Brittany Kay: Anxiety, Mental Health and Gaining Courage Through Sobriety.
Brittany Kay - @heybrittkay & @mocktailmood
When did you first notice that you had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?
Looking back it’s easy to say that I had a pretty unhealthy relationship with alcohol right from the start. I took my first drink at age 14 and ended up being taken home pants-less in a blackout. The ironic thing is that I didn’t see that alcohol was the problem; I just figured I had some pretty bad luck the first time around. The way that alcohol made me feel from that first drink had me hooked.
Towards the end of my college career, my drinking really took a turn for the worse. I’d say this was when I really began to actually notice the problem that my drinking had become. But it wasn’t until a few years after this (when I was around 23) that I realized I had a real issue with alcohol. I was drinking almost every night alone, blacking out on a regular basis, lying about and hiding my alcohol consumption and doing things I regretted nearly any time I drank in public/with others. The shame, guilt and mortification that I woke up with on a regular basis were the primary indicators that my drinking had entered an incredibly unhealthy and potentially dangerous stage. They say that everyone’s bottom is different, and my bottom was no longer being able to handle waking up in the morning hating myself.
When and how did you decide that you wanted to quit?
I decided that I wanted to quit drinking when I was 23. However, I didn’t actually quit drinking until I was 25. But, in those two years, I had begun to lay the foundation of what is my sobriety today. When I did decide to quit, I figured that AA (Alcoholic’s Anonymous) was my best bet. It was something I had heard of before and that had a pretty high success rate in my opinion. So, I started going to AA at the age of 23 and haven’t stopped going since then. AA has been a huge component in my sobriety and I truly don’t think I would be sober today if it weren’t for this program of recovery. However, I do use other tools to stay sober as well and I’m not a believer that AA is the one and only way to get and stay sober. There are all kinds of methods to achieve sobriety and it’s honestly just about experimenting and deciding which one is best for you and then sticking with it no matter what. Other tools I use to stay sober include a great support system, monthly therapy, personal development and keeping an open line of communication about my mental and emotional state with my husband and a few other close people who know my story and love me.
What have been some of your biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them?
The BIGGEST obstacle for me was believing that I was no fun/missing out/embarrassing/being judged for not drinking. I went through a solid two years of crippling anxiety whenever I was around others who were drinking due to these beliefs. I have been blessed with so many opportunities in my sobriety, and my inability to let go of those beliefs really tainted some of those opportunities. I went to the Bahamas and traveled around Italy on the verge of a panic attack because I told myself was no fun/”missing out”/not cool for not drinking. I said “no” to countless invitations and opportunities because I didn’t want to be the person not drinking. I let these beliefs consume me and ultimately ended up with severe anxiety and panic as well as something close to agoraphobia for a while. BUT. And this is a big but — I got over it. I put in the work, I struggled through the pain and anxiety and I came out on the other side with a freedom and confidence I honestly never imagined I’d ever have, drinking or not.
Another obstacle I want to mention is the obstacle of mental health — I have anxiety and depression and was diagnosed earlier this year with bipolar disorder. These mental illnesses can really mess up your brain and make drinking seem like a great idea if only to escape the pain you’re feeling emotionally. Mental illnesses and alcohol problems often go hand in hand, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s taken dedication to stay mentally healthy to overcome a lot of the mental health-related obstacles I’ve faced in my sobriety. But it’s beyond worth it.
How has your life changed since becoming sober?
Oh my gosh, the real question is how has it NOT changed. My life while I was drinking was an absolute mess. I had no self-love or self-confidence, I was barely making ends meet because I had no responsibility with money, I was constantly putting myself and others in danger, I was calling off sick from work due to being hungover, I was unhappy, unhealthy, unmotivated, depressed and anxious. I hated myself and I hated who I had become. I broke promises, I let people down, I stole, I lied, I cheated, and nothing I did ever felt good enough. I made bad decisions and I slept with people I didn’t care about and I didn’t take care of myself and I had no purpose besides making it through it another day so I could drink again. My life was a disaster and I was only 23 and 24.
