My therapist asked me the other day when I last had a drink and I told her April 15, 2021. She told me how proud she was of me. It caught me off guard, because my sobriety journey this year has been a solo and sometimes isolating one, so I wasn’t expecting anyone to comment on it. In fact, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have even thought about sharing my story.
I wasn’t an alcoholic and never went to a 12-step program, yet I didn’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol. It had become the place I turned to numb, self-soothe or unwind. I knew I was doing it and wouldn’t stop.
I grew up in a family of abstainers, who all live across the country from me now. My father very proudly will tell you that he has never been drunk. It’s not something my parents did, not even socially. My siblings don’t drink and our gatherings have never centered around alcohol.
However, I find myself now surrounded by an entire crowd that drinks and plans events around drinking. There’s always something to celebrate, sorrows to drown, or relaxation to chase.
After my stroke (that story will come next week), the doctors couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of the blood clots. Alcohol may have been a factor. At first, I thought I would not drink while I was on blood thinners. Then I thought I wouldn’t drink while I was recovering from heart surgery to close the hole in my heart that allowed the clot to get to my brain.
I navigated all the questions about when I would start drinking again or when we could go out for drinks and celebrate that I had survived. I kept kicking the can down the road, because I was still coming to grips with what I wanted to do. In a funny way, the questions stopped and the celebration never got planned and I decided sobriety was permanent.
I’ve gained so much to ever go back. I’ve not had that brain fog any morning for the past year. I’ve discovered healthier, less-wrinkled skin. I’ve found new ways to relax at night. I’ve stayed awake until I chose to sleep. I’ve not had uncontrollable munchies. I’ve felt in control of my life. I’ve not had to wonder whether I was safe to drive. I’ve chauffeured my teenager to evening activities and listened to her stories on the drive. I’ve been more present and mindful about life than ever before.
Best of all, I’ve felt my emotions full force. I’ve felt peace, happiness, depression, joy, anger, delight, frustration, embarrassment, shame, fear, anxiety, loneliness, and gratitude. I’ve forced myself to feel every single one and not numb them.
I’ve learned to be authentically me and love myself for who I am. I have nothing to numb and no facade to wear. I get to be the best version of myself, just as I was created to be. I am grateful for this sober life.
Things to consider
Be mindful of splitting the tab. Over the course of this year, I’ve been out to eat several times when I was the only one not drinking alcohol. My go-to drink is club soda with lime and it usually costs nothing. However, every time, someone else suggested we split the bill in equal parts. One time, this meant my meal would have been $22 with tax and tip. Instead, I paid $47 to pay for everyone else’s alcohol. On another occasion, I suggested the others in the party cover the tip. I was told that wouldn’t be fair since all our meals were different prices so splitting equally was more equitable to everyone. While our meals varied by $5, everyone else had an additional $12 alcohol charge that I now was required to cover. I don’t have a problem splitting where the difference in meal costs is a few bucks; however, alcohol isn’t usually an inconsequential charge. I’m getting better about asking to have my meal put on a separate tab, because I realized the people I’m with don’t have a clue how splitting the bill impacts me.
Serve non-alcoholic drinks when you entertain. As I’ve navigated social functions this last year, I can count on one finger the times I was offered a non-alcoholic drink at a friend’s home. Otherwise, the alcohol was poured and when I asked for a glass, I was offered water. I’ve started tucking a couple drink options in my bag for myself and others who might not be drinking. I’m especially surprised, though, when the gatherings include kids and the only beverage choices are alcohol or water. Just because we don’t drink alcohol doesn’t mean we don’t want something fun to drink, too. There are non-alcoholic mixers that can be paired with tonic water, club soda or fruit juice to make an event feel more festive.
Let me decide for myself. A few months into my exploration of sobriety, a group of friends kept telling me to let them know when I was drinking again so they could plan a meet up at a cocktail lounge. The meetup never happened. If you’re planning an alcohol-related event, allow me to decide whether to attend or not. I’m pretty good at researching menus and calling restaurants to address my dietary concerns.
Join your sober friends. No, I’m not saying you need to go cold turkey for the rest of your life; however, you can join your friends with dry January or sober September and stand in solidarity with them. Perhaps this will give you a new perspective on their lifestyle.
How to explore sobriety
I am not medically trained and did this all on my own, so this is only my way of finding sobriety.
Use temporary language. I’m a big fan of whole30 and have done 12, including a whole90, since 2012. The founder of whole30 first shared an idea in 2018. She said she started adding the words “right now” to the end of her sentence that she wasn’t drinking. I thought that was an interesting idea. In the early days after my stroke, I used “I’m not drinking right now” a lot. “Right now” does add a funny psychological twist for people and they don’t feel so uncomfortable about my choice. I feel as though it’s as if they think I just need some time to come to my senses and will start drinking again. At some point, I felt like it was okay to make it permanent and I did; however, I’m grateful for the time those two words bought me to explore sobriety further.
Educate yourself. I knew I felt heart flutters when I was drinking and never thought anything of it. After my stroke, I researched more about drinking and its impact on the heart as well as on blood clots. I decided the risks weren’t worth it for me.
Reflect on your relationship with alcohol. When I thought about this, I saw a few things. First, alcohol was a habit for those around me and quickly became mine too. Second, it was part of the language around me and I bought into it, too. When someone had a hard day or was feeling down, the natural solution was, “here, have a drink and you’ll feel better.” In truth, I ended up feeling worse and the issues I was facing surfaced again and I eventually had to face them. Third, I don’t do well with moderation. I’m an all or nothing person, so allowing alcohol on weekends or at certain times of the week doesn’t work for me. Finally, I started to see that I have young, impressionable eyes around me and I wanted to give those little eyes a different perspective.
Find your tribe. This may sound funny coming from me since I found sobriety without changing my circle. Over the last year, I deliberately followed social media accounts that resonated with me. People like Melissa Urban and Danika Brysha talk about strength in sobriety and normalized it for me. More recently, I’ve become deliberate about starting to find a new tribe of friends where our discussions and gatherings center on things other than alcohol.
Finally, remember you are stronger than you think you are! Whether you need the support of a 12-step program or go it alone, there’s a beautiful, sober life waiting for you!