real life

'I've been sober 9 years. Burnout is the biggest challenge I've faced.'

I woke up this particular morning with my heart pounding. My skin almost felt like it was on fire. That all familiar cortisol fuelled eye-opening when everything seemed too hard right from the get go. 

So much to do, so little time and not enough stamina to do it. Over committed and overwhelmed - a significant lack of self-care. 

Heading towards burnout.

Add to the equation weeks of poor sleep combined with late nights and too much screen time. My mind was a muddled mess, every muscle in my body ached. My OCD had been in full flight all week leaving my brain with zero reprise.

The tears began to fall.

Which quickly morphed that into that ‘ugly’ cry.

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My head was saying I couldn't do it anymore. But my heart said, 'Yes you can. You just need to make a plan'.

I pulled myself out of bed and into the shower where I sat with the water running over my face. One of my many resources I now have in my sober tool box. And just like a boxer sniffing smelling salts after a knockout, I was coherent enough to start creating my road map out.  

Eight and a half years ago, I would have either taken a Xanax or had a drink, depending on the time of the day and stage of alcoholism I was currently in. Because that would be the easiest and less time-consuming solution. But inevitably the thing I was avoiding would chase me harder and faster a little later on, and all of a sudden I was now dealing with the original issues amplified. 

Sobriety has brought me many things but more than anything it’s given me the capacity to cope with everyday life challenges with less knee jerk reactions and a lot more strategy.

It’s what I have fondly named my ‘sober clarity’.

When I was drinking, I honestly believed that alcohol was the only way I would get through anything remotely challenging. That compulsion to anaesthetise when the adrenaline started to soar. It was such a force that I never imagined in a million years it would ever not be part of my chemistry.

When taxing situations emerged, I was innately geared to avoid or escape. Confrontation was never my thing nor was sitting with something uncomfortable for longer than three minutes. My capacity to tolerate disagreeing moments was nothing but mythical.

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In my late teens it was that extra drink before I entered the party, hit the dance floor or attempted to start a conversation with the cutest guy in the room.

In my 20s, it was a glass of wine when an unexpected bill came in the mail, when a boyfriend had dumped me or I needed to get through an audition without shaking.

In my 30s, it was a bottle at the end of a taxing day, numbing out a messy divorce, shared custody of kids, a total loss of identity, self-worth, self-confidence and self-love.

There was always something that was calling in my liquid courage.

For the longest time I didn’t question it because I had learned so far in life that drinking was not only acceptable but also completely conventional.

To celebrate and mostly commiserate. Anything to stop us from feeling our way through a moment.

After I came out of rehab, there was so much to learn. A completely new way of navigating my way around adversity.  

My counselling sessions taught me the importance of understanding just how long an anxiety attack or intolerable period actually lasts; and it’s actually not that long. 

We just don’t want to sit through it until it’s over.

In the beginning of my ‘alcohol free’ journey, it was all about distractions. When the walls felt like they were closing in, it was important to find something to divert my attention. 

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If there was an opportunity to throw my runners on and go for a walk, I would. If I was at home consumed by other things, I would clean, watch something positive on social media, call a friend.  

It didn’t matter what it was, it just had to be something other than that glass of wine.

And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t extremely difficult. Alcohol takes away your natural coping mechanisms which means when you pull it out, you’re starting from scratch.

The kids get boisterous, the carpark at the supermarket is full, the line at the post office is long, your husband has organised for friends to come over without asking you first. The tiniest of hills feel like enormous mountains when you’re still running on fight or flight.

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The golden nugget for me in this period was to start to implement a strict self-care routine. A place where even for the smallest amount of time, ‘I’ was the focus.

A longer shower. Non-negotiable exercise. Coffee before the kids woke. Early to bed wherever possible. Even sitting in the carpark at the shopping centre for 10 minutes extra before I went home.

It was recognising the importance of slowing things down before I hit the tipping point where the cab sav used to take the edge off. 

An acute sense of self-awareness.

‘Mummy wine culture’ has most definitely added an element of normalcy to bad habit drinking. Marketing has somehow convinced us that if we all join together and swig on one big champagne bottle, our busy and stressful little lives will be just fine.

But the more swigging and chugging, the less capable we are of handling everything that is just a part of the experience of life.

Burnout is likely for all of us at some point in time, but it doesn’t mean that the solution is to drink our way through it. In fact, the more we partake, the longer the recovery and the less likely we are to find the strength to move forward.

Alcohol delays healing. It’s never the solution. It will always add to the problem.

That’s science, not just my opinion. And living in a society that deems this as not just accepted, but expected, I completely understand what that means for most of us. But there is middle ground and that comes with strengthening your inner foundation before adding the bricks. 

I used to think I would never be able to survive without drinking.

Now I know I will survive anything as long as I don’t drink.

Feature Image: Instagram @jusswhitchurch.

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