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Imagining a New Life … Sober
Sometimes I have a hard time imagining a new sober life for myself, which is laughable and sad. I’m a fiction writer. I can write a thousand different lives for myself. I ride bareback across eastern Montana. I’m an archaeologist on Monday, a foreign correspondent on Tuesday. How can I imagine a life in which, say, I switch career tracks to become a pediatric surgeon but I can’t imagine a life without wine?
Someone asked this question in my sobriety support forum – What do you hope that you will get back by going alcohol-free? What are the things you most desire? – and I answered :
Creativity and productivity. The ability to witness. To show up for my own life
Is that what sobriety is about? Showing up for my own life?
Yesterday, I told my mom and brother I thought I might be an alcoholic. I was cooking and slipped it so casually into the conversation I might have said, you know, I think this soup could use more salt. You know, I think I just could be…
The word is sticky and uncomfortable in my mouth. For the last week, I’ve just repeatedly asked myself Am I, Am I, Am I?
What does it matter if I am? Stupidly, it feels unexpected, left field. But how can it be? Look at the last six years…you know, the ones that feel like they belonged to someone else.
I’m no longer living that life but I’m not settled in my sober one either. Everything feels opaque but full of possibility and also somehow beyond my imagination. I’m hovering above myself, watching.
Why is it so hard to give up? It is only my youth, which I may or may not be done with
I would be 80 days sober today, only 20 days from completing my first 100-day alcohol-free challenge, but three weeks ago, I chose to end my 48-day sober streak by announcing that I never truly gave moderate drinking a chance. The whole summer, I had sat with my kombucha or La Croix while I watched with an almost physical pain as my parents popped open their nightly bottle-and-a-half of wine. The whole affair felt brutally unfair. They drank like I had –especially my Dad — but yet, they weren’t the ones on an online sobriety support forum. They weren’t the ones who felt they had to commit to 100 days alcohol-free. Detox. At least.
During that first streak of sober days, I had decided that my reasons for drinking were deep-seated and that I could cure myself by reading, writing, and exercising my addiction into submission. I only needed to read every recovery memoir on the market, do a 40-day fear cleanse, train for a 5K, and become a disciplined meditator.
This is what I wrote to my support group at Day 30 alcohol-free –
Wow! I can’t believe I get to be here. This is the longest I’ve gone without drinking since college, and to say that my life has changed for the better would be an understatement. To say that the decision to quit drinking has been one of the most terrifying, life-altering, and difficult things of my life would be an understatement.
My life is infinitely better when I’m not drinking
Here’s some things that have changed in the last 30 days since I put down the wine:
1. My ambition is slowly returning. I have dreams and goals again that I actually want to work for.
2. I can run for 25 mins, which is insane to me. Before I could maybe run for 5 mins, and only if I were being chased by a bear or needed to catch the bus. I might become a person who runs…for fun?
3. I don’t sweat the little things and I take everything less personally
4. I write regularly in my journal
5. I don’t hate myself as much
6. I brush my teeth every night
7. I’m ridiculously hydrated
8. I’m kinder and am able to care more deeply about people
9. I clean up after myself. No longer have dishes piled in the sink. No longer have clothes laying on the floor.
10. Realized I can do hard things. Realized I am strong.
100 days, here I come!!
-then at six weeks sober I felt strong enough to share my sobriety tool box –
What has kept me sober the first six weeks
I hit 42 days sober yesterday which is the longest I’ve gone without alcohol in years. Part of what initially turned me off from recovery circles was that everything felt a little woo-woo, and while I’m learning to embrace my spiritual side, I’m also doing things that good ole fashion ME way: not a lot of higher power, some Idaho grit, and a shit ton of books. I am leaning into the woo-woo, though. Astrology, kale, May Cause Miracles, yoga, the occasional stab at meditation…I certainly wouldn’t say no to a crystal if someone offered me one.
When I am 23 or 24, I joke with my best friend that I will go to AA like a normal alcoholic in 20 years. It takes me 5 and when I go, it is midnight, and I am still drunk.
