Path to Acceptance with Rebecca Riel
Written By: Rebecca Riel
My path to self-acceptance was long and littered with bottles.
I spent my young adult life striving for perfection on the outside while silently screaming on the inside. And by screaming, I mean trying to drown my perfectionism and anxiety by self-medicating with alcohol.
I was an overachiever in my youth. I played elite-level hockey until I was 19, and after a bad experience with an abusive coach, I quit.
I come from a great family, and I am extremely privileged, so this was the first real adversity I had ever faced in my life. I was depressed and lost. I decided to take some time off school, and I got a job at a local restaurant and bar.
This was one of those fun places to work where the staff were all friends and often enjoyed drinking and partying after work.
That’s when I discovered the answer to all my anxiety and depression—alcohol. I had my drinking under control for a long time. Being an athlete and a student kept it at bay, though if I am honest, I can’t think of a single time in my adult life where I said I would ‘just have one drink’ and followed through.
Once I started, it was hard for me to stop.
Something in my brain just loved how much alcohol quieted my anxiety.
This little habit caused me quite a bit of grief in my early twenties. There were blackouts, cravings, and significant warning signs of dependence, but I didn’t hit my bottom until I was 27.
I got a degree and functioned for the most part, but I was so sick inside—a constant cycle of guilt, shame, and trying to clean up my act. When I turned 25, shit hit the fan. I went through a bad breakup, my mom got sick, and I couldn’t cope with any of it.
I was living alone, so I started drinking to fall asleep at night and went to work every day either still drunk or super hungover. Nobody knew.
Somewhere along that path to self-destruction, my drinking went from being a choice to being necessary for baseline functioning. My body physiologically craved alcohol, or I would shake uncontrollably. You might be reading this thinking, wow, she has zero willpower, but anyone who has struggled with a substance use disorder understands there is a point where it is no longer a choice.
You want to stop more than anything. You tell yourself you’re going to do it, but it’s beyond that. That’s what addiction was for me. A cycle I couldn’t break—layers and layers of guilt, anxiety, and sickness.
On the outside, I kept it together. I was employed, generally functioning, and doing whatever I could to keep up the ruse that I was ok. But I was sick.
My bottom consisted of an ambulance ride to the hospital, which was, unfortunately, the wake-up call. I needed to understand that I could not do this alone. By some absolute miracle, the nurse who was helping look after me at the hospital was 30 years sober.
Her name was Leslie, and I swear she was a 6’5″ angel. She smiled at me and said, “I know you, and I know exactly what the problem is here because I was you.” I didn’t believe her because she looked so normal and happy. She said, “You need help, and I will introduce you to some people who can help you live a much more comfortable life.”
I went on medication for my anxiety, went to CBT group counseling, went to AA, and got involved in a community of people who struggled just like me.
To my surprise, none of them fit the mold of what I thought an alcoholic or addict would look like (but then again, neither did I). They took me in and gave me a soft place to land. They helped me realize that my situation is so, so, so common.
Alcohol does not discriminate, so if you are struggling or suspect you might be someone who could benefit from not drinking, reach out, get help, find a group of sober or sober curious people (There are even online communities for this now!).
Don’t wait for your own ambulance ride.
I’ve been sober for ten years, and though it’s not always easy, the last decade of my sobriety has been beautiful. I used to think I would lose so much if I quit drinking because it’s just so pervasive.
But for me, getting sober made room for wonderful and inspiring relationships. It made room for hobbies like meditating, yoga, running, hiking, and weaving (which has now become my full-time business).
Weaving, for me, is a form of art therapy, and it’s now something I love to teach and share with others. My social life never suffered, but it did become much more authentic because my relationships are now grounded in more than social drinking.
I met my husband, and we have two beautiful sons who will never know what it’s like to experience drunk or hungover parents.
Most importantly, though, it made room for self-acceptance and self-love.
It allowed me to learn how to be in my own head and not want to run away. That’s where the real work comes in – because whether it’s alcohol, drugs, eating, shopping, gambling, or any other vice – it’s all just a form of escape, and we need to do the work to learn how not to feel the need for escape.
We live in a world full of influencers offering up quick solutions for skincare, beauty, weight loss, etc., but the most important work you can ever do is from the inside out.
You can find Rebecca at:
If you are struggling with an addiction, help is a phone call away. Alcoholics Anonymous 24-hour 7 days a week confidential hotline 1.800.839.1686.
GET BETTER WITH AGE ISSUE TODAY!
FEATURING MARIA SHRIVER
This jam-packed issue is available in digital and print! Immediate access to digital, get your copy today!