I had my first terrible drinking experience when I was 15. A friend and I mixed different hard liquors in a jar and drank it straight - even though it tasted awful. I got super-drunk, super-sick, super-embarrassed and super-in-trouble. It was so mortifying it kept me from drinking much for a while.
During undergrad & law school, I was a typical college drinker, binging a couple of nights at most a week, but otherwise avoiding alcohol. I mostly drank beer, because I hated wine, and couldn't stand the smell of liquor.
In 1996, I accepted an articling offer at a large firm in Calgary, Alberta. This was my first time in the corporate world, and I was equal parts terrified & dazzled by the “shmoozing”/marketing culture and the “high life” of the lawyers around me. Fancy clothes, cars, homes & fine dining were the norm.
Even though I hated the taste, I started drinking wine when it became obvious it was a pretty key piece of "success" in my law career.
The culture of fine wine was all around me. One of my mentors imported grapes and crushed them in his own wine cellar, for Pete’s sake!
Selecting wines at client dinners was as important as choosing the menu.
One of my annual partner retreats was in California wine country. I quickly developed a taste for all things red.
The firm hosted a “Lawyer’s Lounge” once a week and we were all encouraged to attend - the open bar, fine wines, and “all you can drink” mentality in the designated boardroom was promoted as a way to connect & unwind after a tough week at the office.
During this time, my husband and I had been trying to conceive. After several years of infertility & repeated pregnancy loss, we adopted a gorgeous, chubby-faced baby named Duncan. I was very newly pregnant when he was born, and we were blessed with a second baby, our daughter Georgia, just 7 months later.
As per Murphy’s Law, right in between the births of my two babies, the firm offered me partnership. At that time, saying “no” was basically career suicide, so I negotiated a non-equity track knowing how much the babies would need me.
In all of this craziness, what had begun as a "client marketing tool" became a full-on escape mechanism. A bottle of nice wine for my husband and me to share on Friday became our “reward” for getting through the week. Before long, that Friday night tradition trickled into Saturday nights. After a couple of years, I found myself reaching for a glass on weeknights to “relax”.
In 2008, after 12 years in law, unhappy and burnt out, I took a massive leap of faith, quit my job, and moved back to Nova Scotia with my husband & two toddlers.
I started fresh - determined to find a better balance & improve my physical & mental health.
My “balance quest” lead to me studying nutrition (while still drinking), learning to cook and publishing two cookbooks (still drinking, a little more now), and building a private coaching business from the ground up (still drinking, even more often now - most nights at least a glass or two).
In the 10 years that followed, my business grew and my alcohol use became more regular. The culture of “mommy juice” was in full swing all around me. I was now drinking at birthday parties, book clubs & playdates.
As a wellness expert & food coach, I avoided additives, processed foods and too much sugar. I ran half marathons and even one full one. I published two popular cookbooks about how to eat real, natural food. I knew alcohol wasn’t good for me and saw the irony in my habit. But instead of changing things, I clung to every hack article out there that suggested alcohol was actually ”healthy” and that my consumption was “normal”.
I developed low-grade anxiety around my drinking. I began to worry I was drinking too much and started trying to moderate. I looked around me for confirmation that my drinking was normal.
I remember breathing a sigh of relief at a poster in a medical clinic that suggested two drinks a night was safe for women (even though I knew the official recommended limit was one, and even though I knew many nights I was having more than two).
Identifying people who drank more than me made me feel better and taking breaks for a couple of weeks proved “I could take it or leave it”.
Except I couldn’t.
I thought about it every day I didn’t have it and couldn’t wait until Friday night rolled around and the break was over.
I started to resent my kids’ activities if having to drive them somewhere kept me from a glass of wine at the end of a long day.
I reached for alcohol when things got hard, when there was something to celebrate, and when I was bored.
At some point, I started having a glass of wine or two on weekend afternoons, alone. I’d read and sip, telling myself it was much-deserved “me time.” I’d never drunk alone during the day before, and even though it felt wrong, I kept doing it.
Around the same time, if I didn’t have wine, I started rooting around the liquor cabinet to see what else I could whip up. As a person who’d always shunned the hard stuff, I was drinking vodka-based cocktails with ease.
Again, it felt wrong, but I kept doing it.
Ironically, this is also around the time that I started measuring my wine pours and tracking how much I was drinking (of course this only happened on nights where I was “good”, on the other nights I’d just stop tracking or fudge the pours so I didn’t have to see the cold, hard truth in the light of day.)
I truly believed I needed booze to feel good, to relax, to have fun, and to cope. I couldn’t imagine life without it - why on earth would anyone choose that?
Alcohol was running the show.
While I am incredibly grateful that I never hit that horrible rock-bottom I was undoubtedly headed for (I never drove drunk, put my kids at risk, or had any major embarrassments), I sometimes think the lack of any dramatic consequences just gave me an excuse to keep drinking.
