Finding my identity – that’s how Juliann describes this journey. For so long alcohol and drugs have defined her. With This Naked Mind, she’s discovering who she really is.
Full of Anxiety
When I was a teenager, I remember being terrified of a lot of things, particularly social situations.
I developed an incapacitating fear of reading aloud in secondary school, which made me want to make myself as small and invisible as possible.
Then I started blushing – this fear took up hours of brain space every day. I even looked into getting dangerous surgery to sever nerves in my face so that I wouldn’t glow red for any reason.
This fear followed me all the way into my 20s. It still happens sometimes today. The dread has worn off significantly as I’ve come to the realization that not everyone is as focused on my face as I once believed them to be.
The First Drink
I was about 15 when I had my first drink. I remember the swelling sense of bravado. How I didn’t care if people stared at me when I was drunk. In fact, I welcomed it.
I came from a strict household. I was not allowed to do anything my peers were, such as go to nightclubs every weekend and drive around as they pleased after school. Naturally, I rebelled. I snuck out through my window and my friends picked me up in their cars for wild nights out. Escapism at its best.
I got caught, was threatened with boarding school. Two weeks later I was out the window again.
Because I felt oppressed, trapped, different from my peers, I found a new identity in being as crazy and daring (and stupid) as I could. Taking as many risks as possible.
Finding My Identity
A new identity in losing control.
Finding my identity in my new friend who made me forget my fears. Forget my social anxiety. Forget my strict parents – my new friend, of course, was alcohol.
I couldn’t wait to finish school, so I could go off to university and drink myself to oblivion as and when I pleased.
My freedom was a trap
From my small weekly allowance of 50 Euro, I would spend 15 on the bus to my Uni (I’d go home to my parents at weekends). The remaining 35 would go on the cheapest own-brand supermarket noodles and bread, and as many 70cl bottles of paint stripper vodka as I could afford, along with some own-brand supermarket energy drinks.
I barely attended my college lectures in the three years of my degree.
I remember only being filled with dread. That was my overarching feeling in those three years.
I remember waking up with blinding hangovers. Usually, my nights out would include vomiting my guts up. Going on a rampage of kissing as many boys as possible. Sometimes waking up in beds I didn’t recognize and having to do the dreaded walk of shame back to campus.
Then once I’d come around, I’d be scared to walk down to the shops or into the library alone. Fearing that I’d bump into one of the boys I’d accosted the night before.
What if I tripped, or blushed??
Dread would course through me. So, I’d just stay in, skip another lecture and wait for the next time I could drink.
I remember resolving to go and study by myself in the library. So I’d get up, spend ages doing my makeup, my hair, choosing my clothes.
Then it’s already 11 am. I’d take one look at myself in the mirror and feel like crying. I’d say to myself, “No, you can’t go out looking like this. You’re staying here. Anyway, it’s 11 am and the day is wasted.”
I didn’t even realise that I hated myself.
Countless times, I would say to my roommate and best friend, “Tomorrow I’m getting up at 7 am to go for a run and go to the library.” The alarm would duly go off at 7 am. The dread in my stomach would say, “You can’t do this, you’re not good enough to do this, just roll over and waste another day.”
I was the queen of self-sabotage. Terrified of trying in case I failed. So I would just go out and get drunk to numb out the fact that I didn’t believe in my abilities even one tiny bit.
Finding my identity after University
When university finished, and I got a job in a bar, my self-belief did increase a little. Finally, I had that independence I’d always dreamed of – I was living in the capital city, and completely supporting myself. As you can imagine, working in a bar was not the best way for me to break my reliance upon alcohol.
We would finish a shift at 4 am. Our boss would let us all sit and have a few drinks.
We would be overtired and drink to excess. Sometimes falling out of the bar at 9 am and going to an early house lock-in for some more.
Then I’d get home for a few hours of sleep, while it was daylight outside. Waking up when it was starting to get dark, to do it all again.
Surrounded by toxicity
During this time, I got involved in a very toxic relationship with an alcoholic who worked at the same bar as me. My self-worth was so low that every time he would leave me in the mornings after our heavy drinking sessions, I would feel so incredibly low and hopeless.
My happiness was completely and utterly dependent on whether or not he gave me attention.
He used and abused me (mostly emotionally, once physically). Stole money from me. Cheated on me countless times. He disrespected me in every way possible, but I kept hanging on to him.
He drank from the moment he woke up to the moment he conked out.
The last straw
A few times during our relationship, he went to rehab. It was about three years in when I’d taken him back for the umpteenth time, on the promise of him remaining sober and allowed him to move into my studio apartment, that I was coming home from work and I saw him stumbling over a bridge, clearly inebriated.
