My mornings were spent piecing together the previous nights. Who had I texted? What did I say? What had I broken? How many apologies would be required to smooth things over? Could things be smoothed over? Shit, do I need to call my lawyer…again? I looked at myself in the mirror. Pale skin, red eyes. You’re going to die, Jill. If you keep drinking, you’re going to die.
I was foggy, irritable, anxious, exhausted, and sick. Everything in my life felt like an endless struggle. Bridges were being burned left and right. Not only that but I was terrified that one night I’d go too far. There were too many close calls: car accidents, boat accidents, clumsy tumbles into campfires, golf cart incidents, toxic relationships, snowmobile crashes, and dangerously thin ice (both literally and figuratively).
1. It was exactly a year ago today. Jan 14, 2015.
I looked at my life. I looked at my health, how it was deteriorating even though I was barely into my 30’s. I looked at my daughter, with her big beautiful eyes, always watching me, watching and learning. I looked at my friendships. They revolved around getting loaded, and not much else. The people who loved me the most had been telling me for years that I needed to stop; that I needed to put the bottle down and pick up the reins of my life. My step-dad especially kept telling me how much better things could be if I would just stop drinking, that I would be unstoppable in my career. But I wasn’t listening. I was spiraling out of control.
You wouldn’t know these things about me from following my social media accounts. Those who’ve just met me within the last twelve months wouldn’t guess the state I was in before. I’ve been quiet about it until now. Partly because it’s humbling to admit you have a problem, partly because I was afraid of being judged, but mostly because I didn’t feel like I was qualified to talk to anyone about the reality of getting sober until I reached a real tangible milestone. With all my past blunders, who would take me seriously?
Well guess what? I’ve reached a real tangible milestone. And I’m ready to share.
Three hundred and sixty five days later I can barely recognize my life. I never could have guessed that so much could change so quickly. But before I tell you how things have changed…
2. I want you to know why I’m sharing this at all.
It’s scary to open up and be vulnerable about addiction. If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I know what she means,’ then this is for you. I’m writing this for the people who are scared, like I was. I want to tell you that you can change. I want to tell you it’s ok. You still have time. You are worth it. People will forgive you. Amazingly, people will forget your past, and let you have a fresh start. It can be hard, but it’s not as hard as you think it will be. The hardest part is looking at yourself, really honestly, stripping away the excuses, figuring out what your patterns are, and choosing to change them. It’s the choice that’s hard. Making it and committing to it, every single day. Even though I had people telling me what I needed to do, it wasn’t until I made the decision to change myself, for myself, that it was possible. Here’s what I learned…
3. It wasn’t as hard as I thought.
To be honest, quitting drinking wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. For the first few months I had headaches. Someone told me in those early days that it would take about three months for the mental fog to clear up. That was pretty accurate. It was unpleasant, but not terribly difficult. It was isolating sometimes, but I was ok with that. My schedule tends to be pretty full and I keep myself busy at the gym, with Gracie (my 7 year old Daughter), or work. One of my best strategies has been finding new ways to do old things: for example I love ice fishing, but when I was first getting sober it was a trigger for me. I had always arrived at the lake at noon and drank while I fished. I’d get loaded out on the ice and have to take a taxi home. I didn’t want to give up ice fishing when I stopped drinking, so I just changed my routine. Now I get up super early, get to the lake before anyone else, have a great time fishing, and I’m home by lunch time. Giving up alcohol doesn’t have to be crazy difficult if you’re realistic and willing to adjust.
4. The most difficult part was getting the people around me to understand that I had changed, and to not bow to peer pressure.
People expected me to show up at a party and dance on the tables. They expected me to be loud and wild. But the thing is, without alcohol, that’s not who I am. Just recently I was at a real estate conference and someone I look up to in the industry asked me, “Hey Jill, when are you going to start drinking again so you can be fun?”
Short answer: never. Long answer: stop encouraging me to be my worst.
I mean no disrespect. If you stop drinking, the reality is that people are going to say stuff like that to you. And in most cases, they’ll mean it in a harmless playful way. Unless someone’s been through it personally, they won’t realize how damaging a question like that can be. You have to just roll with it; don’t take it seriously; don’t overthink it. As Taylor Swift would say, just shake it off (you should click on that link…just sayin’…).
5. The other hard part was finding something to replace my addiction with.
Some people say replacing one addiction with another is bad. Everyone is different, but for me, I had to replace drinking with something else. I know myself, and I’m a person of extremes. I crave euphoria. I want the high. So in accepting this about myself, I traded in my VIP pass for a gym membership. I work out. Like, I really work out. It gives me the adrenaline high I yearn for, and it gives me something tangible to focus on. I can set goals. I can see and track my results.
The gym is my go-to, but physical activity overall is hugely important for me now; snowshoeing, running, mountain climbing, you name it. If it’s going to get my heart rate up, clear my head, fill me with endorphins, and make me feel powerful, I’m all over it. And it’s a bonus if it gets me outside. I love that since getting sober I’ve climbed two huge mountains (Mount Eleanor in Washington and Stawamus Chief in Vancouver). Some people replace their substance addictions with high-adrenaline things like sky-diving. I actually tried skydiving (scary, but fun!), but the gym is where it’s at for me. In the year that I’ve stopped drinking I’ve gotten into the best shape of my life. I’m eating better, sleeping better, my skin is better. I no longer wake up with strange bruises everywhere. I have an amazing personal trainer with whom I’m helping to inspire others (check out our website JackedNJill here), and I feel incredible. I recently obtained my personal trainer certification, and just last week I registered for my very first fitness competition!
