How I Gradually Learned to Be Happy Just Being Myself

I’ll never forget the day I could sit in a restaurant and not want a glass of wine. Here’s why I’m better for it!

When I decided I needed a break from drinking alcohol, I promised myself that I wouldn’t make others uncomfortable drinking around me.

So when my husband told me he’d gladly not drink to help me, I assured him I was okay watching him enjoy a nice, cold draft beer over dinner. 

And I was, because I’d defeated the biggest giant in the room…

ME.

One of the biggest foes on the journey to a happy and healthy midlife was none other than little old me.

I had entered the stage along my journey of giving up distractions where I no longer have a way to escape, and I was forced to sit with the realization that the best I’ll feel on any given day is the best I feel at the moment.

And that was okay. I’d come to understand that the excitement I’d once felt sitting on my deck drinking a large glass of red wine or slumping into the soft cushions of my couch, watching Dateline NBC as I enjoy a family-sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos was not really excitement, but distraction.

When I started studying what my life would truly look like sober, I found dozens upon dozens of articles about depression at the beginning of sobriety.

Unlike before, when I’d cold turkey my cut offs like a smoker trying to kick a cigarette habit, I would be white-knuckling through months without any kind of help, such as podcast experts, sober coaches, or even meditation and journaling. I just kinda hoped I’d make it through, I guess.

But as it turns out, there’s science behind feeling low in sobriety.

According to the website Enlightened Solutions Detox

Alcohol and drugs are mind-altering substances that affect the pleasure center of the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps form all of our behaviors and habits, and when you drink or use, you get bursts of dopamine. This euphoric feeling becomes what you chase in your active addiction, but unfortunately, it’s changing the way your brain works. As you continue to drink or use in excess, the brain’s ability to naturally create dopamine changes in devastating ways. 

esdetox.com

(This website only deals in alcohol and drug related issues, but science shows that certain foods can have an even greater effect on dopamine levels.)

In the book Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Giants Exploit Our Addictions, author Michael Moss writes, “The smoke from cigarettes takes ten seconds to stir the brain, but a touch of sugar on the tongue will do so in a little more than half a second.” It’s no wonder that in the United States alone, the CDC reports that nearly half of adults are obese. 

Pinpointing the driving factors behind my decision to self-medicate with food and alcohol took years.

I was well-aware of my childhood trauma and the choices it had led me to make that had radically altered the outcome of my life (choices I’ll speak about often on this site), but I thought that over twenty years, I’d done the work to heal.

But while the outside of me, the part willing to talk about my problems, was healing, the subconscious part of me had way more work to do. 

Working hard at living a happy and healthier midlife!

What kept happening was a cycle: I’d go a couple of weeks living normally, pushing down all my feelings and slapping on a smile. Powering through, you might call it.

Then, something, anything, might be little, might be huge, would occur, and I would flip. I’d start yelling at my kids, being passive aggressive with Clayford, leaving the house often to get away from everyone, ignoring work, overeating, and eventually I’d have a bender that would make me massively regret my life decisions.

This cycle might last a month, six months, or even a year. But it happened enough over twenty years for me to predict it would happen again.

When I came down with COVID in 2021, I didn’t want to end up dying even sooner than necessary, but my health was so bad, for the first time I knew it was a real possibility. 

I’m a Believer in the Power of Christ, but my faith has forever been a breadcrumb.

My upbringing didn’t show me the greatest version of my Creator, and I’ve spent years trying to learn who He really is.

I knew the first step I needed to take in my journey to health and happiness was to cry out to God.

So I did. I got down on my knees and I asked Him to reveal Himself to me and to reveal MYSELF to me. I saw that after 40 years of life, I still only had glimpses of who He was, and not a clue who I was.

Next, I started educating myself. I read blogs, magazines, and books. I listened to podcasts and browsed Instagram pages of people out there doing exactly what I’m doing: taking steps to living fully without reliance on a substance. (Well, other than coffee.)

Over time, I allowed myself to continue doing exactly as I’d been doing, and yes, many times over the last few years I’ve fallen off the wagon.

It wasn’t until I decided to stop allowing myself to give up that I finally felt I had the strength to go all the way. 

(The disclaimer here is that alcohol is easier to give up when you’re not a daily drinker. It’s an out of sight, out of mind thing, and not keeping wine in the house is my number one way to stay the path.)

Allowing my babies to have all the treats they want because I realize now I’m happier just watching them enjoy life!

What makes healthy eating so hard is that out of sight, out of mind doesn’t work at all.

I haven’t “punished” my kids by taking out all the junk food, so eating right has been way harder. Medicating with food is the easiest addiction on the planet because eating food is necessary, unlike drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or viewing a bad website. 

What I’ve tried to do on my journey lately is to “kill two birds with one stone.”

Understanding that my current mental state is likely to be the best I’ll feel all day, I’ve taken steps to make life more beautiful, thus upping the pleasure senses in my brain.

For example, when I eat now, I make my surroundings quiet and tasteful. I use beautiful glasses and I take time to cook good meals and enjoy them.

A couple of years ago, I bought these beautiful glasses from a small shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, called Wauhatchie Glassworks. Just visiting this shop was an experience. Located in the mountains, Prentice Hicks’ little studio full of soft breezes and natural light displays his unique artwork, carefully crafted with love.

Initially, I used this glassware for vodka and soda, but now it holds my smoothies. I also bought some blingy napkin rings that, when coupled with linen, makes for the perfect casual but cute set.

I sit down to eat and most of the time, try to do so without distraction so that I not only can enjoy every bite, but also be aware of when I’m full, something I’ve never done before.

Whereas I used to stretch my stomach to oblivion in an attempt to satisfy what food never could, I now look at food as the satisfaction itself.

I’m not trying to get to the destination, one that doesn’t actually exist, but instead I’m savoring the journey. 

See you soon,

Toni

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