That has all changed since I got sober. Today, I am married to an amazing, supportive man and we have an awesomely healthy relationship. I have a job I love and that appreciates me as an employee. I have a home, a car, and a savings account. I make healthy decisions based on what makes me feel good, because I am actually in tune with my body and what it needs. I exercise regularly, I eat healthily, I’ve never felt better mentally, emotionally and physically. I give myself what I need, whether that be space, time, rest or anything else. I help others. I have real, true friends who love me and support me in my sobriety (both sober friends and friends who drink). I make promises and keep them. I go to bed every night knowing that I did the best I could that day and I wake up with absolutely no sense of dread, shame or guilt because of something I did the night before. I don’t even remember what a hangover feels like. I handle situations with ease that used to overwhelm and terrify me. I have a trust in myself that I never knew was possible. My entire outlook on life has changed and every single thing today in my life is a blessing. ALL of this has come as a result of quitting drinking.
What do you love most about yourself?
I love my passion to help others and my willingness to share my story. I couldn’t always say this – a year ago I would’ve taken a bullet rather than broadcast my sobriety to the general public. But the longer I stay sober, the more I realize that my voice is needed for other people who were struggling like I was. I love the courage I have gotten from my sobriety and how that courage only continues to grow as time passes. I also love my commitment to being true to myself, no matter what that looks like. Before, I would do just about anything if it meant I would fit in or “look good.” Now, I really take the time to figure out what feels right and what doesn’t and I do my best to live a life that is as honest as possible.
Was there any one piece of wisdom or element of treatment that helped you stay the course?
There have been SO many pieces to the puzzle that is my sobriety, and more and more are added all the time. But something does come to mind that really stopped me in my tracks is the following statement: “You never have to drink again if you don’t want to.” I always felt like I HAD to drink and that I had no choice in the matter. I thought that if I was going to get sober it would be a never-ending, miserable battle. But this statement really made me realize that I have a CHOICE. I can make the choice to get and stay sober. I can make the choice to never drink again. No one is holding a gun to my head telling me to take that first drink, and it’s likely that no one ever will. So, as long as that is true, I have a choice, and my choice is that I’m not going to drink. Realizing that – and putting some power back into my hands – really helped me take responsibility for my sobriety.
How did alcohol affect your spirituality? How is your spirituality now that you are sober?
Alcohol really zapped me of any spirituality I had. I was raised Christian and have always believed in God/a higher power. But after drinking so unhealthily, and then trying to quit drinking for so long, my faith was really just drained out of me. I was also of the mindset of that “God” was a big old guy who sat in the sky and judged you, so my drinking habits basically guilted me into giving up religion for a while. When I got sober, I found that having a higher power was really important because it gave me hope and also helped me feel like everything was all on me – I had help if I wanted it. Being able to put my trust in something that’s bigger than myself has relieved me of a lot of the “control” I thought I had to maintain at all times. Checking in regularly with my idea of a higher power keeps me sane and helps me stay sober.
What tools have you used in your recovery?
I think I’ve used just about every tool under the sun for recovery! I’ve read tons of books, listened to countless podcasts, been to hundreds of AA meetings, participated in therapy, read blogs – you name it I’ve tried it. But the tools that have really helped me stay sober are going to meetings, practicing honesty with myself and others and helping others when I can. I also think that having some sense of accountability to others (for me it’s through AA and my husband but you can find an accountability system anywhere) has really helped me stay sober as well. Knowing that there are people rooting for you and who believe in you make the biggest difference.
Describe sobriety in three words.
Freedom, hope, courage
What else do people need to know about addiction & recovery?
The most important thing I think that people should know is that you are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone. No matter how old you are, where you live, your ethnicity, your marital status, how rich or how poor you are – you’re not alone in this. I kept drinking for several years because I thought I was the only early-20-something who had a drinking problem and was terrified to ask for help. The idea that I was all alone in this kept me sick and suffering for far longer than I had to. If you’re struggling with alcohol and are scared or don’t know where to start, reach out. To me, to anyone you trust. We are here for you.