It had been a long night, perhaps the longest of my life. Saying goodbye to my beautiful bride Judy at around 2am, and then helping the nurse prepare her body for transport. One last goodbye and prayer as they carted her away, past the Dale Rogers sculpture in our courtyard, a Japanese symbol for honoring those who had passed, as if that statue was placed there, knowing this would be the place from which she departed. There are no accidents in His plans.
My buddy Gerald greeted me the next day, a couple of wine bottles in hand. He wanted to be sure I wasn’t alone, and I treasured his fast New Zealand wit in the face of the tragedy I was living through. Like many times prior, we opened a bottle and got lost in conversation and laughs, recalling countless good-time stories of Judy and our kids growing up together. One bottle turned into two, three and four, as I drank away the reality of my partner leaving all too soon.
I woke up the next day with quite the headache. With a business that was struggling and needed my attention. With friends who wanted to know that I was alright, and who themselves needed some comfort in mourning. And especially, with two daughters who needed to know that I would be there for them, even though the pillar of their young lives would not be ever again, I could barely function. Honestly, I didn’t want to get out of bed and face them, or anything for that matter.
As I lay there, I realized just how broken I had become throughout the twelve months. Losing my Dad to lung cancer in April and now Judy in October, my mindset was defeated, my body overweight, and my faith completely shaken. I was drinking heavily every weeknight, and with even more excess on the weekends. I was short tempered, medicated and checked out.
In my reflection, it was clear as day. I needed to not rinse and repeat in alcohol. One little step at a time I needed to not repeat the past, but move forward. Not to forget or ignore the loss, but I needed to show my girls and prove to myself that there can be rebirth and renewed purpose from tragedy.
Giving up the Drinking
The last binge with my friend was a welcome escape from the pain of the night before, but I didn’t need to escape any more. I needed to face the reality that was now in front of me, to be in the now and be present, especially for my girls.
I started that first full day without Judy by making our bed, something I can only remember helping her with, and never doing on my own since we lived together. For me, it was an incredible way to accomplish something new, a small step forward to set my intention for this first new day. To commit to being better and doing things for myself that I took for granted with Judy, this was a great way to make it harder to crawl back in bed again when I felt the need to escape. And from that day on, every day starts just the same for me – I make the bed, even when I am in hotels and traveling.
Second, I vowed right then and there, that I had taken my last drink the day before. That I would embrace the grief through sobriety.
For me, in the past I was able to set my mind to something I wanted, or a bad habit I wanted to change and accomplish the change through creating positive habits and willpower. My friends make fun of my monastic nature at times, but it served me well. In college, I would quit drinking much of my Junior year to raise my grades and compete with the foreign nationals, who were total academic machines. So I knew I could do it again, and now the stakes were even higher.
Others thinking that they too were medicating through the sickness or grieving process may want to quit, and maybe even tried, but return soon after. If you want to be better, then I highly recommend therapy or a program to help, and I’ve seen in friends and colleagues how AA and a twelve-step program can have a positive impact on turning lives around.
For me, I was able to change without a program, leveraging a growth mindset and embracing the fact that “I no longer drink” as my go forward story. Whenever I went for a drink, I would tell myself that story, that I didn’t drink anymore, and even more so,, whenever anyone offered a drink to me, I had no issue telling them of my sobriety. I was quick to explain why: “I lost my wife recently, and was medicating heavily during the process, so I definitely needed to quit and no longer drink”.
Nowadays, a badge of sobriety is not seen as an issue, and in fact, many people I share my story with will share their own drinking challenges or how many years they have been sober, or just appreciate the openness and vulnerability. More non-alcoholic and mocktail beverages and events are the result of more and more people deciding that a sound mind and body without alcohol is a better one.
I still hang out with friends who drink occasionally, that one glass of wine in the evening, or a couple of beers / drinks watching the game, and never have an issue with their choice. And thankfully they don’t have an issue with mine, although I do get chided from time to time.For me, I wasn;t just having that one glass in the evening and occasional game beverage, it had become medication and it had no place in the healthy lifestyle choices I was now making, or play a part in my new growth mantra to create a better Tom 2.0.
Advancing Day by Day
As that first day of not drinking turned into the second and third, I replaced the time with alcohol in the evenings and on weekends with exercise time. It is vital to replace the old negative habits with positive ones, and this could mean walking, reading, or anything else that can occupy the time you would normally be drinking. And not unexpectedly, I started feeling better almost immediately, as my body didn’t have to work so hard to process and remove the excessive alcohol. I consciously made a note that I was feeling much better, to help with my motivation.
When I went to a friend’s house I made sure I brought my own big water glass, with lemons or limes in it, to make me feel like I was drinking. I kept that water glass in my hands so they were always full, and not available to accept that wine or cocktail glass should someone pass it to me. Here, see, I already have a drink!
I also avoided going to bars, where the sole purpose was to drink, and when I did, I employed a similar strategy, ordering a water with lemon and lime, and always having the glass in my hand. And even though it is “bad luck” to toast with just water, for me, it is much worse luck to go backwards and start drinking again, so I never have an issue serving up my water glass with a big “cento anni” – 100 years of good luck – my Italian salut.
A week or two into the process and more improvements. My stomach was not as upset as it had been when drinking. As it regained balance. my gut biome, the bacteria in the digestive tract responsible for so much of our overall health, mood and more, was being restored. I no longer suffered from acid reflux, “agida”, the way I had prior.
A month into sobriety and I had already dropped ten pounds. The workouts helped, but I was working out a decent amount prior, although not as consistently. The slim-down was mostly from avoiding empty drink calories and especially the sugar. Organic Margaritas and Amaretto slushies were not doing me any favors.
As well I noticed how much less I was snacking. Every night with the drinks, and especially on weekends, I’d grab some charcuterie, crack open a bag of chips or some other unhealthy snack and indulge, as the alcohol was either boosting my appetite, or engaging an additional pleasure / disengaging self-control mechanism.
Empty calories, sugars and snacks were no more, and so after a couple of more months in, there was a good calorie reduction and big boost in my metabolism, so that I dropped another 20 pounds.
Now, some five years later, I am about sixty pounds lighter than when Judy passed, this while putting on a good amount of lean muscle mass. I estimate I am the most physically fit I have been in my entire life. And none of this would have been possible without giving up alcohol and achieving sobriety as my first substantial step forward to improving my Body (as well clarifying my Mind).
Sobriety from Grief
It is my new story
A part of who I am now
A badge of growth I wear proudly
The day after she passed
Hungover from one last, drinking away the pain
To feel the absence in harsh clarity, to realize she is never coming back again.
To embrace my little girls vivid, to assure they didn’t lose me too
To see stark what I had become, to shape a new body
To capture the reality of the deep faith I lost and restore it to healing glory again.
Tom: Thanks so much for your inspiring story. It’s something we all need!!