending.com.
Image courtesy of Rachel Claire.