January is a big month for me.
It marks the start of a new year and the opportunity to set goals and intentions (or not set goals and intentions). It’s my birth month, and when you’re an only child the birthday celebrations really do last all month long (even if you’re the only one who knows it).
And for the last 5 years, it’s been the month of my sober-versary.[Sober-versary: the date somebody chooses to live a life of sobriety. It’s in the dictionary. I promise 😉 ]
Sober is a funny word, and one I’ve hesitated to use throughout the past 5 years.
The dictionary defines sober as “not affected by alcohol; not drunk”. So by the dictionary’s definition, I have not been sober.
Let’s be honest here. I’m not perfect, nor do I claim to be. I’ve had my mis-steps.
I accepted that glass of champagne on my birthday, just two days shy of celebrating a year without alcohol.
I’ve given into temptation and had that one glass of wine. I’ve thought “hey, maybe I actually can drink like a normal human being and just have one”, only to be proved wrong a couple of months down the road.
I’ve had those “I’m in Mexico – am I REALLY going to say no to a Corona on the beach?” moments. I’ve been uncomfortable in social situations and have hid that discomfort with a drink. And I’ve been known to eat the occasional pot cookie, giggle too much, and then fall asleep on the couch by 8pm.
But mis-steps aside, I’m still affected by alcohol. I’m affected by it when I feel sadness for the friend I lost because of his addiction in September 2015. I’m affected by it when I feel sadness for the best friend I lost (in a figurative sense, and technically in a literal sense) because she’s still consumed by her addiction.
I’m affected by it when I want to celebrate with a glass of bubbly, when I feel anxiety because of the way I used to treat others and myself, and when I have to muster up the willpower to say no when I really want to say yes.
Suffice to say, I’m not really a fan of the dictionary’s definition of “sober” 😉
For me, being sober means living a life that’s not consumed by alcohol. A life that includes abstaining from it to the best of my ability (16 months strong, baby!). A life where alcohol just isn’t part of the equation.
I’m not sure what made the morning of January 11, 2012 different from any of the other mornings I’d woken up with a half-empty bottle of wine beside my bed, puffy eyes, and a foggy brain. From the snippets I could remember, my actions from the night before weren’t any more terrible than they usually were.
But something inside me knew it was time. I had put myself in so many dangerous situations, had done so many awful things, had treated so many people I loved like crap. And yet there I was, safe and loved by the people in my life. I didn’t need a rock bottom. I didn’t want a rock bottom.
And while I usually take a little bit of time on January 11 to reflect on how my life has changed, this year feels like a bit of a milestone being five years and all. If I had gone the AA route I’d probably get a pin or something. I’m not really sure. But since I didn’t, I’m choosing to celebrate by sharing some of the things I’ve learned along my journey with you.
Please note that these reflections are from my own personal journey. If you’ve been through a similar situation, they may be vastly different from your own experiences. Please also be aware that none of this is intended to be advice on overcoming addictions. The way I chose to go about my own sobriety worked for me, but it was by no means perfect. There are a variety of options available out there for you. Please research and choose based on what would be best-suited for you.
I cannot be a casual, social drinker.
I was, I am, an alcoholic. Through and through. I wasn’t just a girl having fun and getting into trouble (although I did get into trouble and I did have fun!). It wasn’t just a phase. It’s in my genetics, and when you add childhood trauma, anxiety, and an intense personality into the mix, you’ve got a recipe for an addict.
I’ve spoken to many people over the past few years who have been negatively affected by drinking. They’ve made decisions to stop for a certain number of days, weeks, or even months, and are then able to go back to drinking with less negative consequences (at least they say they do).
And of the people who are genuinely able to do that, I’m jealous of them. I would love to be able to enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner, or to be able to sip sangria on a sunny patio. But even after one, two, and even three years of living the sober life, those addictive tendencies are still there.
Sure, I can have one glass of wine. And then I feel really good. Proud of myself. Accomplished, even. So I do it again. And then again. And then the next time it becomes two glasses. And then three. It’s a slippery slope, and it’s one I’m not willing to dance on anymore.
