I remember when I first joined the BOOM Community hoping to get help to stop drinking, reading posts from people saying they’d made it a year, a month, a few weeks alcohol-free even, and I thought they were some sort of wise old sages with a secret to staying sober that I didn’t have. And now here I am, it’s almost July and I haven’t had a drink in almost six whole months. 174 days of choosing the possibility of a better life. According to the app I use, that’s 860 drinks I’ve passed on. I went from not being able to imagine staying sober to living and breathing it. Thoughts and fantasies come to life. The secrets to staying sober? They were all with me from the beginning. I just had to uncover them.
Secret to Staying Sober #1: Visualization
I often rehearse how things will go in my head. It’s a planning ahead thing, a preparedness thing, a thing that helps my anxiety I guess. I do it all the time. So while I was making my bed the other day I was suddenly transported to being at an event where I was new and didn’t know anyone, laughing and carefree (my mind rehearsals are detailed), and someone offered me a glass of wine. I pictured myself saying “No thanks, I don’t drink” and the feelings that rushed over me in my vision, and while making my bed, surprised me. I felt a rush of pride. In my vision, I was the only one not drinking, and it felt like I was standing on my own and strong. It felt like I had something special. Something that made me interesting and unique. It felt damn good.
After being surprised by this visualization of mine, I have thought about it a lot since. First of all the fact that I rehearse things in this way and the power that can hold. There are people I know who don’t seem to want a different life for themselves. Or they do but they don’t take steps towards meaningful change. They accept what is and deal with it, however grudgingly. I have gone through phases where that was me too.
When I think of the times I have been really low in my life and things felt unchangeable, stagnant, stuck, change always started with a mental picture of a better life. Maybe at first, I saw people living in ways that I wanted for myself, but I didn’t believe that was me or that I could get there. I desired it and I longed for it. I would tentatively imagine what that could look like for someone like me. It would seem ridiculous at first. That isn’t me. Who do I think I’m kidding? But the vision persisted. And I started to really like the idea of the possibilities. I started rehearsing in my head what it would look like for me to be living that life. Without that initial picture in my mind, I don’t know that I would have taken the steps to move myself towards a new reality. There is power in those pictures and rehearsals.
With each new experience I nervously navigate I realize what I thought was impossible or at the least highly undesirable, is in fact the opposite.
Hope and vision, allowing myself to visualize the possibility of a better life, is without a doubt one of the secrets of staying sober.
Secret of Staying Sober #2: Self Respect / Self Determination
The first major life change I remember making in this way, the way that I stopped drinking, was breaking up with my high school/college boyfriend. We’d been together four and a half years and I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Before we started dating I was obsessed with him. I stayed obsessed with him throughout much of our relationship even though he was terrible to me. I tried breaking it off so many times only to miss him or have him cry and tell me he was sorry, and then I would think of how much I wanted him and go back. The cycle would repeat.
At 20 years old five years seemed like a lifetime. I was so stuck and trapped in our relationship. I couldn’t see a way out. But I started playing with the idea.
I imagined myself on my own, happy, wearing the clothes I wanted without being called a slut, being appreciated for the person I was instead of constantly blamed and berated. The picture in my head was wonderfully freeing, but how to get there? Eventually, I took a leap of faith and walked away from the relationship. It was hard and heartbreaking and seemed impossible at times, but I held my vision in my mind and walked towards it. I’ve never looked back. I shudder sometimes thinking how close I was to getting in too deep and being stuck with him forever.
There have been various other situations like this one since. Each one started with me imagining a better life and what that would look and feel like.
Instead of having nothing to show for my pain and suffering, I have this beautiful accomplishment and my future possibilities coming into focus.
Secret of Staying Sober #3: Humility and Self-Discipline
Identity is a strange, nebulous thing. Have you ever overcompensated for something that you’re terrible at, only to have someone start to associate you with it? For example, I’m very disorganized at home. No matter how hard I try to care about organizing my things I can’t seem to do it. It’s an insecurity of mine. I am sensitive about being seen as incompetent in this way and so at work I am meticulously organized to make up for (hide?) my lack. The first person who complimented me on my organization was met with a look of disbelief from me. What? I thought. Are they making fun of me? But they weren’t. Because I had taken steps towards being an organized person that is what they saw. They thought it must come naturally to me. How wrong they were! I was shakily following steps I wasn’t familiar with, bumbling my way through appearing like I had a sense of order. It wasn’t a part of my identity yet; it was something I was trying on for size. Since that day many years ago I have had many people notice my organization skills, and I have even gotten better at putting things in order at home. Where once these traits only belonged to other people, they now belong to me too.
Secret of Staying Sober #4: Trust and Focus
Being a drinker became part of my identity at age 15. It quickly became who I was. Since it was a part of my identity it was very hard to imagine not drinking. Since quitting alcohol six months ago I have questioned so much. It has turned my world upside down. It has made the obvious and unshakable, precarious and changeable. Slowly, days have gone by, weeks and months, and I am starting to see little glimpses of a new life. Like my mind rehearsal the other day where I heard myself saying “I don’t drink.” Even the pictures in my mind have changed. They’ve become more clear and focused. When I pictured my future non-drinking life seven months ago, it was hazy and it seemed like I was picturing someone else’s life. I wasn’t attached to it. It scared me even. But I was drawn to it the same because it sparked a hope inside me. I prepped and I planned, I read and I listened. I reached out for support. Most importantly I took a leap of faith. I held that shaky, blurry picture in my mind and I leapt towards it. I had to have trust that everything else would fall into place if I kept my focus on that picture.
I look at things in a new light, like a child. Time moves more slowly but that means I get to savor more of it.
Now my picture is clearer and I can see myself instead of someone else. I am starting to identify as a non-drinker. I have a ton of work ahead of me and in some ways the work has gotten harder. It’s not as constant. I don’t yet have days where I don’t think about alcohol, but I have minutes and hours where I don’t. Progress. With each new experience I nervously navigate I realize what I thought was impossible or at the least highly undesirable, is in fact the opposite. I look at things in a new light, like a child. Time moves more slowly but that means I get to savor more of it. Some days I can’t wait for it to end, but I’m doing hard work on those days. It’s not like when I was drinking where I’m wasting my time and my health for fleeting pleasure. Now when I am down and low, the feelings I am working through and the difficulty I’m having is for a worthwhile cause. Instead of having nothing to show for my pain and suffering, I have this beautiful accomplishment and my future possibilities coming into focus.
The secret to staying sober? With hope, visualization, trust, humility, and discipline, I’m pushing towards this picture in my mind. A future where I am confident, content, whole, strong, and when someone offers me a drink I proudly respond with a smile “No thank you. I don’t drink.”
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