My Relationship with Booze, Partying and How I Broke the Cycle / by lee tilghman

Before I get into it, I want to point out this post covers my personal experience with alcohol and addictive tendencies. I am not a medical professional. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or drugs, professional help matters. The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Association has a 24/7 hotline to speak with a medical professional at any time of day, free of charge. Go to https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. Don't wait until it's too late.


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I'd love to say I've been steaming zucchinis and waking up at the crack of dawn for hikes my whole life, but that's just not how life goes. Alcohol is something I’ve struggled with for more or less of my 20’s. From drinking too much of it, feeling pressured to engage with it, watching family members abuse it, to letting it almost take over my life, alcohol is something I have great respect for, but for now, choose not to engage with. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with partying or enjoying oneself. But when you struggle with addiction and are trying to fill a void with it, partying can turn from a fun social outlet to a downward spiral, and this is my story. 

Background

I wasn’t a huge drinker in my youth like most kids in my high school were. I come from a town where underage drinking, DUI's and substance abuse are rampant. I can name a few kids in my high school who were given DUI's before they even graduated high school. The appeal of booze to kids is fun. It makes you feel like an adult, social, and helps you forget about life for a few hours. But quite frankly, I personally was too afraid of the calories and too busy struggling with my eating disorder to really care much about it.

I remember when my parents picked me up from my inpatient eating disorder clinic in 2008. I had just spent 4 months straight in the hands of doctors and therapists, doing everything I could to heal my eating disorder, when I was finally healed enough* to be discharged. 

*I didn’t actually heal my eating disorder in 4 months. A long grown habit of self hate and control is kind of hard to break in just 4 months, but I digress...

    I said my lighthearted, optimistic goodbyes to the staff and other patients.  My therapist, Rosie, who I had formed such a special relationship with, came over and looked both of my parents in the eye. “Make sure you monitor her drug and alcohol use. I see about half of my patients switch between eating disorder issues to alcohol and substance abuse.” It was almost comical how she said such a bold, weighted statement in such a casual, nonchalant way. I rolled my eyes and hugged Rosie goodbye, thanking her for all that she had done. 

10 years later, I realize how right she was. 

My parents didn’t have much to worry about at first: after getting out of treatment I was an angel. I drank here and there in college but it was never really an issue. I didn’t really get into alcohol until after college when I moved to New York City in 2012.    

The drinking begins

 The summer after college graduation, 2012. 

The summer after college graduation, 2012. 

In NYC, I was working in the finance world where going out for drinks with coworkers was almost part of the job itself. Around this time, I started dating someone, a huge music lover. We went to a lot of live shows. Living in NYC at age 23, the city was just one big playground to me. There was always another party, gallery opening, concert, or new restaurant to check out. It was a very surreal time in my life, mainly because I didn’t care much for the consequences of my actions. I was living the life! Or so I thought. 

Showing up slightly hungover at work was normal for me. A big cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts would always do the trick. I’d struggle through lunch and think to myself, “Never again am I going out” and then once my hangover subsided by 4pm, the group texts would roll in.

“What r u doing tonite? Want to go to this show?”

I’d always cave in. 

There was something super addicting about going out to me. It wasn’t that I would black out and forget my name (I usually kept it together), but it just felt good to be young and crazy.  Dancing in a nightclub with all my friends and boyfriend at the time was an excellent use of my time. And man, did we have fun. Some of those nights I laughed so hard I’d pee myself.. no joke.

In hindsight, going out was slowly becoming another way for me to numb the same “stuff” I had been trying to numb during my eating disordered days. These uncomfortable feelings inside me were feelings I was just not ready nor willing to face. Going out was much more fun than facing them. I loved the feeling of buying a new outfit, getting ready with some music, pre-drinking with friends and then showing up at a bar or club and dancing until dawn. It was all fun and games for me until I broke up with that boyfriend that things began to spiral downwards. 

toxic relationship + alcohol = the perfect storm

The boyfriend I mentioned above and I had been toxic together. The relationship was emotionally turbulent and abusive. Manipulation, shaming, and humiliation were an everyday part of our relationship. Our love was built upon jealousy and possession rather than compassion and wholeheartedness. I believed his words when he said, “without me, you would be nothing.”

When it came to the point of my friends and family intervening our relationship for my concern, getting out of that relationship felt like I was diving off a cliff into a black hole of the unknown. He had used his words to beat me down to nothingness, and it worked. I was so far down that it was hard for me to see just how toxic the relationship was. It was not a clean break up. After we finally broke it off for good, I had to fill my void with something else, anything else to keep my mind off things. And that became going out. My little partying habit became more than just something to do on the weekends: it now was a lifestyle.

