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Gifts, Grace & Gratitude of 500 Days.

Nov 22, 2023

*I am not a licensed substance use, addiction, or recovery clinician, therapist, or counselor. This blog is not meant to provide, or take the place of, professional help. It is an individual lived experience and opinion only. Treatment resources and referrals in your area are available through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline 24/7/365 at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or text 988 if you are in immediate crisis.*

Today I am celebrating five hundred days of freedom.

Five hundred days without a drop of alcohol. Five hundred days without a highly addictive and toxic coping-mechanism. Five hundred days without a trusted routine or societal crutch.

Five hundred days without anxiety and exhaustion. Five hundred days without devoting any energy to the myth of moderation. Five hundred days without being blind to the lies women are being sold.

Five hundred days with a clear mind. Five hundred days of being present. Five hundred days of finding harmony in surrender.

Designing and living an alcohol-free life isn’t something I intended to do. It’s something many people can’t or don’t picture for themselves. I certainly didn’t. Until a period of reckoning and learning found me.

I am not writing to share a salacious rock bottom, or dramatic day one. I’m not writing to share how I coped with a year of first holidays, celebrations, events, dinners, evenings, struggles, devastations, loss, and disappointments without alcohol.

While there is meaning in each of those stories and every person's individual journey, I’ve found that beauty in the ordinary, in the simplicity of observations and lessons learned, are equally as powerful. 

This is an open letter of gratitude to those who inspired my journey from a distance. It could not be coming at a more appropriate time. I am reaching 500 days alcohol-free during the National Gratitude Month of November, one day before Thanksgiving, and two days before my 43rd birthday. These extraordinary individuals have no idea who I am and probably never will. Yet, their influence is life-altering.

In honor of them, and in celebration of this milestone, I am sharing what I’ve learned on this journey in an effort to help someone else. Even if it’s just one person. Even if it’s just one seed planted. Even if it’s just one glimmer of support offered. I founded Michael Macrae LLC this year because I believe so strongly in the power of mentorship. Mentoring can take many different forms, and sharing a personal experience is just one of them.

While I have gained as many insights as my number of days alcohol-free, these five truths represent the gifts, grace, and gratitude I’ve found in “The 500.”

Truth #1: Life without alcohol is so. much. easier.

I feel better. I look better. I AM a better version of myself. There’s no denying it. I can see it, touch it, experience it. This might seem simple, but feeling my best, looking my best, and being my best always eluded me when wine was in my glass. I might have nailed one or two, but achieving all three simultaneously was out of the question.

There are many reasons for that. First and foremost being that alcohol, i.e. ethanol, is a toxic substance that has toxic effects on your body, mind, and spirit. The toll it takes is steep.

The anxiety, or “hangxiety” many experience, the sleep disruption, the guilt and shame, the hiding or lying, the constant self-doubt and questioning, the avoidance, the numbing, the energy expended trying to moderate a highly addictive substance…all of it.

These very real feelings, emotions, and experiences compound the already difficult things we face in life every day – parenting, care-taking, providing, working, surviving. The 500 demonstrated this fact in ways I would not have thought possible.

During The 500, I experienced death, job loss, rejection, ovarian cancer, radical surgery, early and instantaneous menopause, launching a business, just to name a few of my earth-shattering life events. If alcohol had been in my life the way it was prior to The 500, each of these already soul-crushingly stressful challenges would have been coupled with its toxic effects.

I would not have survived it. Instead, I’m grateful today to be thriving despite the obstacles. Many look at my choices as extreme – a vegan lifestyle, free of alcohol and caffeine, eliminating toxic household and body care products, with an unwavering focus on harmony. None of this would have been possible without the hurdles in my path or without The 500.

Thank you to Clare Pooley for sharing your story which became a road map for so many that battled unimaginable challenges as you did in your first year of sobriety.

Thank you to Catherine Gray for showing us the beauty in sobriety, in the ordinary, and living in each of us.

Thank you to Suzanne Warye for showing us that motherhood is easier without alcohol, and that “rock bottom” doesn’t have to happen for us to question whether alcohol is serving us. 

Thank you to Sarah Hepola for refusing to forget, and reminding us that we can come back from the depths.

