Staying steady and sober would be impossible for me unless I had books like the ones below to get me through each day. While I can relate to some of these stories better than others, the underlying message is the same throughout. Recovery is not easy, it takes time, and it takes work. Eventually, you get your life back.
When I drank I used throw out sarcastic, cynical quips into the conversation whenever I could. My idea of humor was always on the dark side, not just a little dark, but often downright off the wall. To begin to understand where this comes from entails looking at the people I’ve hung out with and the places I’ve been. My family, too, have a big influence still – for the most part my siblings have negativity and cynicism in SPADES. When I drank the worst aspects of these influences came out. The saddest thing is that I thought I was being funny. Not so much.
I know a woman, “Joanie” who is fits the Pollyanna profile to a ‘T’. Even in the face of adversity, she responds with a cheerleader’s exuberance. Just lost your entire novel because your computer crashed? “Just start over!” Your kid just broke his leg skiing? “It will heal!” Your SO just got laid off? “There are plenty of other jobs out there!” Etc. etc. When I drank I had a hard time accepting that people like her could exude such positiveness in the face of life’s suckiest moments. I would wince, look on incredulously, and then likely throw in some sort of negative comment.
When I drank every day I tried to deny that I wanted to be happy like Joanie. In fact, I thought it was way cooler to be circumspect, questioning, skeptical, or cynical – in other words, miserable.
I will never pretend that things are great when they’re not, but now that I no longer block out my natural inclination for real happiness with drink, my days are better. My outlook is sunnier. Now, instead of opening a bottle of wine every night after work to try to erase the day, I make myself a pot of Japanese green tea and read something positive and inspirational. My early evening cravings diminish, along with my negativity.
Now that I am sober I understand that this is Joanie’s MO, her way of getting by, getting through life. The giant smiley-face sticker on the back of her Jeep tells people who she is, and how she wants you to be too.
I did it. I lasted the long weekend without letting drink interfere with my sobriety goals. And, I socialized. I went to a baseball game and a barbecue. I walked through the neighborhood filled with the sounds of little kids playing, adults laughing (and drinking), and teenagers driving fast with music blaring from their car windows (don’t tell me they were sober).
Was it hard to not drink my usual glass of crisp white wine so I could feel a part of all the other people celebrating the start of summer? Did I find myself looking longingly at my friend’s glass as she took sip after sip of her drink? Did the smell of the spilled beer on the patio make me think of days past when my summers were spent at kegs and outdoor festivals? Yes, yes, and yes. Did I miss being hungover and unproductive this morning as I watched the neighborhood slowly come to life, sat and wrote, sketched out a story idea, and threw in a load of laundry? No, no, and no.
The discomfort of being sober while everyone around me is drinking cannot be ignored. I walked through it by accepting the feeling. Yes, it was hard. I wanted to drink along with everyone else. What guided me through the cravings were these incentives:
Sleeping continuously through the night, waking refreshed
Getting up and feeling ready for the day, which now seems filled with possibility…there are not enough hours to do what I want to accomplish!
Having more honest conversations with people – at home, at work, socially
Anxiety, restlessness, and depression are not gone entirely, but they are mere shadows compared to when I drank every day
Slimmer figure, better skin, clearer eyes, more energy!
Improved endurance, whether mentally (writing, painting) or physically (at the gym, house chores)
Keeping these incentives top of mind is one critical component of my sobriety toolkit. What are your incentives to stay away from drink when the discomfort and cravings kick in?
Tonight I am meeting up with my usual group of friends for a backyard barbeque. The host has a cooler the size of a bathtub in which he fills to the brim a variety of beers and wine. Everyone who goes to these gatherings drinks, a lot. I used to be one of them.
Now I have to figure out how to get through the night without drinking. I will drink spring water and try my best to talk along with the rest of them, hearing the same old stories, jokes, and laughter about things that are only mildly funny. Since I decided to stop drinking, this is my first time “out” with everyone. To be able to get through the night without anyone pointing out the fact that I am not drinking is impossible. I want to have my mind made up as to how I will answer, but I really don’t know what to say. The stigma of sobriety still hangs heavy over me. Unlike some bloggers who wear it loud and proud, I am still dipping my toe in regarding how to deal with being sober in these drink-laden social events.
