This weekend it is my birthday. Not the anniversary of the day I was born, but my 5th Soberversary. It is 5 years since I had a drink of alcohol. To think that I, who thrice celebrated achieving the massive feat of Dry January with a few pints on 1st February, have got to this point is a little mind boggling.
If someone had said to me that I would voluntarily quit my albeit middle class drinking habit by the time my child was ready for secondary school, that I would be living clean and sober and preferring it that way, I would have laughed in their face and probably insisted they shut up and immediately wash their mouths out with the nearest bottle of spirits for good measure (pun intended).
Today I am in a reflective mood and also feeling pretty unapologetic about my sobriety. I want to share a bit about what I have learned during this past 5 years, as I shed my rosé tinted specs and began to live my life differently, with my eyes wide open.
"Fear has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours.”
– Zig Ziglar
I have been open about my decision to stop drinking since the beginning. My reasons were manyfold, I was taking anti-depressants which did not have the chance to work whilst I self-medicated with booze. I had put my safety and relationships at risk a few times and the ‘hangxiety’ and debilitating hangovers meant drinking had become it’s own problem.
Ironically, as a Bridget Jon’s' era young adult, I had been under the impression that joining in and drinking to excess was not only a right of passage, something I was entitled to do, but that it was actually helping me cope with my actual problems by giving me an outlet, an escape valve as I bonded with others on drunken nights out with old friends, colleagues and later the multifarious school mum cliques.
When I took the decision to stop and for good (and it took me almost 4 years of trying to moderate, remember Dry January was threefold) it was because I accepted that drinking and drinking to excess would always provide me with some element of escape and give me the illusion that I was being more me, whilst feeling less.
However, I also understood that although drinking would continue to offer me a short cut to change my mood and increase my confidence in social situations, it was possible that at the same time it was ruining all the things I truly valued in my life. The universe was telling me, it was time to make a decision, a free choice, before I became totally hooked and no longer had a choice to make. To address and “own my shit” by taking off those blush-filled lenses and seeing my drinking had become a dependence severely deleterious to a happy life.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
– Dr. Seuss
Whilst I know it is not the same for other people, and I know plenty who drink a lot more than I used to and it does not seem to bother them one bit, it was difficult for me to hide my decision and avoid awkwardness as I had always been well up for a drink whenever the opportunity.
So I decided to be open about my sobriety - just as I had recently learned that being open about my mental health challenges helped me, through helping normalise conversations about it, reducing shame and seeing this approach help others too.
However, I have painfully found it has been an excellent way to sift through friends and acquaintances as people take in that you are no longer drinking and, as they have every right to do, decide what this means to them (if anything at all!).
I may never know if certain relationships were only ever present with the aid of beer goggles and a shared need to go ‘out-out!’ and escape. Or whether my decision and openness have made others uncomfortable for a variety of reasons only known to them. All I know is that there have been and continue to be painful moments, where I can’t help but equal being suddenly excluded or overlooked as my choices or self somehow being rejected, disapproved of. It’s not you, it’s me…
For some reason in our culture, becoming sober makes you the odd one out. (I do not include non-drinkers here insomuch as I realise that it may already be harder to socialise with certain people or groups when you don’t partake - I am talking about being suddenly excluded and/or overlooked). You have to pick yourself back up, find new ways to feel connection, a part of things, to belong and this is hard. A work in progress.
“Sobriety is not a limitation, It is a Superpower.”
– Brene Brown
I do believe that if I had not become sober I would not have finally received the right mental health diagnosis or been able to access or participate in treatment which is saving my life.
I am very lucky to have some close friends who get it and with whom I have build a solid connection as the real me. Now I am not trying to escape myself and numb out, I have the opportunity to work out who me really is! I know that my sobriety is one central component and that having a couple of close friends who are on the same journey has helped me massively in coming to terms with starting over, and it does feel like starting anew.
Whilst I struggle with the ubiquitous drinking to excess which I believe is deep rooted in our culture, being alcohol free is not a requirement for being my friend and people who truly know me, know that.
Put starkly, the price of my life may be burning my bridges with others who do not share the same values of both being present in their own lives and accepting others’ choices as indeed their own. In this sense, sobriety is a superpower, a strength that is helping me to refocus and attend to what it is in life that I find necessary and meaningful.
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
– C.S. Lewis
There are many things I regret about my sobriety, mainly that I did not start sooner. I truly feel that I was absent for the first few years of my son’s life, my urge to escape practiced at every opportunity as I sought some kind of temporary oblivion and relief from the weight of life as I felt it. I still feel a great weight, but now my legs and my core are stronger. Not least of all because I am healthier now I have stopped poisoning myself with mid-week wine and ‘rewarding’ myself with weekend beer.
Over the years, I have had many conversations about sobriety. Some positive, some truly negative, most of them awkward. I have never just started a conversation about drinking in order to tell people I am sober. That is a fools errand. But I have found that when it comes up, some people think that in becoming sober I am immediately judging their alcohol habits and they become defensive. It is the only drug that we feel we owe an explanation for us no longer taking.
Once an acquaintance shouted in my face because they felt judged when I empathised with their ongoing anxiety about moderation and mentioned the solution I myself had found to such angst – “…had they thought of sobriety?”
Oops. Apparently, it is easy for me to maintain sobriety because I have ‘the husband, the house and the kid.’ Quite an extreme example of how not to offer advice when others’ confide about their own worries about their relationship with drinking. Of course, I did not tell them that I have a severe and enduring mental illness, am in intense treatment and therapy and that my drinking had almost wrecked my family.
However, I cannot go back, I cannot change these conversations, any of the oversharing or my attempts to still fit in despite the glasses having slipped off. I can’t change any aspect of my beginning. But I can change my behaviour in order to better direct the ending.
"Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeping satisfactions that come out of struggle.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
I came across this quote and it made me stop. I struggled to understand it, which to me is usually an indication that it has some specific meaning, a certain prism through which I can foster more self-understanding and acceptance. There has been deeper satisfaction this past 5 years. My relationships have become better, closer and more fulfilling. I have been lucky enough to get some great treatment for what was an undiagnosed mental illness, meaning my understanding of it’s causes and my reliance on alcohol is both deeper and broader.
I am learning to respond to my urges to escape, to numb, to express and therapy has led to further understanding of other addictive tendencies in my past and present. There can never be enough redeeming pleasure, and it is true that struggle has led towards greater rewards otherwise completely out of reach. I call this purpose and peace.
I work on myself everyday because I have to in order to be here for my family and myself importantly too. I have some moments of peace. I now have a life I would not have dreamed up. I am setting and working towards my goals. I owe it to those that love me to continue to grow through struggle this next 5 years and beyond.
If you would like to find out more about what it’s like to stop drinking you can check out the following:
Help & Support in UK
Alcohol support - NHS support & information to reduce harmful drinking or find ways to quit
Drink less - Better Health NHS App & Website loads of resources to improve your health including tips and resources to help in cutting down or stopping drinking
Alcoholics Anonymous UK (AA) free self-help support groups. Its "12 step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support
SMART Recovery groups help people decide whether they have a problem, build up their motivation to change, and offer a set of proven tools and techniques to support recovery. Includes articles about lived experience of recovery.
Further Info & Inspiration & Sobriety Memoirs