The last time I had a drink was on December 31, 2014. It was New Years Eve and I didn't want to be alone to celebrate by myself and so I spent the night drinking cheap red wine paired with marijuana in the company of a boy I convinced myself I liked. A boy I tried to give my heart to but who only wanted to sleep with me and not commit to a relationship because he was too focused on his music and still in love with his ex-girlfriend. I wish I drank whiskey and beer
and every cocktail I knew I would miss. I wish I tried shrooms and made love on ecstasy. But I didn't do any of that, instead I wasted time and affection on a boy who didn't make me feel very good about myself, but then again I was in the midst of an ugly downward spiral of self-destruction and didn't think I was worth much more. I was twenty-four years old and never imagined that "sober" would be a label I would use to describe myself, it wasn't something I wanted to be a part of, but sometimes life brings us to places we don't expect. I had pre-planned my sobriety. I knew this would be my last night to indulge in alcohol and drugs. I wanted to enjoy the holidays with my belly full of spiked apple cider and I thought January 1st seemed like a good day to start my new chapter. I got sober because I knew I could never be the person I want to be or have the life I want for myself if alcohol is a part of it. It was just too important to me. It was my happiness, my best friend, and my favorite activity. I had tried to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, again and again I tried, but I couldn't. Life got so dark and miserable for me and I had tried a million different things to get better and nothing seemed to work. Finally, and very begrudgingly, I was forced to admit my alcoholism and the need to get sober. It's been sixteen months since my last drink, and I've learned quite a few things along the way. Here are some of them:
IT'S OKAY TO FEEL
After my brother died, the pain inside me was so severe and constant and all I wanted to do was shut it off. I didn't want to feel it anymore. And so I didn't. I buried the pain deep inside me and I used whiskey, and beer, and vodka, and tequila to distract me from my reality. It worked so well, that whenever uncomfortable feelings arose inside me, I used alcohol to turn them into oblivion. For years, I didn't let myself feel anything but nothingness. When I got sober, I honestly didn't know how to deal with feelings of sadness or pain or uncomfortableness because I was so used to using alcohol to change those feelings into something else. My addiction always dealt with the pain for me, now without it, I was forced to deal with the pain myself. I didn't have anything to turn to anymore. For the first time in years, I let myself feel sad and angry and uncomfortable. It wasn't fun by any means. I hated it. But in allowing myself to feel, I was able to work through the pain and let it go rather then burying it deep inside me where it would continue to exist, spreading like poison onto different parts of my life. I will tell you, no matter how painful and severe, emotions never last forever. They will go away and you will feel okay again.
YOU CAN BE SOBER AND STILL BE USING
My favorite thing in the world to do is escape. I have always been so uncomfortable with myself and my reality that I turned to alcohol in order to escape it. Alcohol was an immediate way for me to change the way I was feeling. It was the deep breath and the peace I couldn't find in my real life. And so, when drinking was no longer an option, I got very creative in finding other ways to escape. Since being sober, I have cut, binged, starved myself, dated men who didn't treat me well, had meaningless sex, isolated myself to my bed. These are all forms of using. They bring me the exact same high as drinking followed by the exact same shame and regret. They keep me from dealing with my feelings. They keep me from embracing life in its entirety. They keep me from being my best self. Yes, they're not alcohol, but for me, they might as well be. If I continue to engage in these behaviors, well then I'm not really getting any healthier, I'm just trading in one addiction for another.
FORGIVE PEOPLE, BECAUSE YOU LOVE YOURSELF
Sobriety has taught me forgiveness. Holding onto resentments can be poisonous, not towards the person we're angry at, but towards ourselves. We need to forgive people because we love ourselves and holding onto anger sucks. Forgiving someone doesn't mean we're okay with what they did, it just means we're not going to hold onto it anymore. We don't want this person to consume anymore of our thoughts or influence anymore of our behavior. We must forgive them, wish them the best, and let them go. Then our hearts will be lighter and we will feel freer. I pray for the people I am resentful towards and ask for love and compassion towards them, it's not something I want to do, but it works in letting my anger go.