 I quickly became addicted to going out, hitting the town about 5 or 6 nights a week. That summer, I attended over 7 music festivals in a 3 month span. It was partly for my job (by this time I was in hospitality) but mostly it was just to keep me busy so I didn't have to think. My never-ending social schedule filled with drinking, late nights, and meeting new people covered up any negative feelings I had about myself. The partying got more intense and the drinking became a part of my everyday life.  I drank to get drunk, to loosen up, to forget, to let go. I also began experimenting with different drugs to further forget about life.

My decision making skills started to spiral. I made many decisions I am not proud of. From leaving the club with little more than strangers to taking drinks from people I barely knew, I just didn’t care. As long as I was going out and having a good time, it was fine to me. I was young and naive. 

I lost touch with my close, real, “non party” friends. I noticed some of my party friends go down the path of addiction. Their appearance and motives changed. No longer was it about going out and having fun, but about getting “f*cked up”. and I was hanging out with them. What did this make me? How far behind them actually was I? This was around the time my inner alarm system began to go off. 

Rock Bottom

 October 2014 at a warehouse party in Brooklyn..one of my last times "going out". Looking happy, but feeling lost.

October 2014 at a warehouse party in Brooklyn..one of my last times "going out". Looking happy, but feeling lost.

Emotionally, I was getting more depressed and losing control of myself. The “high” I got from going out was getting harder and harder to chase, and the effects of the drugs, alcohol, and late nights were starting to take a major toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing.  I was numb. Close friends expressed concern for me. One night, I got so "f*cked up" on alcohol and a few other substances in a club in New York City a few people came up to me while I sat on the couch, nodding off. They asked if I was alright. Consciously I was awake, but I must have looked very out of it. That scared the living crap out of me.

I didn’t realize how far down I was until I physically removed myself from the partying scene one weekend.

On Labor Day weekend that year, I decided to get out of the city with one of my closest friends.

I vividly remember sitting on that Long Island Railroad out to Montauk, staring out the window when the feeling that I had been trying to escape for so long set in: a dark massive void of emptiness, but also a very strong connection to my true self.

 One of my first "smoothie bowl" pictures from September 2014. 

One of my first "smoothie bowl" pictures from September 2014. 

It had been my first time without booze in months, and suddenly, I was alone with my thoughts and without a party to distract myself with. I felt betrayed by myself. My dreams, goals and aspirations were being trampled by booze, drugs, partying, and men. And I was letting it all happen. This was my rock bottom. 

I knew I had potential to do something fulfilling with my life (move to LA, do something with food) and this partying cycle was endless and frankly, getting me absolutely nowhere.

I thought back to the time when I came to grips with my eating disorder and knew the only way for me to get the change I wanted was if I myself changed. 

Drinking was like this glass ceiling I couldn't surpass. In that moment, I realized alcohol would need to be cut from my life if I wanted to achieve the things I wanted to achieve. 

When I returned back to NYC after that weekend away, I made some pretty enormous changes. I researched and joined a run club called Bridgerunners. I signed up for a half marathon. I stopped going out so much.  I had always been on-and-off with my relationship with my health, and knew how good I could feel if I gave it my all, so I decided to put more energy into my health journey. I started posting healthy food photos on my Instagram account as a way to share the recipes I was creating for myself. THIS is how LFA was born.  

And 5 months later, I left NYC and moved to LA to follow my dreams. 

My last few months of NYC had been spent mostly sober. I felt better and saved money for my move. Leaving New York City was like saying goodbye to old Lee. It was my way of establishing new boundaries and giving myself a second chance at life. But it wasn't all fun and games: I slipped up a bunch of times on my road to "recovery from partying". Moving across the country does not make your problems go away. Your problems follow you everywhere and the longer you ignore them the louder they get.

on a new path

I didn’t really know many people in my new city. Coming from NYC, I was eager to make new friends, but the only way I knew how to do that was by getting drinks with people, because that's what people do, right? At this point in my life, I was really wanting to cut alcohol out to heal my body and mind SO BADLY (this is around the time of my PCOS coming on strong), but I was having trouble adjusting to the social norms around alcohol and learning to say "no". 

