Doing a dry January turned into so much more than I ever expected…

I stared at the blinking cursor for 10 minutes before I started typing. I have been hesitant to share this part of my journey because the what-will-people-think part of my brain holds me back. But here’s the thing: I have “met” so many amazing people online that are either sober, mindful drinkers or sober curious like me. Having conversations with them has made me feel less alone and that is always my goal with sharing my journey. That you might feel less alone…

So here we go!

Alcohol and food became hot topics early on in my therapy sessions. My vices. How I learned to cope over the years. We all have them. I have definitely used food more to numb out but alcohol takes a close second.

My relationship with both food and alcohol got tremendously better when I started therapy last year. We started working through a lot of the shame that I was feeling. I became so committed to my healing journey that I was always looking for ways to push myself out of my comfort zone. To be the best version of myself that I could be because I was tired of simply just existing.

Something that I was thinking about for months finally stumbled out of my mouth in one of my therapy sessions. “I want to see what happens if I stop drinking for a while”. I had been practicing mindfulness for months at this point and I was now SO aware of how alcohol made me feel the next 2-5 days after consuming it.

I was hardly drinking at this point but I knew that it was still holding me back from fully healing and learning to truly cope. Could it really be playing that big of a role in my anxiety and depression?

Of course it was! Alcohol can easily take away any stress or anxiety for the night but you better believe it’s going to come back ten times worse the next day especially if you already have an anxiety disorder. It’s called “hangxiety” and it is a very real thing.

One night of drinks, turned into 5 days of paralyzing anxiety, turned into eating foods that made me feel crappy, turned into not exercising, turned into damaging thoughts, turned into more anxiety and shame. The cycle that I was in was a nasty one and it was up to me to end it.

January 1st was when I made the decision. I was sitting at my kitchen table with my best friend and I told her that I was going to do a dry January. I told my mom and my husband. I kept my support system small in the beginning because I was terrified of being judged for not drinking.

Crazy right? Alcohol is a drug. It can be so damaging to a human’s mental and physical health but people will still question why you don’t drink (this is a story for another time).

The only thing I knew about doing a dry January was that you stop drinking for the entire month. I had NO idea that the mental and physical results would be so life changing. I didn’t think that being alcohol free would go beyond January either. I felt alive and I didn’t want that feeling to stop so I continued.

I have been alcohol free for 95 out of 97 days this year. Currently 50 consecutive days. I have learned SO much about myself during this time. I am actually working towards a life that I’ve always wanted.

Physical results of being alcohol free: I have lost a total of 15 pounds since January 1st. I workout 5-7 days a week and fuel my body with foods that make me feel good. Not to mention, my skin is clearer than ever and my gut feels like it’s working properly for once thanks to replacing wine with kombucha.

Mental results? Mind blowing. I am less anxious and my depression doesn’t come around as often. My self esteem is higher because I feel strong and confident in my body again. There is no doubt that my overall mental well- being has benefited the most from going alcohol free.

I am a better person because of my journey. I am a better wife, friend, daughter, sister and co-worker. It hasn’t been easy. Far from it actually. I am still grieving the old parts of my life, the old me. I am learning to be uncomfortable in social situations but also realizing that I am not going to die…even though it feels like it sometimes.

Choosing to live fully awake is hard friggen work. You also realize how BEYOND normalized alcohol is in our culture when you take a step back. I have become aware of the trap that has gotten me hundreds of times. Stressed out? Drink. Want to have fun? Drink. Bored? Drink. Want to forget? Drink. Red wine is actually good for you so drink-it-up kinda stuff. Anxiety? Yeah, definitely drink.

I am not sure if being alcohol free is going to be a “forever” thing. I can’t think like that anyways because I am only focused on today. Today, I am alcohol free. My goal is to be able to manage my anxiety and feelings without food or substances. To be able to walk into a room and feel safe, confident and present in my body. This might take me months or years. All I know is that it is going to be my 110% my choice.

I will be turning 28 next month and I can finally say that I’m proud of the person I am becoming (best b-day gift ever). 28 will be the year that I step into what the Universe has been wanting for me all these years. I am so ready.

I’m here to tell you that it is okay to want more for yourself. It’s okay to put yourself first for once. The unknown is terrifying. Trust me, I get it. Please forgive yourself for whatever keeps you up at night. You don’t need to keep punishing yourself. You are human and your past does not define you. I wish someone would have told me that a little sooner.

You really do know yourself better than anyone else. That gut feeling you feel? Listen to it. That’s your very own built in spiritual guide. It knows. Don’t ask me how, it just does…

Therapy saved my life

When I started therapy for the 100th time last year, I knew that it was going to be different. It HAD to be different this time. I had been in therapy ever since I was 12 years old. I saw psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers throughout my teenage years. I even spent 4 weeks in an eating disorder treatment center so I was no stranger to therapy.

It had to be different this time…it just did.

When I walked through her doors last March, I truthfully hated myself and felt like I was the biggest mistake to walk this earth. I had no idea how to stop the painful and scary thoughts that consumed 90% of my days. The worse part is that I questioned my worthiness multiple times a day.

I didn’t realize how ill my mind was until I shared with her how much my heart and soul were hurting. How I was tired of pretending that I was okay. How the anxiety and depression had a solid grip around my neck. How I was getting tired of fighting the constant war in my mind. How I felt sad most of the time.

My therapist immediately picked up on the shame shit storm I was living in. She listened. She let me cry. She helped me understand the shame and we worked together to find the source. My deepest darkest thoughts were shared within those 4 walls and that’s where they will stay. She not only created a safe space for me but met me with compassion and empathy, not judgement.

60 therapy sessions have come and gone over the past year and I can honestly tell you that I am not the same person that I was a year ago. Actually, far from it. If there is one thing I am proud of…it’s not giving up on myself. My heart and soul have healed more than I could have ever imagined. I smile and laugh now because I’m happy. I don’t need to pretend anymore.

Was it easy? Hell no. It involved me owning my shit and looking at the ugliest parts of my being (yes, we all have them). It required practicing mindfulness, meditating every day, creating a strong morning routine and BREATHING. I had to learn how to do what was best for me and not care what people MIGHT think about me (*still working on this).

I had to starting retraining my thought process so that I could truly heal, grow and change. I had to learn how to sit with uncomfortable feelings instead of numbing out with food or alcohol. It looked more like Friday-Sunday numbing for me. I took this part very seriously and have now been 100% alcohol free for almost 50 days.

If there is one thing I learned it’s that I am a highly sensitive, introverted human that is just trying her best. I have an understanding of my true self for the first time ever and I am actually starting to like who I am. I have more work to do but I can’t wait to see what growth comes out of the next 60 sessions.

My therapist would say that she didn’t save my life. She would say “Emma, you saved your own life”. I beg to differ. I can’t help to think that without her and therapy, my life might look a whole look different.

I share my story in hopes that you might not feel so alone. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to ask for what your heart and soul need. Maybe it’s therapy. Maybe it’s reaching out to a friend. Maybe it’s setting new boundaries. Maybe it’s meditating or writing. Maybe you aren’t ready for therapy and that’s OKAY.

After all, we are all just trying our best to find our place in this world. I see you and I hear. If I could grab your hand and hold it tight, I would. We are in this together.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health if not more important (yes, I said it). Take care of your mind because it’s the only one you get.

P.S. To all the therapists, social workers and mental health professionals: I cannot thank you enough. You are angels walking on earth. I truly believe that.