Two years ago today I began what was meant to be a 3-week cleanse: no dairy, gluten or alcohol for 21 days. I was struggling with acne and willing to try just about anything to see if I could improve my skin without harsh drugs. The idea of going nearly a month without pizza, bread or yogurt sounded tough, but giving up alcohol for that length of time seemed particularly daunting.
I wasn’t what I thought of as a drunk – someone who craved alcohol in the mornings or had to crack a beer at the end of a long workday. My drinking style was more sporadic and in some ways more insidious, camouflaged amid friends with similar tastes. Living in the Virgin Islands we even had a saying, “there’s no town drunk, we all take turns.” It was true. I didn’t drink every single day, but the problem was that when I drank, I drank to black out. I didn’t see the point in drinking unless it was for a buzz. Once I had a buzz, I didn’t see any point in stopping.
I would wake up in the morning with that horrible pit in my stomach, knowing that I had embarrassed myself. It might take the entire next day to piece together the full extent of my misconduct; spending more mornings than I care to count paying open tabs at the local bars, collecting credit cards, my cell phone and other personal items left behind like breadcrumbs. If my embarrassment was bad enough, there was always happy hour at 3pm to erase that voice in my head making me feel like complete shit.
You know how people sometimes say that you’re more “real” when you’re drunk? They like to suggest that when your inhibitions are lowered, your true colors come out. I call bullshit! When I was drunk I became a completely different person. My drunken alter ego was so defined she even had her own name: Jazmyn Gilloogenheimer. That’s a real thing. She was playful, sassy, outspoken, fun-loving, rude, loud, happy, emotional, and obnoxious all wrapped into one. Her hobbies included karaoke, shots, dancing and more shots. Fun fact: after my first year of sobriety I bought a car with all the money I saved from not drinking; I affectionately named her “Jazmyn”.
My cleanse ended on St Patrick’s Day (historically one of my favorite drinking holidays) but during my three weeks of sobriety something had changed. My head was clear, my memory was sharp and I just felt incredibly healthy. I wrote more about these feelings in my article celebrating one year of sobriety. The bottom line is that I decided I would not have a drink that St Patty’s Day; in fact, I decided I wouldn’t have a drink again until I really craved one. Two years later, I’ve yet to experience a craving that has overpowered the pride and happiness I feel every time I turn a drink down.
My mom (who has now been sober for more than 20 years) always tells it like this, “I didn’t get into trouble every time that I drank, but every time I got into trouble I was drunk.” I don’t know if I can put it any better than that. Sure, I had nights out that were undeniably awesome. Countless dance parties, late night talks, and Disney song sing-alongs, but drinking alcohol also led to some really poor decisions. I am so thankful that I decided to stop before anything really bad happened.
My thoughts on Alcoholics Anonymous:
I definitely don’t want to bash on a program that saves so many lives. I admire its power, and sometimes I wish that I could have taken to it, but unfortunately this program did not speak to me the way it does to so many others. I decided to go to my first AA meeting when I was already 11 months sober and living in Maui. When I said my name and talked about my sobriety people were visibly shocked. I was pounced on after the meeting with a list of phone numbers and kind words from women who told me that I was very lucky to have ended up in this room because there was no chance I could maintain my sobriety without them.
I felt the love, but I wasn’t totally sold. While I had been viewing myself as a total badass for the self-discipline, determination and hard work it took to get where I was – these people took no personal credit for their triumphs in getting sober. They all seemed to believe that “the program” was responsible for their sobriety and they were merely bystanders in their own lives.
After attending approximately 30 meetings, getting a sponsor and beginning to work the steps, I decided that the program didn’t work with the way that I felt. The very first step is to admit that we are powerless over alcohol – I couldn’t just sign on to that! I wasn’t feeling powerless; I had never felt more powerful in my life! My sponsor made me concede to the fact that I was powerless over my consumption after I already had a nice buzz. Clearly, I had nipped that one in the bud by not drinking. Something just wasn’t adding up for me.
While I do see the merit in joining together as a community to support one another, and I do believe that some of the steps would be a good idea for EVERYBODY to work through, the rigid structure of the program was not a good fit. Perhaps if I had joined in the beginning of my sobriety it would have been helpful to be surrounded by other likeminded people, but by 11 months I had already made peace with the fact that my friends drink and I don’t.
If you’re reading this and you’re a member of AA you’re probably gasping at the blasphemy or thinking that I’ll never make it without the program. This type of dogmatic attitude, “either you’re with us, or you’ll fail,” is a huge part of why I can’t be in the program. While there are many things that I’ve learned from the big book and the twelve steps, there are also quite a few aspects that turn me off. Like many milennials who are ditching organized religion and embracing personal spirituality, I decided to ditch AA and embrace my own sobriety.
So what’s it like being sober for TWO YEARS?
It’s beyond incredible. In the past two years I have accomplished so many of my lifelong dreams! I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and spent a summer in the Mediterranean. I moved to Hawaii to work on sailboats during the humpback whale season. I travelled to St Maarten, Antigua, Puerto Rico, Spain, Greece, Thailand, the Philippines, Costa Rica and China. Sure, I always had an adventurous spirit, but it’s no coincidence that the more time I spend living sober, the better my life gets. It seems kind of fitting that on my two year anniversary without booze, I also began my very first day of Gracie Jiu Jitsu training as part of a three month full-immersion course in Dali, China. This is definitely not something that Jazmyn would have signed up for!
Quitting alcohol is probably the accomplishment that I am most proud of in my life, but it certainly didn’t solve everything. I still have bad days, I still have problems and I’m even still struggling with acne. The difference is that the problems I now face are manageable, less dramatic and comparatively scarce. I think the biggest change from the first year of sobriety to the second was becoming extremely comfortable and confident in my new life. I really don’t spend much time thinking about drinking or sobriety, and I no longer feel superior or judge others who drink too much. I am in a healthy relationship with a wonderful, supportive boyfriend who drinks normally (by the way he took some of the above photos, he’s good at that). My life just seems to be on a very even keel: happy, healthy and increasingly awesome.
There are plenty of people who can have one or two beers and be happy; that just wasn’t me. If my style of drinking resonates with you and you’re thinking about giving it a rest, I can’t recommend it enough. Try a three week cleanse. Read the book The Easy Way to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr, and see how you feel. If you have any questions or would like more resources, please leave a comment below!