Living sober flows pretty easily for me these days and it’s a vibrant, empowering way to live, but for years, when I was trying to stop drinking, my experience with the process was anything but rewarding. It was so frustrating! I promised myself over and over and over that I wouldn’t drink that day, or that I would only drink 3 beers, or that I would never drink hard alcohol again, or that I would only drink wine, or that I would never drink before 7 pm, but it always ended up the same way. I would wake up filled with self-loathing, ashamed of myself for not being able to do what I said I was going to. I berated myself for my lack of willpower. I called myself weak. I threw up my hands and said,
I can’t do this, I can’t stop drinking, I’ll just give in.
Then I would hate myself for days (and drink accordingly). I don’t think I could even begin to count the number of times I asked myself, “Why can’t I do this?” And it never occurred to me that the answer was simply,
Living sober takes practice.
When I first tried to quit drinking, I thought that staying sober was about getting my head in the right space. The right frame of mind was what I needed! But here’s the thing, and this is important: I was missing the fact that sobriety is a skill. Staying sober and enjoying the art of living sober is not about finding the right “how-to book” or quick fix. It’s about patience, perseverance, and practice. Through mindful repetition, you can teach yourself just about anything. And the sometimes tedious repetition of one day at a time living alcohol-free leads to an ease with living sober that is poetry in motion.
Do you think that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers just woke up one day, decided to become dancers, walked out onto the dance floor, and did this?
Of course not! Dancing like this is not just an art that requires talent and natural ability, it’s a skill, and like any other skill, it requires practice. There are stories upon stories of actresses who thought it would be so much fun to work with Fred, only to end up calling him a monster for how many hours of practice he made them put in. Yes, that dance looks effortless, but it only looks effortless because of all the effort that was put into it on the back end.
Why did I think I could wake up one day, decide to become sober, and immediately achieve effortless sobriety without having to put in any work on the back end? Honestly, it’s because I thought being alcohol-free was the first step rather than the ultimate goal. I thought I should be able to just decide to put down the bottle and be done with it when what I really should have been thinking about was how I could learn to stay sober. If I had approached the situation with this mindset, I might have gotten here faster. If I had been able to see my slips and slides as lessons rather than failures, I might have saved myself a lot of pain and suffering. Perhaps most importantly, if I had approached quitting drinking the same way I approach learning any other new skill, I would have treated myself much more kindly along the way.
Here’s the thing, and this is important: I was missing the fact that sobriety is a skill. It is a skill I didn’t have because I had spent so many years leaning on alcohol as my coping mechanism for absolutely everything. Every emotion required a drink. Happy? Drink to celebrate. Sad? Drink to drown my sorrows. Angry? Drink to calm down. Stressed? Drink to decompress. Anxious? Drink to feel calm. Content? Drink to prolong the feeling. I didn’t know how to feel without needing a drink to go along with it, and since life is full of feelings, I didn’t know how to live without alcohol. I needed to practice the art of living sober.
Getting sober is hard. It takes a lot of work. Most people don’t get it on the first (or second, or third, or even fourth) try. The important thing is to keep practicing, to keep learning, to keep trying, and eventually, you’ll get it.
I have a photograph at home of Fred Astaire from the knees down with his feet crossed. It’s kind of inspiring because it reminds me his feet were bleeding at the end of rehearsals. Yet when you watch him, all you see is freedom. It’s a reminder of what the job is about in general, not just being in musicals.
quote by Alan Rickman
Keep practicing, my friends, and be patient with yourselves. It takes time to get it right. It certainly has for me. But living sober is an art worth the practice. This is your life. May it be richly rewarding!!
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