That was the moment that the switch clicked. I knew he would never change and I was worth more than him. So I finally moved on with my life and had a beautiful new lease of life free from the toxicity he’d brought to me.
Not free after all
However, dating an alcoholic had actually served to increase my own drinking. Alcohol had been so available to me during our relationship and my confidence was so low, that at times I’d adopted that ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude. I’d also discovered drugs with him. Namely, Ecstasy, which I absolutely loved – I just wanted to capture that feeling and apply it to every area of my life.
I’d taken a year out during our relationship to teach in South Korea, where drugs were a huge stigma, but alcohol flowed freely. There was a massive drinking culture that I took part in without restraint. This was the year when my hangovers got significantly worse.
Is it time to stop?
This was the first time I’d seriously considered the benefits of sobriety.
I was sick of feeling that horrific anxiety in the days after a binge.
I remember distinctly a moment after coming home from a major alcohol binge and feeling so low, so without connection, so lonely, and for that moment, toying with the idea of suicide. That was a horrible moment.
When I returned from Korea, I couldn’t wait to try pills again. From then I developed a habit of pills and MDMA.
The dark times
The apartment where I lived was all my friends’ ‘party house.’ Every weekend without fail, we would end up at my apartment, all my flatmates and friends were into the same thing. Every now and again we would attempt to just go to my apartment and have a pizza and a bottle of wine. Two glasses in, we’d be desperately pooling our resources. Calling every dealer we knew of and their mothers to find some drugs.
So began a dark period of my life which lasted for the next six years. It ended in broken friendships and a rock bottom moment that made me want out.
Bouncing between addictions
After I’d said goodbye to drugs, alcohol came creeping back into my life. As my method of self-medicating after a long day at work. After something good or bad happened, because it was the weekend, because I’d survived a Monday … the list goes on.
The cloud of drugs was no longer blocking my vision and fogging up my brain. I could see clearly there was one more obstacle, one more toxic relationship I needed to knock on the head.
I began to realize that alcohol was not dissipating my anxiety. It was merely moving it forward to the next day, where it would be waiting for me in a much-exacerbated form.
Feeding the monster
Alcohol was just putting the monster to sleep for one night. It would be all the more grumpy when it was rudely awakened from that sleep the next morning.
It would whisper in my ear, during work when that horrible twinging headache was throbbing away in my dehydrated brain, “Don’t worry, you can just pick up a bottle of wine on your way home, you can hide it in the wardrobe and nobody will know … then you won’t have to deal with this and everything will be numb and okay.”
And I listened to the alcohol monster time and time again.
Now that my brain was recovering from the intense and repeated drug use I’d bombarded it with over the past six years, it was wising up. It wanted more from life. It started showing me the patterns that were making me feel stuck and small and helpless.
With alcohol, I was feeling dull, listless, and worthless.
I would shy away from people at work and just fade into the corner.
I would be scared to approach someone to ask a question.
But my brain kept poking me and saying, “You are more than this, you are strong, you are bright, you are confident, you are a leader, you were born to shine – remember that???”
And so, after many months of sober curiosity, I began to take notice of that voice. Finding my identity without drugs or alcohol seemed to be the next step.
I read This Naked Mind and started to recondition my subconscious mind. Realizing that alcohol is just another toxic relationship, just like my first relationship and just like drugs.
I started to look at alcohol like I’d looked at my ex-boyfriend when I saw him stumbling over that bridge. Finally, I saw him for what he really was – toxic. I finally saw myself for what I really am – worthy of real love and care. Then the decision to cut him out was easy. Alcohol was exactly like my ex was in my life; draining, toxic, detrimental to my mental and physical health. A massive knock to my confidence, sticking me in a rut and making me believe myself worthless.
I asked myself, do you truly want to spend another night with the most toxic person you know?
Treat yourself as you want to be treated, love yourself as you want to be loved, let your light shine! That same light you’ve been dulling for so many years! Let your glow out!
Is it time to let your glow out? This Naked Mind can help you! Start reading for free right now!
I decided to go sober for the month of January. I started a few days before January first because I always feel like starting things on January first is overrated. Doomed for failure.
So today, 3rd January 2021, is my Day 5.
I’ve tried this before, I know cravings will come; I know the power of my subconscious mind and its years of conditioning from every possible angle. But the best thing is that I’ve made a concrete decision to go sober for this month. This gives me the freedom from having to make all those little decisions every day that I used to have to make. It’s Saturday, should I drink today? I’m off today, should I drink today? It’s my friend’s birthday, should I drink today?
I have freedom from the stress of those decisions because I’ve already made my decision for this whole month.
I’m experimenting with this sober month. I hope this month can turn into a sober two months to a sober year to a sober life. Finding my identity means finding my sober life.
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