Though I am a medical professional, I’m not one that specializes in treating and diagnosing addictions. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or some other addiction, professional help is most often the way to go. The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Association has a 24/7 hotline to speak with someone at any time of the day, free of charge.
Now onto my journey with alcohol, burnout, and wellness.
Man, I wish that I could say that I’ve been a smoothie drinking, banana freezing, plant-eating wellness coach my whole life, but that’s not realistic. Most wellness coaches worth anything, have a “why”. This “why”, more often than not, has a darker background that stems from either themselves or someone close to them not being healthy.
I do genuinely love wellness and a holistic approach to health, but if I hadn’t been exposed to certain things over time and walked certain paths, I wouldn’t have the deep and very personal appreciation for it that I do. One of the things that I’ve gradually become more mindful of, and taken head on is alcohol consumption.
Alcohol is something that wasn’t really spoken of growing up, and I wasn’t exposed to in my home. Both of my parents were extremely religious, as were their respective families. At the tender age of 14, I was somewhat suddenly signed to a modeling contract that took me promptly to New York City to live in a models apartment, and travel abroad working as a print and high fashion runway model. You may be saying in your head “I bet that’s when she started drinking”, but it really wasn’t.
SO many things could have gone wrong at that point in my life, and though I was exposed to the existence of many things I had never been before, I managed to stay clear of drug abuse, eating disorders, and alcoholism. The main things that I attribute this to are a strong sense of self at an early age and good friends (even better than I realized at the time) like my oldest (and by far most dapper) friend Dandy Wellington. He’s a jack of many fabulous trades, was a stylist that I worked with at the time, and is now a bandleader, producer, performer, and jazz singer extraordinaire.
The fact that I was exposed to and not engulfed by these things, doesn’t mean that they didn’t affect me in some ways. I suddenly saw alcohol consumption, smoking, and sometimes drug use as a regular way of life, and unwittingly developed a skewed body image that has taken years of conscious effort to kick to the curb.
Long story short, I’ll tell you all that I finished High School early (right after turning 17) and promptly began volunteering at a rescue squad as a first responder. This led me to the career that is still close to my heart in many ways, as a 911 paramedic, tactical paramedic, and finally flight paramedic and educator. EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is a HARD career choice, and if you think otherwise, you’ve never actually done it. It’s rough on the mind, and most definitely the body. We also know far more graphically than most people what kind of effects alcoholism, addiction, and drunk driving can have on society, families, and individuals of all kinds.
I got into a rhythm of throwing myself into work all the time, acquiring new and interesting certifications, bumping up my resume before venturing on to more education, and not really taking care of my body or my mind. What did I do for fun? Once I was of age, I drank socially. Sometimes with brunch, sometimes over dinner, sometimes at a party, game night, or camping trip. Somehow the first thing that my coworkers and I wanted to do for “fun” or to “relax” after a shift of seeing families torn apart in mangled wrecks caused by drunk drivers or long time alcohol drinkers falling apart, was to go get a drink.
If that’s not a jacked up perspective and coping mechanism, I’m not really sure what is.
I continued on in this fashion for YEARS. I became known as the chick who was pretty badass, drank bourbon on the rocks, loved good beer, was a great shot (I still am, for you creepers out there), drove a really big truck, ate bacon like it was going out of style, and was headed to medical school. I worked my ass off and became the youngest female paramedic ever to be hired at my flight service, got the second ever perfect score on oral boards, and was promptly placed on the night shift.
For me, rock bottom with alcohol (and everything else) was night shift.
I’ll spare you a lot of the details, but there were many days that I got off at 0700 and felt compelled to either go out with coworkers and friends who also worked the night shift to drink, or went home and drank bourbon on the rocks in a bubble bath. At first, I wrote this off as the “normal” thing for night shifters, and justified it as part of life at this point since nearly every other peer and friend that I had was a drinker in some fashion.
I remember very vividly waking up one winter night at 6 pm, on a day off. I had accidentally slept my day away. All of my plans were gone, it was dusk, and I felt more alone and burned out than I ever had in my life. I gazed out the window at the naked trees and grey sky. I wept like a freaking baby, had a “nightcap” and then went back to sleep.
That’s what night shifters do, right?
At some point, I reached out to one of my most important mentors and dear friend Corey Pittman. He was the first person that I ever admitted being burnt out too. The response that I expected from someone with so much clout and experience in the EMS profession was some kind of motivational something. The response that I received was drastically different from what I expected, and just what I needed to hear. He told me to get out of EMS, and when I said that I had no clear view of what else I would do in the meantime, I received a message that said “sometimes no plan is the best plan”. He assured me that personal health, happiness, and fulfillment is more important than any job ever can be. True story, Corey.
