Martha and Aidan: stories of health and why we don’t choose it

August 15, 2013

I was in my early twenties, it was winter and the friends I had grown up with were in town for the holidays. We were younger and had fewer responsibilities, most of us. Some of us by choice and some of us just…because. There were a few of us with families and/or real jobs and all those other “grown-up” things. I was not one of those. I was partying a lot and wanting to stay unattached to real responsibilities, but I didn’t even realize that’s what I wanted. I thought it just was what it was, but I was wrong. The truth was that I had a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol, starting back then, right then. Not only that, I had a really unhealthy relationship with myself.

I would drink so much that my insides would hurt, while my liver fought to process. I blamed it on other things, like maybe an ulcer or digestive issues or perhaps I was dying. No matter! Pass the Bacardi Limon, this drink does not taste strong enough!

A friend that I have had since I was two was in my rented house and she was sober and the rest of us weren’t. She looked at me, fear and concern in her eyes and asked if I was okay. YES! I said, I’m fine, wincing over the pain in my belly. “This happens sometimes, it’s weird….but it passes”, I said, while pushing on my belly for relief.

She sat quietly, tried to engage the rest of us in real conversation, asking questions about our lives and then she left early. We were drinking too much to be our real selves anyway. We weren’t really there.

She wasn’t sober because she was pregnant or for religious reasons or because she was driving everyone else. She was simply sober because she didn’t drink very often and when she did, she had a couple of beers and called it quits. She would go months and months without a drop of alcohol. It just wasn’t central to her life. She loved her work as a teacher and going to school for her master’s in education. She’s a runner and she eats well. She’s simply, healthy, still, to this day.

Back then I thought all of that sounded like a total drag. What about lighting a fire in your brain? What a about the burn of alcohol, the good burn, that leads to that tingling feeling that leads to a BREAK. A break from your mind and your responsibilities and your stresses? What about FUN?

I get it now.

I remembered that particular night all of those years ago because I’ve been witnessing another healthy friend take care of herself and I’m so inspired by it. It led to a revelation of my own, one that I’m so grateful to have acknowledged. It’s an added gift to feeling so happy for someone else in my life. Aidan is writing about her decision to remove alcohol from her life. She doesn’t have answers for exactly why. She isn’t saying, “I Have A Problem”. She is simply accepting that her relationship with alcohol isn’t entirely healthy and why not choose herself? Why not choose health?

When we don’t, why? When we don’t care, why? For me, it had so much to do with my view of me. So much to do with what I thought I deserved, what I knew of my worth. It had to do with my inability to grow forward, afraid of what a truly healthy lifestyle might mean. Boredom? Self righteousness? I don’t know, it just seemed kind of….not for me. I thought those were all the reasons I wasn’t choosing health, but they aren’t…

Some of us have a really hard time with self-care. We wait until we hit a wall or the ground or the very bottom. We do this in a million ways, but it’s not just about how much we drink or eat or shop or browse Pinterest.

For many many years I thought that the ideal healthy Heather was a) unattainable and b) lame. I had so many unhealthy habits (some of which certainly continue today) that I left literally no TIME for healthy habits. I chose self-destruction over self-care every single time.

Now, as a sober woman, who is clearly an alcoholic and must choose to stay sober, I realize through my conversation with Aidan, that I am not just a sick woman who was giving in for many years. I am not just a broken woman who is fighting to remain whole. My drinking was a problem, but my having a drinking problem is no longer defining me.

I am a woman who is choosing health. Like the friends in my life who have been doing that for years or choosing it recently or figuring it out whenever they do, in their time. I have a disease. (YES, I do, Dr. Laura.) But what I have now, because of that disease and the choice I made to get help for it, has given me health.

This sounds very elementary, very obvious and maybe even kind of boring. But that’s just it. It’s NOT. It’s everything. Because for some reason, women especially, are not choosing health. In many many ways. We don’t think of it, we’re busy and all of that. We’re taking care of others first, yes, but there is so much more underneath it all. What is it? For you? What are you afraid of? Because I’m guessing, for almost every one of us, this is about fear.

