5 Years without a drink… what have I learned?
first of all, let me start off by saying I cannot believe I've made it 5 years without drinking.
i remember thinking how great it would be to make it to 5 years, but was not sure i ever would or could.
it seemed so. far. away.
i’m also going to say that i am beyond proud of myself.
proud because choosing not to drink has proven to be the best choice i’ve made myself, for myself.
more proud because getting to this point of pride has taken me years and has been incredibly difficult, to say the least.
i fought my choice to not drink for years and then some. for whatever reason, i couldn’t give in to the idea that drinking was no longer going to be a part of my life…
after all, it’s all i knew.
since choosing not to drink i’ve obsessed with thoughts like:
do i have a drinking problem or was it just a bad weekend?
i’m in a much better place now. i can definitely have a drink and it won’t be a problem.
maybe i’ll drink after 1 year. yah. i’ll celebrate 1 year with a drink.
wine with dinner is not problematic. look at europeans…
what would 1 drink really do?
not drinking is boring.
maybe i do want to make bad choices and be hungover. what’s wrong with that?!
i am not exaggerating when i tell you i have been planning my next drink for 4.5 years and
only recently was i able to stop obsessing and start embracing the choice i’ve made.
as a matter of fact, if you had come to me in the beginning and told me you were thinking about giving up alcohol i would have straight up said,
‘wait. do you really have a problem? because giving it up entirely is really hard and if it’s something you can moderate and manage, just do that’
talk about being the worst sober advocate, but that’s the real-real y’all.
i’ll still tell people it's difficult, but now i can add more to it than that.
i can suggest a few things that i know helped me along the way.
i can encourage you, if you are feeling #sobercurious that life doesn’t have to suck if you choose not to drink.
i’ve kept pretty quiet over the years about my choice not to drink, but i’m done doing that. whatever shame or guilt that i associated with it is gone and i’m hear to be a voice that maybe speaks to you, the one who is struggling or to you, with a friend who is struggling.
it can be a very dark and scary time and knowing that someone has walked before you that can hopefully inspire you to take one more step to a healthier lifestyle is the least i can do.
this is for all the people that came into my life and left my life when i chose to stop drinking.
you each taught me something positive that i could take away from the experience and i made it this far because of that.
so lets get after it…
here are the 5 things i’ve learned in 5 years
some of us need something greater than ourselves to help us achieve our goals. I needed to create ‘reasons’ that were bigger then me having a drink. personally, one of my biggest struggles at the time was ‘i’m not good enough’. i couldn’t see past the anxiety and feeling of ‘i can’t anymore'. i was on my knees wanting out of the life i was living and the only reason i didn’t give up was because i had 2 kids that needed me. who loved and valued me more than i loved and valued myself. they gave me the courage to admit that i needed to stop drinking and i needed to change my lifestyle. little did they know what was going on during that time, but they saved me from myself so many times over the years i’ve lost count.
I encourage you to write down a few things or people you value above all else. your dog. your child. your job. your oma. your garden. you don’t have to share the list with anyone, but you can come back to it and it will give you a little encouragement to get through one more day.
eventually you will begin to channel the energy back to yourself. that’s the beautiful part of the process- you will begin to have a relationship with yourself for the first time in a long, long time. it will not be overnight, but it will happen. you will learn to love yourself again.
you will also find that the people you choose to come into your life will vary and be different than the ones before.
stay open to these people.
last year i joined a running group for marathon training and did it for the accountability. i literally went into it with the mindset of ‘i’m not here to make friends. these are not my people’. how quickly was i humbled. some of my closest friendships are a result of that community.
you will have days when you are feeling weak and you will doubt your self will. your list of who and or what you value will not seem like enough to get you through the day…
this is when i encourage you to call on some of these new found souls.
they are not by mistake, i promise.
