A couple of years ago when I realized my marriage was over, one of my first thoughts was, “Now I need to stop drinking.” I didn’t think, “Who will love me now?” or “How are my kids going to handle this?” I thought, “Shit, I have to stop drinking.”
The thing is, I don’t think I was an alcoholic and I don’t think alcohol broke my marriage, but I did like to drink, and something about my drinking had been bothering me for years. Like almost every morning after some rousing night out with friends, I’d wake up and think, “I’ve got to stop.” And it wasn’t because I’d done anything wrong the night before, but it did have something to do with waking up tired or hung over in the midst of a big life with a family and a business and students and friends – everything I cared about.
Sometimes I hadn’t even had too much to drink, or maybe I’d had one drink too many. Sometimes I didn’t drink for weeks. It was confusing. At times it felt like I had a problem, other times not.
I’d make deals with myself; I’d only drink on weekends. I’d carry a little pocket-sized sign alerting my friends that I could only have one, and could they please remind me when I’m ordering my second? And if I did manage to only have one, I’d make sure to have it on an empty stomach so I could feel the buzz doubly big. My mother – a champ of a drinker – taught me that.
None of those schemes worked, and I kept drinking. Alcohol has always been such a relief to me. The first sip of a martini is like someone giving me a little squeeze and saying, “See, everything is going to be okay.”
You wouldn’t have noticed I had a problem because I was just like most of my friends – a couple of glasses of wine 3 or 4 nights a week – but when I went out, when I was with people, when things turned social – I’d lean hard into a martini because it’s a serious drink and there’s no messing around.
I’m pretty sure martinis made me smarter and more interesting. I also got a little sassier, a little happier, and more loose. I was fun. It was a great contrast to the way I was during the day; serious, a little hard on myself, stressed, driven.
No one ever mentioned my drinking or staged an intervention. My husband never turned to me and said, “This shit has to stop,” even after particularly bad nights like that time I had to have a friend drive my car home from the city because I couldn’t drive it myself, or those nights I wobbled home buzzed to pay the baby sitter, or when I threw up in Grace Cathedral during a concert and started to black out right there in my seat, certain I was dying. As the blackness engulfed me I thought, “This is it? I’m going to die like this?” It seemed like such a cheap way to go. I was up to such big things in my life with my work and my family – then this.
That my drinking was a problem was something no one spoke to me about. It wasn’t their job. But I knew.
I knew it because for years, no matter how much I had to drink, I’d wake up the next morning bathed in a shit storm of shame. I’d review what had happened the night before; who I was with, what I had said and done, certain that I’d screwed up in some way, or said something too strong. Sometimes I had – like those nights I mentioned – but usually I hadn’t, and no one remembered anyway.
But it was more than just this feeling of messing up. It was the voices that slithered in as I lay in bed the next morning, tired and depleted. Devious, cruel voices mocking me, tripping me up, asking me who the hell I thought I was. Telling me that I was shit and so were my ideas and my plans.
This was the pit I crawled out of many mornings after two or more drinks, the journey I had to make to find my way back into the world of light – wherever that was. In fact, I think this shame made me work even harder out in the world to prove that I was good – to myself.
Like a lot of people, I became more boisterous, confident, and chatty when I drank. Drinking made me bigger. And in the morning, I’d shrink back down to my real size, which wasn’t half as big or loud.
And I think that was part of the shame, this shrinking back to who I was, just like The Great OZ when the curtain gets pulled back and you see that he’s just a little man. He’s actually a good man trying to do something positive – is how I remember it, but he felt that he needed to be more than he was to get people’s attention. I think that’s how it was for me too – this feeling that I needed to be more than I actually was out in the world if I was going to get the good stuff. Drinking helped me feel like a shinier version of myself. I had more confidence. I was more commanding. I was on fire.
But then the mornings, always the mornings.
At 56-years-old, I feel like I’m in this sweet spot. I’m older, but not old. I’ve got energy, I’ve got projects I want to do, I’m not sick, I’m strong. I’m watching the generation ahead of me turn corners into what feels like old age, some of them are dying – which makes this time I have even more precious to me because I know what’s coming.
