I was scrolling through headlines yesterday and this jumped out at me, Need for liver transplants due to heavy drinking soared during the pandemic. My first reaction was relief that I quit drinking two years ago and no longer have to worry about whether or not I’m tipping over the line from high functioning, gray area drinker to dangerously alcohol dependent. But I also saw this on the news today, and it just hit me really hard…
“Woman Crashes into Pole in McDonald’s Parking Lot. Officers say she was driving with an open liquor bottle and failed a field sobriety and breathalyzer test. She is now charged with DUI and three counts of child endangerment.”
I don’t know this person, but I do know what it was like to be driving around drunk, drinking, with the kids in the car in the middle of the day on a Saturday. And I know the court of public opinion will crucify this mother, so I am holding this stranger close today, because I have been there, and I am so damn lucky I didn’t hurt or lose my kids in the process. This could have been me so many times. And it makes me so grateful for where I am now.
I celebrated the end to my second full year sober with a “girls’ trip.” I met up with three other women. Women I have known since I was thirteen years old. Women I grew up with. Women I have experienced the greatest of life’s joys and its deepest tragedies with. And also, women I have drunk with. A lot.
To skip to the 6 tools that helped me quit drinking and stick to sober tap here
Today marks my second rotation around the sun without a drink. Two years sober. 730 days alcohol-free. That seems pretty huge to me when I think about everything that has come and gone in the world and my life in that time period. And I will spend the day reveling in my success and beginning my third trip.
These three women are the closest I will ever know to sisters. All four of us were inseparable throughout high school. We played sports and got good grades. We had sleepovers and went to prom. We all started drinking around our sophomore year. We went to college together. We shared dorm rooms and apartments. We learned how to cook and do laundry. We dated and broke up. We graduated with honors. And we got fall-down drunk to celebrate. We all got jobs and spread across the country. We kept in touch and one by one, we got married. We were all bridesmaids and held lavish bachelorette parties and our weddings were huge parties. Open bars and late nights. We had kids. When we became mothers, our get-togethers took on more meaning. They were our chance to escape the tedium of parenting, the expectations of motherhood. We met at beaches and spent days laying on lounge chairs with pool boys delivering us drinks and polishing our sunglasses. Drinking. Drinking. Drinking.
For almost 30 years, these dear friends have been a constant in my life. And for almost 30 years, every time we have reunited, there has been a lot of alcohol.When we get together we get together to PARTY. At these “girls’ weekends” I drank from the minute I woke up until I fell asleep with a beer on the nightstand.
When I quit drinking in 2019, I revealed it to my girlfriends slowly and quietly. Unsure of whether or not my sobriety would stick, I didn’t want to be labeled as the one who tried to quit drinking, but couldn’t. Throughout the past two years, my sobriety hasn’t come up much. Conversations have focused on kids, two new relationships, job changes, our parents’ health, updates on old classmates, and current events. My not drinking just hasn’t been a focus.
So, this week, as the group text geared up, our hostess asked what she should get to have around the house. Everyone responded with their drinks of choice, but I stayed quiet. I privately texted her that I usually drink water, but if she wanted to grab some sparkling water or kombuchas, that would be great.
“Are you still not drinking?”
I hesitated. How will this go? Will they feel awkward around me or wish for the “old” me to join them?
I replied, “Yep, or maybe the answer is nope. Not drinking – that’s correct.” with a thumbs-up emoji and smiley face. My heart raced a little, and I wondered if there was a separate group text without me included.
“That’s incredible. I mean, that’s just so awesome. Hey – I just want to be sure. Are you okay with being around it?”
A let out a sigh. “Yeah, completely.” And the conversation moved to arrival times and transportation.
And, I knew I’d be okay with being around alcohol. I knew there would be moments of anxiety or annoyance or awkwardness. But I have learned to allow myself to experience emotions. And I knew that I would have just as much fun and probably more, alcohol-free. Because this year, I have so much more free cash flow from not drinking that I can afford the trip to the spa. I look forward to shopping (instead of telling them I’m not interested, and I will wait for them at the bar.) I’ll chose a restaurant based on the food menu, not the beer list. I look forward to hearing about their lives instead of listening to the voice in my head that is calculating how I can get more drunk and faster. I am still funny and fiesty and their friend – those things haven’t changed.
These women have seen me and loved me at my worst. I was so excited to have them see me at my best.
On this ” girls weekend” I had fun, was still the good parts of the “old me,” but was a little softer, more present, less antsy.
The drinking didn’t bug me, and it was pretty moderate.
Also, we got the question of my sobriety out in the open:
“Is it hard?”
Yes, sometimes, but much easier than drinking was.
“Does it get annoying when people assume you want a drink?”
Sometimes, but mostly I’m proud to correct them.
“Do you ever just have one?”
“Never? Like never?”
I don’t want “one,” and I never did. It’s the old saying, “one was too many and 20 wasn’t enough.” So, no.
And that was it.
I still danced. I still laughed. And we still reminisced about all the old times – and regretted how dangerously we drank in our youth and hoped together our own kids would be smarter and safer. And my bill at dinner was half of theirs (and they said the drinks weren’t even that good! 😜). But !!! I do not miss the bar scene after dinner !!!! Not one bit. Watching people drink to get drunk, spill, yell, high-five, etc., was just not appealing at all. This after-dinner bar scene used to be my place – my people! And, nothing has changed. But I have. I now know that there is A LOT I can enjoy AF (alcohol-free), but being at a bar isn’t one of those things. And I realized by not being a part of that scene anymore, I’m not missing one darn thing.