ALCOHOL IS NOT THE PROBLEM
I think the hardest thing to understand about my alcoholism, is that I am the problem. The job, the relationship, the dream body is not going to fix me. None of these things are going to bring me the happy beautiful life I want, because that life will still have me. As the great lyricist Jamie Foxx said, "Blame it on the booze, got you feeling loose. Blame it on 'tron, got you in the zone. Blame it on the a a a a a alcohol". Well Jamie Foxx, I cannot blame it on the alcohol. Yes alcohol makes my problems worse, but it's not the reason my life is the way it is. Alcohol was a solution to my problem, which is me. It allowed me to manage life. To feel comfortable in this world. To feel happiness where I had trouble finding it. But, the solution was always temporary. The long-term, problem solving cure was never in the bottle. It just let me escape the problem. But when I sobered up, my life was the same, my problems were the same and my feelings towards those problems were the same. I've changed many things in sobriety; I've gotten a new job, I've gotten a new boyfriend, I've lost weight, I've moved homes and through all of those experiences I've felt just as depressed, hopeless, lost, lonely, suicidal. And so I've come to understand that it's not the outside things that need to change but it's me. I need to change my perception of the world and my behavior. If I don't change my behavior and my thoughts then my mind remains a scary place and I am not capable of going after the things I really want in the world because I don't feel good enough to receive them. I will destroy all of the beautiful things that come into my life because my mind will continue to tell me I am worthless and worthless people don't get beautiful things. It sucks that I can't place blame for the way I am on anything else but myself, but at least if I know I am the problem then I know there is a solution. I don't have to rely on other people or things to change in order for me to get better, I only have to rely on myself.
TO FEEL GOOD, WE OFTEN HAVE TO DO THE SHIT WE DON'T WANT TO DO
If it were up to me, I'd never leave my bed. I'd live in there spending my days binge watching Pretty Little Liars and pizza and cute boys would be delivered to me regularly. But that's not much of a life now is it? I'd be eighty years old still lying in the same bed feeling like my life was a portrait of nothingness. So, most of my days now consist of doing things I don't want to do. I wake up at a reasonable hour. I go to the gym. I go to work. I eat healthy food. I shut off the TV. I don't sleep with men who don't care about me. I don't drink alcohol. It's not easy because my mind is constantly pulling me in a direction of self-destruction. There is something inside me that wants me to stay in my miserably dark isolation. Since my thinking tends to be unhealthy, I can't really trust it, and so I often have to do the opposite of what I want to do because that in the end is what is going to give me the most beautiful full life. At first it's a real struggle, it's like dragging my feet to do anything. But over time, it gets easier because the more I engage in healthy behaviors the better they make me feel and I want to keep chasing the good feelings.
YOU CAN HAVE FUN WITHOUT DRINKING
When I quit drinking, my first question was "how do I have fun?" I honestly didn't know. All of my fun before revolved around alcohol, whether it was going out to a bar, having Bloody Marys with breakfast or drinking at home by myself. It was my entire social life. And I feared if alcohol was taken away from me, I wouldn't have fun anymore. But I was wrong. I still have fun. I have lots of fun. It's just a different kind as my perspective of what I enjoy has shifted. Going out to a bar on a Friday night and making out with a complete stranger is no longer my idea of a good time. And now the wonderful part is that I get to experience everything fully without the muddled haze of alcohol.
