8 Lessons From Eight Years of Sobriety
In this post, I want to share hope and insight into the lessons I never knew I needed until I found sobriety.
At the time of this article, I'm 53 and have learned so much about who I truly am without alcohol. I'm different but in a lot of ways the same.
If you are reading this because you are searching for the bright side of quitting drinking, I was where you were once, and I got to the bright side.
I truly hope this article will help you find inspiration and encouragement on the other side of alcohol.
It's challenging to explain the headspace I was in when I quit drinking on August 11, 2013.
If only there were a video of me standing over my kitchen sink, pouring down two bottles of Chardonnay, then maybe you would see how I felt (oh boy, I wish there was a video, and also, I'm glad there isn't.)
I was in the mindset that getting sober was not only going to be brutal, lonely, and scary AF, not drinking was going to be the end of me.
At forty-five, after three decades of revolving most of my life around alcohol, how could I possibly think getting sober would be enjoyable.
I couldn't, not yet.
When I Quit Drinking
I didn't know of sober blogs, and I wasn't on social media to get sobriety inspiration; I felt very alone even though I had my family's support.
I read two books on repeat, Drinking a Love Story, by Caroline Knapp, and Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore, by Rachael Brownell.
I talk about my recovery openly on my podcast, blog, and with clients because I know how it feels to be hesitant to quit drinking.
You may feel like you are alone on this journey, but you're not.
My sweet, dear midlife woman, if you're about to quit drinking or already have, I'm here with you.
I never thought I would get to eight years of continuous sobriety because in the beginning (I would say the first year and 1/2), I told myself I wouldn't.
It's too hard; I will miss out, I miss the taste, and, my favorite, I can have one - Just. This. One. Time.
Yep, even though I committed to no longer drinking, I was still trying to bargain with myself and continued to doubt myself as a non-drinker.
Who am I to live life without my favorite addiction as the answer to my problems, anxiety, and feeling any emotion?
I didn't know who I was at the time because I tied alcohol tightly around my identity, and, to be honest, up until recently, I was still untying the knots.
If you're reading this because you are searching for answers to your drinking and can't imagine getting and staying sober, please know that it takes time to get to the other side, and you can do it!
The Eight Things I've Learned
#1 I Like Myself
Do you remember when Sally Field excepted her Oscar for Places In The Heart in 2011, and she declared, you like me, you really, really like me?
This is how I feel today but towards myself!
I've also learned that it's not self-centered or stuck up to like yourself. Who knew?!
It took many years of unlearning negative self-talk and thoughts that kept me stuck in "I suck" mode, but I've done it!
When I look at myself in the mirror, I see someone I respect and am learning to love unconditionally.
Alcohol made me believe that I was likable only when I was drinking.
Not true because the more I drank, it didn't matter if other people liked me; I loathed myself drinking or not.
Bottom line: it's okay to like yourself and to say it out loud. Go ahead - say it.
#2 Hiding Who You Are Keeps Shame Alive
It's human nature to pretend that things are just perfect.
We want to have an outward appearance of perfection from our bodies to our wardrobe, careers, and family life because that keeps us safe.
It's super scary to be vulnerable and share how you feel, or at least that is what I thought.
The truth is, hiding is painful and exhausting, especially when you're trying to keep up with something that doesn't exist, perfection.
I questioned my drinking for a couple of years before I quit, and my mindset was: it's shameful to be someone who drinks too much and can't control her alcohol, so I better figure out a way to make alcohol work.
I would have instead continued to drink than let anyone know I quit.
I went to great extremes to hide who I was for decades, and I thought I was hiding from others, but I was ultimately hiding from myself.
I felt like I was the only one in so many different areas of my life, from my anxiety to my weight to my drinking and then sobriety.
The truth is, there are women just like me in the world, but at the end of the day, that doesn't matter; what matters is that I stand true in who I am, even if I'm alone.
Bottom line: when you are true to yourself, you come out of hiding. Sobriety isn't shameful, I think, living your entire life trying to "fit in" is.
#3 Other People's Opinions (OPO) Don't Matter
They never did; I just thought they did.
If I ever catch myself saying, what will they think or what will Aunt Sally say," I snap myself out of it by focusing on what I believe because that is all that matters.
My mom told my sister and me, I've had a good life, right before she passed in 2009 at seventy-two.
I want to own that statement when I leave this earth.
I've learned that even the closest relationships can change when you change, and because of that, your commitment to what you want in life cannot be stifled.
I see the big picture of my life more clearly than I did when I was drinking, and it's not something I'm willing to give up for anyone else.
If you are newly sober and think that people will have an issue with your choice, think about what that says about the relationship, not about you wanting to go alcohol-free.
Bottom line: People have opinions no matter what, and they are none of your business; let them be.
# 4 I Never Needed Alcohol
If I had a dollar for how many times I said "I need a drink" over my drinking life, I would have a lot of money, and I would probably have spent it all on Chardonnay.
I. Never. Needed. Alcohol.
Our needs are so simple, water, food, shelter, sleep, connection, and LOVE.
I needed to enjoy life on my own and explore what that felt like without dousing myself with alcohol.
Alcohol makes you want more of the drink, not of life.
Our brains say more, more, more, but our hearts are screaming for less, less, less!!
When I got sober, I started writing in my journal, what do you need today? I would answer with a nap or love or food or exercise or anything besides alcohol.
