Updated: Mar 23
I haven’t touched alcohol for five years and four months. Now, too many of you out there, that might sound like a prison sentence. It certainly would have to me before I gave up booze. You might be thinking. God, that must be so dull. How does she have fun? How does she let loose and wind down? Does she not die every time she sees a glass of wine or a bottle of something? Is she not bereft, living a life without fun anymore? I bet she is a really boring person.
When I put down the sauce, I was thinking all of those things. I was terrified. I thought I was going to lose everything that made me an interesting person, which is quite sad when you think about it. I couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol as it seemed like it was the only way I knew how to have fun or to be fun. Even though, the reality for me was that booze had long since stopped being fun. I wanted to write a post about sobriety, as there is a considerable dearth of information out there about it, which probably contributes towards our collective terror around it- it is unknown, and for me it was completely outside of the realm of my imagination.
In the beginning, particularly the first two weeks, it was hard. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. My hands shook, I couldn’t sleep, I had terrible anxiety. I had cravings so overwhelming, they were like tidal waves that threatened to sweep me under and drown me completely. I cried, I raged, I curled up in a ball. I hid under my covers, I went for long night walks through the city with my headphones turned up full volume to drown out the negativity in my head. I talked, I met people who had gone through the same and eventually, one day at a time, I came to a point where I was ok. Not great, not amazing, just ok. I don’t want to give you a blow by blow account of my getting sober story as it is long, messy and not representative of how it is for many people. Instead, I’d like to focus upon my life as it is now, my intention being that everyone can see what longer term sobriety is like on a day to day basis.
I view my sobriety as a precious gift. It is not in any way, a life less-than or worse than a life drinking alcohol. If it was, I would certainly have fallen off the wagon long ago. I don’t crave booze, nor do I look wistfully at others when they are drinking, wishing I could have some. Not that this never happens- just very occasionally, and even then I realise it is a fantasy, and not related to how my drinking really used to play out in real time.
Longer term sobriety involves more than just not drinking. Many people give up drinking for a month or even a year or so, and compare this with sobriety. I appreciate it when people try to connect with me in this way, although it’s not really the same thing. If I had put down the booze only, but not changed anything about my life, it would have only been a matter of time before I picked up a drink again. Staying off the sauce long term has meant doing something more fundamental.
I had to change my habits. I had to find something to replace going to the bar after work, or going out on the town for drinks on a Friday night. I had to find something to occupy my evenings, when I usually poured a glass of wine and sat on my couch. I had to make new acquaintances, later to become friends; some of whom were going through the same changes and weren’t sure how they were going to do it, and others who’d been through the whole process and were still alive and enjoying life more than ever. I had to start noticing when I craved a drink and why, and replace that action with another one; maybe going out for a meal with friends, going for a walk, or taking a hot shower. For a while, I stayed away from bars altogether, now I occasionally go to one, but to be honest, they are now not really a place that I want to be.
When I stopped drinking, the focus was all on what I thought I was giving up. The prospect of a lifetime of sobriety, stretched out in front of me like a long grey stretch of nothingness. How could I be confident again? How would I be funny, and impromptu and confident around strangers? These were all qualities I thought I needed alcohol to unlock in myself. Without it, I would surely be nothing, no one. It felt as if a core aspect of my personality was about to be excavated and ripped away from me. The fear was palpable.
With some years between that version of me and this later version of me, the focus is now really upon what I have gained and continue to gain by not boozing. Here are some really important things I have gained by not drinking:
-better physical health
-hobbies and fun activities
-improved mental health
-a healthier bank balance
-greater empathy and deeper listening skills
-a sense of purpose
-spirituality- a knowing that there is something bigger than me at work here
So now, if I ever daydream about how ‘just one’ white wine spritzer on the balcony on a summer’s afternoon might be elegant, or a glass of mulled wine at Christmas might be ‘festive’, I think of all of the things I would be losing by taking that drink, rather than this spritzer fantasy, backed up by all of the adverts on TV about how: fun, elegant, cultured, interesting, unique [insert appealing adjective here] drinking is. The truth is I was never interested in one glass of spritzer on the balcony. I was more of a “give me the bottle, minus the spritz and that's just for starters thanks” kinda girl. The first thing I had to practice was getting honest with myself; honest about the reality of my drinking versus the spritzer fantasy.
A phrase that you hear in recovery circles is ‘emotional sobriety.’ What this means in practice is; identifying how I am feeling and acting on it in a way that is not destructive. That means, when I am angry or annoyed, it is not an excuse to gripe or shout at others. If I am upset, it is my problem, and I must act on it in a way that is constructive and does not involve trying to control the outcome of a situation or person around me. Emotional sobriety means taking responsibility for my own feelings, learning how to deal with situations and people that grind my gears without being mean or destructive. Because I’m committed to this lifestyle, this is something I must do 24/7. I still slip up and swear under my breath at people or gossip and judge people, but that is because I’m human. The point is, emotional sobriety is about not getting stuck in negativity like resentment or anger, to the point that I feel I have to drink to be at peace. I take responsibility for creating my own peace by owning my feelings and acting on them in ways that honour my feelings but respect those around me.
What’s it like to live sober? It is amazing. It is more difficult in some ways as it involves living a conscious life, being aware of my actions and behaviours and always taking responsibility for them. The gifts though, the gifts keep giving. I know who I am at a deep level. I have a sense of purpose. I know who my people are. I don’t have shameful secrets. My outsides match my insides. I know what it is like to be completely lost and hopeless and know that feeling too, can pass. I shared this so you can imagine what it might be like to be sober, even if you have no intention of ever trying it! Happy New Year Everyone. Much love and light to you all.