I realize that I can’t control how other people think or feel and I need to be true to myself and my sobriety goals. Most of all, I realize too that what other people think about usually rarely has anything to do with me. I will get there, and I am trying. It would be more self-defeating of me to simply avoid the situation altogether, which would be easy to do. But they are my friends, and I can’t simply cut them out of my life because they drink and I do not. I can control how often I see them, maybe, and try to build new relationships with other people who are sober. It’s a long road, and I’m only on the first stretch.
How do you manage your social life now that you are sober?
Much to my surprise, people, I am a MORNING PERSON. Now that I sleep better all the way through the night, I wake up feeling great. You know those pharmaceutical commercials where they show the actor smiling, leaping out of bed after a night where said effects of the drug clearly worked? The dramatic sweep of the fresh sheets, usually some sort of cute puppy bouncing around, and the incredibly bright, sunny rays glowing all around? That’s not me exactly, but close. When I compare to how I used to lay there and dread the day before me after a night of restless, stiff, head-achy “sleep,” now I wake up with a clear head, muscles that want to move, and I am eager to get going on my day.
I am still going to the same job for which I am overqualified and don’t love, but my attitude has changed towards it, and I deal with the ups and downs in a different way. When I chose this job I was still governed by the negative effects and underlying causes of my addiction. Too lazy and foggy to do the work to find a better match, and lacking in the confidence to seek out a more challenging role.
The good thing is while the work itself requires minimal brain power, I can use what’s left over to work on recovery. This means writing in the mornings very early before anyone else (including the cats) are up, and also during lunchtime, as my employer provides plenty of private spaces for employees, and I can do this without interruption. I am grateful for the physical and mental space to start writing again.
Early mornings also mean eating better, wearing clothes that actually look somewhat thought-out, and avoiding the worst of rush hour. Some days I even find a decent podcast or audiobook to play for inspiration or laughs, while I drink my coffee and get in the mindset for a busy day.
This is a huge contrast to when I would drag myself out the door in a bad mood, often emotional and always anxious, working through a hangover. One of the strongest incentives to stay away from my old routine of nightly drinking is to visualize me getting up fresh-faced and ready for the day, vs. the sad, bloated, and irritable person I once was. Not going back there.
What’s your favorite part of the day now that you are sober?
Talk to any alcoholic about peeling the layers of their personalities, desires, and beliefs, and you will find a lot of regret and denial. Regret over something that was found but then lost, and denial about the something that almost was, but never quite came to fruition. Getting at the heart of this is impossible when drinking. It might enter your head and your heart, but likely will end in tears or an argument, or worse, on to other addictive substances. Addicts are really good at burying the things we don’t have the tools to address.
When I worked in publishing I held sales and marketing positions. I read and sold books, basically. My clique-y colleagues were opinionated, well-read, and often intimidating. Some of them were writers and grad students, hoping one day to become published. During this time I wrote too, but I never said anything to anyone about it. I always wanted to write fiction and had an idea of the sort of work I would produce, and who I would write for. The people I worked with were not my audience. What I wanted to write was too commercial, and certainly not prize-winning or original.
The snob mentality of my peers prevented me from executing what in their minds would be bad stuff; the sort of thing we booksellers scoffed at. This held me back. Instead of saying fuck it I’ll write what I like, I held it closely inside. I didn’t have the tools to navigate through what confidence looks like. Why should I care what anyone else thinks, when, again (I see this all the time now that I’m sober) people really only care about themselves?
Commercial was a bad word. Mass market was considered low-brow; yet, sales of this commercial type of literature is exactly what made the entire enterprise of bricks and mortar bookselling possible. The Nora Roberts and Dean Koontz bestseller profits enabled those authors’ publishing houses to take chances on the lesser-known authors who most likely produced more “literary” work, but would never sell as well.
