Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why It's So Hard

I received an email that stopped me in my tracks.  The subject line read, simply:   Why Is This So Hard?  

She was talking about drinking.   How she would string sober days together, one time up to 100 days, and then a glass of wine at a family gathering seemed utterly harmless.   Weeks later she was right back in the spiral again.    Then she would steel herself again, go a week without drinking, and one drink would lead her right back again.

Five simple words, but inside them is a mountain of pain: why is this so hard?  

Here is part of how I responded: 

It's hard because we're wired differently than other people - I've heard it described like an allergy, which makes sense to me, because it doesn't matter how much I thought, or knew, about my drinking, the urges eventually got me every time. This is a disease of the body, as well as the mind. And the truth of it is that there isn't any such thing as controlled drinking for us.

It's hard because we don't feel different - we have lives just like everyone else; we don't fit the 'stereotype', we're smart, creative and loving and everything in our lives is clicking along okay, except for this. How can we be so strong, so capable, in other aspects of our lives and have such a hard time with alcohol?

It's hard because it's bigger than we are. If you're anything like me, you're not used to anything being too much for you

There is more, though, that I didn't say.  Words that felt strange in an email to someone I don't know, but that somehow don't feel strange here, because I am speaking not to one person but to anyone who is struggling to get sober:

It's hard because any meaningful change in life is supposed to be hard.  

It's hard because when the alcohol is gone we don't get to glide through life half awake, partially medicated, numbing out pain, enhancing joy.   We have to feel everything.   Just as it is.

It's hard because in the early days of sobriety feeling everything seems impossible.  We've spent years avoiding the tougher emotions, reaching for a glass to cure boredom, resentments, rage, guilt, shame and fear.    We've used alcohol to create brighter, smarter, funnier, prettier versions of ourselves.    We like that version of ourselves.  No, we love that version of ourselves, and we fall deeply in love with the myth we've created at the expense of authenticity, self-love and truth.

It's hard because when you get sober, you find out who you really are.   What you're really made of.

I didn't want to know who I really was; my mind had been full of guilt, deceit, shame and fear for so long I believed that was all that remained.  I was sure I didn't want to find out who lived under that mask.    I was convinced you wouldn't like her.   I was convinced I didn't like her. 

So, yes, it's hard.   It's very, very hard.   But it's not impossible.   And it is quite possibly the best thing that has ever happened to you, this struggle of yours, even though it doesn't feel like it now.    Because on the other side of all the pain is freedom and light.    On the other side of this seemingly insurmountable hurdle are friendships that will fuel your soul, and everyday moments that will make your heart soar with gratitude.

On the other side is you.   You as you were meant to be, with all your fault lines and laugh lines.   On the other side is peace of mind, freedom, and self-love.   Real self-love, the kind that is wrapped in acceptance and truth.   

And the good news is also the bad news:  the ticket for entry to the other side begins with two simple things:   put down the drink, and ask for help. 

Don't do it alone, but do the one thing that scares you most.   

Go find you.


  1. Fantastic response to the email writer and your added information here is invaluable for anyone who wants to gain knowledge of why we drink...and why we cannot drink.
    It's a frightening, new life that is so full or rewards!!

  2. Seriously, thank you SO much for this post. I was ready to stop drinking but not sure how to go about it, then got put on some antidepressants that, by all the info I've seen on Google and gotten from my doctor, do NOT react well to alcohol. So it's sort of forced sobriety, but I was really ready, if that makes sense.
    Even so, I find myself really struggling- a little bit physical cravings and a lot of missing my old habits and crutches. I'm realizing that if this is going to stick, I have to accept life as what it is, and not be running away and wishing for fuzzy edges and numbed responses.
    And thanks for the reminder that life is supposed to be hard. That is a reminder that I really, really needed.

  3. I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and i'm amazed by your ability to put all the difficult thoughts and feelings down in writing. - how do you know so much about me?! - even though we feel like we're all alone with the problem and no one understands, it seems like, when we are really honest, we still can connect and understand each other.
    I don't have a drinking problem, but I have an eating problem - all the difficult feelings is soothed with chips and chocolate. But the feelings and the thoughts that you are describing is mostly the same.
    Thanks for your words, and thanks for helping me face myself everytime I read your blog.

  4. Beautifully written. That's all I have to say right now :)

  5. I'm currently reading 'Drop the Rock' and this blog post ties in perfectly. Not wanting to find out who I really am, not KNOWING who I am... yeah, that's me.

  6. Goose bumps - your post gave me goose bumps. So true, so real. Thank you. I would only add, in the end, it's probably harder to keep drinking ...than to stop.

  7. Very beautifully written. Asking for help is sometimes the hardest part of any struggle, but it has to be done when its something bigger than ourselves.

  8. It IS hard. Hard, but so good. Even when it doesn't feel just is.
    This post is so full of truth. Thank you (again), Ellie.

  9. Oh, how I liked my idea of myself with a drink in my hand. Seems that idea wasn't know...real. And that realization has made all the difference.

    Doesn't make it not hard.

  10. i love reading your words. every single time I come, I leave encouraged and empowered.