My dad was a closet alcoholic. He drank alone, mostly in secret. Using alcohol and hiding it consumed the majority of his time outside of work.
I have only one memory of seeing him drink. I was 3 years old, playing with my sister on our swing set while he sat slouched against the house, silently sobbing and clutching a large bottle.
As I got older, my only solid indication he’d been drinking was when he’d periodically go on the wagon. For weeks, he’d spend every evening at the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. His actual use may have been a secret, but his attempts at recovery were not. AA ended up leaving a nastier taste in my mouth than alcohol ever would. For the majority of my childhood, I felt angry and hurt, abandoned by my dad for his meetings.
When I felt like I was going down the same path, I knew I had to change my alcohol consumption.
I started drinking when I was a teenager
I was 14 the first time I got drunk. I snuck out of my house with a friend to meet up with a neighborhood crush and his friend. We walked down to the nearby schoolyard, where the guys showed us the contents of their duffel bag, including a bottle of gin and a tube of toothpaste to cover our breath afterward.
Over the years I drank to celebrate life’s joys and drown its sorrows, as well as to escape discomfort and mask my flaws.
I never thought to question whether it might be unhealthy or abnormal. But those questions finally arose almost 30 years later, when my oldest child turned 13. It seemed like he’d grown up in a blink, and I felt guilty for what I’d missed out on due to the fog of alcohol.
I found myself wondering if my habit would influence him to think drinking was no big deal, worrying he might follow the same path I had, and questioning whether my alcohol use may be creating a negative dynamic in our relationship.
I was also afraid of being labeled as an alcoholic, destined to trade time with my family for AA meetings like my dad did.
I scoured the internet for validation that my fears were unfounded. My habit didn’t fit the diagnosis criteria, but the nagging in my gut wouldn’t subside. Then I discovered the book “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace, which helped me see how deeply alcohol was affecting my brain.
As I unraveled my attachments to alcohol, I discovered that my success hinged on healing the same mental-health hurdles I’d been using it to avoid.
I had to work on 3 things while quitting alcohol
Perfectionism, people-pleasing, and self-criticism evolved into a perpetual state of not-enoughness that sabotaged my drive for success and happiness. But mentally healthy people strive for growth based on self-acceptance, not fixing what’s “broken.” They identify and process their feelings without shaming themselves. They’re intentionally connected in mind, body, and spirit, and trust their intuition. For decades I did none of this — alcohol helped me avoid the discomforts of being me.
I also suffered from social anxiety.
Feeling unworthy of acceptance made it difficult to connect with others, and I lived in fear of revealing the real me. My highly sensitive and introverted nature only compounded this struggle. Unaware that these were simply innate personality traits, I used alcohol to smother what I thought made me weird and rejectable.
The inner work required to accept and heal these aspects of myself became my reclamation. I don’t use the word “recovery,” because it suggests overcoming a diagnosable disease, and I’m not an alcoholic. But I did choose to end my dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.
I was able to avoid mirroring the cycle of “fixing and shaming” my dad suffered through and have learned to understand and accept myself. In doing so, I’m paving the way toward living the life I truly want.