What if I get better….healthier….and then I still feel like shit? What if I lose weight or have a clear mind or spend less time on the computer or save my money or go gluten free and then….wherever I go, there I still am–broken, ugly, impatient, sad, discontented, frustrated, lonely, less than, resentful, not enough, angry….ME.

Is anyone with me? Because I know this is true for me, it’s so true it hurts. I’m sober, but I am also many many of the things I’ve always struggled with and sometimes I’m so down on myself I can’t see ever getting better. I can’t see that I am better. Every day, I have the gift of starting again all Friday Night Lights like — Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Can’t Lose.

I try and sometimes I don’t try and life kicks my ass and I kick my ass and I take it out on other people and I say I’m sorry. I talk about this all the time– I am always both saint and mess. It’s just that making decisions about health helps you realize you do have a choice. You have a million choices. That is freedom. And you have a million chances to screw up. That is grace. And the more you choose health, the less you rely so fully on that grace. And the more you appreciate the grace, the more you see you are more than worthy of it. Not because of anything you do and don’t do, but simply and fully and entirely because you are so YOU.

I told Aidan that so much of health is about acceptance. She reminded me of that in a big way. She has accepted that life would feel better, she would feel better, if she made this healthy choice. She has accepted that she doesn’t know what it means or why exactly she’s doing it and that she doesn’t have to know today.

This weekend I’m going to my TWENTY year high school reunion. Many of my lifelong friends will be there and we’re all so different and so much the same as we were back then. We’ve made a lot of decisions, all of us, both healthy and not, in the last twenty years. There’s something about The Twenty Year Reunion that makes you take a good hard look at that.

Are we there yet? Do we know our worth?

Yes and No.

 

I wondered if I would stand at my reunion feeling like the most broken one. The one who can’t drink because she can’t control her drinking. The alcoholic one. The boring one. I wondered what that would feel like. Then last night, after thinking about Aidan and Martha, I realized something. I am going to stand there in acceptance of exactly where I am and maybe I’m even going to feel really good about the healthy choice I make over and over, to not drink. To choose myself over the loss of self I experienced when I did drink. I’m going to stand there as a healthier version of myself and I’m going to have a really good time.

I want to give a gift to everyone there. It’s not the gift of health, though of course I want that for each of them, and me. It’s the gift of acceptance–of our health or the health we’ve lost, of our decisions that were good and those that weren’t. The acceptance of exactly who we are with what we know right now, so we can let it go and try again and let it go and try again.

That’s what we can do. That’s all we can do.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly @ Love Well August 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

Good on ya, friend. You are choosing to accept YOU as you. And you are a beautiful thing.
Kelly @ Love Well recently posted..I Don’t Have Wine Glasses But I’m OK With That Now

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Heather August 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

and so are you, Kelly Love Well. Thank you.

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Suebob August 15, 2013 at 11:33 am

Oh Heather, you have said this so perfectly. This –
“What if I get better….healthier….and then I still feel like shit? What if I lose weight or have a clear mind or spend less time on the computer or save my money or go gluten free and then….wherever I go, there I still am–broken, ugly, impatient, sad, discontented, frustrated, lonely, less than, resentful, not enough, angry….ME.”

It’s exactly what I have been feeling. I quit drinking 4 months ago and I am still the same crappy person in so many ways. I wanted that one thing to be the key that would turn the lock in the door to a whole new life. I have to remind myself that I walked through the door, not that I turned into a new person as I walked through the door. I have to remember to be thankful for the good that has happened, not resentful that I wasn’t magically given a perfected self.

I do feel better, prouder, calmer. And if that isn’t good enough, I will make more changes and keep moving forward.

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Heather August 15, 2013 at 11:54 am

Dude. THANK YOU for that image. “I have to remind myself that I walked through the door, not that I turned into a new person as I walked through the door. I have to remember to be thankful for the good that has happened, not resentful that I wasn’t magically given a perfected self.”

