Who am I and what is next ? – Embracing Empathy in my Third Sober Year

Sun Shining through Tree

I am over 2 1/2 years alcohol-free and I feel frustrated. While living AF is the great new normal for me the question in my third sober year is what is next? I want more. I have gratitude for my sobriety and for everyone who has helped me along the way. I have no desire to ever go back to my secret binge drinking days or the deep depression it spun me into. I believe in looking behind to learn, but not to dwell, so I can move forward, but I am struggling with moving my life to the next chapter. What comes next after the cravings for alcohol are gone and we are enjoying ourselves living AF?

I am not like some who are able to accomplish great things within a year or so of sobriety. It took me over a year and a half to regain my energy and achieve that “sober glow”. Maybe this is because of my age (64) or maybe it was the depression that drinking sunk me into. It also took a while for me to realize that I don’t need to push myself to the point of exhaustion. I now stop and rest when I need to and I say No a lot more without apologizing. I am no longer the “do all and be all” of some family members.

So if I am no longer a co-dependent, over-extended, “doing” person, who am I in the third sober year? Am I a cold uncaring person now!? 

As a child, I was told not to feel just be a worker. If I cried at a funeral I was told to stop and be strong. If I was afraid of something I was laughed at and dismissed. If I had physical pain I was told pain is good for the soul. I learned to stuff my feeling and to serve others. The problem is you can’t stuff your emotions and deny yourself your feelings.

As an adult, I learned I can deny my feelings by numbing out. I learned alcohol was a great way to numb all of life’s problems and feelings!

Wrong !

Wrong !

Wrong !

I know I am a deep thinker. I know I am a deep feeler. Today it is called being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or an Empath. In this third sober year I am learning my gift of empathy is a blessing and embracing it.  For the longest time, I was trying to erase this part of my personality. I was confusing my codependent caregiving with my gift of empathy and being sensitive.

Everyone has empathy for others who are struggling. However, an empath can easily sense others’ emotions, energy, and feelings and absorb them into our own bodies. If my mother was angry I could feel it. If my boss was upset, I felt anxious and upset for him. If I saw a homeless person I would think about them all day worrying about where they found shelter. I wake up at night worrying about children who aren’t safe at home. After a football game, I worry about the fans of the losing team because a man might drink too much and now beat his wife and children for the team losing. I don’t want to think on this level I just do.  It’s not all negative I can see and feel and experience the profound joy of being in nature and seeing a beautiful sunset. I embrace the love seen in the eyes of an older person etc. I can sense a stranger’s sadness and I just know when someone needs a hug or a kind word.

I decided to research HSP or what being an empathetic person was because I realize I feel on a different level than most people. I learned so much by reading the book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff MD . I think I have been stuck in what comes next in my life because as a HSP I needed a long rest from overworking and not honoring who I really am. I had to really learn that self-care for me means slowing down and finding peace and quiet when I need it. 

Finding peace for me means shutting out the world and just being silent in nature and solitude. I don’t mean isolating myself. Isolation is negative and unhealthy. Solitude is life-giving and spiritual healing. Meditation and prayer in solitude are healing for me.

Nature is my healing solitude.

Last week my husband and I spent 11 days on a beautiful lake. Each sunset was more beautiful than the other. Every day I took walks alone to just bathe in the beauty around me and to listen to what nature was telling me. Sometimes I would pray with deep gratitude and sometimes I could shed tears. I gave thanks for my life and the opportunities I have been blessed with.

When I got home from our time at the lake as I walked from room to room in my home I was overwhelmed by a sense of peace and calm.  It was a spiritual moment I will never forget. I was left with the feeling of truly being healed from my relationship with alcohol.  This spiritual awakening was so unexpected. 

So in this third sober year, what is next for me is to fully embrace who I am as an empathetic person who no longer needs to hide myself in alcohol. I get to choose how I want to use my gifts instead of others miss using them for their own gain . It is truly a wonderful feeling of freedom. I still have feelings of sadness at times that I can’t label.  As life happens it will reveal itself at the right moment when I can be accepting of it.

So my friends I just want to encourage each and every one of you to stay the course and continue on your journey no matter if you are on day 1sober or year 100. Don’t feel discouraged if you feel lost or wondering in the wilderness. When the time is right you will shine and new paths of understanding and adventures will be yours to experience. Keep working on living life alcohol free and looking inside yourself. It is hard work but so so worth all the struggles along the way ! 

More Reading on HSP :

The Power of Being Highly Sensitive

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One response to “Who am I and what is next ? – Embracing Empathy in my Third Sober Year”

  1. Wow, this was such a beautiful post.. I am turning 65 in two days…I really do understand, we are both about the same length of time. Thanks so much Erin

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