As I’ve mentioned, these past couple weeks have been riddled with revelations around my drinking. I am beginning to realize how much of this has to do with journaling and writing this blog. Not to mention the amazing coaches at TNM.
Back in February when I found TNM, I followed all the recommendations and participated in the daily exercises. Writing a list of our whys and then the why we think we’d like to stop drinking was one of the very first tasks they asked us to do. I had a list of 8 reasons why, which included these top 5: I like the taste, the buzz, decreasing stress, help with sleeping and pain management. Interestingly, helping me fit in social situations was #6, and I’ll get to this in a moment…
As I’ve journeyed along, I thought that drinking for pain management was really the core of my drinking. From my initial drinking days in high school to going into adulthood, my back pain and more surgeries that followed, was nearly a constant in my world. Once I quit drinking, some of my early cravings were when I was experiencing back pain and wanting so desperately to take something that would ease the pain.
Although I believe my back pain stemming from the fall when I was 13 definitely played a role in me drinking at such a young age, I also believe I started drinking in high school to help fit in. As I grew up, my drinking evolved into the beliefs I mentioned above. But again, the idea of drinking to fit in socially was in the background, not really something I thought about much and didn’t think it was something worth looking into. And although I did list it as one of my whys, it really wasn’t one of the “big” reasons.
In the midst of writing this post, I decided to go back and reread all of my posts. I stumbled on something quite interesting. In analyzing my whys, first I was saying how convinced it was my back pain, then hints of the social aspect or fitting in started popping up, but then lastly how I associated drinking with all the good things in my life (i.e., camping, vacations, holidays, going out to a nice restaurant…and socializing).
I discussed in my blog “Nomad” how I had a really hard time as a child moving as much as we did. Our final move was when I was in 7th grade and we moved from a tiny park service town (pop. 100) to a town about 45 miles away, Red Bluff. Red Bluff is a town of around 12,000 people. Most of the kids I ended up going to school with there were born and raised in Red Bluff and had gone to school with one another since pre-school or kindergarten. And as I would soon find out, these groups of kids had developed some close knit groups which were extremely cliquish. I was painfully shy and moving to even that small of a town felt like torture when I went into my 7th grade classroom of 40+ students. Especially when I’d gone to school up until 6th grade in a one room school house of less than 20 students from K-8 grades.
Like most children, I wanted so desperately to fit in. I wanted to hang with the popular kids and become a cheerleader. I wanted kids to like me. I wanted to raise my hand in class and not get a knot in my stomach worried that one of the kids would make fun of me. I wanted to be invited to their parties. I never really experienced any horrible treatment by this kids, but I was never “allowed” in their group. Most of these girls wouldn’t give me the time of day. I tried out one time for cheerleading in 7th grade and didn’t make the cut, but every, single girl who was in this group, did. Right then and there I vowed to never put myself out there again, despite suggestions from the judges saying I was “in the running”.
My mom tells this story of one of the times I went to a 7th grade dance. I apparently insisted on going all by myself, although my mom admitted to me later how worried she was for me but honored my wishes and commended me for being so brave. When she came back later that night to pick me up, she said I was standing outside all by myself and when I got in the car, I burst into tears and said “nobody asked me to dance”. I don’t even remember this! I think it was probably so traumatic for me, I blocked it from my memory. Every time I think of this, I wish so bad that I could go back to my former self and give myself a hug and tell her everything is going to be okay. My heart breaks for this young version of myself.
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago when I joined the PATH. I started noticing what I thought to be cliques forming with a few of the women in the group. They would comment on each other’s posts, cheering each other on. I have always been an active member in the group, commenting and cheering on other people’s posts, speaking up during the live chat groups, even raising my hand and speaking in the Zoom calls. I even commented and cheered a few of these women’s posts. But then I started becoming obsessed with these few women. I started noticing (or so I perceived) that they wouldn’t comment or cheer any of my posts. I would post something and I’d run through all the names of the people that cheered it to see if one of these women was one of them. It was becoming all-consuming!! I was thinking things like, “why don’t they like me”, or ”did I say something to offend them”? I kept trying to do self-talk to get past it. Why the hell do I give a shit about these women and what they think of me? I’m in the PATH for ME and my focus is my sobriety and getting help from the coaches and other students. I paid good money to be here and I need to get focused and get over this!! But try as I might, I couldn’t seem to let it go.
One day while walking my dog, I was thinking about all of this and I started crying. I then decided to reach out to my favorite coach, Kat. I was able to communicate with her individually and she gave me some sound advice. Just writing my worries and concerns down in the chat and also because she was at work and couldn’t respond right away, I had most of the day to think about this problem. So by the time she did respond, I had a pretty good handle on what was going on.
So, here’s the thing. My drinking started because I wanted so badly to fit in. My drinking continued for 40 years to help me deal with the stress of life. I turned to drinking when I was sad, when I felt alone. I then believed alcohol enhanced my entire world. From vacationing, to celebrating holidays, and even coming home from work. Writing about my childhood and moving so much during those crucial years brought up memories that have long since been buried. I had pushed away all the bad memories of my junior and high school years. Denying the fact to myself and everyone around me that I did, in fact, want to be in that group of kids. That I did want to be a cheerleader. That all this time I was telling myself it was my back pain that caused me to start drinking, when all along, it was Jennifer that during the early years was just trying to belong.
People who know me well tell me I’m one tough cookie. I’ve shared tidbits of my story with some people on the PATH and one guy just told me how growing up like that sure must’ve made me strong. And it has. I’m willing to admit now that my childhood did form me into the woman I am today. All the tears and all the heartaches I experienced have made me resilient and kind. Ironically, a woman from my past, who was part of the popular group in high school has reached out to me about her drinking. And one of the women I thought was part of the clique in my online group “cheered” one of my posts recently. So I don’t think things were as bad as I thought, but it took this group and my journaling to bring to light the whys of my drinking and I am eternally grateful.
One final thought, in my post about YET, I wrote that I want to find the young version of Jennifer, the one before alcohol took over her world…I think I finally found her…
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