What I Learned About Love in 15 Years of Drinking
Updated: Nov 24, 2018
Summer 2015 (Journal Entry about Mike)
“This has been such a different break up. Now three weeks. I'm wishing I could just fast forward time. This feeling is familiar. I want to be out of this experience right now.
I feel jealousy and pain remembering how he said he hasn't thought much about it. That he might and then he thinks about something else. I feel so small and worthless right now. Angry with myself for being so available and loving toward him.
I wanted it so badly. I don't know how to feel about myself. Was I wrong? Am I the victim? Is it my fault? Is he wrong? Is he the victim? Is it his fault?
I just desperately want to be OK and I want to stop asking these questions.”
When I was in high school I loved a boy named Stephen. We first met in 5th grade while attending school at at same small private school in Connecticut. There is a certain bond of friendship that develops simply by going through the grade school in a small class for that long. I felt unique because I had friends I had known that long, and history that had accumulated over the years.
The things I liked about Stephen as we grew older were that he was tall and had cute skater boy style. He was a class clown and cracked ridiculous jokes all the time that made me laugh. He was odd and not afraid to be himself and I liked that. He was smart and participated in class and I liked that too. I wanted him to like me too but we were friends and I kept my crush hidden away for many years. I wrote stories about us and spent my head in the clouds fantasizing about what it would be like to be together. All my girlfriends knew about my crush and encouraged me to tell him and finally one day I got the courage to say something.
I remember the day. It was sometime in the spring and that fresh feeling of knowing that you’ve made it over the hump of winter and exams and that you are headed toward the end of the year. Summer was not so far off. That light and airy feeling of maturing into the next grade before you have officially made it. That feeling of joy and apathy and confidence all wrapped up in one as you walked into study hall.
I don’t remember what I wrote in the letter. I wrote it in study hall and I do remember how I folded it up. Back then all the notes I wrote and passed in class were folded up intricately. This time with each fold my heart swelled in anticipation. I took one last look at the words on the page and I folded the paper over the right corner. Then I folded over the right side again, smoothing it out slowly with love and confidence so the paper now looked like half a trapezoid. Flipping it over I folded the bottom portion about a third of the way up and then folded it again one more time. Finally folding the little triangle piece up and under the fold in the front. When I was finished I felt accomplished and excited.
Study hall was over I slipped the note into Stephen’s locker. It felt like I might explode if I gave it to him in person so putting in his locker felt exhilarating and romantic and just inside of my high school range. I went through the rest of the day with butterflies in my stomach and when it was time to transition to English class later that afternoon I saw Stephen. He was talking in a small group standing in the hallway and wouldn’t make eye contact with me.
I felt my stomach drop. I hung out outside of the door of English class waiting for him to walk over as the feeling of heaviness and dread grew thicker and thicker. I could sense that it was time to move into class and I didn’t want to move yet. I had to find out if he read my letter and what he had to say. Finally he walked up and I said, “Hi.” He said, “Hi.” I said, “Did you get my note?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “What did you think?” He looked at me in the eyes dropped his voice and said sternly , “I want to be friends and nothing more.”
I felt like i got hit on top of the head and punched in the stomach at the same time. He walked into class and I waited a couple seconds and followed. I sat on the other side of the classroom. My eyes were dry and my heart hurt as I watched him carry on like the class clown like nothing was ever said or happened. A few weeks later he started dating my best friend.
This was a pivotal moment for me and just thinking about how and what Stephen said to me on that day still gives me a lump in my throat. I had been searching for love and belonging when I wrote him that note and when he told me it wasn’t available it felt like a door had been slammed in my face. I felt small, worthless and angry just like I would feel many times in the future with men who told me some version of, “I’m not interested in you.” or “This isn’t working out.”
As I matured into a woman and went off to college, then graduate school and becoming a working professional, I learned my own coping skills to deal with the pain wanting to feel loved and a sense of belonging with a man and the awkwardness of not feeling connected in social situations. Alcohol had become a social lubricant as well as a bandaid for my heart.
The cycle of dating and relationships would go something like this: Someone new comes along I meet while out drinking. I try everything to get them to love me. I get dumped. I cry and replay everything about the relationship over in my head. I cry some more. I drink a lot to deal with the pain and then someone new would come along that I meet out drinking. This went on for 14 years as I moved from city to city recreating the same chaos and scenarios in dating and relationships that left me feeling angry, sad, emotionally exhausted and spiritually defeated.
What I wrote in my journal at the start of this story, I wrote few days after I saw Mike at a weekly conscious community event I had met him at originally. He is the last man to date I had this emotionally destructive cycle with but the cycle was slightly different this round. I had more awareness. I had started wanting to change my life and get emotionally, physically and spiritually healthier. I had I ended up joining attending more events that were alcohol free and where the emphasis was on sharing yourself authentically. It wasn’t group therapy because there was no one there guiding me toward fixing myself or giving me advice. It was truly a space to be myself, learn to feel my feelings and practice self- acceptance and self-love.
While I did end up choosing Mike in the same way I had chose other men (searching for love and belonging) I was drinking less and feeling more. So when he told me the night he broke up with me “I knew from the beginning that this was not going to be serious or long term but I remained open to it.” it was momentous because I was clear enough and in the same place yet again to know it wasn’t these men. It was me. Now the real work could begin.
Now my life path was set and I was clear and open enough to do some real inner work. Here are some things I have learned along the way. Love comes when you love and accept yourself and drinking covered up the truth that I needed to learn to love myself better before any relationship was possible for me. The place I could find my own sense of belonging and security was inside of me, not in the man I wanted to date or in the drink in my hand.
I stopped drinking alcohol over a year ago. I put these and several others new actions and habits into my life at age 35, I've landed in a meaningful relationship that has passion, depth and longevity. Most importantly it's a relationship where I feel full permission to bring all of myself, ask for exactly what I need and feel my feelings without alcohol.