But, I digress. Now that I am sober I am working on recovering not only my physical health. I need to keep digging a little deeper to find the discarded remnants of the good creative ideas I once had but put away because I lacked the balls to to see them through. I don’t plan on being the next Laurie Colwin or Elizabeth Berg, but there’s no harm in trying.
When I drank, every weekday morning was a test. Do I run through the McDonald’s drive thru, grab a sausage biscuit, and mindlessly devour it while dealing with rush hour traffic? Or, do I wait until I get to work, find the granola bar I know is somewhere, and hope that someone brought donuts? These two scenarios show my typical breakfast habitswhile dealing with my mild hangovers. Along with the bottle of wine I consumed every night, no wonder I was about 20 lbs overweight, and had regular bouts of blemishes on my otherwise good skin.
The combination of the hangover effects and the greasy or random breakfast made me tired, slow, and irritable. I barely looked people in the eyes, and I avoided conversation. If I had a meeting early in the day I always sat at the back or on the edge of the group and didn’t participate unless I absolutely had to. Coffee and water kept me going until lunchtime, which often meant another quick trip to the most convenient place I could find. I went for the limp, tasteless gas station sandwiches along with salty bags of chips, or yet more fattening, highly-processed food served through a different drive-thru window. Very rarely would I bring my lunch from home.
Because I was still metabolizing all that wine consumed only hours before, I was way too tired and disorganized in the mornings to think about healthy eating habits and do the work involved to maintain them. It was hard enough to get myself to the shower, find clothes that looked halfway decent, and make a pot of coffee. When I think back (and it really was not long ago) I wonder how in the hell did I make it to work and somehow get by, despite how I was abusing myself? Drinking at night, never getting enough continuous sleep, and then right away in the mornings having way too much sugar, fat, and salt, not to mention being in a state of constant dehydration?
No wonder I was constantly anxious, dissatisfied, irritable, and moody at work. It doesn’t take the brightest bulb in the room to figure out that alcohol was the cause of my poor eating habits and resulting unhealthy physical and mental state – for years.
Now, I am waking up at 5:30 a.m. I have a clear head after at least six or seven hours of straight, uninterrupted sleep. I get ready, make my homemade healthy breakfast and lunch, and sit down to write as long as I can before I head out for my 20-minute commute. I feel better, I look better, and I avoid the drive-thru windows.
I am not saying I never eat fast food anymore, but the cravings for it are pretty much gone now that I’ve stopped drinking. How have your eating habits changed since you’ve become sober?
Yesterday I listened to the Soberful podcast for the first time. In one of the episodes the hosts discussed how when you become sober, the world opens up. You start to see and feel things you couldn’t while drinking. In the process of drinking not only do the negative emotions and feelings you can’t face get pushed back, but the blinders and fog of alcohol also shield you from the good things: the beauty of the sky, the trees, a thoughtful conversation.
Now that I’ve quit drinking, my senses are opening up and I am taking the time to fully absorb what is around me. I am less anxious to move on and more patient in the moment. The exception is at gatherings where other people are drinking. When sober I find myself knowing the difference between an actual witty, thought-provoking conversation and a stale, bullshit rant, the flavor of which I’ve heard dozens of times before.
Now that the promise of warmer weather feels real after a horrible winter, I know there will be plenty of barbeques and microbrew patio opportunities, and my husband will want to go to every one. If I am being true to myself and honoring my wish to be sober I would rather do something else than sit around with people who are drinking, laughing at the same anecdotes, complaining about the same things, and quite often just staring into their phones anyway, not really engaging with one another at all.
Saying no gives the impression that I am anti-social or a snob, so I lean towards going along with the flow and putting myself in that awkward, stressful situation. I don’t really care if people notice that I’m not drinking. Most people just care about themselves and won’t really notice or care what I am doing, whether it’s drinking or playing Scrabble on my phone. When drinking, people lose their sense of awareness anyway. By the time they’re three or four drinks in they will have forgotten what you just said, let alone what type of drink may be in your glass. What stresses me out is that I will be bored. That I am wasting my time. I would rather be hiking, reading, painting, cooking, or writing. So, where does that leave me socially?