Self Protection, not Self Projection
a mistake i made early on was not setting good boundaries for myself. i thought that i could still hang out with my friends that partied and be in the same social scene. not only was that not healthy for me, i can look back now and see that i was projecting my discomfort on them which in turn left them feeling judged. when we were together my mind would run about everything going on around me. i couldn’t shut it off. i can only imagine the look on my face as i tried to pretend i wasn’t interested in what everyone was doing.
i internalized everyone around me having a problem with me not drinking when the reality was, I HAD A PROBLEM with me not drinking. yet, i insisted that i keep putting myself in these situations that proved to be really uncomfortable for not only me, but them as well. it was as if i had something to prove.
i wish that i hadn’t tried to ‘be cool’ in the beginning and had communicated with my friends what i was truly experiencing. that i didn’t know how to handle myself yet. instead, we created a wall that was never brought down.
fortunately this is no longer something i experience. the personal discomfort i felt is no longer there and even when it comes up, (because it will) i know how to process it internally. by being self aware i can self protect.
there will be certain people or certain places you cannot go. accept this as you are standing up and protecting yourself from what is no longer healthy for you.
Meditation in Movement
it took me 6 months to walk through my front door and not think about having a glass of wine to wind down from the day. it took me 1 year to decide i could go another. it took me 2.5 years to decide i could go 5. it took me 4.5 years to decide i was done thinking about the day i would have another drink. it has been a very slow process. i only recently heard the saying, ‘time takes time’. think about that- ‘time takes time’. and your time is precious. fill it with things that will encourage growth and acceptance of the lifestyle you are looking to create.
if you have ever wanted to try something, but you were holding back for whatever reason, now is the time to start trying. you will find that the time you spent at happy hour or drinks after dinner or time at home will not be the same without a drink. you may have to take a time out for a little while until the desire leaves you and you're comfortable in those settings again. in the meantime, start exploring ways to fill up that time. discover new things to do with your new found time.
i took up 2-stepping. i started cooking more often. i continued yoga and running.
i HIGHLY recommend some sort of workout 3-5 days a week. the adrenaline and dopamine will help your brain create some necessary chemicals that will assist you in countless ways. the yoga has proven to be more helpful in my healing than getting flexible, if that says anything.
creating time for these activities gave my mind a break from what was my norm. it distracted me from my daily routines and rituals i’d been living. i say ritual because i’m a person that almost enjoys making coffee and pouring in the creamer and stirring it more than the coffee itself. these daily rituals make me tick. i look forward to them. removing wine from dinner, the wine i held in a long stem glass, swirled it around and inhaled before sipping was a mind fuck. i needed to fill that void so that i wouldn’t obsess over it. insert giant wine glass filled with sparkling water. same moment. less crazy. do i feel the need to do this 5 years later? no. do i smile inside when my sparkling water is served in a giant wine glass at dinner?
i digress. the point is, we are creatures of habit and habits are hard to break.
as you begin to move in different directions, expanding your mind into new conversations or challenging it with a new recipe or workout, you will begin to grow and slowly you will lose sight of the old activities that would occupy your time.
You owe nothing to no one
this may have been the hardest one to move past. drinking is more acceptable in society than not drinking. it seems that no matter the occasion, people are drinking: work. holidays. good times. bad times. people will encourage you to drink. they will question if you have a problem. they will want to know why you are choosing not to. they will tell you that you can stop next weekend. they will say they have a problem, but you don’t drink or use as much as they do.
it goes on and on. only you know what is going on in your life and your mind when you have a drink. someone who doesn’t have a problem will not understand the voices that you have to silence when you're drinking. the life that you are scared to face after another night out. the doubt you have that you can keep on going. people who don’t struggle or haven’t experienced the pain of alcoholism and addiction will never understand - and that’s okay. you don’t have to convince them of anything. you know the feeling of being on your knees begging for help. you know the feeling of your life crumbling around you. you're the only one who needs convincing.
Life is better without hangovers...
but, that doesn’t mean life gets easier. life still happens. you will still feel overwhelmed, angry, disappointed etc, you will wake up some mornings wondering why you said what you said the night before.
you may wonder, what’s so great about this?
it’s all real. it’s you feeling without numbing, avoiding, being a victim or trying to please.
it’s you being you and you.
the beauty really lies in the processing of these emotions without a drink. you will move through them at a different more constructive pace. you will have clarity and times you feel high from being self aware and sober. you will also have times where life sucks and you can’t seem to catch a break. guess what? this is life. it happens with or without drinking. the difference being you will be able to manage your life moving forward.
you will no longer doubt yourself like you once did. you will know that your rock bottom was your own personal hell and anything above that is progress.
and you are able to make progress, one day at a time.