That’s exactly it. Thank you. xoxo

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Leslie August 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I found Aidan when she was in the middle of her Year Without Wine. Her writing is wonderful, like yours, Heather. I too loved her post, and I’m so glad to see you reference it here.

I have close to 3 years (whoa), and it’s only on rare occasions that I do feel like I’ve made progress. I think of my character defects and sometimes it seems like there are so many, and if one is better another is worse. It’s like a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. I gave a lead last Sunday, and most of the comments afterward were people thanking me for helping them…I felt grateful, yes, but at the same time undeserving, because my mind still can’t fully grasp that I have changed.

I love the idea of choosing health. It’s a great alternative to saying something like “I’m giving up ___________.” Focusing on the addition to your life, rather than the things you subtract.

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Heather August 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm

“Focusing on the addition to your life, rather than the things you subtract.”

This isn’t easy for me, obviously, since it took me so long for it to even hit me in this way, that I’ve written about. I’ve been so grateful for the gifts of sobriety itself, but maybe not exactly grateful in this way for the gifts, the additions, that the disease and the choice to quit brings.

xo

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Schmutzie August 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Yes!

I didn’t quit drinking for so long because I didn’t believe a sober me would be worth the work of giving up alcohol. I’m so grateful that I gave it a shot and continue to give it a shot with the help of people like you who share your sobriety. I found out that I was worth saving.

Thank you.
Schmutzie recently posted..Grace in Small Things: Sunday Edition #144

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Ann August 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm

The sharing that goes on here, facilitated by Heather’s writing, is so generous and so the world I want to live in.

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Lucy August 15, 2013 at 7:56 pm

“We were drinking too much to be our real selves anyway. We weren’t really there.”

And this is how I feel about far too much of my college experience. I lived in a sorority and getting wasted was practically a requirement. Only a select few drank in moderation, and only one that I know of abstained completely. So much of that blessed experience, the crossroads between adolescence and young adulthood, was lost in a blur. Like you, drinking made me sick. I locked myself in a bathroom stall on campus one morning because I was so hung over that I couldn’t stop vomiting. Ever the devoted student, I showed up to class anyways. Before I could stop them, someone called the paramedics. There’s nothing like being escorted out of the women’s bathroom with a team of male EMTs. Even after that it took me some time (and a long stay at a healing detox resort in Thailand) to wake up to the harm in my harmless habit.

Now in my late twenties, I enjoy drinking wine occasionally, but if I go past two, I vomit. As mindful as I am about my health, I still screw it up sometimes. I haven’t been drunk for years and I pray I will never be again.

Myself and my two closest friends from the sorority have been excluded from so many of my our sisters’ bridal showers and bachelorette parties and weddings. My hypothesis? It’s because we don’t drink like them. I think non-drinkers make drinkers feel uncomfortable. We are witnesses, and we remember.

I don’t judge those who choose to drink. I know how good it feels when the warmth descends. But I have personally made the decision to take care of myself instead.

Thank you for sharing YOUR story. I have yet to discuss the subject of alcohol on my blog, perhaps out of fear, but I have been following Aidan’s story and I am endlessly inspired by both of you!
Lucy recently posted..Imperfectly Perfect

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Heather August 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Lucy,

You’re so smart. Really, I mean that.

Drinking is truly so much a part of our social culture, it takes most of us much longer to figure out that we aren’t the kind of person who enjoys it or wants/needs/has a healthy relationship with it. A lot of people can be healthy and drink socially or have a glass of wine to relax and it’s NOT unhealthy. But many of us, if we’re being honest, just aren’t those people. It just doesn’t suit us, for whatever reason.

Thank you for your words.

Peace.

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Marta August 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Oh Heather, I wish there was a way to shown you how your broken pieces aren’t broken but beautiful. That even if they look disjointed and dirty to you, you just need to brush them off and see them for what we see. Such a strong person. A wonderful writer. A great mother.