I started to pay attention to my real needs vs. the quick fix that alcohol provides.
It took a bit to realize that as long as I prolonged my need for the quick escape, I would become stronger in fulfilling my needs on my own.
Bottom line: I was doing the best I could when I was drinking, and I'm still doing the best I can every single day - no alcohol required.
What about you? I know you're doing your best.
#5 Recovery is For Me
All of the labels that go along with addiction, recovery was one that I didn't want to claim for a long time.
I wasn't sure what label I needed to slap on my drinking; was I an alcoholic, or did I just not drink.
My rationalization was, If I'm an alcoholic, I guess I'm in recovery, but what if I'm not an alcoholic? I can't say I'm in recovery.
If I'm not an alcoholic, then I will just go about life doing the same s**t I did when I was drinking and hope that I don't turn to alcohol to cope.
That didn't seem like a very good plan, so I stopped trying to identify with a label and started to pursue how I wanted to feel.
I craved nurturing and healing and peace, and that is what recovery is to me.
Bottom line: labels should be kept on your clothes, not on your identity. If you don't identify with being "sober" or "addiction" or recovery, please don't let it stop you from quitting drinking.
All you need to know is the difference between how alcohol makes you feel and how you want to feel.
#6 Alcohol Marketing is Bull S**t!
I'm not one to call people out for their opinions about drinking, but I get grouchy when I see memes and posts on social media about how cool it is to drink gasoline.
Recently, I saw a commercial where this young, fresh, beautiful girl is dancing, and it's bright and colorful, and she is promoting a drink that I had no idea was Hard Seltzer.
These bright, eye-catching cans are lined at the end cap's of Target, now just ready to be plucked up by a kid who thinks it's an energy drink.
Marketing plays on our emotions, and the emotions of a newly sober person are fragile.
In my experience, what I share with my clients, is not to buy into Big Alcohol's scheme to make poison look romantic.
Also, I'm not sure who I need to speak to about the alcohol emojis automatically coming up on my phone when I send a client a congratulatory text. It's just dumb.
Bottom line: just because they make alcohol look pretty, it's still gasoline, and it doesn't belong in our bodies. We're big kids now; we don't buy into false advertising.
#7 Consistency is Where it's At!
A key lesson that sobriety has taught me is if I want to change anything, I have to practice the habits and behaviors it takes to change consistently.
My drinking self would drink copious amounts of wine and declare, tomorrow is the day I start fresh!
There is so much hope in starting fresh, and I believed myself every time I said it; I just didn't do it the next day because I was hungover and guilt-ridden.
It wouldn't last if I started a diet, not drinking on Sundays (my favorite day to drink), or not spending money like I had millions in the bank.
I would fall off, forget about my food plan or talk myself into you can have one glass.
We want to bargain with ourselves when our goals seem boring or hard or maybe, not necessarily enough.
It's super important to set a goal, commit, and follow through, but if you don't have a reason why you want to reach it, that goal may fall away.
My consistency in sobriety came with my commitment to no longer drink. I created a mantra: whatever it takes, and I followed it every single day.
I took alcohol off the table because I knew if I went back and forth, I would waste even more time than I already had in 30-years of drinking.
Bottom line: sobriety wasn't my goal; feeling better was, and that was worth the commitment to keep going.
#8 Old Stories Can Be Re-Written (several times over)
My drinking story starts as a 14-year old girl who thought that alcohol was the answer to shyness and ended as a 45-year old woman who couldn't imagine living life without alcohol but knew she had to.
The beliefs that I had around alcohol and what it meant to be someone who had a problem with alcohol held me back from quitting.
There is so much stereotype and stigma rooted in alcohol - not saying addiction, although there is there too, I'm talking about the drink - specifically when you don't imbibe.
Alcohol is the only drug you have to explain why you're not using.
In 2013, the story that I wrote when I quit drinking was that my life would change, but it would be a life that seemed impossible to enjoy.
I would never dance again or socialize or go to a concert.
I held onto that story because it gave me a reason to go back to drinking if it got too mundane.
It's the story that I hear from my clients, it's boring not to drink, or I will be boring if I don't drink.
Those old beliefs are safety nets that give us a reason to jump - abort mission!
But what if those stories and beliefs are just thoughts that you can change?
That's where stories start, with thoughts and ideas of how things are or how we think it will be.
We get to choose what we believe and what we don't.
I had no idea what sobriety would be like because it wasn't part of my life story until it was.
Now, I have stories, plural! That's what giving up alcohol has done for me - it's given me a chance to allow life to happen, change and redirect.
The beauty of aging sober gives you multiple opportunities to re-write your life story because you have given yourself a chance at a new way of living.
Bottom line: anything you believe about alcohol can changed when you give yourself the chance to live life on your terms - alcohol-free.
My friend, I hope that my lessons have given you hope if you struggle to let alcohol go.
There is so much hope in learning about how others have gone through something you are working towards achieving.
Whether you are newly sober or a year in, face forward and move towards whatever it is you are seeking, living life alcohol-free.
Maybe you haven't found the joy yet, on day 65, but perhaps that joy is waiting for you on day 105.
I'm here with you, and I believe in you 100%.
Also, it's corny to say, but I'm going to say it: If I can get sober, you can too!
Thank you for reading. If you have a comment or post you would like to see from me, please email me.
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