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Kim Ditched the Drink + Discovered A Shiny, New Life

March 09, 2021

Kim Ditched the Drink + Discovered A Shiny, New Life

Note: The following exchange was had by Janel Broderick + Kim Hill on the subject of alcohol. Neither of us are doctors, psychologists, counselors. This is just a conversion about alcohol and Kim’s journey to sobriety. Nothing within the following paragraphs should be construed as professional advice. (I'm not that smart.)

Janel Broderick:
My admiration for you dates back to early 2020, when I read something you posted on Instagram. In your post, you were celebrating, not bemoaning, the fact that you hadn’t had a drink in 3 months. Instead of feeling like you were missing out, you seemed joyful about removing alcohol from your life. Was that the case?

Kimberly Hill:

Honestly? It really was. I was doing something most people don’t want to do and I was feeling really good about it. On my 1-year anniversary, I ran 12 miles one mile for every month sober.

Wow, Kim. That’s incredible. What you posted seemed so rare at the time, because alcohol, in my opinion, plays an outsized role in our culture today. Over the last few years, I’ve certainly questioned my own relationship with it. (I’m a teetotaler these days) Can you share your own journey? The highs and the lows and what, ultimately, led you to kick the habit?

Oh man, where do I begin? At the age of 2? I did a shot of whiskey my grandmother had poured. In her defense, she used the whiskey as a numbing agent because I was teething. 

At the age of 16? I attended my first underage drinking party. Since then, I’ve have had real hate/hate relationship with alcohol.

Some of lows, were really low. One of my worst lows, was 2000. I was still living in New Jersey and was in NYC for a Billy Joel concert at the Madison Square Garden (MSG). I was so hammered that I passed out in a bathroom stall and my then boyfriend had to have security come search for me after the show had ended.

At some point that night, I had fallen down and ripped up my knees. I was drunk, a bloody mess. The friends we were with were carted off the hospital as one of them had fallen down the stairs at MSG and cracked open her head. We had taken the train into the city, so by the time we got on the train to go home, I had my head in a garbage can one of the bars gave me. As you can imagine, we had the train car to ourselves.

Another fun incident was on a Friday night with a friend, I was out cheering her up because she had gotten divorced. We went bar hopping all over Milwaukee. Six or 7 bars in total starting at 2 pm in the afternoon. After realizing that we needed to eat (around 8pm), we ordered $50-worth of pizza and while walking home I face planted in the street. I also lost my phone that night. I was so hungover the next day I had to skip volunteering for the race I had signed up for.

I never had any highs with alcohol. I was either all or nothing. And it was never pretty. Everything was celebrated with alcohol. Friend had a baby, here’s a bottle of whiskey. Friend got a divorce, let’s go get hammered. Got a promotion at work, oh look this bar is having a happy hour special, let’s go! 

Kicking the habit is a bit long, so bear with me… 

In September 2016, I was out for a training run (a 20 miler) and at mile 7 I was in a crosswalk and a car ran a red light. I saw the car in my peripheral and was able to push myself forward to get out the way. I came crashing down on my knees and hands, but I was alive. I continued running until mile 13 and my right knee was done. I called my husband to come retrieve me. With some ice and ibuprofen, my knee calmed down enough so that I could run my 10th full marathon in November 2016. Poorly, I might add, as my knee was sore.

Fast forward to July 2018, I had a race on a Friday night. My knee had been having good and bad days since 2016. My knee felt good, so I raced hard. I won my age group and was the 5th overall female. After the race, my knee felt off and swelled up. I knew I was in trouble.

On Monday I called my surgeon, and was seen in his office on Friday. He sent for an MRI. Within the week I knew I had a torn meniscus, where it was torn should not have been causing my pain, but my body has always had weird referral area pain. He scheduled me for a scope to clean up my knee. A few weeks later (August 2018) I had my surgery.

As amazing as MRIs are, they never tell a complete story and mine did not. When my surgeon was scoping my knee, he found a pretty large hole in the cartilage of my kneecap. He trimmed up the loose pieces and hoped it was enough to stop making my knee angry. Of course, it wasn’t and after a lot of crying, begging and pleading he decided to do a Osteochondral Allograft, tissue containing bone and cartilage from a donor.

I went on the donor wait list in November 2018. Donor tissue goes through the same testing are other donor organs, however it can be stored for a longer time. In January 21, 2019 I got the call from my surgeon that they had tissue available. I was scheduled for surgery on January 24 the same week. There isn’t a lot of information about the surgery I had other than it fails more than it succeeds.