I knew that leaving my job suddenly wasn’t an option for me, so I began making small lifestyle changes despite the ridicule of most of my peers. The first major one was a vegetarian, then vegan, lifestyle. I realized that the years spent allowing my life be filled to the brim by work, academia, and unfulfilling relationships had actually left me remarkably devoid of fun, joy, and excitement.
I walked into a local Muay Thai gym (which is now like another home to me), and began doing something I was so uncomfortable doing and pretty terrible at. Not because it looked good on a resume, because it would be impressive to my peers, or because I felt in some way socially obligated to do so. Because I liked learning something new, meeting new friends, and punching and kicking stuff (duh). Throughout these lifestyle changes, I noticed that I naturally began to drink less and less.
My friends began to change, my activities began to revolve around things other than social drinking and relaxing the only way I had ever really learned how. I made a drastic switch from one full-time job to another, which was day shift, but admittedly more toxic in terms of work environment than I had experienced in years.
That’s where I still worked last year, when I began this brand and business that is LivingWells, to promote the very wellness and lifestyle changes that I had witnessed make a huge impact in my own life and the lives of my family members.
For a while, I continued to get in the 12-hour shifts on my feet, get off late at night, work PRN at two other jobs, travel back and forth to Virginia to help care for a sick and dying grandfather, and run a business while training for Muay Thai fights. I knew that this wouldn’t be permanent, but had no idea of when I would take a big leap into self-employment and new chapters.
Finally, last summer after more and more workplace changes that were suboptimal, feeling stuck all over again, and thinking hard about it…I made the decision to leave the fuzzy comfort blanket that is a guaranteed paycheck and full benefits. I also made the decision to stop drinking completely, as the only time I did so was in a social setting out of a sense of obligation from those around me. When you start to take responsibility for all of your activities, and what you consume, the social obligation really isn’t enough anymore.
It wasn’t until I made the conscious decision and announcement to quit consuming alcohol, that I realized how big of a deal it would be to everyone besides me. How much everyone in my life who drank would scold me without even trying to, and act like I was the one making a weird decision. How central it actually is to the social lives of SO many people. How much those same people rely on alcohol to lighten their mood, loosen them up, and make “connections” with other people.
“When you start to take responsibility for all of your activities, and what you consume, the social obligation really isn’t enough anymore.”
Through putting my health and wellness first, and ditching alcohol, I narrowed down my circle of friends and calendar way more than I ever have before. I still continued to “go out” with friends if there was a birthday or occasion (tonic water and lime, please) and didn’t directly kick people out of my life.
It’s amazing how immediately uncomfortable loads of people in social settings get when you tell them you don’t drink, they ask “why”, and you reply with a simple “because I don’t want to”.
Since when is that not enough of a reason for anything and everything?
Since when can we not meet new people and laugh and smile without drinking a mood altering substance that our bodies essentially see as poison?
For some, being sober or just not being a drinker anymore may be a large source of anxiety when making new friends and dating. I personally made the decision to stick to my instincts, and realized that I would rather be single than with anyone who expected me to feel bad about my personal values; this goes for both veganism and not drinking.
Not only did this keep me away from what could have been foul and repetitive situations, it led me right up to the most loving, fulfilling, healthy relationship I’ve ever had in my life with someone who doesn’t drink and hasn’t for years.
These are two of the things about relationships to consider with the decision to cut out alcohol:
Be unapologetic and own your life choices You don’t have to apologize, make excuses, or explain yourself to anyone (unless you feel moved to in some way). The societal pressures of those around you actually have to do with them, not you.
It’s not actually a big deal Not drinking really isn’t a big deal. It doesn’t cost anyone money, kill their dog, slap their mother, or set their house on fire. If it is a big deal to someone around you, that’s on them. Furthermore, if they continue to pressure you and lack respect, they don’t really deserve space or time in the short amazing life that you have.
Will I ever drink again? I would suspect that the answer is along the same lines of my vegan diet.
Just like I won’t flip out if someone accidentally places dairy in my food, I won’t lose my mind if I for whatever reason imbibe alcohol again or have a craving for a nice glass of wine with dinner because of the taste.
Does this mean I’m not vegan and will start drinking again? No.
I’m ethically, socially, and personally inclined to eat the way I want to eat, and drink the way I want to drink. But I am still a human who learns, grows, and feels the freedom to change as slowly or rapidly as I want.
If you don’t think alcohol is too common, or think it may not be the most central thing to socialize, check out this poll that I took on my Instagram Story the other day out of nearly 2k followers.
In the best case scenario, this blog and my journey with alcohol, burnout, and wellness lead you to think about what you’re consuming.
Do you drink? Have you been able to break the cycle from alcohol, social drinking, or burnout? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
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