ALCOHOL ISN'T AS IMPORTANT TO EVERYONE
When I was ten months sober I went on my first date with a non-sober person. I was very nervous. Not for the typical first date reasons, I was nervous because I didn't know how they would react to me telling them I don't drink. Grabbing drinks is such an easy first date activity that I was scared my sobriety was going to severely scar my dating life. Also, I don't think telling someone I'm an alcoholic is really first date talk. And so, I had the internal debate of should I tell this boy beforehand that I don't drink or should I just show up at the bar and order a Diet Coke and just say 'yeah I'm not much of a drinker'. Would he feel awkward drinking alone? Would he lose interest in me? I worried about this so much that I worked myself up into a bad mood and was convinced our relationship was over before it even started. Finally I just told him that I'm happy to grab a drink, but just so you know, I'm not much of a drinker so I'll probably just order a soda. Well he responded that me not drinking was absolutely no problem at all and let's just grab dinner instead. We went on to have a beautiful first date which turned into a not so beautiful relationship, but that's a different story. It turns out that people don't really care that I don't drink. Alcohol was stitched through every part of my life that I didn't realize it isn't as important to other people. People for the most part are so wrapped up in their own little worlds that they're not putting much concern into my sobriety. A lot of people don't even remember that I'm sober and when we're out they'll ask me if I'm going to have a drink. I don't announce my sobriety to the world, but I'm also not ashamed of it. But in my early sobriety, I was a bit more timid. So sometimes I would order a club soda at a bar and when people would ask me what I'm drinking I'd say it was a vodka soda and they would move on with their night being none-the-wiser.
ALCOHOLISM IS A DISEASE WHICH IS CENTERED IN THE MIND
Alcoholism is more then my inability to control my drinking. Yes, I can't drink like a non-alcoholic. I crave alcohol, I drink every time until I get the spins and need to make myself throw up so I can keep going. A night with out drinking is one of white knuckling my incessant craving. I don't understand how people can have only one glass of wine with dinner. And wait, there's alcohol left in your glass, why are you getting up from the table? You are a mystical unicorn. So yes, I'm definitely an alcoholic because it turns out many people don't need to drink the way I do. And I've tried to drink like them, I tried to convince myself I could, but I'd always end up back in my intoxicated spiral. I think the hardest part for me to accept and come to terms with is that alcohol is more then my inability to control my drinking, it is also a disease that is centered in my mind. I am not normal. Well that sucks. My perception of the world is different then other peoples'. If alcohol was the problem then I could just stop drinking and I'd be cured! But I'm not. Even without alcohol in my system I still have alcoholism and that is something I need to treat on a daily basis. Things like prayer, meditation, writing, therapy, helping others. All of these things are my daily medicine that help treat my alcoholism and bring my thoughts and behavior to that which others would consider normal. Non-alcoholics don't necessarily have to do these things to feel okay, but I do. Or I could not do them, I've certainly chosen to do that since I've been sober but I feel just as miserable, crazy, depressed and hopeless as I did when I was drinking. And then picking up that bottle of whiskey starts to seem like a good idea.
I WANT TO BE ALIVE
Before I quit drinking I wanted to die. I felt like my life was always going to be this miserable dark lonely place forever and I was too worthless to ever achieve my dreams. I was tired of feeling this way and I was tired of trying to get better. Nothing seemed to work. I fantasized about just letting go, then I wouldn't have to feel this way anymore, I wouldn't have to try anymore. I didn't want to be alive anymore, but I never thought too much about actually killing myself, it was more just something I fantasized about. The idea of leaving my parents with two young dead children is what stopped me from acting on my fantasy. That, and the little flicker of hope existing inside me that maybe just maybe there was a possibility that I could live more of a life then I was living now. That's when I decided to quit drinking. It was my final attempt at getting better. I knew if alcohol remained the most important thing in my life I didn't have a chance at anything else. I have had periods of darkness in my sobriety and some felt just as suffocating. But I no longer wanted to die. I started to see the beauty in the world. I started to feel like I was worthy enough of good things. I started to love myself. I got my hope back. I want to be alive for the first time in a very long time, and that is my favorite part about being sober.