I’m an introvert. And that’s okay.
HELLO. This was a big one. I always thought I was this crazy, out-going party girl. I was always looking forward to going to the bar with friends or hanging out at someone’s house downing beer after beer.
But looking back, I realize that even when I was at parties, I always preferred to be talking one-on-one with someone. I remember feeling anxious and nervous in groups of people I didn’t know, and slamming back a drink (or seven) for some liquid courage.
When I stopped drinking I occasionally tried to do some of the things I did before. I’d go to the bar after work with a group of people and have a non-alcoholic beer (’cause I was the “fitness girl” and “fitness girl” doesn’t drink!). I’d say yes to that party invitation where I knew I’d know no one and that the drinks would be flowing.
But social anxiety aside, I just didn’t find those things fun anymore. I much prefer meaningful conversations and doing something fun and active in group settings. I spent so many years trying to hide from that, and it’s pretty damn freeing to be able to embrace that now.
Peoples’ judgments stem from their own insecurities.
One of my biggest fears when I first stopped drinking was what other people would think. At first I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t think I could do it. But then I was afraid of telling people because I didn’t want to hear the “Whaaat?! Not even ONE?! Come onnnnn”. I knew the statements well, because I used them whenever I was getting trashed around people who weren’t drinking.
But as I took time to reflect on this, I realized that I used to give people a hard time for not drinking because I felt uncomfortable about my own addiction. I felt like they were trying to make me guilty or something by being their pure, wholesome selves. I know now that couldn’t have been further from the truth, but when you’re doing things that deep down you don’t really want to be doing, you find a way to blame other people for it.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach sobriety.
Like I said above, the last 5 years of my life have not been textbook-sobriety. I didn’t go to AA. I didn’t go to support groups. I didn’t have a sponsor. And I didn’t start therapy to actually deal with some of the shit that led me to drink until around September of 2016.
The day I decided enough was enough, I spent the morning and afternoon crying, busied myself at work in the evening, and then read addiction and recovery message boards late into the night. Those message boards became my sponsors and support groups. I never posted anything, but I took comfort in the fact that there were other people out there dealing with the same shit I was dealing with.
At the same time, I replaced my alcohol addiction with a fitness addiction. If I wasn’t working out, I was reading about fitness and nutrition or planning what my next workout would be. In hindsight I probably should have started to deal with some of my underlying issues, but coulda-woulda-shoulda, right?
Fitness gave me confidence, something I hadn’t felt in years. It gave me a sense of purpose. It gave me something to occupy my time with, and it gave me a different community to identify with.
I continued to numb my feelings – through exercise, through food, through keeping busy, and through immersing myself in my work. It’s something I still struggle with, although I’m becoming much more aware of when it happens.
Sobriety, self-awareness, self-improvement…they’re all a process. One that looks to be never-ending 😉
Life is pretty fuckin’ awesome.
For a long time, I didn’t really think there was much to live for. I wasn’t suicidal by any means, but I just figured life was this thing where you come, you do some shit, then you die. I was terrified of disappointment, so I figured the best way to protect myself from that was to expect nothing from myself or others, and to not strive for anything.
Except a double-wide trailer. I wanted to upgrade from the fifth-wheel I was living in and spend my later days in a double-wide in the forest. #DreamingBig
I’ve since learned that life is what you make of it. It could be looked at as a case of coming, doing some shit, then dying. But it can be looked at as so much more.
It can be a chance to make something out of nothing. It can be a chance to make someone else feel better/happier/healthier/more alive. It can be a chance to do great things, and it can be a chance to sit back, chill, and be content while doing nothing.
There are awesome things, there are exciting things, there are difficult things, there are painful things. There are super-high highs and super-low lows. All those things aren’t good or bad. They just are.
The last 5 years have been scary, exciting, messy, and fun. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 have in store.
If this post spoke to you and you’d like to talk, feel free to reach out. I’m by no means an addiction expert, but I’m a pretty good listener 😉