How Losing the Booze Can Help Numb the Pain

Pain, according to Merriam-Webster:Pain and Guilt

  • The physical feeling caused by disease, injury, or something that hurts the body
  • Mental or emotional suffering
  • Sadness caused by some emotional or mental problem
  • Someone or something that causes trouble or makes you feel annoyed or angry

I used to drink to deal with pain. All kinds of pain. Physical. Emotional. Perceived. Stress-induced.

Now that I don’t drink, there’s no way to hide from pain. Luckily, surgery last fall eliminated my biggest (and really my only) physical pain. But, emotional pain? It’s a bully. It’s the kid who tries to tell all the other kids not to be friends with you. And you have two choices: Accept it and walk away knowing you will have to keep feeling it; or face it head on and tell it exactly how you feel and where it can go.

I want to take the head on route. Truly. But, I don’t do a very good job of purposely going to painful places. That’s an understatement. I completely suck at approaching anything that might remotely conjure up feelings of sadness, grief, or anger. Even when it could help someone else feel better. And, without the crutch of alcohol? Well, forget it.

Case in point. My cousin’s birthday was Sunday. Father’s Day. A week and two days since her father passed away. I didn’t forget. In fact it was on my mind most of the day. Yet, I didn’t call. I didn’t text. That night at 9:30, I finally posted one of my favorite photos of her along with a birthday wish to her Facebook page. I’m a chicken. I didn’t want to get sad about her dad/my uncle so I didn’t do anything to make her happy. Who does that?! So selfish. Disgusting.

I don’t know why I do this. Maybe I’m worried I won’t say the right thing. What if she’s happy and my call makes her sad? What if she’s already sad and I can’t cheer her up?

The kids and I went to see Inside Out last Friday, so I might be over-analyzing things. Maybe just a smidge. But, I am trying to get inside my own head and work on this. I desperately want to better equip myself to handle pain.

Right now, I am stuck between accepting the pain, which I used to do by drinking to numb it, and confronting it. But, I think I just learned a huge lesson. One that wouldn’t have had the same impact had I not been sober.

Wednesday night my cousin whose birthday I basically blew off called to wish my husband a happy birthday. She doesn’t have his cell number, so she face timed me. It was 9:30 and my cell was on the charger in the other room. I wasn’t going to budge. Luckily, the call came through on my iPad which I was holding in my hand.

I answered and was so thrilled to see my cousin’s face and hear her voice. She’s doing great. The conversation was light and easy and completely the opposite of painful. We smiled and giggled.

I apologized for the half-assed birthday wish I sent her and promised I wouldn’t crap out on her again. I stink at birthdays anyway (yes, even with how easy Facebook and texting make it). Perhaps it’s because I know a card in the mail or a phone call is what I should really be doing? But the “wrong” wish is still better than no wish.

Regardless of why I can’t manage to deliver a proper birthday wish, what I learned is that guilt hurts much more than pain. So very much more. Guilt is mine alone and I have to own it. No one can take it away. The guilt I feel for not calling my cousin on her birthday really stings. A lot. I hate it far more than the perceived potential pain of wishing her a happy birthday over the phone or — hello, 2015 — via Face Time.

I avoided something I thought might be painful for me and ended up hurting more than I imagined. Good lesson. The kind I beg my brain not to forget — thanks to sobriety, at least the brain cells are dying at a slower rate.

After we hung up with my cousin, my husband said, “That capped a great birthday. What a perfect ending.” Those words have stuck with me. Her gesture, as difficult as it might have been for her, touched his heart. Deeply. And, mine, too.

This morning, I called my aunt. At my uncle’s funeral, I told her I was going to bug her. She asked for a few days. It had been a week. It was time. It’s my uncle’s 59th birthday today, his first in Heaven. I had the opportunity to weasel out of making the call. My husband had something he needed to talk about with my aunt. I asked him to let me add it to my conversation, or at least let me go first.

Give me physical pain any day. In the past year I’ve learned to handle it without alcohol or drugs. But emotional pain? Forget it. I cave. Run the other way. Squeeze my eyes shut. No peeking.

But, I made the call. And it felt good. Hearing my aunt’s voice was wonderful. We even talked a little about my family’s upcoming trip to Disney, her favorite place to go with my uncle and cousins.

I’m not sure what my new pain management tool will be, but I already feel like I’m going to be better at this than I ever thought I could be. Once again, I find I am stronger and more powerful than I give myself credit for. I’m tucking away this feeling for the next time I need it. Had I been drowning in alcohol, I never would have arrived in this curiously comfortable place. It’s almost … snuggly.

I’ll get you, pain. And, as a bonus, I’ll take down guilt in the process.

As for other feelings? I guess it’s just going to take time. I have a lot of emotions I don’t want to face. My 11-year-old son heads to sleep away camp for the first time on Sunday. My response the other night when my husband brought it up?

“I really don’t want to go there right now because I can’t decide how I feel about it and I am afraid of how I might feel about it so I am just going to ignore it.”

“Ah, denial,” replied my husband.

“Yup. It’s what I’m good at.”


  1. Bahahaha! That’s good Emily..I can’t tell you how much I get this. As for the camp, my son was 11 when he went to Spacecamp for a whole week by himself. Omg, I had such fear about it, and it was my ex that planned it. Turned out it was the best trip of his life and the worry was all for nothing, but you certainly couldn’t have convinced me then. Oh the trials & tribulations of life. He’s 31 now, & STILL remembers that trip.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Patti – you’re the best! I know camp will be fine. He’s rooming with his cousin and they are the best of friends. It’s just crazy. He’ll be almost four hours away. Leaves tomorrow. ❤️

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