Now, when I notice my daughter watching me, I’m proud instead of ashamed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a perfect mother. My daughter still makes sacrifices for me. I drag her along when I go to the gym, and she gets bored. I feel guilty that she’s sitting in the corner on her iPad while I do my squats, but at the same time she’s watching me improve myself. She’s watching me set goals, and work toward them, and reach them. I’m not a perfect mother, but…
6. I’m a better mother.
Gracie doesn’t miss the school bus anymore, and when she wakes up in the morning she doesn’t have to wonder what condition I’m going to be in. I’m awake before she is. Her breakfast is ready and her lunch is packed. I’m more involved and invested in her life, and she’s involved in everything I do. She comes along to appointments with me, watches me build my business, and watches me work on myself. A few months ago I committed myself to a 30-day sugar detox. (side note: I think it was sugar withdrawal that caused my headaches in the first few months: alcohol is full of sugar). For a month I didn’t buy or consume any sugar at all. But I had a few lunch treats left in the cupboard and I continued to put them in Gracie’s lunch each day. As far as I knew, she was eating them. Then, after a few weeks I found her stash: she hadn’t been eating the candies. She’d been hiding them. When I asked her about it she said, “Mom, I’m doing it with you, whether you like it or not.” Seriously. How did I get so lucky? We’ve never been closer than we are now. We go camping, fishing, and on special trips for just the two of us. I’m so happy to be her mom.
7. All my relationships are better.
To be totally candid, I have fewer friends now than when I was the life of the party. But I don’t care because the friendships I have are real. When we go out ice fishing we’re going to enjoy nature and catch fish, not to get drunk and sloppy on the lake. We have good clean fun together, and I can honestly say it’s better than any drunken night from my past. We have intimate conversations, discussing our hopes, our fears, our dreams, and I actually remember them the next day. I lost a lot of people when I stopped drinking, but I gained something much more valuable. Authenticity. It turns out I only have a small handful of close friends, but that’s all I need because my friends are amazing. (You know who you are. Thank you!) I’m also part of an awesome online community: a few months ago I started a facebook group, called Vibe Alive, which has evolved into an incredible community of more than twelve thousand women who support and encourage each other to make good choices and stay healthy. I’m full of gratitude.
8. Unsurprisingly my career and finances also improved when I stopped drinking.
People take me more seriously now because they know they can count on me, and this has allowed me to make huge advances in my business. It’s unbelievable how much can change when you get out of your own way, and how easily most people will accept the new you and leave the past in the past. I don’t lose time or commission to sick days (aka hung-over days) anymore, and after trying and failing for ten years, I finally achieved the Prestigious Platinum award! This is a big freaking deal in the real estate world! Since giving up alcohol I found time to revamp my website (you can check it out here), and my marketing approach. Not only that, but I was able to double my income and get back in the black. In just one year I paid off debts that had followed me for a decade. If you had told me twelve months ago that I’d be debt free today I would have laughed in your face. And now that I’m clear-headed, out of debt and gaining more legitimacy and respect in my profession, I’m able to get more involved in the community and pay it forward. Last summer I organized and hosted my very first golf tournament fundraiser and raised $5000 for the Community Cupboard, North Hastings’ local food bank. You know what feels better than getting smashed? Kicking-ass out on the green while supporting others, and knowing that your daughter is learning what it means to be in service to your community. Nothing beats that. (Although the celebratory cupcakes were pretty darn close.)
9. And I discovered I love being single.
At least for right now. Because right now I am fully focused on getting my own shit together and soaking up as much time with my daughter as I can while we’re in this amazing stage of life. Gracie’ s still little. She still wants me to rub her back as she falls asleep at night. When she wakes up she still comes and climbs into bed with me for a cuddle. She still wants to go places and do things with me. She still thinks I’m cool. As much as I’d like to pretend it’s not true, I know there will come a day when she pulls away. She’ll get caught up with her own friends, her own goals, her own identity, and she’ll crave independence. But not yet. Right now I have a little girl, and she’s the centre of my world. Why distract myself with dating? I don’t mind telling you I’ve kissed a lot of toads. I’ve gone looking for love, and I’m so over that. Right now I’m working on myself, and when I’m ready, the right guy will appear. I don’t mind waiting for that. I’m not impatient, I’m not lonely, and I’m certainly not desperate. And that’s one more example that I’m proud to set for my little girl – you have to love yourself first!
10. The biggest change? I’m happy.
I don’t miss drinking at all. I don’t even have a hard time being around other people who are drinking, and I’m not tempted to relapse. Because for the first time, when I look in the mirror, I really like myself. I’m proud of the changes I’ve made. The drama and the bullshit is so far behind me now. Let’s be realistic, I still have my off-days like anyone else, but overall I can’t believe how much happier I am! I love waking up. I love getting my little mini-me ready for a great day at school. I love starting the day with a protein shake and a gym session. I love killing it at my job. I love watching the sun set over Baptiste Lake. Sunsets keep me sane. They remind me to be grateful everyday. I love living. I love my life. I feel like there’s a lot more in store for me in this life and I look forward to the future like never before. The future is bright.
So I want you to know, if you’re where I was a year ago today, you can love your life too. Join AA, cut out the toxic people, form better habits. Whatever it is that you have to do, seriously, just do it. Because it’s possible, and it’s worth it. You’re worth it. The people you love are worth it. Know that you can save yourself, and that I’m cheering you on.
-JP. Jan 14, 2016