IT'S HARDER TO HAVE A ONE NIGHT STAND SOBER
The good and the bad of sobriety is that you're fully present for every experience. And those experiences sometimes include sex. Sober sex was very uncomfortable for me in the beginning. For years, I had to be drunk if I was going to sleep with anyone. I was ashamed of my body, afraid to be vulnerable with another person and I didn't feel worthy of receiving love. I was a revolving door of meaningless sex and friends with benefits. Now I don't think there is anything wrong with a young single woman exploring her sexuality, but since I've been sober my one night stands have severely decreased. Not on purpose, but just because it doesn't appeal to me anymore. When you're sober and have sex you are forced to be present for it. And if it's with someone that is purely using me to get their rocks off, then I am fully aware that I am being used. And well that's not fun for me. I'm worth more then that.
IT'S OKAY TO CHANGE WHO YOU ARE
I used to define myself as the sad, dark, depressed girl. I saw myself as this girl with a rain cloud following her around. A girl who wasn't enough for this world. All those things felt so real to me. But the longer I stayed sober, the better I started to feel about myself. The world didn't seem so hopeless anymore. Light existed in places I had never noticed it before. And I realized that I didn't need to hold onto this identity of the sad, dark, depressed girl. I could let her go. I just wasn't her anymore. It was a strange feeling to realize that I'm no longer the person I always saw myself as. I was so comfortable in this miserable version of myself I created. In a way, she kept me safe. If I let her go, well then I have no idea who I am. But that is also the exciting part. Now I have the freedom to explore who I am and what I want in this world. I have the freedom to re-define myself.
I NO LONGER WANT TO BE A VICTIM
I blamed everything for the unmanageable state of my life. Alcohol is the problem, my depression is the problem, my financial situation is the problem, my eating disorder is the problem, my brother's death is the problem, my parents are the problem. I was placing blame on everything for the reason I hated my life. I saw myself as a victim of life's cruelty - I was dealt a shit hand of cards. In truth, yes, all of these circumstances make my life a little more challenging, but if I continue to see myself as a victim then I lose my power. Victimhood diminishes my strength and my hope. Yes it sucks that my brother was killed. It fucking sucks. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I made the choice to no longer blame his death for the reason I fell into a spiral of alcoholism and depression. Because his death is not something I can change. I am done letting things and people tell me who I am. And so I take my strength back from all these things I let dim my light and I put my focus on the things in my life I do have control of, like my sobriety, and being kind to others, and living in gratitude. Putting my focus on the things I have control of gives me strength. I will keep fighting for the life I want for myself.
I'M NOT GOING TO LET FEAR HOLD ME BACK
The world terrifies me and alcohol allowed me to hide out in my own little world of self-destruction where I was safe from ever having to be vulnerable. Everything scares me. Getting sober scared me. I was afraid of all the things I would be missing out on. I was afraid of confronting my past. I was afraid of feeling. I was afraid of love. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of following my dreams. I was afraid that I'm not good enough for this world. I was afraid that I was always going to hate the way I look. Getting sober was terrifying, but it happens to be the most wonderful thing I've ever done for myself. And then I had to do a whole bunch of other things that I found scary without the comfort of alcohol to hold my hand. In order for me to build the life I want for myself it became clear that I was going to have to do things that scare me. Being scared or uncomfortable is not enough of a reason not to do something. And the more I stopped letting things that scare me hold me back, I realized that they're not so scary after all. And I also realized that I'm pretty badass. And that's a great thing to feel.
I DON'T HAVE TO HIDE WHO I AM
For a long time I felt very alone. My inner turmoil seemed to separate me from the rest of the world. I didn't know anyone who was struggling with the same sort of things I was. I felt very different from everyone else. And so I created a version of myself separate from who I was. I hid behind a mask of a girl who was okay. I was ashamed of who I was and I was afraid that if people knew the real me then I would no longer be appealing to them. I got really good at pretending. And then I thought, well screw that. I'm going to love the shit out of me. I've certainly fought hard enough for her. I stopped wanting to be someone else and instead wanted to be the best most beautiful version of myself. I put my focus on loving and accepting myself. And I started to get honest with the people around me. I don't scream my secrets to the world, but I also don't hide who I am. There is a certain freedom in being honest. I'm no longer ashamed of who I am or what I've been through or how I'm feeling on a particular day. It is our stories that make us beautiful and unique. We don't need to be defined by our pasts but we also don't need to hide them.
