Looking back from 500 days sober, I still remember that when I was struggling with the mere idea of sobriety even for a shortened stint like my first 30-day alcohol-free challenge, the questions flooded my mind.
How will I stop drinking?
When will I stop drinking?
Sobriety? Seriously? Is complete abstinance really necessary?
What in the heck do I need to do/understand/think/be so that I can tell my monkey brain that:
I can do this, I can live without alcohol
My drinking is making my life worse and not better
After spending a lot of time in online forums, including moderation.org which initially was my gateway to understanding that support for both sobriety and moderation was out there (but they strongly focus on moderation), the questions I read were often the same. And the answers are the same as well
I’m not quite ready
I’m going to give moderation a try (after a few failed attempts at dry 30’s, Ocsober, Dry July etc…)
I’m not that bad (comparison to others)
A lot of the comments in the online forums seem to strive to separate the individual from the other people that are struggling and being brutally honest about the struggle. THIS is the hardest part in the beginning, realizing that you have more in common with the problem drinkers around you than differences.
Many of us drink (or drank) because we felt we were so different from everyone, our childhoods, our traumas, our kids, our jobs, our lives were so friggin hard, and we simply could not get through. Turns out there’s no shame in that. We turned towards the crutch of alcohol for support, and at some point, it changed from a relaxing way to unwind to a dependency issue. For some, it started very young and has always been part of your life.
I’m not judging, I’ve so been there. Once I dove into moderation.org, read the sober stories on Living Sober, binge-listened to The Bubble Hour, joined Hip Sobriety/Tempest (turning point), TLC club, tons of quit lit, and this forum.…Boom Rethink the Drink , until then, I always thought I was weirder, more damaged, more so very different from everyone else that it could never change, but then found out my story wasn’t all that unusual. The relief and solace and comfort that has come from understanding that there are so many goddamn people out there that suffer like I do, that share tiny and sometimes huge snippets of my story as their own, that I am not all that different in my suffering, nor am I different for turning to booze and food for comfort.
THAT, my friends, has made all the difference. By normalizing my thoughts and behaviors through reading and being active in the sober community, I now feel more normal as a sober person than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. It seems like it should be the other way around since human nature and our society celebrates those who belong and go along with the crowd, and sobriety (from the outside) seems so isolating, lonely, and un-fun. But the sober community combined with the way staying sober long term opens up the space to examine how you got where you were (safely, without booze) and acknowledge that you are a wonderful and beautiful human with flaws and bruises and lots to offer. Well, that is worth it all.
My decision to stop drinking came at the exact time that I could handle it. It came when I was ready to face some uncomfortable truths about myself and those around me—something I would not have been able to any earlier.
Now that I’m 500 days sober – Why did I stop when I did?
My last drink was Sunday, November 4, 2019, which, when writing it out, seems like a long time ago. Time moves so quickly the older I get, I could just as easily be sitting at my desk writing this after my nightly bottle of wine and then some. So why did I stop?
Before I tried my first dry 30 days in January 2017, I was struggling to get out of bed each day, and saw someone each day in the mirror with a bloated face, dark circles, and greasier than usual hair. My day revolved around the end of each day, and what type of wine I’d have. I had recently started my own business and desperately wanted to start growing and hiring people. I recall feeling sad, because I knew that would require getting my butt to the office earlier than 10 or 11, and on a somewhat regular basis I’d need to be ready to train and lead. But I didn’t have it in me. I knew I’d need to stop the daily drinking to have that energy, and the sadness came from the fact that I knew deep down I couldn’t let go of alcohol. Some time before I’d accepted that I was addicted, I knew for certain that alcohol would likely be the thing to kill me earlier than my time. I didn’t know if it would be a health issue or an alcohol-related accident, but I was certain it would take me. Little did I know it already had.
We were going through some horrendous challenges with a family member, which was putting strain on my relationships with my husband, children, and friends. I had nowhere to escape from the troubles of life, except through my regular wine. I’d found the Moderation Management website three or four years prior, but as I dipped my toe into sobriety I quickly retreated: Not drink for 30 days? There was no way I had the willpower to do that. That further saddened me, knowing the grip of booze was growing stronger each and every year.
During a quiet time in the house, I discovered the aforementioned website again. I found it to be a welcoming accepting place, so stuck around for a bit. Before I knew it I was spending each night scouring the site for posts and information. Little did I know this was the start of a fascination with memoirs and quit lit, and more importantly, reconnecting with my love of reading that had disappeared from my life years before. Each night I looked forward to learning more, and read the stories of those who had successfully beaten the booze (usually a website moderator) and those who were trying, and failing over and over again, but knew they had to stay connected and be true to their story. Something inside me decided to try a dry 30, so in the middle of Dryuary, I forged my own lightly supported, anonymous path into the world of temporary sobriety.
It took close to two years of fits and starts, attempts at additional dry 30s, strict moderation agreements with myself (no more than two glasses of wine on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, and never at home), and lots and lots of reading about other’s journeys. At the beginning of the pandemic, I started a seven-book memoir series by Lela Fox that took me from her childhood to today, and I traveled with her through every agonizing moment. She was my closest friend and ally those nights, for I knew she’d come out ok.
So, how and why did I finally stop drinking? How did I get to 500 days sober?
I think my brain had soaked up enough information to understand it was a path worth taking, and it got to the point where I knew too much to lie to myself any longer. That’s easy to say in hindsight, for I know many people who really, really want to stop but can’t and are always looking for that elusive brass ring that will carry them through. For me, it happened through reading, online support forums, and daily writing.
I know I can’t even say the words I’ve stopped drinking forever, for I’ve also read the stories of many with decades of sobriety who have relapsed. Unfortunately, I am one of those people that, at some point in my drinking journey, crossed that line from drinking to addiction, and have realized that is why I can never go back. I still struggle with that quite often, but now instead of fighting it, I dig deeper into my past to uncover what brought me to this point. I have to be honest with myself about that, and that’s been one of the hardest things to accept.
Which brings me to the unintended consequences of sobriety: Many sober people extoll the beautiful, raw lives they now have which allow them to embrace both joy and pain fully, but until I had some sober miles under my belt, I really didn’t understand what that meant. I’d heard about their fears of being boring old bags sitting in their loneliness, and how that wasn’t the case at all with their sober lives.
At 500 days sober, what I’ve found is that the only way out is through, you cannot get to the juicy, colorful, sometimes painful, sometimes boring, sometimes technicolor life on the other side while still drinking if you have a problem. For me, once I’d learned enough to know that I was one of the people with that drinking problem no matter how I sliced it, I just needed the time to learn about how to get there. Now when I miss drinking, I don’t wallow in the “remember when’s” or “why me’s,” rather I allow my clear and conscious mind to dig in and discover what I was trying to run away from all of those years. Then I accept it as part of my story without judgment, and turn to the mirror and say “I love you” and really mean it.
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