Truth #2: You aren’t You with alcohol.

Alcohol changes who you are. Without it, you can actually be, feel, and have your true, authentic self. You’ll begin to make choices consistent with your purpose and values, and you’ll stop making choices that sacrifice those things. You’ll respond to life and the people in it differently. You’ll show up as you – not as a version of you shaped by others and a toxic substance.

Before The 500, I didn’t know I was being lied to. I didn’t see “mommy wine culture” for what it was – a successful strategy to sell me a life I don’t want. For a mother that works outside of the home, in my case. I didn’t think I could make a choice to do something different than what workplace hustle culture told me was necessary to be successful. Sacrifice everything, show no weakness, keep up with everyone else, and burn the candle at both ends. Which included real evidence of what research has already proven – the more that people have to control negative emotions at work, the less they can control alcohol intake after work.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Alcohol has infiltrated every single crevasse of our world inside and outside of the office. Children’s birthday parties, movie theaters, coffee shops, salons, community events, weekend athletic events, yoga studios and "health" clubs, even simple traditions like trick-or-treating.

When I removed alcohol, the veil of lies came crashing down. It’s like I was blind and was suddenly given sight. I could see that I was surrounded with the expectation and opportunity to imbibe anywhere, everywhere, and anytime. We, especially mothers, are told that our lives are so hard to live that we need to escape with “mommy juice”, and that it’s perfectly normal to drink “rosé all day."

Not accepting this lie being perpetuated by big business, marketers, and influencers is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Alcohol is the only drug that has become so incredibly engrained that it’s seen as strange and off-putting to others if you do not partake. “Why aren’t you drinking? Something must be wrong. You can have one, come on!"

No other substance is given this much energy, focus, and expectation. If a group of parents show up to a child's sporting event on a Saturday morning with a thermos of mimosas, everyone pours a glass with ease, and gradually becomes less and less present. If we showed up with an equally as harmful and potent substance to create a similar numbing effect, nobody would say, “why aren’t you taking this elicit drug today??”

Naturally, when we no longer accept the lie and start saying no, our relationships can change. When you embrace the person you truly are, instead of the person others want you to be, the change will be so jarring that some people will walk away. And that’s ok. It’s ok to change. You don’t have to continue being the person that you’ve been.

The 500 has brought me so much hope and encouragement. I order mocktails in restaurants with ease. I see the sober curious movement exploding. We have the younger generation to thank for that. And these courageous women.

Thank you to Holly Whitaker for the shocking jolt you gave to generations of women blindly accepting the lies we’re sold and told. The connection between workplace culture and alcohol use reshaped our thinking.

Thank you to Bryony Gordon for unapologetically showing us your true self in all of your glory, and giving us the space to do the same.

Thank you to Celeste Yvonne for acknowledging the mental load mothers carry, shining a light on expectations that are not our own, and blazing a new trail for us and with us. 

Truth #3: HOW you arrived at this place is less important than WHY you’re here. 

It’s a cycle. People are searching for comfort, relief, and numbing. They turn to an addictive substance like alcohol. It provides those things for a while. Soon it becomes a habit, even an addiction, and offers the medicinal qualities we seek for a shorter and shorter time period. It’s not long before we need more and more to get the same result. We spend the rest of an evening or lifetime chasing something that will always be out of our grasp.

The cycle can feel overwhelming to break when we don’t understand why we’re in it. Once alcohol is removed, the “why” becomes clearer. As difficult as that might be to face. We then are able to see if it’s the habit of pouring that nightly glass at the end of a long day that we’re addicted to, the substance itself, or both.

This also opens the door to the true inner work of releasing ourselves from the grip of this cycle. Everyone’s reason for entering the cycle, usually unknowingly, staying in the cycle, acknowledging it, and seeking to understand it, is different. But with a mind-altering substance present, it’s nearly impossible to see another way. To see what’s on the other side.

The 500 taught me about breaking the habits rooted in the “how” and embracing the exploration of the “why."

Thank you to Annie Grace for opening our eyes and minds to a better way, changing our brains, and giving us the freedom we desire by helping us seek to understand rather than control.