I had a friend reach out to me last week and ask how I was quitting the drink if not for AA and so I’ve been reflecting on what’s worked so far. Obviously, things will change and I will have to adjust tools as time goes on, but here’s my list.
– this community. I don’t post every day but I come on here A LOT to read people’s stories and to check in on everyone’s days. Y’all seem like friends I would have in the real world.
–BOOKS! If I could make a quit drinking syllabus, it would include
+ This Naked Mind, Annie Grace
+ The Alcohol Experiment, Annie Grace
+ Unwasted, Sacha Scoblic
+ Lit, Mary Karr
+ The Sober Revolution, Lucy Rocca
+ Girl Walks Out of a Bar, Lisa Smith
+ Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp
+ The Recovering, Leslie Jamison
And many, many more
– Blogs! I read Mummy Was A Secret Drinker, Hip Sobriety, Unpickled, Off Dry, Laura McKowen, and Mrs. D is Going Without. I read them again and again.
– AF drinks. I mark down mocktail recipes on Pinterest. I have 20 different kinds of tea and seltzer and I’ve allowed my coffee intake to go through the roof. I pee a hundred times a day. No regrets.
– journaling. I have several different journals but my everyday leather-bound one is for my daily scribbles and then I have my bullet journal, which is a blank notebook that one turns into a DIY planner. You draw, make lots of lines, write down your goals. More on this later.
– mindset. The key to early sobriety, I think, is having a bit of an attitude adjustment. You have to switch from having a mindset of deprivation to one of accumulation. You are losing soul-crushing shame, guilt, and hangovers. You are pulling yourself out of the gutter and gaining a life.
– moving my body. Still trying to find yoga not hateful and still have a ways to go. Running and walking are working very well for me right now. I want to add dance and kayaking eventually.
At six weeks, I’m still fantasizing about slipping. I see wine and throw myself a small pity party before drinking my seventh Limoncello La Croix (these are very good) and telling myself that it’s only 100 days, just like it was only 30 days, or even just one day. Soon, I imagine, the idea of it being “just forever” won’t feel so smothering. But also, at six weeks, I’m feeling confident and like, maybe, I like myself? There’s so much possibility and occasionally I find joy in the struggle. I’m loving the small things, the details that make up our world and, friends, that’s really, really cool.
I meant everything I wrote at 30 days sober and at six weeks alcohol-free, but then I got too exhausted by the process, threw in the towel, and decided that I hadn’t given the “glass of wine with dinner” a fair shake. About halfway through my second glass, I knew that it wasn’t going to work. I drank a bottle of wine with dinner, made myself a cup of tea, and stationed myself by the fireplace to write. I continuously added whiskey to my tea until 2 am. This was something I used to do in my mid-20s.
In my journal, I intended to write a brief list of “two or three things I know for sure” but it ended up being 40 pages. I read over it recently and tried to decipher my handwriting as it became increasingly illegible. What’s most striking to me is that these are thoughts I had while drinking. This wasn’t next-morning regret.
So, what did I know drunk-writing in the latest hours of the night? Here is a sample:
– I have a problem with alcohol.
– I hate that this is my thing. I hate the language and pathetic truisms of AA, a never imagined a life of folding chairs, Folgers, and God. This is the narrative gone awry.
– Drinking makes me want it all. I want another drink. I want to self-destruct. I want to smoke cigarettes in the snow. I want to do drugs in the bar basement after closing hours. I will stay for another round. I will let the stranger grab me between the legs outside the bar.
– We are as old as our habits. I am the age of peppermint schnapps and honey whiskey and Camel Lights outside of the New Year’s Eve Party.
– Except I am not 17, or 18, 19, or even 21. I am doing now what I did at 25. 2015 and My grandma is dead. My neighbor’s dad is dead. I am drinking in the living room after everyone has gone to sleep. It’s a night I’m not closing down the bar and I haven’t yet accepted I have a problem.
– Except I am 30.
– When I am 23 or 24, I joke with my best friend that I will go to AA like a normal alcoholic in 20 years. It takes me 5 and when I go, it is midnight, and I am still drunk.
