When Alcohol Isn’t Your Best Friend Anymore

My sister is here visiting from Australia. We’ve spent long mornings sitting in our pajamas, talking and talking. So many memories and stories to tell. So many things to discuss and remember.

Last night I talked about Chile. About some of what happened there. As I was going to bed, it got me to thinking about my long story with wine. About how wine was one of my companions during a long season of pain and sorrow, during shattered dreams and heart-wrecking heartbreak.

When my babies were small, after they’d go to bed, I used to pour myself a glass of red wine and savor each moment of quiet. I used to write novels at night and sip on cheap red wine.

A party didn’t seem a party without wine.

A long talk with a friend didn’t seem whole without red wine or white wine, or some kind of alcohol to accompany us.

A couple of times during those years I drank way too much. One New Year’s Eve I did tequila shots for the first time in my life. My stomach ached the next day like I had the flu. My head hurt. My mouth felt like cotton. But usually it was red wine and it was within reason. A glass or two a day keeps the doctor away… isn’t that it?

Then I moved to Chile.

There, in the sadness and overwhelming powerlessness I felt, I drank way too much. I self-medicated and I knew it, but I didn’t have the inner resources to do a damn thing about it. I was hurting and alone and red wine helped me cope. One time, a pastor even mentioned he had a dream that I was drinking too much. He said it casually, but it was enough to offend me. I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. But quietly, in the places where we hold our own silence, I knew wine was too important. I knew, even if it was just two glasses at night, it was numbing something that needed to be alive, that needed to feel. But I didn’t want to feel. I wanted to deaden my pain.

Last summer I wrote a blog post about the long love affair I’ve had with alcohol. It’s a love affair that lasted for nearly twelve years.

I did a Dry September.

That entire month I felt clear and present. I slept hard. I was awake to my children and husband in a way I hadn’t been in years. I cried and felt feelings I needed to feel and then at the end of September, I went back to my red wine.

But it was different. The hold had loosened. The truth had been told. The trap had sprung. I could cope without a glass of wine at night and I knew it.

Kristi Coulter wrote a long essay that has gone wild with shares and been on several national magazine sites, all about drinking. Her raw piece was the thing that finally tipped me and gave me the courage to go dry last September.

Another writer I came across named Aidan has been writing about alcohol for years. She did a dry year and chronicled her journey. Six months ago she quit drinking altogether and writes about it on Instagram in a group called Drybe: For people interested in the dry life.

Sarah Bessey wrote a long blog post on how she’s quit drinking. She’s now a non-drinker. I read it the other day and smiled and thought, Good. For. Her.

The thing about drinking wine was that it did help me cope with really hard things and I wasn’t willing to make the changes I needed to make. I felt safer in my powerlessness. I felt safer in my pool of self-pity. Until I didn’t anymore. Easter morning, a couple years ago, I woke up with a horrific hang-over. I couldn’t remember half of the night before. I had blacked out. For the first time in my life.

I was horrified with shame. The good kind of shame. The kind of shame that kicks our ass and says, “You are better than this and you know it. You were made for more.” 

I took a shower. I went to church, and knelt in the pew and asked God for help. I asked for real, sustainable help.

That woman kneeling in the pew was not the me I wanted to be. It was not the woman I wanted my children to have for a mother. I hardly recognized myself. I had become a doormat. I was afraid and I was using alcohol as a coping tool and I no longer wanted to cope. I wanted to thrive. To live. To run and not grow weary.

I wanted to be a woman my kids could be proud of. 

The problem was, that road to freedom is treacherous and takes a hell of a lot of courage and I knew it. The path of life is the most sobering pilgrimage we ever tread.

Decisions had to be made. Courage had to be gathered. Truth needed to be lived out, not merely told to a sacred few.

This is why it’s hard to let go of the things we use that help us cope … Our alcohol, our marijuana, our eating disorders, our complex-carbohydrates, our cigarettes, our self-mutilation, our risky sex, the pornography we keep in the back corner.

