I’ve been trying to get high since I was four years old. It all started with spinning in circles and rolling down hills—the little girl’s gateway drug.
About ten years later, it got real: I was a very angry, highly anti-authority teen, running with a crew of metalhead skater boys. It was a recipe for trouble. I would sneak out most nights to roam with my neighborhood wolf pack. Mysterious older siblings would buy us Olde English 40s and Benson & Hedges menthol cigarettes.
We were wild children, running amuck in the suburbs. Thankfully, there wasn’t much trouble to be found in our town, but drinking and smoking pot seemed like the perfect antidote to my confusion and pain. I remember being in the bathroom with my best friend, who was going through family stuff of her own, and marveling at how we couldn’t feel sad if we tried. My crowning achievement senior year was being voted “Biggest Party Animal.”
My twenties were…my twenties: there was experimentation with everything, lots of dancing, clubs, late nights and fun. I guarantee that I’ll never have a midlife crisis because I exorcised all my feral party demons. Still, looking back on that time, I can see that I was in searching of an ecstatic experience. I wanted to lose myself in the music, the moment, the feeling. I wanted to go beyond and experience oneness with something greater than myself—something like Spirit. I was too ungrounded at the time to make that connection, but, in truth, that is what I have been seeking my entire life.
I turned 30 about a month after I moved to New York and, about a year later, I decided to go back to school for my master’s in Chinese Medicine. I knew I needed to slow way down, but I was bartending on the weekends and I’d go out after work. It felt like living a double life: future healer by day; rager by night.
Little by little, I began to grow into someone who was walking my walk. As I started having responsibility for my own patients at the student clinic, I knew I had to show up in a bigger way. It felt really good.
My relationship with wine and weed has gradually mellowed over the past decade to a place of far and few between. But I still have one big hurdle: when I do imbibe, I tend to overdo it.
I had woken up this January 1st with a hangover thanks to many glasses of bubbly. I spent the day in bed recovering, mildly annoyed with myself, but I still managed to complete all of the New Year’s Day rituals that are important to me. The next night, I went out for a business dinner that took a bacchanalian turn. The next day was yet another spent in bed recovering. Here I was, three days into my brand new sparkly year, and I’d spent more than half of it hungover.
It dawned on me that I was wasting my own time. Something had happened a few months prior when I turned 40: a different kind of energy came into my life, a responsibility to and a reverence for what I have to offer. I wanted to take my life more seriously and work at a higher level. I also realized that my routine of having a few puffs of a joint and watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians wasn’t entertaining or relaxing anymore. It was killing my creativity and distracting me from my life without giving anything back.
That’s when I made the decision to go dry for 30 days.
I was nervous about how I would cope with life with no “checking out” strategy. Luckily, my curiosity about what would come up and what might change overrode that. I marked the dates on my calendar and moved forward with an open mind.
My first test was going to a big group dinner with no social lubricant. I almost broke down and cried before I walked in to meet my friends. That was a big surprise to me. I had a massive wave of social anxiety. I had no idea what to order or what to do with myself.
It was scary, at first, to navigate the terrain of my world without a buffer against the overstimulation that comes from the chaotic energy and noise that is going out in New York. I soldiered on, using some of my favorite sober tools: meditation and quickie dance parties before meeting up with friends. Soon, I was able to co-host a women’s event with about 30 people and came out feeling so confident at the end of the evening. Sober socializing just takes practice and getting used to being fully present versus getting loose.
In the beginning days, big waves of emotion would come up for me. Grief, panic, anger, fear. It was so interesting to fully participate in all of those feelings without having anything to reach for to make it stop. I learned that, most of time, they only last for 15 minutes. Other issues came up really strongly that I thought I had buried, but I took action and had conversations that I needed to have with the people involved.
About halfway through the challenge, I read an article about a study that touted 15% liver fat loss if you were alcohol free for 35 days. Hell, I thought, if I’m already doing 30, I might as well do 35.
A few days later, I received an email from a shaman with whom I had done a drum journey. She was doing a two-day Soul Retrieval Ceremony with a small group of women in Manhattan. The first day fell on my day 35. It felt like the perfect cap to this journey. Then, I was already doing a 40-day Kali mantra, so I figured why not go to 40?
I was starting to feel incredible. I was able to recognize what my true energy levels were without the low level toxic feed of substances. I was no longer captivated by bad TV, which allowed me to get to bed at luxuriously early bedtimes. My productivity and creativity soared. Writing got really fun again, and I was feeling flooded with new ideas. Color started to return to my translucent pale skin and my under eye circles faded. This is also the first winter I haven’t gotten sick in 10 years, so my immune system must be thanking me.
As a sensitive, empathic person, I can see now how my self-medication served me in the past as a shield from feeling way too much. My evolution has thankfully led me to feel comfortable in my skin.
At the end of the 40 days, friends congratulated me for my discipline. I can honestly say it didn’t take much. It was easy because I was ready. I couldn’t have done it before this moment.
My habits have definitely changed for life. I won’t be dry forever, but I know how I want to feel. Being clear is the biggest gift I can give myself and the people in my life.
Read more about personal transformation:
The Practice That Saved My Sanity