– Why is it so hard to give up? It is only my youth, which I may or may not be done with.
– From the outside, I imagine: She’s on-again, off-again. She has a drinking problem, although we’ve never seen it. Try not to talk about it either way. She makes bad choices with men. She’s kind of crazy. We love her. We love her so much. Well, maybe not like that. She needs boundaries. And body confidence. She could probably moderate. She’s not that bad.
– Bitch, I don’t want to hear ‘I never gave moderation a chance’ out of your 2am-mouth again.
– Maybe you aren’t this way because of what you did or didn’t do. Some people say it is a gift. Maybe sobriety isn’t a reward, but maybe it’s not a punishment either.
– I need to go to a dermatologist.
It goes on like this for a very long time. You get the idea. When I woke up the next morning, I texted my friends to say that moderation did not work. It was never going to work. Three weeks later, today, and I am back on the pink cloud.
The two or three things I know?
– I can’t moderate alcohol
– My life is infinitely better when I’m not drinking
– I still need to go to the dermatologist
I was either unemployed, underemployed, or in school for the entirety of my twenties, and I drank throughout those years to numb myself from feeling like a complete failure, watching while my siblings went on to get prestigious jobs in tech. I still struggle with feeling any kind of pride in my work and I battle with imposter syndrome on a regular basis. This is reinforced by a number of people in my life. I joke that I have fake degrees and that I’m currently getting a Ph.D. in arts and crafts. When I say “I need to get a job” I am being self-deprecating; when my family says “get a job,” I cry in the bathtub.
While most people’s drinking is slowed down by the regular workweek, mine escalated because my schedule was all over the place. I could stay up drinking as late as I wanted as long as I could get to class and bullshit about Foucault by 10:00am. I often wonder if alcohol would have taken me down as quickly if I had had a typical 9-5 workday.
There were several years there where any day was treated like a Friday or Saturday night. My friend and I even had a thing called “two o’clock Tuesdays” where we would routinely shut down the bar and I would try to go home with the bartender. To say this was a bad time in my life would be an understatement.
The pandemic has made time extra slippery, and now that I live alone, all my days feel amorphous and lonely. Fridays, the street below me floods with people. The bars get loud. Last weekend, I watched as a girl handed her phone to a stranger, told this stranger to talk to her boyfriend, and then proceeded to throw up in the street.
I, personally, hold no nostalgia for throwing up in streets. But it’s on Fridays that I feel a voyeur. Here I am watching the commotion and clinking and laughing and kissing and chaos that used to be my life. Fridays feel like any other day except they are extra lonely. The world is spinning bravely onward, and I’ve stepped outside of it. I don’t want to be someone who drinks. The alcohol doesn’t work anymore –
I was asking myself 40 days in… Am I an Alcoholic? I still don’t know how I feel about that label but I know now that I can’t mess with alcohol and frankly, I don’t want to. Even if I cannot imagine my entire life sober, I’m flying out of my old life and into my new one. I think I’ve finally experienced the surrender.
The emotional rollercoaster of early sobriety continues.
Maybe you aren’t this way because of what you did or didn’t do. Some people say it is a gift. Maybe sobriety isn’t a reward, but maybe it’s not a punishment either.
If you’re “sober curious” … If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break…or if you have stopped drinking and are trying to stick to sober! Talk to Us. Start with 30 days. Try a Dry July, Sober October, or New Year’s Dry January Challenge.
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Don’t let the shame of the stigma keep you from saying
“I think I have a problem with drinking”
How do you go Sober? ( more reading in blue titles)
B Be accountable Talk to Us We Understand
A Avoid alcohol like the plague Ideas Here
L Let yourself enjoy regular sober treats Ideas Here
A Allow yourself to cry when needed Ideas Here
N Nourish your body with good food Ideas Here
C Create happy & fun memories Ideas Here
E Enjoy the precious moments in your day Ideas Here
W Work hard to get what you want Ideas Here
O Organise things for less stress Ideas Here
R Realise you can’t control it all Ideas Here
K Keep going & prepare for success Ideas Here
S Sleep enough for body & mind rest Sleep Solutions
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