I’d always been a partyer, which, for me, meant lots of late nights and booze, followed by debilitating hangovers. Somehow, through most of my 20s, it was never enough to make me quit. That is, until June 2019, when my binge drinking caught up with me.
Knee surgery put me on my ass physically and emotionally, but I was determined to make it out for a Pride celebration. I showed up in a hip-to-toe brace, surgical scars still encrusted in blood. I was on pain meds and started drinking at 8 a.m. I blacked out early in the day. I don’t remember a lot of what happened, but later on, my then-partner said, “I’m not gonna ask you to choose me or the alcohol because I don’t want to know the answer.…But maybe after every drink you have, pause and think, Do I really need another one, or am I just in motion?” That conversation shook me. Up to that point, I had convinced myself that the idea that a liquid could control me was nonsense.
I decided to question after every drink if I really needed to keep going—and I figured the best way to do that was with a mindful-drinking journal. For a few weeks after the Pride debacle, I wrote down every drink I had and how I felt before and after each. I journaled following a wedding in June 2019, and when I read it the next day, I saw I’d written about how I wouldn’t be funny without alcohol. Seeing that belief on paper made it seem ridiculous. I had my last glass of red wine on the plane ride home.
I’ve been sober for two years now. But when the pandemic hit, I was new to the whole thing, and I was terrified. I thought, This is when I’m going to break. I knew I had to overhaul my lifestyle so it was filled to the brim with activities. I set out to find new interests, even solo ones, to fall in love with and tie my identity to. I started gardening and thrifting and DIY’ing all over my home. I read and played games and practiced yoga and wrote a book. It took some experimentation and a lot of letting go—but I found a more authentic version of myself.
Of course, there are times when I’m tempted to backslide. But I think about how bad alcohol made me feel in the past and how much better I feel now. I no longer lie in bed with anxious thoughts. I care about who I spend time with. I’ve always been a fun person, and I didn’t need alcohol to show people that. I just needed to trust myself and recognize that the real me was in there all along. I know what I’m capable of and who I am. And I don’t fear her at all.
—As told to Kristin Canning
Kelsey Darragh is the author of Don’t F*cking Panic and host of the podcast Confidently Insecure. You can follow her at @kelseydarragh.
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