I don’t want to squander it. I don’t want to keep laying sticky tar traps for myself, waking up having to pay for the night before. I don’t need those voices – that’s the big thing – I can’t afford those negative voices, not with what I’m up to, not with the things I want to create and the way I mean to love. There’s just not enough time.
It’s only been two months since my last drink, and I never said that I was going to stop entirely, just until the end of the year to see what that was like. It’s been pretty easy. Mostly what I notice is that the cruel voices have subsided. I don’t have to battle it out every morning as I make my way into the day. One less obstacle in this beautiful life.
Very nice, Laurie. Thoughtful, engaging, intriguing. One day I’ll share with you my philosophy regarding alcohol. Again, a fine piece.
Waking up to a shit storm of shame no matter how much (or little) you’ve had to drink – totally relate to this! No-one else really perceived my drinking as problematic but I always knew how much it affected me, my sense of pride and even my sense of self. I eventually quit drinking because I got bored of going round in the same vicious cycle of negativity. Twenty months on, it hasn’t always been easy but I haven’t looked back. All good wishes for your sobriety journey.
Brave, baby. Brave. I’ve been to all the places you describe. I know that darkness you describe so well. You’re a shining light. Thank you for your words.
It’s truth or alcohol, not both. For me it’s been tough to wade through the haze of drinking to get to the raw wild truth. Every day I fought my way up that mountain shrouded in the fog of what I’d done, who I was letting down, including me. Eighteen years ago I chose the truth. I’ve never been the same since, though the first few years were a struggle to see this. You’re brave, fascinating, and kind. You run on a gorgeous energy I want to be close to. Living in this kind of rigorous integrity is who you are as a writer and woman. I’m honored to meet this new one, emerging. Love love.
Your gorgeous truth always floors me. Beautiful piece of writing Laurie – you’re the real deal – as a person and a writer. So honored to know you, learn from you, be your friend.
Great title. Great sentiment. We’ve had this conversation. I’m all for whatever you need lady. I’ve quit before–for years at a time. I live w a sober man–and yes, still love to drink. I’ve curtailed it lately–thank the stars. It can be a dangerous edge. Love to dive deeper on this subject over a cuppa tea. Xoxox
Thank you for just putting your truth out there, Laurie….so direct and unfiltered. You remind me that it is okay to be human, your vulnerability makes you beautiful.
Bravo, Laurie! You have my unqualified support. The reason I’m a therapist is because I grew up surrounded by people who used alcohol for all the reasons you honestly reveal in your post.
I swore my children would never see me drunk because of the pain it caused me and they never have. I was one member of my family who chose a different path. And only years of therapy helped me find a different way to live my life.
But there is a genetic component to problem drinking and it has haunted my life despite my best efforts. My granddaughter, 23 years old, coincidentally, just yesterday, posted a fabulous self-reflection of how marvelously her life has changed since December 31, 2014, the day she last used alcohol and drugs. Believe me, Laurie, it was inordinately painful watching her struggle the four years before she surrendered and realized, despite all her efforts, she could not stay sober on her own. I literally had to emotionally process my feelings about her death before I was able to sleep at night knowing she was out somewhere doing what addicts do.
My second husband died a hideous death from esophageal cancer, never admitting he had a drinking problem. He was 52.
Now I get to sit across from people every day struggling with addiction and use my experience to help them transform their lives, as i have been able to do. My problem wasn’t that I ingested alcohol; my problem was I spent so many years trying to get the people I loved to stop drinking.
It takes rigorous honesty to deal with alcohol. So I say, Bravo, again, Laurie, for your honest revelation. Bravo.
You did it, sweetie! And you balanced it just right. So much love to you. Glad to be walking by your side. xoxo
This post is beautifully honest and brave. It was my story too and one that i never talked about. Getting sober almost 3 years ago was the best thing i have ever done. Living life on lifes terms, feeling all the feelings, being fully present for this life- there is nothing harder or more fantastic. I DO still miss the bourbon and late nights with other mommy friends who perhaps also drink too much. But i cant turn back now, its all too good to go back to that old life. Much love and hope for you as you walk this journey…
Ditto darling. I share and have shared your demons. And am using alcohol much more mindfully. Not abstaining altogether. Which is strange. It’s made the contrast between sober and not sober even sharper, grittier, more filled with friction. Like two sticks rubbed together to start a flimsy fire. Ashes in the morning.
