BY JANELLE WILKES
When I decided to end my toxic love affair with wine in February 2020, I never imagined that I would be changing my way of life against the backdrop of a global pandemic. I joined Sober Sis in March, desperate to connect with other women who were silently tackling the same issue. In this space, I met Keela Johnson, and she encouraged me to share my story.
I wrote in my journal years ago, “If there is a spectrum for alcoholism, I’m on it.” I was wrestling with cognitive dissonance long before I had ever heard the term.
Cognitive dissonance is psychology-speak that means you have competing beliefs about something. These beliefs sit on a see-saw and alternate, which one will outweigh the other. Simply put, it is a love/hate relationship. (Up) I want it; I love it. (Down) It causes me pain; I hate it.
This is how I felt about wine. I was on a merry-go-round of thoughts, choices, and consequences followed by the desire to change my behavior.
It’s fine until it’s not fine. Begin see-saw.
I love wine, but I hate feeling so tired, bloated, ashamed, and anxious.
I love wine, but I hate the weight I’ve gained.
I love wine, but I hate hurting my people.
This back and forth pattern was causing internal anguish and anxiety, and it begged the question: Do you really love wine as much as you think you do?
My parents didn’t drink when I was growing up and I had a healthy fear of addiction. I remember being talked into a vodka cranberry at a party when I was a new high school grad. I didn’t even like parties.
You’ll like it. It tastes like candy.
It wasn’t the taste I was concerned about. It was the skip-a-generation alcoholism in my family that I knew instinctively would tap me on the shoulder. I was right. Thus began my 20-year slow dance with alcohol.
In my early 20s, I was a perfect storm of introverted, conflict-avoidant, and insecure. I was the proverbial apple ripe for plucking off the anxiety tree. Belonging nowhere and nowhere to belong. Drinking seemed to fit the bill for every occasion in public or not. Turns out I did like it. It made me less awkward and more fun-loving.
Sometimes I was able to moderate, but bottom-line, the wine that I was putting on a pedestal, was causing suffering in me. So, did I start drinking to ease anxiety? Or did drinking cause my anxiety? Like the chicken versus the egg paradox, the lines are blurred. But the answer for me is a resounding Yes! and Yes!
Ever see a squirrel in the street? He is the living embodiment of cognitive dissonance. One moment he is bushy-tailed and twitching along, enjoying his tree home and nutty snacks, when he notices a lush grove of trees on the other side of the road. As his tiny squirrel toes hit the pavement, quite suddenly, to his horror, his beady eyes lock with yours, the driver of a 3,000-lb vehicle barreling toward him at 35 MPH. Now, the squirrel is on the see-saw. His competing beliefs are that he should: cross the road and stay put in the very same moment. This duality causes him massive anxiety.
He starts and stops; starts and stops. His little squirrel heart, beating out of his furry little chest.
We are on the same cognitive dissonance see-saw as our squirrel friend. We want to drink and not drink in the same moment. These moments are agonizing.
Now, I am seven months alcohol-free, and it shocks me when the old temptation to drink wine slips into my thoughts. I was naïve to think that if I could navigate the 12-month cycle of holidays, birthdays, and BBQs, I would be home free.
I recognize the big moments that I can prepare for: date night, girls’ trip, weddings. But, routine moments from the past will still wake up from their slumber and slap me in the face on occasion. It takes a lot of practice to build new muscle memories.
Months ago, if I felt bored, I might mindlessly start to drink. Reach, pour, delete. I was deleting myself.
But it wasn’t just myself I was deleting; it was my family. Alcohol does not distinguish happy from sad times. It erases the whole photo album. It’s like Rumpelstiltskin. You have to read the fine print. The mind-numbing, momentary I-can’t-feel-a-thing comes with a price. The price is just your body, your soul, and your family.
Why did I sign that contract?
Kicking my wine habit has been nothing short of transformational. I feel healthy, strong, and full of life. My confidence is growing, and my mind is clear now that I no longer have the internal struggle of wanting to drink and not drink simultaneously. It’s hard, but it’s worth it!
If you are “sober curious,” please visit tinyURL.com/SoberSisFW and start changing your life for the better. It is when you connect with other like-minded women that the magic happens. I found my tribe with the help of Jenn Kautsch at Sober Sis.
Next month, my second article will detail the lessons I’ve learned during my first year alcohol-free. I was surprised to find that many of the life-giving benefits of sobriety – like joy and freedom – were the very things I was seeking through wine.
To learn more about me and my journey, please follow my blog at janeville.co.