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Find Your Sober Courage

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I was afraid to quit drinking. Just absolutely terrified. Even when I was sick to death of it. Even when I was so, so ready to quit. Even when I knew I could quit drinking because I had done it before. The fear of living sober stopped me in my tracks. 

Alcohol was my safety blanket. It was the comfort object I clung to the way a small child carries their favorite stuffy around. Even though I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that alcohol was ruining my life, the thought of letting it go filled me with dread. I couldn’t imagine life without alcohol. I couldn’t imagine how to fill my time without alcohol. It was absolutely the most important thing in my life, and no matter how much I wanted that not to be true, it was true all the same.

Did I drink because I was insecure, or was I insecure because I drank? Both are probably true. When I was a teenager, and well into my 20’s, I drank to fit in. I drank because I was always kind of nerdy and “square,” and alcohol loosened me up. Drinking made me feel less self-conscious, allowed me to open up, and made me feel invincible. Alcohol made it easier for the shy, insecure young woman that I was to talk to people. I desperately wanted to be cool, and so I went full steam ahead into partying with zero thought about the potential consequences of my behavior.

I really loved alcohol. I thought it was my best friend. Alcohol brought me great times, helped me shed my inhibitions, softened hard edges, and helped me numb my pain. I’d get together with friends and we’d get torn up, sing karaoke until we were hoarse, laugh until we could barely breathe, and spend the next morning reminiscing about our drunken adventures. I’d go to work functions and found I related much better to my coworkers after a couple of glasses of wine. When times were tough, alcohol saw me through it. No tragedy was too big for booze to work its magic. I couldn’t imagine giving all that up.

Then something strange started to happen. I’d see social media posts from my friends showcasing a fabulous, drunken adventure that I hadn’t been invited to participate in. When I was invited to gatherings, it was for things like movies or game nights. I was spoken to by my boss about embarrassing behavior at a conference I attended. What counted as a “tragedy” became smaller and smaller, until the equivalent of stubbing my toe became reason enough to drink. Still, I thought, giving up alcohol seemed too high a price. Obviously moderation was the key I was missing.

I was so stuck on the idea that alcohol added something to my life that I was blind to everything it was taking away from me. It took a while, but over the course of a few years I lost my friends, my job, and, eventually, my sense of self-worth. My entire life became one big “tragedy” that I could not drink enough to escape. I was in pain ALL THE TIME, and no amount of alcohol could touch it. In fact, it only made it worse. Still, I clung to my bottle. Despite everything that I had lost as a direct result of drinking, the thought of stopping seemed like the greatest loss of all. 

The fear of quitting was paralyzing! But that’s what fear does, paralyzes. I felt like a deer in headlights, stuck in one spot with a 2000lb vehicle heading straight for me! I remember the moment I told my boss about my drinking problem…and my words were exactly that…I’m so scared, I don’t know what my life will look like without alcohol…sigh…but now, my AF life is much more productive, peaceful and satisfying. And the more I learn, the better the future is looking. I definitely have more courage! And right now that courage is focused on my future. There’s so many things I want to do! I like feeling happy about not drinking when the triggers happen…I like feeling hopeful about my future…I like my mind being more and more clear…it’s a freedom I have been looking for in all the wrong places….and now I’ve found it!

All alcohol does is take things away from us. Little by little, one drink at a time, it deprives us of the life we want to live. What’s worse is that as it takes from us, it whispers ever so seductively in our ears that we must never let it go, that it will solve all our problems, that everyone else is wrong. I listened to those whispers for far too long. It cost me dearly.

Over time, this issue leaked out of the realm of social interaction and into every single area of my life. I got myself into a position in which I only really felt confident if I had been drinking. When I was sober, I was frozen by indecision. I second-guessed every instinct, every thought I had. I saw all of the problems but none of the solutions seemed good enough. I doubted my abilities at every turn. I stopped speaking up with my ideas, stopped trying to make friends, stopped dating, stopped trying new things, stopped tackling tough challenges…stopped pretty much everything that required me to have even the tiniest bit of belief in myself. Then I would get drunk and beat myself up for being so “weak”.

I think the worst part is that I had that fear every single time I quit drinking. It didn’t matter how long I had managed to stay alcohol free before I slipped, and it didn’t matter how long I drank in between my sober periods. It didn’t matter that after many stops and starts I had a clear picture of what life looked like without alcohol. It didn’t matter that I knew that I preferred life without alcohol. The second I thought about quitting, I just plain got scared. Of course, that was Snidely doing his part to make sure I kept drinking. When he couldn’t talk me into believing life was better with alcohol in it, when he couldn’t stop me from being determined to move on, when he knew his voice was getting smaller and smaller, he used fear to keep me right where I was. Because fear is a powerful thing.