Thank you to Emily Lynn Paulson for letting us see our own “why” in your story, and calling into question the toxicity that keeps us in the cycle.

Thank you to Peggi Cooney for your honesty about the cycle, and for the hope that lives on the other side of it.

Thank you to Elizabeth Vargas for sharing the depth of the damage alcohol can do, and the reasons for which it is so common for women to turn to it. Your vulnerability changed the landscape for many of us Gen Xers.

Truth #4: Being “that” mom is a better feeling than anything alcohol can provide. 

The 500 redefined what being “that” mom means for me. It no longer means being the mom that is stressed 24/7, working constantly, sacrificing the things that are truly important, short-tempered, exhausted, and modeling the kind of drinking behavior we would never want for our children.

Now, “that” mom means being the one that my kids can always count on. The one that shows up for them no matter what. The one that puts herself and her family first. The one that prioritizes peace, rest, and calm over anything else. The one that doesn’t pour a drink to cope with every challenge with which she’s confronted. The one that models harmony.

The 500 showed me the sense of calm, comfort, security, and grace that comes with an alcohol-free lifestyle. As children become teenagers, which mine have during The 500, never have I felt more grateful for this journey. We can have an open conversation without fear, accusations, defensiveness, and judgement.

Now don’t get me wrong, people are people. And they will judge you for choosing this lifestyle, especially if you fall into the category of a “gray area drinker” and didn’t have a spectacular downfall of some kind. Remember though, that they are judging a story which they know nothing about. The 500 taught me to let them. Let them assume. Let them question. Let them scoff. Let them continue to make their own choices around alcohol, without judgement. Their response usually means your choice has threatened to make their feelings about their own drinking bubble up, causing significant discomfort. That’s why it’s also important to give them the opportunity to care. Let them support you. Let them guide you. Let them be there.

Thank you to Laura McKowen for transforming your life which has transformed the lives of so many. Without your strength and courage, we would still be in a web of shame.

Thank you to Kimberly Kearns for your honesty about the interconnectedness of self, family, friends, and alcohol. Thank you for encouraging us to navigate this with humility, grace, and determination.

Thank you to Jessica Simpson for letting us look behind the curtain of perfection most of us perceived, and sharing a truth to which many mothers could relate regardless of our place in life. Thank you for inspiring us to consider a different choice.

Truth #5: Freedom.

Finally, the most life-changing truth The 500 uncovered – freedom. Freedom to break cycles. Freedom to release shame. Freedom to be your best. Freedom to choose a different life. Freedom to find Ikigai – purpose and reason for this life. Freedom to reconnect with your spirituality, and find the authentic self that alcohol has kept locked away.

Freedom is not something I knew I needed before The 500. We tend to fall into patterns that perpetuate a feeling that the world is happening “to” us, rather than looking first at our ability to shape it. To interact with it in a way we desire or command. This belief that we aren’t steering the ship of our own story makes it easy to get handcuffed by what others dictate for us. To go along with things that we don’t want. Maybe because we don’t have the energy to forge a different path. Or because we don’t have space to add anything else to the load we already carry.

Or maybe it’s because we’ve believed the lie alcohol tells us. That everything will be better after that first sip, or fourth glass. When the alcohol is removed, we can create an abundance of space for the unencumbered life we want to lead. There is no room for the self-loathing, pressure, mind games, exhaustion and consequences that come with an alcohol-fueled lifestyle.

Through the journey of The 500, feeling free is the ultimate gift I never realized I was working toward. And one I’ll never give up.

Thank you to Laura Cathcart Robbins for opening the door to your closet for those of us living in the shadows, to come in and get an honest view. Without your willingness to extend a hand, some of us would not be living our purpose, still pursuing a life that we weren’t meant to lead.

Thank you Matthew Perry for surviving, for discovering the “terrible thing” and for sharing your story with the world, helping everyone find their own freedom. You are missed.

Finding freedom with 1:1 mentoring and coaching is available with Michael Macrae LLC. Contact Founder & Principal Beth Brenner at [email protected] to learn more about navigating 500 alcohol-free days and finding harmony with a personalized roadmap. It's time to Invest In Your Best.


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