The second time he tried alcohol, at age 16, Chris Marshall destroyed his mother’s car, racked up a DUI and ended up in jail. It didn’t scare him. Marshall loved how alcohol helped lubricate his social relationships and fortified his sense of belonging. When he entered the University of Texas at San Antonio, he joined a fraternity and only increased his drinking.
But gradually, Marshall’s alcohol abuse worried even his hearty fraternity brethren.
“It was clear, even in this very drunken environment, I was drinking even harder and for different reasons than my friends,” says Marshall, who grew up in Houston.
At the age of 23, Marshall realized he couldn’t quit smoking or even cut back on his own. Fortunately, he was still covered by his mother’s health insurance and could afford drug rehab. An insightful psychiatrist helped Marshall understand that his heavy drinking camouflaged deeper issues: anxiety and depression.
“This was the first time anyone had said, ‘Hey, you self-medicate’” with alcohol, Marshall said. “All points are connected.”
Marshall’s doctor prescribed several medications for his anxiety, depression and sleep problems. Over the next 2 years, Marshall not only got sober, but was able to reduce his prescription medications as well.
Looking back, Marshall now sees that he relied on drink as a crutch to feel closer to others and to project some identity for himself. “Alcohol is really a social currency,” he says.
James Murphy, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Memphis in Tennessee who studies addictive behavior, says finding help like Marshall did is key to curbing alcohol abuse.
“Recovery is more likely to be successful when you have a lot of support – from professional counselors, friends, support groups, family,” says Murphy.
At the same time, he says, new habits such as therapy, the right medications, and new activities can spark “passion, curiosity and joy” and help maintain sobriety.
Breaking the ‘sober is boring’ myth
New knowledge can sometimes help crystallize a path away from alcohol.
Tawny Lara describes her former self as “a party bartender” who, like Marshall, started drinking in her mid-teens. Drugs were also part of his scene. Now a writer and speaker who lives in New York, Lara suffered a lot from sobriety before finally getting bored of all the “mental gymnastics” to justify her.
“Every night was basically the same: heavy drinking, emotional meltdowns, fast food at 2 a.m., hangover in the morning, ”she says. “Now my life is full of self-awareness and possibilities. I have more time and money to do the things I always wanted to do.
Lara’s understated new lifestyle has also paved the way for fully embracing her essence: her bisexuality. She lectures on sober sex and will soon be releasing a book.
At first, Lara says, she found sobriety “super awkward.” I thought there was a flashing sign above my head that said, ‘This girl doesn’t drink.’ “
The truth is, “most people don’t care or care what other people drink.”
Lara also quickly realized that people who asked curious questions about why she didn’t drink “tend to have their own problems with alcohol.”
“I used to think sobriety was boring, but now I see being a party girl boring,” Lara says.
One of the keys to a successful sober life is to chart real social scenarios.
“Go to events with a goal in mind,” says Murphy of the University of Memphis. “If your goal is to drink moderately, have a very specific plan for how much and what type of alcohol you will drink, and how you will space your drinks. If your goal is abstinence, remember whyYou make that choice. “
Rehearse how you’re going to refuse the drinks, says Murphy. What non-alcoholic drinks will you order? What’s your plan if you have a strong urge? It can also help align “safe” people who will respect your position.
Also be aware that you can step away from the party or even leave at any time, says Murphy. “You don’t have to tell people why you don’t drink.”
Lara agrees. “Never compromise your sanity to get to an event,” she says. “If you’re very anxious about a first date or a party where there’s going to be alcohol, you can back off or leave early. Anyone who cares about you will understand. Sobriety is about taking care of yourself, not about pleasing people. “
She now loves being sober at big events, like concerts and weddings. “I actually remember the conversations and the times that took place.”
Help others to heal
Marshall grew up in a religious family that did not consume alcohol. In black culture, drugs and mental illness are too often seen as weaknesses. Overcoming this stigma added to the challenge of Marshall’s recovery.
“The hardest part is that at first you might not realize that even though your sober life may not feel right right away – you may feel more anxiety and pain and less joy – you have. choose a path that will gradually maximize your good. -be over time.
Once he got sober, Marshall became a licensed addiction counselor for 8 years. He worked in a drug rehabilitation center for 18 months.
“I became a ‘wounded healer’ and I became a helper,” he says. Then it dawned on Marshall that the same kind of customer kept turning around, with no place to go and no one to hang out with without alcohol.
So in 2017, Marshall opened Sans Bar, a hangout in Austin, Texas, with only non-alcoholic drinks on the menu.
“It’s a beautiful thing when people can decide for themselves not to drink alcohol, to celebrate being alive and to make conscious decisions,” he says.
Some companies book a happy hour at Sans Bar so people can enjoy the social environment outside of the office, but “nobody says anything stupid or stupid.” Sans Bar has even gone on tour, with pop-up bars from Alaska to New York.
Strategies useful for people starting out on a sober path include breathing techniques and “the urge to surf,” a meditation technique for viewing temptations as waves that you can ride. Prescription drugs can help reduce cravings or reduce your enjoyment of alcohol.
Marshall believes that total sobriety is as much a journey as it is a destination. Her personal mantra is “as long as you try to be progressively better, you cannot fail”.
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