WE CAN'T DO LIFE ALONE
I have always had this mentality that it was me against the world. I never asked for help because I thought I could handle all of the challenges of life on my own. I always felt guilty asking for help because I didn't feel like I was good enough to receive it. Like no one actually cared enough about me to want to help me though the extraordinary demands of life. But that's not true. The truth is that we can't do life alone. We need each other. Sobriety has taught me to ask for help. It has taught me to look to other people for love and strength until I am able to find those things in myself. I can't stay sober alone. I need the kindness and support and wisdom of my family and friends to stay on this path.
MAYBE I'M NOT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
There is a startling possibility that I am not the center of the universe. That maybe, just maybe, I'm part of a collective experience here to help each other and grow as a community. I've gone through life constantly searching for what I can get from other people. How other people can make my life full. I didn't intend to be this way, but unbeknownst to me I was very self-seeking, self-centered and selfish. I always thought it was okay to be like this because well I'm in pain and I need help, and your problems don't seem as important as mine so let's talk about me. Also I've always been nice and nice people can get away with being self-centered because they do it with a smile and a gracious 'thank you'. But selfishness keeps you trapped in your own personal tragedy. I realized that there is a lot of magic in being selfless, in going out of your way to see what you can do for others. When you're feeling bad helping another person can be a wonderful way to get you out of your own head and in return you will feel better knowing you have done some good for someone else.
WHO MY FRIENDS ARE
When I first got sober, I knew I could only surround myself with people who brought light into my life. I wasn't strong enough to be around parties or situations where drinking was the central activity. I wanted to be sober, but the desire to escape into a glass of whiskey and drunken conversations was still strong. I was afraid that along with sobriety I would lose a lot of my friends. And the truth is I did, but only kind of not really. Because it turns out, alcohol can make it seem like you have a lot more in common with someone then you actually do. I'm a server and a common nightly ritual for me was to relax after work with my co-workers and enjoy beers upon beers. I was afraid that if I wasn't going to be partaking in this activity with them then I would lose them all as friends. As I stopped drinking with them they slowly slipped out of my life. I still saw them at work, but we no longer spent time together outside the restaurant. But it turns out I was okay with that, and honestly, I didn't miss them, because besides our mutual love of drinking there was just not much else we had in common. Anyone who was my true friend was nothing but loving and supportive towards me changing my life. That's how you know that someone really loves you because they want what's best for you, even if that means losing a drinking buddy. Anyone who thought my sobriety was silly or unnecessary or that I could still have a drink once in a while, unfortunately just wasn't much of a friend. And that sucks, but it's okay. I haven't been pressured to drink too much in my sobriety by people who know I am sober, but to anyone who has pressured me, well sorry not sorry is what I say to them. My sobriety saved my life and I'm not going to sacrifice that for anyone.
IT'S OKAY TO FEEL JUST OKAY
I've suffered with depression for a number of years now and so a depressed state was my 'normal'. I was at home in my little sad dark depressed world. Misery was my lover that I tried to break up with a million times but would always find myself going back to. Because my regular state of mind was so low, I would use alcohol to feel good which would bring me to an elevated state of happiness. I didn't really know what it was like to just feel okay. I was living in highs and lows, never in the middle. Slowly in my sobriety I started to feel okay, my depression alleviated, my worries lessened, and I wasn't over compensating with alcohol to feel really good. Feeling okay felt very uncomfortable. This is odd, something should be wrong right now, I should be feeling sad, why am I not feeling sad??? And at the same time, I'm sober now, why am I not floating through life on a cloud of happiness? It was very uncomfortable because it was so new to me. I was so unfamiliar with living in the middle. I felt like I needed to create some chaos just to get back to the sort of headspace where I felt comfortable. I resisted the urge to destroy this life I was building for myself and instead tried to come into acceptance with this new normal. It turns out, we don't always need to feel sad or wonderful. That's not how life works. I needed to find comfort in this uncomfortableness.