My Retreat Into Nature & How To Tell If Alcohol Is a Problem For You

Going away by myself to a cabin in the middle of nowhere without electricity or cell reception returned me to my primal self through a fierce connection to and a reverence for nature and all that is. 

Being alone presented an opportunity for awareness that one just doesn't get in the city or anywhere where we find ourselves constantly surrounded by other people and things. Being solo made me highly conscious of simply being alive since at any moment, if something were to go awry or if I were to misstep on the side of Little Mountain, I could cease to exist. One wrong move while exploring and I could seriously injure myself or worse.

If that doesn't perk ya up and unravel some feelings about mortality and the way in which we exist in our comfortable home environments and habits, I don't know what will.

And when did silence get so loud?

With so much noise bombarding us at all times, whether it be our neighbours yelling at their children, construction hammering away outside or the buzz of traffic nearby, when one experiences true silence, at first it seems deafeningly loud! It takes a while to shake off the noise of the every day and to simply sit with ourselves - it's the letting go of that layer of anxiety before we can even begin to relax.

All that space and time to think about life...

If this were three years ago, I would have had at least a couple bottles of wine to accompany me. While I considered how the addition of alcohol to my cabin experience would likely have made me a little more comfortable come night fall (at which point I became hyper sensitive and aware of any and all sounds) I was conscious of how happy and content I was to drink tea, coffee and water. 

Such a vast difference from my previous behaviour when three years ago I had just opened up to my family (one day prior to a week long vacation) that I felt I had a drinking problem. I had literally just purchased a whole whack of the good stuff - hoppy I.P.A's and dark stormy porters, gin and elderflower liqueur for the fancy drinks, vodka for caesars and yet, here I was.

Though it was difficult for my family to understand what I meant by "I think I have a problem with alcohol" - they mostly saw me as an average young woman with an above average ability at consuming multiple pints of Guinness - imagining what it had taken for me to reach this conclusion and to decide on sharing this information with them, they understood the reality that I was living and the tears in my eyes. And, like all good parents, they were there to support me.

So, there I was, our first family vacation in years deciding that I would not drink - a challenge that everyone was surprised by.

That week my anxiety levels were through the roof. I felt like I had a never ending road ahead of me with not the first clue as to how I might traverse this new terrain. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Add on top of that, the guilt and shame that comes from so many years of being an above average booze consumer...I wasn't quite sure how I should feel or even convinced I had a problem. But, at the end of the day, no one can really tell you if you have a drinking problem. You just know. 

For me, the wondering when I would have a drink became a thought so prevalent in my everyday life, that I began to question "is this normal?". 

When I looked to the world around me, it really didn't seem like such a big deal. After all, I wasn't the only one winding down with a cold one.

But when is comparing ourselves and our patterns to those around us ever a good thing?

Many of us tend to use alcohol as a means of self-medication and since this method is so socially accepted and widely practiced, plenty of people walk around wondering if it's 'too much' but see very little to support their curiosity.

Not fitting into the stereotypical definition of what it means to be an 'alcoholic', means that everyone is free to continue just as they were...

So how can you know if it's a problem for you?

I knew because alcohol chased me into and through depression while simultaneously appearing to dig me out by offering a momentary glimpse of happiness that disappeared the next morning. I knew because my heart literally began palpitating so fast after a night of drinking that I could hardly breathe. I knew because I would say and do things that didn't represent my core beliefs which led to self-hatred and loathing. I knew because years went by where I asked myself the same question "do I have a problem with alcohol?".

Having a problem with alcohol doesn't always mean that your life crumbles into nothingness. It can look incredibly high functioning too. It can paint its nails and piece together super fun outfits, get a promotion or be a busy mom driving her kids to a plethora of after school activities.

Alcohol can be all those things and still be an issue. 

In our culture, alcohol is an external thing that both symbolically and literally holds power, and by granting alcohol a powerful position in our lives it quickly becomes something that has power over us. 

What do I mean by this?

Alcohol often begins as a casual part of our lives in adolescence where for the most part, is just something that 'everyone is doing' and something we use as a means to relax and fit in with social circles. I'm not even sure if the connection between relaxation and fitting in is consciously made (depending on the age one begins drinking) but it doesn't take long before that connection is wired into our brains.