Going in, the odds were stacked against me. And because there wasn’t a lot of information out there, I was completely unprepared for how difficult my recovery would be. And difficult isn’t even the right word to describe my recovery. HARD AF. IMPOSSIBLE AF. MISERABLE AF. I lived on pain killers for the first 2 weeks after surgery and I was a drooling mess.

I know some people enjoy the high feeling that pain killers give them. Me? It was awful. A complete out-of-body experience. Once I got off the pain killers and into physical therapy, I sunk into a deep depression. The deepest I had ever been. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t shower standing up. I couldn’t sit to use the bathroom. I started drinking more and eating more. I saw how long the road ahead of me was and started losing hope. This cycle continued until September 2019.

I knew I was in a bad place and need some help. I saw my primary doctor because I was feeling terrible physically and mentally. She did a complete blood work up and called me into her office on Friday the 13th. She was honest, brutally honest. She told me I was writing an early death certificate for myself. She had the lab rerun the results to confirm what she was saw. Every important organ function was a complete mess (except my heart). She gave me 30 days to clean up my act or she was not going to treat me as a patient anymore. She also asked me if I needed help. I can still hear her asking me that question. I nodded my head and broke down. She gave me a prescription for Prozac and Xanax. She then asked if my employer had an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and suggested I reach out to them for assistance. On Saturday, September 14, 2019, I took my last drink of alcohol and have not looked back. My sober date is September 15, 2019.

At this point, I’m tearing up on this side of the computer screen. How courageous. But, it’s one thing to want to be done and another to see it through. Can you expand on what it was like after you made the decision to quit?

I know this is going to sound odd to some, but quitting wasn’t hard. A switch went off in my brain. I was a binge drinker and I only drank on the weekends and never at home. I was an absolute barfly. I didn’t have a “Kim Bar” per say, but I never saw my behavior as a problem.

What was hard was quitting everything else that was a toxin to my body at the same (sugar, carbs, gluten).

I am sure that gives hope to so many who are terrified of what life could look like on the other side.

I know that the decision to quit can be gradual for some and sudden for others. On the gradual side, some can have a growing awareness that alcohol isn’t playing a positive role in their lives. And as that awareness increases, so too does their detachment to alcohol. For others, it’s more abrupt. Something happens, or there’s a deliberate intention to eliminate what’s become a bad habit. What are your thoughts, and did things play out for you, personally?

I absolutely agree with this. When I decided to quit alcohol, I was clueless. I didn’t see myself as having a problem but, at the same time, I knew something was wrong. Alcoholism runs in my family and I never saw myself in some of my relative’s shoes. I didn’t drink and drive, I wasn’t arrested for fighting in a bar. You know the things, that Hollywood and society classifies as a drinking problem or glorifies.

It’s funny how we can detach ourselves from the stigma. I too come from an extended family where alcoholism has caused problems. And yet, it’s easier to let ourselves off the hook because we don’t drink like THAAATTTT.

I remember reading something that led me to believe there were some friendships that didn’t embrace your behavioral shift. Tell me about the social changes?

Woof. For a while I didn’t talk about my reason or reasons for quitting alcohol. I always hid behind my medical issues. To some extent, it was true. My sugar issues were a direct result of my drinking and eating habits. The lack of exercise didn’t help either. I started following some sober accounts on Instagram and realized I was still doing myself a disservice by not talking about ALL my reasons. I also started reading a lot about Gray Area Drinking and that’s where I found myself. A gray-area drinker.

There were and still are people that don’t approve or like when I talk about my sober journey. And that’s exactly what it is. A SOBER JOURNEY. Here’s the thing, it’s my journey and my journey alone. I’m asking no one else to take it. I only ask that you support it. Apparently even providing support is hard. In all my reading and researching a lot of people use others to self-reflect and they don’t like what they see so they are jerks. It hurts and it sucks. But it’s another part of the process, I guess.

Shifting gears a bit, what physical changes did you notice when you eliminated alcohol from your life? I experienced headaches for the first 3 weeks, a dip in energy, and then an increase. What did your journey look like?

I went through similar withdrawal symptoms. The first 3 weeks were AWFUL. As I mentioned, I had also given up sugar, carbs and gluten at the same time. I was a complete bitch to everyone around me. 

Then on day 22 (confirmed it in my journal), I woke up feeling good. It was like a switch went off in my body.