How did I get here? How did I quit drinking and make it stick? What were the strategies that helped me manage Day 1, Day 7, Day 30, Day 100, Day 365, Day 500, and now Day 730. These are things that worked for me, but one thing I know to be true is that we each have to forge our own path. But if you are starting your sober journey or feeling stuck along the way, I hope maybe you find a new idea that gives you one more day of freedom from alcohol.
6 Tools that helped me quit drinking and stick to sober:
I started therapy prior to ditching alcohol. Mostly due to my divorce, job loss, and overall mess of a life. But when I started, I used it as a way to justify my drinking behavior. I had shitty luck. I was a successful person who could overcome this. I wasn’t really broken, just bent. But as my thinking became less about how much of a victim I was and more about how my own choices might be contributing to my challenges, I started to gain much more from these sessions.
I have seen the same therapist for almost 5 years, and I remember the day I walked into his office and admitted that I wanted to quit drinking and that I was scared shitless. As I sobbed, he stayed calm and collected, and we started fresh. But before I was able to admit that to him, I used an online therapy site. I was really low: my relationship was suffering; my kids were suffering; my self-esteem was suffering, and I needed to figure out why. I was having daily panic attacks and my drinking was spiraling out of control. As a last-ditch effort to see if I could figure out what was happening with me, I created an online account and paid a couple hundred dollars for 2 weeks of unlimited sessions. It was the best money I have ever spent. I was able to chat and have video sessions whenever I wanted. It was through that experience that I finally thought (and wrote), “I think I might need to stop drinking.”
I know that therapy is expensive and not available to everyone, but it saved my life. If you are having trouble getting access, it’s worth asking your employer (or your spouse’s) if they have an “Employee Assistance Program.” These are fairly common where I live. They are completely free and completely anonymous resources for people struggling with a variety of mental or personal issues.
I needed to know that people have been through this and survived (and thrived), and I had a lot of time to kill – time I would normally spend drinking beers alone at home. I would guess that in the past two years I have read 50 quit-lit titles. This article, Books to Help you Stop Drinking and Fuel Your Sober Momentum, has a long list that includes all of my favorite titles. I read constantly; the stories of others who had quit drinking made me cry, cringe, and celebrate the steps I was taking to join this new club. I still pick up one of these books about every other month. It helps remind me of where I was before I quit drinking and how easy it is to go back there.
You can come join our book club discussions on these titles any time
Physical Activity –
Moving my body and being outdoors is a life-line for me. I walk, jog, practice yoga, or ride my bicycle nearly every day. I know that some people worry about replacing one addiction with another, but it’s not like that for me. It’s 20-30 minutes where I have no one to take care of, no deadlines, no triggers. It gets me out of my head and into my body.
My first sober Friday night was spent at a sound bath. I had never heard of one before, but I firmly believe that the experience helped adjust my brain waves to not look at giving up alcohol as a negative, but as an incredible opportunity. I am going back to one this week to celebrate. If these are not offered in your area, there are many available on YouTube (use headphones for the ultimate experience).
In addition, since I quit drinking, I have started to practice meditation and mindfulness. I write a page a day in a journal where I use a prompt from Yung Pueblo’s book Clarity & Connection, to reflect on where I am and where I want to go. Giving up alcohol has given me greater insight into myself as a person, particularly my emotions. Practicing a variety of spiritual techniques helps me cope with life in ways other than drinking and going numb.
I shut down my social life for the first several months after I quit drinking. There were a few exceptions, and I made it through them, but for the most part, I did not tempt myself with happy hours, parties, dinners out, or social events in general. And when I did, I was prepared with an escape route and had rehearsed every possible trigger and how I would respond. My isolation lasted longer than expected as COVID hit six months into my AF life, but I think that was the universe telling me to continue to take things slowly. Even now, as I am pretty much undisturbed by others’ drinking, I have found that I much prefer nights at home to anything else.
I have saved the best for last.
I found the BOOM Rethink the Drink community while searching online, as I sat on my couch two years ago drinking my final beer. I knew I was going to give this not drinking thing a go, but I wasn’t going to start before finishing the beer I had bought. I had googled something about “supplements to help alcohol withdrawal” and found a Boozemusings blog post which led me to BOOM. While I have gone in waves of being very active and then somewhat absent here, BOOM is never far from my mind. I absolutely, without a doubt, know that the BOOM community is what kept me committed to my decision to quit drinking and stay sober.
The resources, the familiarity of strangers’ stories, the support, and the accountability are things I could not replicate alone or in traditional meetings. I am eternally grateful for BOOM. The diversity of subjects tackled and the integration between the public Boozemusings blog and private, online, BOOM community, is likely what led the majority of us here – if someone wouldn’t have thought that maybe some kooky health-nut who was drinking herself into oblivion thought some vitamins might be a good first step to changing her life, I do not know where I would be today :).
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to every single person who has ever posted, commented, liked, or just scrolled through my and everyone else’s stories. I thought I was unique, and it has been the greatest blessing of my life to know that I am just like so many of you
My last day one, my first day of the rest of my life alcohol-free is a number engraved in my heart, mind, and soul.
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