I have spent so much of my life struggling with this feeling of not being good enough. It was ingrained in me and in every aspect of my life. I didn’t even realize how much until I no longer felt that way. I went to therapy (despite never wanting to be one of those people) for a completely unrelated reason last year and somehow in the process fixed myself. There are definitely still broken bits, but the main pieces? The core? It’s been put together again. And honestly the whole world seems so much more open when I’m not constantly judging myself. (Side note: In therapy we did this thing called EMDR, I was EXTREMELY skeptical of it, but somehow as if by magic it worked. No idea how, but I’m not asking questions and am just happy about it.)
Marta recently posted..What?! School Time Already?

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Heather August 16, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Thank you, Marta.

I’m so glad for you, that you’ve been on this path to seeing your worth. I’m on it, too. My writing often makes it sound like I’m being hard on myself or sad about who I am, but that’s not exactly what I mean. I’m keenly aware of my faults and messy parts and I don’t really want to stop seeing that, as a tool to humility. But it’s a fine balance, to accept those things as beautiful parts of the puzzle that is me while not being TOO hard on me. I walk this tight rope all the time and the more I’m walking in recovery, the better the balance becomes. I feel so lucky.

xo

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Jennifer August 16, 2013 at 8:04 am

Hi. I’m new to your blog and I just want to say that I love everything about this post.

As I think about how this applies to myself, I realize that I usually am too busy to take care of me. It is why I’ve gained a lot of weight. It is why I spent most of last year coming home to take long naps that just sucked up my time. I wasn’t invigorated by the choices I was making. Instead, I felt numb to my own life. Everything felt like a drag instead of an opportunity. And that isn’t what I want my life to be like. I want to feel energized and passionate about the work I do and the choices that I make.

And then ever time I started to make changes in my life, that fear that you wrote so perfectly about crept in. I didn’t see results fast enough so I gave up on diets. Exercise seemed like more pain than gain so I decided I didn’t have enough time for exercise. Basically I chose distraction instead of choosing myself.

But then this summer came along and I started working on a happiness project. And I have been more closely examining my choices. There is always time if you can prioritize correctly. And I have been trying more and more to chose me. I haven’t completely given up alcohol but I have been limiting my consumption of it. And as I do so, I realize that I don’t need alcohol. I’ll grab a drink with a friend, but it is more of a tasty treat for me than an escape or anything like that.

And where I’m going with this is that I just wanted to thank you for this post. I’m getting read to head back to work (I’m a teacher and school starts on Monday). I have been worrying so much about falling back into old habits when school starts. I have been worried that I’ll come home and choose the couch instead of a run. That I would choose distraction over myself. But I need to keep choosing me. I need to not be afraid of reaching my potential.

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Heather August 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Thank you for this. It means a lot to have you say that my words helped to remind you that you CAN.

xo

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Natalie DeYoung August 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

I related so much to everything you wrote – every word. There was no time to care for myself while drinking. I didn’t even like myself – I was too boringdepressedfailureloser, and alcohol made me fun. For a while, anyway. Then it stopped working. I was just an addict.
Anyway, getting sober has given me back myself, and changed my perspective on self-care. Reading this, I see we’re kindred spirits, although I knew that when I met you at BlogHer. :)
Sorry it took me so long to drop by – out of town, lost job, etc. In any case, I’m glad I made it!
Natalie DeYoung recently posted..My Relationship with Giant Redwoods

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Heather August 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Natalie! So good to hear from you!

I’m sorry to hear about this job thing. I hope (I know) this means a better path, but the meantime is so stressful.

And yes, kindred spirits. I know you get it. That’s a good feeling.

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Kathy June 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm

I am just now attempting sobriety and reading so many blogs. I absolutely love yours. And you gave a shout-out to Friday Night Lights, so you are my new favorite person ever. Thank you for sharing your amazing, inspiring story.

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