Within 30 days my sugar dropped to normal-ish levels. Within the first 60 days I had lost 10 lbs. and a ton of inches (mostly bloat).I was released to run by my surgeon and my primary doc. Another switch went off and weight started melting off because I was moving my body a lot.

Nearly 18 months later, I’m down 60 lbs. and over 40 inches. I am in the best shape I’ve ever been in, both mentally and physically. I turned 48 on February 21st, and I don’t feel, or look, it.

You blow my mind. What a story. Do you miss anything about booze? Personally, I was so conditioned to mark the end of a workday, workweek, a celebration with a glass of wine (or 3), but found that after a bit, I just stopped thinking about it…. What did that process look like for you?

I don’t miss it or the things that surround it. I know a lot of people have increased their drinking during the pandemic, social unrest, and all the other craziness we have seen. I’ve managed to not even think about drinking. I’m really focused on putting good stuff into my soul and my body. My knee is still giving me problems (and always will) so I’m focused on staying as healthy as possible. 

I don’t miss the social aspect of drinking either. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that, I was a mess and so were a lot of the people in my social circle. These days my circle is really small and I’m okay with that too. I’m surrounded by those that support me in this journey.

I think only once in the last (almost) eighteen months I’ve said “damn, I need a drink…” and it was after a nightmare work situation. But I didn’t FEEL like I needed a drink. I stopped myself and asked me did I really mean it? And the answer was no. It was just a saying I used to say when work was insane.

Well, that’s certainly true—it’s tempting to think we need something, just because we’re accustomed to it. Did you go down a rabbit hole of reading “quit lit” or binge any blogs? Any resources you can recommend for others who are questioning their relationship with alcohol?

Yes! I’m a data and story nerd at heart. I did read Quit Like a Woman and Untamed. I could absolutely relate to a lot of what both these books had to say. I mostly subscribed to sober Instagram accounts.

Here are a few of my favorites: 
1000 Hours Dry – highly recommend this one for wanting to test the waters 

Sobergirlsociety – based in England and just like America people quitting in other countries face the same issues

The_sober_climb – based here in Milwaukee and tells it like it is

Thesoberginger – based in Ohio and also tells it like it is 

I will say for those questioning themselves, it’s okay to ask for help. If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program, utilize it. Ask your primary doc.

For me personally, I know AA would not have helped me. It’s not for everyone and that’s okay too. There are options out there, but you have to do the hard work to find what works for you.  

We’re in the middle of Lent, that’s usually a popular time to hit pause on drinking. Did you ever fast from alcohol for a period of time, prior to abstaining 100%? I’d done lent a couple times, and then stopped for ten months.

Another time people give up alcohol is January. Of course, there are a ton of plays on the phrase of Dry January. Maybe it is because of the pandemic, but there has been an increase in people participating, but at the same time people were counting down until they could have alcohol. It was really bizarre to see and I had to “mute” several people on the gram because of it. Again, some people can have a single glass of wine and be done. I cannot. Seeing people griping that they couldn’t wait to drink again was really triggering for me.

It didn’t make feel like I wanted to have alcohol, but it did bring back a lot of anxiety and fears that came along with the day-after drinking a lot. Also known as hangxiety.

To answer your question, yes, I did give up alcohol one other time. 62 days to be exact. In September 2016 I attended a retreat and alcohol was not allowed. I used that time to reset my body and didn’t drink until the marathon in November of 2016.

Funny thing, I blamed not drinking alcohol on my poor marathon performance. How messed up is that??? And yes, as soon as I crossed the finish line, I marched over to the beer cart and retrieved my free beer and proceeded to get hammered.

My first half marathon was in Napa Valley, so I feel you. I ran right up to that wine table. What would you say to anyone who’s contemplating going alcohol free? Either for a break or making a lifestyle change?

It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to feel icky. I probably would not recommend quitting everything all at once like I did though. I did it under medical supervision, so I knew I wasn’t going to go too far off the rails, but it’s always a possibility. 

Quitting anything is hard. And quitting alcohol, may be the hardest. People will judge you. Question you. Give you looks. Tell you that you are nuts. But do not let their behavior stop you. There are those of us who have been through all of that. We may not have all the answers, but we can absolutely support you and your decision to do what is right for you.

You can have fun without alcohol and it’s also okay to ask a bartender for a non-alcoholic version of a drink.

Kim, thank you so much for sharing so much of your story. I admire the path you’re on and how honest you’ve been about the journey.

You can find Kim at @runningkimmey  

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