Breaking through the glass

“Hey, you wanna go cross-country skiing tomorrow?” A warm glow spreads through my body as I read the text. It’s from Nina, one of my favourite co-workers. I’ve known and liked her for six years, but we’ve never hung out outside of work before. I type back “hell yes!” and we agree on a time and place. Then I check in with myself like my therapist has taught me. How do I feel about it all – her invite, the skiing, hanging out with someone one-on-one? All I detect is happy anticipation and a serene certainty that we will have a great time. I close my eyes, savour the moment, and give thanks to my sobriety. Without her none of this would have happened. I know, because without her none of this did happen.

How would this scenario have played out a year ago? First off, the old me didn’t receive texts like this. I hadn’t skied in years, so I would have never chatted with Nina about skiing. Secondly, I was constantly worried about people not liking me. If they were nice, I thought they were just polite. If they asked to hang out, I gave non-committal answers, too afraid to say yes. What if we’d have a terrible time? What if they found out that I was boring and awkward? What if I said the wrong thing? I kept other people at arm’s length because it seemed safer. I had a deep-seated fear of letting others truly see me, because I was convinced that once they did, they would be disappointed.

I also rarely tried new things anymore. The tingle of nervous anticipation that we get when we do something new had transformed into an anxiety that verged on panic. What if I broke a leg/didn’t have the stamina/couldn’t do it/embarrassed myself/hated it? The reel of disasters that could happen started playing as soon as I contemplated doing something different, which really takes the fun out of it.

And then there was the biggest, most secret, most shameful reason why I could rarely muster the energy for new adventures: I’d much rather stay home and “relax” (i.e. drink). I’m an introvert, and I needed my “alone time” (i.e. drink alone and unobserved). I wanted to “spend time with my husband” (i.e. drink with him).

Faced with the decision between doing something new and scary or old and familiar, I chose the latter almost every time.

As I was sitting at home “relaxing” and “recharging”, I was dreaming of all the things I would be doing tomorrow, fueled by the alcohol-induced euphoria where you make all the plans and envision a shining and thrilling future for yourself. In that state, my tomorrows were full of promise and excitement – until a few hours later. I’d wake up in the middle of the night full of shame and regret, and a self-loathing so powerful that it took my breath away.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had built a thick wall of glass around me. I could see life happening around me, but the sounds, smells, and colours were muted. I didn’t fully participate. While I was present at work and in some parts of my life, the part where my curiosity and sense of adventure lived had been cut off. It was sitting outside the glass wall where I couldn’t reach it.  

Could I have gone on like that? I did go on like that. My life wasn’t bad: I had a wonderful marriage, friends, and a job I liked. Sure, I also had anxiety that seemed to get worse all the time and recurring depressive episodes, but didn’t everyone? We live in stressful times.

What really made me re-evaluate my lifestyle was the fact that I didn’t seem to be able to focus on my hobbies anymore. I also had to admit that I started to put alcohol ahead of exercise, friends, and new experiences. What made me quit drinking wasn’t hitting rock bottom (I never did) – it was the realization that I deserved better.

I had my last drink on December 30, 2021. The first few months were hard at times, because my brain was used to the easy dopamine hit it received from alcohol. It took a while for my brain to adjust to getting its dopamine from different sources, but adjust it has – in spectacular fashion.

These days, alert and wide awake, I feel permanently like I did after I had my first drink. You know the feeling: you’re energized yet relaxed and tingling with the thrill of anticipation and well-being. Anything feels possible, you’re more open towards people, and you simply feel good.

Sobriety is full of colour and life, and I’m full of curiosity and energy wanting to experience it all. The glass wall that once separated me from the rest of the world is gone. The fog I didn’t even know I lived in is gone. The constant underlying anxiety and shame are gone. In their place are a newfound confidence, love for life, and appreciation for thousands of big and little things I used to take for granted: my body’s strength and agility, my mind’s sharpness and curiosity, the beauty of nature, my dogs’ boundless energy and unconditional love, uninterrupted sleep free of nightmares and hanxiety.

During my first year of sobriety I have deepened old friendships, made new ones, discovered a love of exercise that is as startling as it is wonderful, discovered new and old passions, and did some serious life evaluating. What this has shown me is that I wasn’t happy where I lived – so we are moving. I realized that a long commute was taking too much of a toll – so I took a job close to home. I decided to stop hiding my mental illness because it was too heavy to carry it as a secret – so I wrote a book about it.

I feel much more at peace than ever before. Life has gotten exponentially bigger, fuller, and more exciting. Sobriety has made me fall madly in love with life again – and I’m so grateful. It’s the greatest gift of my life. I will never go back behind the glass wall again. It is shattered for good!

Written by Miriam Verheyden

Miriam is a 43-year old bubbly introvert, x-ray technologist, author and mental health advocate. She lives the sweet live on a ranch in Canada with her husband and dogs.

She has written 3 books and the latest is called "Everything is Broken and Completely Fine" which is about her experience with mental illness, alcohol, and working as a healthcare worker during the pandemic.

You can find out more about Miriam at her website: miriamverheyden.com

or follow her on Instagram @miriamverheydenwriter

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