The first few months of living in LA were dark and lonely. I had no friends, I wasn't passionate about my first job, and I felt lost and alone. Not to mention, I was not drinking and LA is much quieter than New York, so the silence really fell on me. I knew I was on the right path, working to heal my body, mind, and soul, but it was not easy. I was doing more yoga, eating more healthy, and searching for more meaningful friendships with people who also wanted to live a healthy life. But I stumbled.

One day, I headed over to the beach to meet a friend who was in town from NYC and some of her LA friends. I was excited at the prospect of making new friends. They were hanging out day drinking at a bar. I knew I didn't want to drink. When I showed up, they were all drinking mimosas. My heart started pounding through my chest and I had a moment of clarity. Why was I here? If I was trying to escape this old life of spending my days drinking, why was I surrounding myself with people who did that? It didn't make sense. 

They asked if I wanted to drink. I hesitated for a second, and then said no. And I felt left out. Everyone was loud, having a good time, laughing, smoking cigarettes and taking pictures. It was in this moment that I realized this life was very behind me, and I needed to make an effort to make new friends with people who saw more eye-to-eye with me. 

I even attended a few AA meetings when I first moved to Los Angeles 3 years ago, but I never really connected with them. 

As time went on, I got better at saying "no". I noticed that if I'd cave and have a drink, I'd actually end up feeling much worse about myself than if I had just stood my ground and said no. Not least because I was engaging in alcohol, but because I wasn't listening my own needs. I was projecting that I'd be making other people feel uncomfortable if I didn't drink. 

drinking just because other people were drinking lowered my sense of confidence and self esteem. surprisingly enough, saying "no" when i did not want to drink made me a feel stronger, more empowered, and true to myself. 

I never liked how alcohol was one of those things people need to always have a "buddy" to do it with. If you go to a bar with a friend and they order a beer and you get a water, people may get uncomfortable with that. It's not like if you go out to eat with a friend and they get a taco and you get pizza, they'd be weird about that. It's understood in society that people have different preferences when it comes to food. So what is it about alcohol that makes people so uncomfortable when they have to do it alone? Something to ponder. 

Making New Friends

As we know, we are social humans and we can't go through life alone. When one is transitioning from the party phase into a new phase of life, one of the most challenging aspects can be finding new friends and forming new connections with people who hold the same interests as you. It's kind of like the first day of elementary school all over again.  Wherever you live, there will be an alcohol and party scene. But what I also learned that if you search in the right places, you will discover many other scenes and communities to be apart of. They key is hanging out and engaging in activities you'd want your ideal friends to also be interested in! Sure, living in Southern California helps: its nice here all year long, the green juice flows like water and there are hikes across the city. But that didn’t make it 100% easy to make a new community! As mentioned above, I slipped up and drank when I didn’t actually want to, but felt like I had to, just because I wanted new friends. But with time, I made new friends who held the interests and hobbies. Their lives are full of hope and passion, and not just about the next time they’d get a drink. 

Things I did to make new friends:


AT WORK I started waiting tables at a local restaurant to help supplement my income as a new blogger. It was a great place to start and get an "in" into different circles. Whether it's a smoothie bar, boutique fitness studio, cafe or library, working and making friends at a place where you feel comfortable is a great place to start. 

IN COMMUNITY With this supplemental income from waitressing, I was able to join a local yoga studio and made friends through that safe space. I am a huge proponent for building friendships this way. The great thing about making friends through yoga/fitness studios/gyms is that you already have a bunch of things in common: you probably live in the same area, you both enjoy yoga and feeling good, and you most likely want to improve your life and take care of your body. Those are some solid foundations for friendship, if you ask me!


ON THE INTERNET I’ve made a handful of close friends through Instagram. Trying to be healthy and break off from drinking can be scary and hard because it can seem very isolating. Instagram is a great way to discover local people in your area who have similar interests. I even met a boyfriend online once! Of course, use your better judgement with meeting people from the internet. If something feels fishy or off, notice and honor it. I’ve thankfully never had any issues with it and won't let a few creeps online to ruin the opportunity of making some really solid friendships through it. 

REMOVE YOURSELF This was perhaps one of the hardest things, but over time, I HAD to separate myself from my party friends. I’m not saying that you should go out and ditch all the people you know and start living on a mountain in Tibet, but the truth is that we need people who uplift and support us to get through life. And when you do remove yourself, you don't have to be rude or mean about it. I let my party friends know that I was putting my energy elsewhere: my business and myself. You can be transparent and let them know you are trying not to drink as much anymore. It has nothing to do with them and you can absolutely engage in other non-drinking activities with them if you or they are still interested. If you are trying to break the party/drinking cycle and all the people you hang out with have no desire to escape it, it’s gonna be hard for you to make any progress. Be easy on yourself, and get honest. If you know you are about to enter a possibly toxic/triggering situation, just know that! 