It didn’t help that Snidely was always there, whispering away. He was especially fond of lies like, “You’ll never be able to do that,” or “You’ll just have a couple of drinks first, then you’ll be able to handle it.” When I tried to moderate or quit drinking, he was more than happy to chime in with, “You may as well just give in,” “You’ll never make it, anyway,” and other wonderfully unhelpful thoughts. By the end, I just did not believe in myself at all. I couldn’t fathom what life would be like if I quit drinking because I no longer knew who I was without alcohol.

Snidely’s voice had completely replaced my own.

“ You don’t have a problem with alcohol because things aren’t that bad for you.” 

“Just because that happened to her/him doesn’t mean it will happen to you.” 

“You’ll never let it get to that point.” 

“If anything like that happens, you’ll stop right away.” 

“What will people think if you tell them you’re not drinking?”

“Everyone is drinking. It will be weird if you don’t.”

“You’ll quit tomorrow.”

“ You’ll only have one.”

It took a long time, but every time I managed to shut Snidely up for a few days, my own voice got a little stronger. Every time I got a glimpse of life without alcohol, I got a better idea of what that would look like long term, and, most importantly, I started to realize that I could handle it. I started to face and overcome challenges without alcohol. Each time I did that, my confidence grew just a little bit more. Now, at nearly 5 months Alcohol Free, nothing can stop me. I still have moments of self-doubt, as all people do, but moments is all they are. If I, someone who answered “Yes,” to every single question on the DSM 5 questionnaire regarding Alcohol Abuse, could stop drinking, I can do just about anything. Talking to someone new is small potatoes compared to quitting drinking. Basically everything is small potatoes compared to quitting drinking. I truly believe that this has been the greatest challenge of my life, and if I could rise to this occasion, I can rise to any occasion. That, my friends, is confidence.

It takes a lot of courage to quit drinking. It takes courage to stop, and then it takes courage to stay stopped. It takes courage to face the unknown. It takes courage to avoid going back to the old, “safe” way of doing things when challenges arise. It takes courage to walk into a situation in which you know you’ll be questioned about why you are not drinking.

What I’ve found, based on the time I spent in the land of slipping and sliding, is that it is easier to be brave without alcohol in my life than it is to be brave if I keep it around. Alcohol magnified my fear by about 5,000%. Alcohol made Snidely strong. It gave power to his words. Sobriety takes that power away. Sobriety makes ME strong. Sobriety gives me the courage I need to face the difficult stuff of life. It gives me the courage I need to shoot Snidely down when he starts trying to reel me back in. It gives me the courage I need to try new ways of doing things instead of running back to the bottle. I like that. I like feeling courageous rather than afraid. That is one of the many reasons I will not drink today. Sober Courage.

Over 130 days ago I kicked that sneaky, no-good, dirty, rotten liar Snidely to the curb, and do you know what I have lost? NOTHING. Not one single thing. In fact, not only did I avoid losing anything, I have discovered that the longer I am Alcohol Free, the more I gain. In less than five months I can see my family starting to trust me again. I have a new job that I enjoy, and I am making new friends there. I have re-discovered old hobbies and found completely new ones. I have genuine feelings of happiness. Joy has become a regular part of my days. 

I was afraid of giving up drinking.  It felt like a shield from my stressful bad days … and also my gateway to fun on good days. I was afraid I couldn’t actually do sobriety long term. But now on day 90 I realize I am fun without wine, and even more fun since I am present … not hungover, sleep deprived, anxious or guilty.  So far, sobriety gives me a glimmer of courage that I can actually do this.  

It’s not all sunshine and roses. I have bad days. I get lonely, I get angry, I get frustrated with the seemingly never-ending amount of work it takes to maintain my sobriety. Sometimes I struggle with feelings of guilt and shame around past behavior. Sometimes I even miss my old buddy. Here’s the thing, though: being Alcohol Free gives me the ability to cope with these feelings. They no longer overwhelm me. I have gained perspective, and am able to work both with and through my emotions. I know that when I miss drinking, I miss it in the same way I miss some of my ex-boyfriends – things were good at first and we had a lot of fun, but by the end there was just a lot of misery.

It is very normal to experience feelings of grief and loss when faced with the idea of letting go of alcohol. Many, many people go through it. I went through it. Just hold tight and keep trying. It’s worth it to see what’s on the other side.

More by this author :

One Day At A Time

Drinking Myself Away

Tuned-In to the Kaleidoscope of Life at 4 Months Sober

Progress not Perfection – Finding Balance in Sobriety

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! 

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