Two months. TWO. MONTHS. That’s two- or three-HUNDRED glasses of wine that have not entered my body. Several hundreds of dollars that haven’t left my wallet. I suspect my organs are regenerating. My eyeballs seem whiter, and I definitely look better when I wake up.
As I began this journey, I imagined a future version of myself: me, only better. “UnPickled 2.0”. Stronger and more self-assured. Authentic.
She’s here. She’s sinking in and taking hold.
I was recently asked to speak at an out-of-town conference as an industry expert. I do this several times a year and accepted without a second thought. Then I began to panic. Conferences and alcohol go hand in hand. I used to pack two little bottles of wine for myself as a nightcap, after the cocktail reception. Bottles in the blue box, hoping the chamber maids don’t see me leaving the room and think, “Hmmm, that lady drank BOTH bottles?”
As I was packing for the trip, Rob Lowe was being interviewed on The View to promote his autobiography. “Pffft. Rob Lowe,” I grumbled when he came on. Like most folks I’d dismissed the heartthrob when he lost face in the late 80s. However, he talked about his recovery from alcohol addiction and 20 years of sobriety, and I immediately downloaded his audiobook (Stories I Tell My Friends) for the five-hour drive. I enjoyed it immensely, partly because I’m the right age to recognize all of the actors, movies, and headlines he references and mostly because I’m at the right stage to identify with his experiences in recovery. Amazing.
I arrived at the hotel and checked in. There was a lavish reception that evening to which I normally would have gone, at least for a few drinks and to “see and be seen”. It takes a lot of courage for me (or any woman, I believe) to walk alone into a room of strangers and hold her ground. It’s an effort but I’ve always managed to do it successfully, and the wine helped. Not this time, though. I opted to stay in, order dinner to my room and watch Survivor. The day may come when UnPickled 2.o can go back to the cocktail parties and feel emboldened by a cranberry-soda, but not yet.
The next day began with a breakfast meeting and keynote speaker. The industry is so heavily male dominated that every woman who walks into the room is noticed by virtue of her gender. As a guest speaker, I had a reserved seat at the front of the room, but the seating chart was out of order and I couldn’t find my table. Great. I felt as though all eyes were on me so I postured confidence as I hovered from table to table looking for my place card. Someone recognized me and came over to say hello. I was grateful as this made me look less like a gatecrasher and I started to relax.
“I didn’t see you at the party last night,” he says. “You missed a doozie.” I’m so glad I stayed in my room. Boston Rob was excellent company.
I give up looking for my name and plop down in an unmarked seat. When the breakfast session ends, I make my way to the assigned room for my presentation.
I’ve come to realize the role that “impostor syndrome” played in my drinking. Apparently a common phenomenon in women, and yet another way I felt alone, was a voice in my head that told me my success was a lottery winning of luck, timing, and family connections. I constantly feared someone would ask me a simple question that I couldn’t answer, and my incompetence would be revealed. If someone complimented my appearance, I’d remember how bland my face looks before I put on makeup and think, “Well, I’ve fooled them.” When someone said I was their role model, I’d think “I’m addicted to alcohol. You wouldn’t look up to me if you knew that.” Part of me would hear, feel and know the truth, but part was also undermining it. It’s an exhausting struggle. At the end of the day, I’d drink just to shut down the battle for a while.
I had a great presentation lined up – lots of good information, dotted with humour and insights. My years of experience shone through. If someone asked a question I couldn’t answer, I was prepared to say something new I’d learned: Hmm, I don’t know. Does anyone else know? A beautiful turn of phrase that shows an honest character and allows others to get involved in the dialog. Or maybe, no one else knows either. No matter, I nailed the presentation and the questions afterward showed the audience’s high level of engagement and interest. Several came to me as the room cleared and continued the conversation – always a good sign.
Back in the grand ballroom for lunch, someone waved me over to my place card. Now they knew who I was and were anxious to ensure I joined their table. (Turns out I’d been yonks away at breakfast.) The group was full of lively discussion and I felt totally on my game. (The Premier and several cabinet ministers were at the next table over, and I snapped a few discrete pictures with my iPhone to show the kids when I got home. I want them to know that the same mom who folds their underwear and makes them smoothies sits next to the Premier on occasion.)
On the long drive home, I replayed the day and smiled. I looked good, I had spoken well, I had contributed to a successful event. And best of all, I didn’t argue with myself about any of it. No self-doubts, no voice saying “but if they only knew….”. No shame. No shame….
My new life without alcohol is allowing me a new strength. I’ve always projected confidence, but now I actually feel it. The insides are starting to match the outsides. I sense an exponential growth about to emerge – if I’ not drinking I don’t feel so conflicted. If I’m not so conflicted, I don’t feel such a need to drink.
It’s still a challenge, but it is starting to feel good. Ironically, I drank to try and feel “good” but eventually it stopped working that way. If “good” is the goal, then this is the only way I can see to achieve it now. And besides, as a comment to this blog recently pointed out, “nothing bad ever came of not drinking”.