This is so spot on and all I have to say is: It’s not easy, it’s NOT boring, and it’s totally worth it to move into a new freedom of yourself. I’m rooting for you–go Laurie!
Thank you once again, Laurie, for your honesty. When I read you, every word matters. Being there, doing that… Love…
Bad ass truth telling at it’s finest. Thank you for always keeping it real. Thank you for your humanness. Thank you for shining a light in the places we aren’t always willing to go. Thank you for allowing us all to be a little braver.
Big love to you!
Heartfelt and beautiful writing. As artists, alcohol initially loosens us up to get deeper, but then somehow it takes over and the depth and truth become less authentic. I wonder how many people can really use alcohol without it insidiously taking over? Lovely writing.
Hey Laurie – What a great topic to dig into. It’s amazing how pervasive alcohol is in our daily lives. It’s everywhere we turn, but yet not overtly part of the conversation. The drug is so deeply embedded in our culture that “wanna grab a drink?” is synonymous with “let’s get together”. Good for you for staring it down a bit, and sharing your experience. I think we all benefit from that. Plus, I just really love hearing about you taking good care of yourself. That’s the best.
You basically wrote my story. Its good to not feel alone. There is this in-between place, where you haven’t ruined your life with booze but you aren’t in integrity with it either. Its hard to know where to draw the line. I appreciate your honesty so very much.
I know this place, Laurie. Brava to you for continuously showing up on the page (and in life) with both grit and grace. xxoo
This is lovely. Thank you for sharing.
Enjoyed this piece Laurie, and I support your non-drinking, or drinking, or I just support you and believe in you – Cheers
I love this, Laurie. Your daring courage lights the way for the rest of us.
Wow! You are always inspiring…
I adore you, admire your courage in the world and your vulnerability. Xxxxxooooo,
You wildly beautiful thang!
Those last 3 sentences are pure gold- I will sit with them all day. Thank you Laurie! So much truth & beauty.
I love you.
Always the mornings. Truth and courage. Truth IS courage. You’ve got this.
Amen, sister. Thank you for sharing this. I’m approaching 5 years sober in a few weeks and it was “the mornings, always the mornings” that revealed my icky, uncomfortable, headachy truth. It was time and I didn’t have any more to waste.
This is beautifully written and such an important tender topic. Thank you for shining light on this.
Hugs and support,
thank you for your exquisite, raw honesty. It felt like I was reading my own story, through your beautiful, insightful words. It has been 32 years since my last drink or drug….and living life on life’s terms has been such an amazing journey. I often say that it should be illegal to feel this good! Being in your wonderful home for Ann’s workshop is a very special memory for me. Keep writing and sharing…you are such a gift.❤️
Laurie, this is beautiful. Your heart and spirit and courage just absolutely shine. Thank you so much for being you. xo
My husband quit drinking almost four years ago with s similar story to yours–he wasn’t an out and out alcoholic but he had come to realize that the way he was using alcohol was hurting him, and damaging our relationship. I never told this story because it didn’t seem like it was mine to tell, but his sobriety now is what makes the moments of peace and beauty in our marriage possible. Your gorgeous accurate post makes me think about how much problem drinking there is out there–drinking by high functioning people who seem like they’re in control, but are really hurting themselves and those around them. Beautiful writing, and so important!?
Laurie – I really liked this piece. Could relate – not that I drink very much, relatively speaking, but I still have that same morning-after dialogue in my head. I also like this passage: “I’m watching the generation ahead of me turn corners into what feels like old age, some of them are dying”. It’s hard to watch.
Brave lovely Laurie, What a wonderful piece and exploration of your soul. Thank you xoh
Laurie – thank you for your beautiful, rich, deep, searching honesty, and the grace and beauty to share this with us. You inspire me as I start again . . . to dig deep, to be real, to be myself, and risk being myself in this sometimes beautiful, sometimes troubling world. <3
Midlife is a doozy, a necessary kick in the pants that comes in many forms. And you’re right, there’s absolutely no time to waste. Congratulations on your awakening!