A few notes on alcohol and dating…

Whether you are sober, just not a drinker, It can be be hard to communicate this to a new partner. I know for me, when I was going on dates and still struggling with my confidence and ownership over not being a big drinker, it would be a huge source of anxiety. Not anymore! Below are some tips I used for learning how to step into my choices, and my power. 

OWN IT You know yourself the best. Nobody else can make your decisions or life choices for you. If you know you don’t enjoy alcohol, simply own it. Why wouldn't you? Don’t apologize, make excuses, or try to explain yourself (that is of course you are engaged in a safe consensual discussion about it). The “pressures” we feel from peers are reflections of other people and have nothing to do with you.

MAKE IT LIGHT-HEARTED Shed some laughter and playfulness onto the situation. It doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. The energy you create around something is the weight it will carry. Crack a joke, make fun of yourself. “I’m a grandma, I don’t drink and I go to bed at 9pm. Love me or leave me”. 

IN REALITY IT’S REALLY NOT THAT BIG A DEAL. Of course, if you struggled with alcoholism and that is a huge part of your life, it may be a big deal that you don't drink and you should state so. However, if you’re trying to cut down or just aren’t a big drinker, oftentimes we make a bigger deal out if it than it actually is. It goes the same for when we feel so self conscious about our looks, when in reality nobody really cares because everyone is concerned with their own looks. All of our problems are magnified for us because we’re the main star in our own movies. Once I understood that

so where do i stand with booze now?

As I put that old Lee to sleep, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit ashamed of my dark past. As I got more into the world world I started holding onto these beliefs that any darkness, even a dark past of drinking, meant that I was not truly healthy or "pure" or whatever.  Now, I see it's all part of the journey, its all part of my story, and I have no regrets.

Will I ever drink again? I consider myself "sober curious". The last time I had a drink was January 4, 2018. Up until now, I drank on very few occasions. Maybe one day I'll call myself truly sober. I may want a glass of champagne on my wedding day, but I'm not betting on it, and below are the reasons why. 

Hangovers= cloudy mind Ever had a hangover? Then you know what it feels like to wake up feeling like you got hit by a truck. Sure, a fun night out with friends is great, but is it really worth it when the entire following day is wasted? When I was struggling with partying, my hangovers rendered me pretty much useless in bed watching Netflix all day, dreaming about my aspirations but certainly not doing anything about them. 

I don’t need booze to feel loosened up, I want to be myself. There was a point in my life when I turned to booze to feel loose, funny, confident, and sexy. But as I abstained from drinking, I started going on a “inner-journey” as one might call it. I was no longer abusing alcohol or drugs to feel good, instead I was feeling good just by being….well, me! This gave me the confidence to really show myself and know that I didnt need a drink in me to approach someone or feel relaxed. I have my own toolbox kit that I practice and none of them require a shot of tequila. 

Health: It’s no surprise that booze is a toxin. Alcohol severely dehydrates your body. It can cause inflammation and over stress your liver. It can affect blood sugar levels by effecting the functioning of your pancreas. It also effects your central nervous system, immune system, digestive system and your mood.

Addictive tendencies: By this point, I know myself pretty well, and I know I have an addictive personality. There are many different "theories" of addictive people, and though I'm not an expert, I know I'm an addictive person. Addiction runs in my family, and many believe "addictive personalities" are highly genetic, either by nature or nurture. At first it was an eating disorder, followed by toxic relationships, cigarettes, partying, then exercise. That's right, you can even get addicted to health and wellness and obsess over it (it's called orthorexia!). At this point, I am well aware of my behavior and that has been key for me to not take things...ANY things, out of hand. Just knowing I have the tendency has been life-changing for me in staying SUPER honest with myself.

getting help

I've been in and out of therapy for 10 years and love it so much. A trained professional is ideal for helping one recognize and change a destructive behavior. A support system is also vital. We can't do this all alone! Though in my story I never went through a 12-step program or in patient center for alcoholism, doesn't mean you should not. I was lucky to be able to pull myself out of it, but there is not shame in asking for help. 

Do you drink? Have you been able to break the cycle from booze and partying to a healthier lifestyle? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section.