It’s why God is patient and long-suffering.

It’s why Jesus enters into the whole of our lives and lives with us and holds our hands in the dark and tells us He’s on our side.

It’s why the Holy Spirit whispers and strengthens and is dogged and tenacious.

It’s why we take small baby steps. 

It’s why we fall and rise and press on.

It’s why we tell our stories … so that others might gather their courage and start to tell their own damn truth, if only to themselves.

It’s why bad shame only hinders but good shame, the stuff we call conviction, helps us find our grit.

It’s why love frees us and imparts courage. 

Please see below to share this, and scroll down to leave a comment.

I’d love to hear from you.

Tina

Tina

Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.

14 comments

  1. YES! Love this Tina!
    It’s why we tell our stories … so that others might gather their courage and start to tell their own damn truth, if only to themselves.

    1. Thank you!

  2. Bravo. Such an honest and wonderful embrace of what is … I drink very little and just came upon this choice years ago, and am so grateful for it.

    1. Thank you!

      I think I knew that you didn’t drink very often, and it’s been a motivating factor for me, actually. How’s the retreat from blogging?

      xox

  3. Tina,
    The more you share your story, not excluding anything that may be offensive or not very pretty, the more I respect you and love you. Your honesty, your vulnerability, your courage, your failure, your successes – we can’t be the women God created us to be without these truths being told. I know your truth-telling will help encourage and challenge women to break free from the strongholds and coping mechanisms we use to get through the dark, hard places. Bringing the hidden things out into the open breaks their power!! I know I have experienced this kind of freedom and it is part of an abundant life we’ve all been invited to.
    Thank you!

    1. It’s hard to tell the truth, especially to our own self. But, it’s step one in getting our shit together, isn’t it? Wow.

      I sure do love you,

      T

  4. well now I know all about this walk of courage. I have been on that walk for 6 1/2 years and it has changed me inside and out. I would not have it any other way. If you need any support let me know. Good for you for talking about stuff people dont want to talk about.
    Corinne

    1. I just may take you up on the need for support. Thank you!

      xox

  5. Tina,

    I especially love how you wrote this piece. I think this style of writing is so essentially necessary. Very exposed, very vulnerable. It as if you are opening a beautiful flower, petal by petal. Weaving your faith in so peacefully…

    1. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your comment. I like writing about my faith, but I want it to be interwoven into the fabric of my life.

      Love to you…

  6. Tina,
    Thank you for your honesty and for baring your soul so that others may find courage. I love that you write exactly as we FEEL and honestly think. I always look forward to reading more of your story!
    Un abrazote!
    Lisa

    1. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Thank you. Much Love and un abrazo a ti, tambien!

  7. I find it interesting how people cope and handle life differently. I had a close friend ask me a long time ago how I kept from being a drug addict or alcoholic since my childhood was so horrific. See…she knew my mother and knew how she was. My answer to her was “that’s the reason.” It all has to do with feeling in control. When you don’t know from one minute to the next, sometimes one second to the next what will happen to you, from a very early age, you do whatever you can to avoid “anything” your little brain can think of to be in control or you think you can control to keep “anything” bad from happening to you. After years of my childhood being this way, thinking this way, there is NO POSSIBLE WAY I will take drugs or alcohol that will even give me the slightest feeling of not being in control of what is or could be happening around me or to me. Now you can understand my answer to my friend. Am I a control freak? I am in control of me! I am true to myself! Have I had times in my life where I’d loved to have not had to think about the hurt, pain, sadness, etc. in my life? You bet your sweet arse I have!!! But the thought of not being in control of my life was a lot worst than any of the pain I was ever dealing with. I had faith that I would make it through whatever I was dealing with. Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

    1. I think it’s marvelous that you have found a way through life that helps you feel safe and gives you a sense of purpose and control. I also like how you are true to yourself. These are things that have are very admirable.

      Much love and peace to you! Thank you for writing.

      Tina

Leave a Reply