You always surprise me Laurie…in a great way! Happy to know that you can relax more now…enjoy!! You are the best!
Yes! Another amazing, honest, down-to-the-bone, beautiful piece of writing from Ms. Wagner. Thank you. xo
Those of us who love(d) making you martinis are wistful but supportive.
Thank you for that beautiful rawness…it reminded me a little of something I recently read:
as someone who does not have this particular struggle (but many others) both your words and hers made me sensitive to what the other women in my life may be experiencing…
Thank you for sharing your story. Keep going let’s see what happens next…
I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with booze. It’s an easy boat to row away in. Then, later, it’s a convenient hook on which to hang our decisions and our problems.
I stopped drinking for a few months last year and realized how much I drank out of habit and social situation. It felt awkward to remove social drinking, then it felt natural when it was gone. Good luck on your journey!
A “martini haiku” for you … (and much love, too 😉
Tipsy Tipping Point
Drunk. Sober. Drink. Drank.
Ain’t it some crazy sh*t, friend?
So and seriously, my cheap easy cliché way to start any writings full of my thoughts and takes on stuff. So, after reading your blog post on giving up drink, I am ready to seriously offer my comments.
A few years ago, I took an on-line writing class with you. Two thirds of us wrote our assignment on drink. One, a very well-staged dinner party at her home describing the bottles of wine guests brought. I wrote my piece from my lonely dining room southwest of beautiful Mexico City as an ex-pat, drinking chardonnay from Argentina while streaming from YouTube the music of Jimmy Webb. Honestly, I must admit there were three students in your class with me. None-the-less, 2/3’s of us wrote about wine. I offer my observation: many of us going through those years beyond fifty succumb to wine. Perhaps a way to self-medicate our fears for lost opportunities and the urgency of creating whatever work we must get done before we fade away. Okay, I’m just sayin….You really do rock!!!
Your words are like magic. Many things you said rang true for me. I have noticed over this past year of complete stress, I clung to my nightly glass of wine plus a little extra to get me through the evening. I wondered if my need for it each night was an addiction knocking at my door. I started to notice how the next day I was always slower and facing my mountains of worry with less and less energy and enthusiasm.
Ah yes, the journey continues…. I certainly got to see the many faces of this. Safe travels. Xo
In beauty there is truth; in truth there is beauty. You are both true and beautiful. The observation I made about myself and my favorite wine or my favorite vodka drink was yes, I felt bigger and bolder after a glass or two, but what I didn’t like was the fog I’d wake up in. It took too long to start my day after a few drinks the night before and I ain’t got time for that shit. Love you oodles!
Thank you for expressing this. I have a similar story. I love to drink! Not all the time, but when I do, it’s easy to drink too much. I’ve started becoming aware of it, trying to manage it. Really appreciate your truth here.
Laurie, I admire you so much. Thanks for this.
Lovely! I can relate completely. The last time I had a drink (2 drinks), I felt shame for days. It was just a social happy hour – nothing out of the ordinary. The hangover was embarrassing – and I don’t embarrass easily. It hurt me. I felt disconnected from myself and my partner. My spirit crawled into a hole, and took days to climb out. I want to feel healthy and strong and have the strength, energy, and will to follow through on my ideas. Every minute counts – and all the time lost recovering from a couple of hours of being slightly drunk is a just that – lost.
Beautifully written. I think I was meant to read this today.
Wonderful article, Laurie! I can relate to everything you say – it’s completely how I feel about drinking, only that my drinking habits seem to have been more excessive than yours. Reflecting on this, I feel somehow grateful of that fact. Because alcohol seemed like such a big problem on the inside that I decided to move to the country with the least alcohol consumption in the world – Indonesia – and stop drinking at all…. Just kidding, but there’s a little truth in it. So now I’m a location dependent drinker 😀
On my last visit in Austria I realised I was only able to create the life I live now through radically limiting my alcohol consumption. I could see in my friends and family how much of their energy and self-worth was consumed by hang overs, even the little ones. Still, I had a few fabulous nights out and reliably found myself mantra-ing the next day: “I love you. You are wonderful. I love you. You are good enough” to silent the demonic voices you’re describing here as well.
Thanks for sharing this beautiful text, feeling very inspired <3