We give alcohol a powerful position in our lives when we:

  • feel that we need to drink in order to relax, to be fun, to have conversation, to fit in
  • feel that it allows us to calm our anxieties and to forget our worries
  • crave alcohol on a daily basis (even if only one drink) as a means to unwind after the day is through
  • get angry or anxious at the thought of not having access to a drink
  • become uninterested in friends that don't drink as they are simply 'raining on your parade' and 'are no fun'
  • drink so much that we either black out or say and do things that embarrass us the next day
  • consistently think about when our next drink will be
  • worry when attending an event, as to whether or not there will be alcohol served

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that everyone go all Prohibition era up in here, but there is a difference in consuming alcohol from a place of awareness than from a belief that without it we won't be relaxed enough, funny enough, sexy enough, confident enough, _________ (fill in the blank) enough etc.

Behind our reaching out for and reliance on alcohol is a perception that alcohol provides for us what we lack. Underneath it lies fear and insecurity, uncertainty and low self-esteem. 

Underneath the resistance to let go of alcohol or in the resistance to acknowledge there potentially being an unhealthy reliance, is the fear that through the letting go and the cutting down that we will lose all of those things that we feel alcohol provides for us - self-confidence, relaxation, joy, sex appeal, humour and so much more.

But if there's anything I can really hammer home about booze it's this:

It's just an illusion. 

Yes, we may feel these things momentarily but they are not long lasting.

Chances are, we may be looking to alcohol to help heal our wounds and insecurities but when all is said and done, it's just a shitty old bandaid that always falls off. You can try to stick it back on and you can even buy a whole new box of bandaids but you'll always be left with the same result - a method that doesn't truly stick.

What happens when we stop relying on a temporary fix?

Yep, you guessed it: we are faced with Cold Hard Reality. 

Choosing the route of facing reality and questioning our relationships to our vices is not an easy one but it IS long lasting. 

First, we must rip the bandaid off and as we all know, it sucks, but once the initial shock is over, we slowly develop a palette of options and self-understanding to help us along. Our relationships with others shift and you know, that one with ourselves? It gets turned completely upside down and begins to feel like it'll never be upright again. But as the saying goes, it is only temporary. 

If you've been questioning your relationship with alcohol for a while now or if it is something new and you're wanting to address it, I suggest you do the following:

Create a sacred space and moment in time for yourself. Draw a warm bath and light some candles. Gather your favourite journal and pen, pour a cup of tea and set aside at least an hour just for you.  Commit to honouring yourself by spending this time in reflection, agreeing to be as honest as you possibly can be in that moment. 

Consider these writing prompts and take as long as you need. You may even feel inclined to write out your entire drinking story, from beginning to current: 

Why is my heart and body calling me to investigate this part of my life? What experiences happened in my life that brought me to this place?

What do I feel when I drink? Why do I drink? What abilities do I feel, alcohol gives me?  (answer to the best of your ability at this time)

Why is it important at this time in my life, to cut down on my alcohol consumption? What do I feel I might gain from doing this? 

What might hold me back from achieving this goal?

I recommend reaching out to a close and trustworthy friend for support in this and most of all, I highly recommend assistance by way of counselling or therapy as often, these habits and patterns are linked to some painful things in our history and less than ideal self-love and respect. 

If you are feeling called to take a closer look, first and foremost be loving to yourself and take it slowly. Jumping from consistent drinking to sobriety isn't (in my humble opinion) the answer - at least not without taking a heartfelt and consistent look at the path that led you to where you are today.

In other words, it doesn't happen over night. 

I didn't move from drinking consistently to sobriety. Instead, I slowly cut down and I analyzed my experience and my thought patterns. Through this process I developed an understanding of the nature and the reasons behind why I was drinking and eventually, I went longer periods without it. 

It's about becoming aware, being conscious and mindful. 

My decision to enter into a year of sobriety came after 1.5 years of addressing my history, my self-esteem and analyzing the early years - why did I drink back then, what was I looking for? 

The craziest thing about it?

Throughout the process I began to develop and nurture a deep self-esteem and a deep knowing and confidence in myself. The very things that alcohol always promised, the absence of alcohol was bringing about in me. As the days of waking up in a fog or experiencing those nasty heart palpitations dwindled, I began to trust that I was enough. I began to see that alcohol didn't actually help me get closer to my authentic self, it just took me further and further away. I started to reconnect with myself and my dreams. 

If this is something you are considering, please join the private, women's only Facebook group called Hey Sister Movement (link here). 

Like my retreat into nature, when we begin to shed light on our truth we develop a reverence for ourselves, for humanity and all that is.

-carissa, xoxo