Instead of a “rock bottom event”, what finally led me to take a hard look at my drinking was that nagging anxiety, which got worse & worse in my final years of drinking.
I would wake up at 3:00 a.m. every night I drank (even if it was just a few glasses of wine) and wrestle with shame & guilt.
I’d get out of bed and google “how to stop drinking” and “am I an alcoholic?” I’d always be both relieved & frustrated by the fact that, by all clinical definitions, I was decidedly not. (After all, I never drank in the morning, blacked out or missed work because of my drinking, right?)
The next morning, things never seemed as bad and despite all the promises I made to myself, I always caved again at the end of the day. It was a vicious cycle.
A few years ago my dad got really sick, my stress levels rose and wine became my go-to coping mechanism after a long day at the hospital. If I wasn't having a glass or two (or three!), I was white-knuckling it through the evening, going to bed early so I wouldn't cave (again).
My nighttime anxiety worsened. I was exhausted all the time.
When we learned my dad had just a year or so to live, I got super real with myself for the first time about my drinking.
I asked myself this question -- If I did nothing, what were the chances that 5 years from now my drinking would be:
b.) the same; or
The obvious answer was worse. Way, way worse.
The following morning, I was headed out for an 8-hour road-trip, alone. I decided to download an audiobook to listen to in the car.
I hadn’t had a drink for a few days, so wine was on my mind. I was feeling seriously deprived. Maybe that’s why the title of Annie Grace’s book — “This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol - Find Freedom, Discover Happiness and Change Your Life”— caught my attention.
I’d never read a book on quitting before because that would mean admitting I had a problem. But this book seemed really accessible -- like maybe I didn’t need to be an “alcoholic” (or even stop drinking!) to read it -- so I downloaded it. I listened to the entire book in one day, and EVERYTHING CHANGED.
Every assumption I’d made about why I needed alcohol was turned on its head, and I haven’t had a drink since.
I’m now five years alcohol-free, and a Senior Certified This Naked Mind Coach.
Not to say it wasn't hard work to stay alcohol-free (“AF”), it was. In the beginning, it was really, really hard work. Every day. All the "firsts" were really hard. And for the first eighteen months of my sobriety, I still couldn't bring myself to say it was "forever".
I struggled in the early days with a weird kind of shame that my story wasn’t “bad enough” to justify going alcohol-free. (Truth be told, I still wrestle with this a bit. Most of my friends & family drink, and some of them drank as much or more than I did before I stopped, and I didn’t want to make anyone feel judged by my decision to go alcohol-free. I hardly talked about it, and, outside of my coaching, I still don’t.)
But I'm there now (AF for life!), and it’s AMAZING, and I really believe anyone who wants it can be too. The trick is to be kind to yourself, take it one day at a time, and "throw the (bloody) book at it!"
Whatever might help keep you AF is worth a shot: I meditated, practiced gratitude, joined support groups, read quit lit, and listened to a bajillion podcasts -- all of which helped me add one more day to my count.
If you find yourself considering a drink (which you will, because you’re human), “play the tape forward”. Will it really just be one drink? How will you explain it to your kids? Will you regret it tomorrow? What could you do instead?
If you stumble, get back at it as soon as you can. One of my favourite sayings is: "You're not starting from scratch, you're starting from experience!”
Most of all, celebrate all of your successes, and as the veil of an alcohol-tinted life starts to lift, keep an eye open for the little joys that are going to start showing up all around you.
As a result of going AF:
⭐️ I was 100% present for the last year of my dad's life. I have an incredible collection of memories that I would have missed if I'd been drinking. I started to see all the joy around me - and he showed me that life is what you make of it. A life-well-lived is not about the number of days, it's about the quality of the ones you've got
⭐️ My kids don't see me with a wineglass in my hand every night. They are university-age now and only know me as a "non-drinker".
⭐️ I now coach my clients to a place of better balance & wellness with integrity. I am “walking my talk”. I’m by no means perfect, but I’m living an honest life. The last piece of my own balance puzzle is in place.
⭐️ I haven't had one middle-of-the-night anxiety-fuelled googling session since January 13, 2018.
And what I’ve realized, is that there are actually thousands of people out there right now, asking, just like I was:
“Is this bad enough to stop?”
-- when maybe the better question is:
“Is this GOOD enough not to stop?”
Because freedom from alcohol is SO GOOD.
⭐️ I don’t feel deprived, or resentful. I can drink whenever I want, but the truth is, I don’t want to.
⭐️ I’m at peace. I sleep soundly.
⭐️ I am an active, mindful participant in my life and so much more present for my family, friends & clients.
⭐️ I am happier than ever.
And everyone deserves that.