It’s time to find new friends and expand my network. When drinking I was good at keeping to myself, and I still am, but I was also partially afraid to step out and take chances. Not confident enough to seek out like-minded people who also write and paint, who read books and talk about ideas, who understand what it means to live a sober, or moderate-drinking life.
Instead of going to art school like I should have, my father wanted me to be a secretary or a hairdresser, the sort of roles outside of motherhood women of his generation settled for. I came very close to being both, until I flew off to England to live an entirely different life altogether (which is a story for other posts). For years, no matter where I lived or how I earned my living, I carried around the desire to pursue the life of the artist, but I held a deep belief that I wasn’t good enough to claim that role.
I buried the desire, never practiced drawing or painting regularly, and convinced myself that writing was my thing instead. I had the mindset that I had to choose one thing and be really, really good at that one thing. Dive in and know everything about it, know all the people who are really good at it, have a network, expose yourself. Well, of course I never applied myself fully to writing, either. Writing and art lay low for years, until now.
Fueled by my daily wine habit, I maintained this negative environment in my head, where nothing truly productive ever happened. Somehow, I got by, but I wasn’t being true to myself: the artist and writer within. As I grew older, any vision of myself as an artist faded by the day. I convinced myself that my time had passed, I missed my chance, and to bother with it now would be futile. I told myself It’s a young person’s world these days, you are a fool if you think you can compete and dive in now. This constant hammering of negativity wore me down to the point where I convinced myself it was true.
Three months into sobriety I realize now that all of that is bullshit.
The only thing stopping myself from painting, drawing, writing is me. Putting down the drink means lifting up other parts of myself: the art of seeing, of believing, of doing.
Ah, the Greeks knew it all, didn’t they? This concept is an ancient idea, but why is it only now when I am sober that it comes to me like a brand new idea? Without health, is it possible to
Make the connection between mind, body, and spirit while draining a bottle of crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc every night, cruising through inane and embarrassing posts on my Facebook feed?
Listen to what my body is telling me while my subconscious brain swims in a fog controlled by the defeating patterns of addiction?
Look squarely in the mirror each morning after drinking and see the reflection for what it is, instead of fooling myself that “I don’t really look like that?”
Go to the gym and walk on a treadmill at a steady pace three times a week, make a stop to the liquor store immediately afterwards, and call that a workout regimen?
The answer to all of these, of course, is one big emphatic no.
For years my modus operandi centered on my ability to drink wine every day. After work, chores, my daughter’s activities, obligatory family events, or anything where alcohol was not present, my number one priority was to get back to it as fast as I could. I had a mental image of what wine was at home. Maybe a bit left in the bottle from the night before, already cold and waiting (rare). Maybe most of a bottle cold and waiting, the second one I opened from the night before (common). A warm one still in the wine rack? No problem. There was a special place carved out in the freezer just for such emergencies. I had a favorite (large) wine glass. I even knew if it was in the dishwasher, or in the cupboard ready to pulled and used for that first, lovely crisp swig.
Between doing obligatory things and drinking, I avoided mirrors and eye contact, I scoffed at slim joggers and yoga mat-carrying thirtysomethings, and often ate huge bowls of macaroni and cheese or plates of Pizza Rolls at 11:30 p.m., somehow with the idea that it all seemed perfectly reasonable to have a second dinner before crashing.
Denying my drinking problem and ignoring my health went on for years. Years. When I look back now I realize it could have been much worse, but everyone’s experience is relevant and real, no matter how you define “rock bottom.”
I am still very new at sobriety. I have started to work with a personal trainer and I don’t eat mac and cheese or other bad food only eaten when drunk. I have lost ten pounds. I am learning to meditate. I cannot get my hands on enough “Quit Lit” and Peanut M&Ms. Green tea is my new drink of choice. I have eye contact with people at work. I am writing more, painting more, and often seeing trees and the grass as though for the first time.
Tomorrow, however, could look very different. Every day I wake up sober with clear eyes and a fresh mind, I am learning to respect both the strength and fragility of this new way of being.