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COLUMN: Celebrating 3 years sober

Columnist Cynthia Breadners shares her struggles with mental health and her journey to sobriety
Cynthia Breadner.

Bell Let’s Talk day…. For your mental health, you can borrow these affirmations on this day of focus on your mental health.  Today is a day to listen as those who are vulnerable talk. 

“I have come a long way

I have made impressive strides

I will continue to raise the bar as I meet my own expectations and love doing so

I celebrate each and every success along the way

I love myself and know I am enough”

These are my affirmations that I know to be true.  However, just this week, one email sent me into a tailspin as it hurt me so deeply and took me back to that place where I believed I was unworthy, lacking in importance and never enough.  I struggled for about a nanosecond because I now have the tools to keep this downward spiral at bay.  I am stronger and I now realize I am enough.  #bellletstalk

This week I celebrate three years alcohol-free. I cannot believe it. I always dreamed of this time, wondering if I would ever be able to let go of alcohol. It was my friend, soothed me and kept me from feeling lonely. I buried myself in it for over 35 years. I remember things from my past, details which give me a timeline to how long I suffered from knowing I drank too much alcohol. It was my nemesis in so many ways and I have memories I visit and must forgive myself. 

On Jan. 30 it will be three years. It was a Monday, that I drank for the last time and then on the Tuesday, I went to a meeting. I met some great people. Some with 35 years of sobriety, some with 20, 15 and nine months. I remember being envious of the person who got their nine-month chip because I wanted to be rid of this crutch and this stimulant in my life and seemed to always fail at stopping. I attended meetings for a while, however, I found my way in my own way, using the tools they offered and more.  This “last time” turned into the “last time” because I asked for help, reached out, and looked at myself in the mirror and admitted I wanted to change.

My mental health was so fragile.  I did not realize it at the time because I was deep in my own brokenness.  I was feeling shame and fear that I would be found out.  My position as a spiritual care provider was front and foremost and I hid my drinking so well I lived every day in fear.  Imposter syndrome.  How I know I hid my broken mental health and my alcoholism so well is because when I talk with people now after three years of sobriety, I am told often “Wow, really!  I never knew!  You were so confident and never showed anything!”  In hindsight, I can see how I was hungry to have help and yet being so good at hiding it no one knew or was able to help me.  I needed to help myself.  I did not know how to ask and living in seclusion seemed to be easier.  I struck bottom in 2013 when the contemplation of suicide was formed into a plan and action.  It was then the long journey (2013 – sobriety 2018) began.  Each day I got better and each day I peeled back a layer of my onion, very much alone.  It wasn’t until I began to share my story that I could truly heal.

In the spiritual care work I do, I work with those not knowing where they are in their journey.  Coping is learned, finding tools that help comes from our own choice to seek help.  That said, reaching out takes such a degree of courage and vulnerability it can be overwhelming right from the start.

FAIL is "First Attempt In Learning" .... each time I said I was going to stop drinking,  I would use a new strategy and it taught me something! It got me closer to my goal of letting it go fully.  Even though I wanted to let go of drinking completely, it took me years to finally be able to have that day of my last drink.  The term is “falling off the wagon” and while I fell often, I knew each time I had not fallen as far.  I knew “why” I wanted to let it go, it was the “how” and the journey I needed help with.  That is where help comes from!  As I looked to the hills, out walked some great helpers!  Communication and community are both healthy tools for healing yourself.   That said, I needed to talk to myself and build a strong community with my own spirit first while reaching out for help.  Then came the community I trusted.  

FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real was the first learning for me.  I needed to truly look at my own fears and where they were coming from.  I needed to address what was stuck and shed light on where alcohol had its hold on me.  What prompted me to reach for a drink each day?  Part was habit, part was cover-up and part was loneliness and deep sadness.  My own self-doubt was the biggest grief I suffered.  Deeply embedded limiting beliefs and statements telling me who I was and the limited environment in which I was raised.  This was the benchmark, the bar, by which I measured my life.  Once I was honest with myself and courageous enough to question my own limiting beliefs, I was on the road to recovery.  I hold no malice or grudge for my past. I had a wonderful childhood in a loving and happy home.  That does not mean there are no limiting beliefs handed down that cause my life today to be less than it should be. 

I have been even more grateful for my hard work over this past year.  I have been wondering how I would have ever coped with the pandemic as I am certain I would have been drinking so much more. It was being out and about and going to work and socializing at functions that kept me as dry as I was, and I still managed to drink 10 bottles of wine a week.  When I realized I was cracking into my third four-litre box of wine each week it had a profound impact.  I had stopped buying wine by the bottle because the evidence, (the empties), was more than I could stand.  The box could be broken down and folded in on itself and hid in the recycling bin, whereas the bottles stood like soldiers as they waited to be returned for money.  I began to take two or three in the car with me and disposing of them here and there, so I didn’t have so many around my home.  I had become reclusive even without a need for social distancing in order to be able to drink. I would take wine and club soda in my to-go cup when I went places thinking no one would know. My kids were distanced from me in a way I was unaware of. Only through my sobriety have I witnessed the full mother experience. Our vices, habits and choices influence our relationships. 

Children love us unconditionally and cope with a parent that drinks and they change to accommodate the habit, disease and destruction. I now, after three years, have the full parent experience. It's amazing! And on top of that, I am allowed the full grandparent experience because, kid yourself not,  your children monitor your time with the grandkids without overtly making it known.

If you are struggling and need to talk, admitting you suffer and want to stop is a major step. When you say it out loud to another person it changes the energy and gives you space where strength and courage can come in. Then you begin ... one day at a time. "I survived today. Tomorrow I will be free." Dr. Edith Edgar - Holocaust survivor. Now as an alcohol survivor and after my own near-death experience this is my motto. Talking and soothing the inner critic, finding your hot spot that the alcohol numbs will heal you and help you let it go. That is the key, let it go. 

“Will Power” is not a superhero .... and by itself does not work.  Reach out today on this day, #bellletstalk day and begin the journey.  Blessings and joy will be yours!

Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist and bereavement counsellor, a soul care worker and offers specialized care in Applied Metapsychology with special attention to trauma resolution.  She volunteers at hospice, works as a LTC chaplain and is a death doula, assisting with end-of-life care for client and family.  She is the mother part of the #DanCynAdventures duo and practices fitness, health and wellness.  She is available remotely by safe and secure video connections, if you have any questions contact her today!