365 - 52 - 12 - 1
A few days ago I was doubting that I had the words to express what reaching 365 days alcohol free (AF) meant to me. It has been such a personal journey but one whose progress I have openly shared. Until now I haven't been able to crystallise how I've changed and how my sober life has played a part in this. Hopefully the below will resonate with someone, who may wish to take a similar path or be inspired to share their journey of change.
13 things I have learned during my first year AF
1. If you can set and meet a meaningful goal and this can't help but make you more hopeful for the future (thank you CR Snyder for Hope Theory).
2. It is possible to care about something more important than your stress - in my case my actual lifelong wellbeing (thank you Mark Manson for his The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k ).
3. Abstaining from drinking was only part of becoming truly alcohol free. That there is a lot we can learn from positive psychology, the alcohol recovery and mental illness recovery literature about building a life you both like and love.
4. It becomes all about the coffee/cake/sweet/sleep/pampering treat…at least to start with. You'll need to persevere until your wellbeing spirals upwards and you rediscover your interests with all your extra time and energy.
5. When you remove a default coping mechanism you may have to go through a period of grieving. Dealing with all the losses of your life, no matter how old, one by one. Although this will probably be involuntary and unpleasant, engaging with this could be an important part of your new AF life where you can be yourself all the time.
6. It's possible to become ok with being (with) yourself all the time - black, white, messy grey areas and all.
7. Its ok to make a mistake, but not ok not to learn from that mistake (Thanks Carol Dweck for Growth Mindset). False starts, regrets, guilt …make them count and see them as confirmation you are on the right track.
8. Not everyone will cheer you on or get it and that is ok. If you attach your sobriety to what is meaningful to you (the ultimate meaning, your wellbeing and often that of your loved ones) no one can undermine your efforts of progress regardless of how defensive they get (about their own habit usually!).
9. It's best to think of a go-to response when your sobriety is questioned to shut down the debate. I personally 'got too good at drinking' until I felt comfortable simply sticking to 'I don't drink because it's bad for me'.
10. Triggers: You will need to find a way to deal with the proliferation of alcohol marketing in our daily lives. From happy hours to birthday cards, from box sets to the gym, from slogans on water bottles, clothing and even socks! You learn to see it for what it is - an industry designed to make you want.
11. At your highest and lowest points you will seek out likeminded others who see through alcohol too. It may be from within this shared paradox of hope and despair that their stories will help you create yours.
12. Sharing and celebrating milestones is key! One day, one week, one month, 100 days…first night out, first night out-out, first new years, first wedding or celebration. Notice them all and reward yourself for your progress.
13. Acceptance that you are a work in progress and continual effort is needed for a meaningful and fulfilling life. Anything worth having requires struggle.