4 years of Sobriety – Here’s what I know for sure!
Here I am. Today is a day I could never have imagined reaching four years ago. Today is a day for pausing, slowing down, and deeply reflecting on this incredible journey. As I’m finding more and more, writing provides me with such a therapeutic outlet of emotions, reflections, and awareness, that it made sense to put this down in writing. I hope that if you’re reading this silently thinking 'How the hell do I get to 4 years, I can't even get to 4 days right now' this will help you get there too.
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Let’s start at the beginning…
The first few months of living alcohol-free are hard. Every day feels like a battle to not drink. We think about not drinking all the time, we negotiate with ourselves, and we see alcohol everywhere. We experience emotions that we've been shoving down for years (maybe decades). We are grumpy, then happy, then angry, then sad, and it's a roller coaster of processing emotions, fighting urges, and getting through each day. We are told: One day at a time.
But… It's not like that forever. If it was, I wouldn't still be sober - I'd have returned to the bottle years ago. Gradually and subtly, we stop thinking about booze and before we know it, we've gone 2 or 3 days and it hasn't been forefront in our minds. And then those 2-3 days begin to stretch out.
Most people think that sobriety is what those first few weeks are like. They think that's what they’re going to be in for, for the rest of their lives. And so, they return to drinking. Because in most cases it all just feels too hard. But then returning to drinking feels hard too. Because it IS hard.
It's hard waking up most mornings full of shame, regret, and self-loathing because you drank more than you intended the night before. It's hard constantly making and breaking promises to yourself. It's hard feeling, at best, 5/10 in your energy levels, mood and motivation. That's 5/10 on a good day - don't get me started on the bad days. So, then we take a break again because returning back to booze doesn't deliver what we hope it will.
It becomes an obstacle course. What we are inevitably doing is repeating the hardest part over and over again. Clare Pooley's book The Sober Diarieshas a brilliant analogy of this called 'the obstacle course' where she compares the early part of sobriety as being like an obstacle course where the beginning is full of hard obstacles close together but over time they start to spread out and it's an easy, flat walk in between with just the occasional hurdle.
But most people never get to the easy part because they just keep repeating the hardest part. So, for those of you reading this now, know that the hardest part in terms of not craving alcohol and fighting off cravings does disappear. It just takes time. I repeated that hard part multiple times between 2017 and 2019. In the end I had to accept that moderation would never work for me and that I had a choice to make - carry on drinking in the way I was which was destroying my health, energy, sleep, self-esteem, and motivation OR choose to embrace a life without alcohol.
Finally, 4 years ago today, I made the bravest decision I've ever made in my life. To quit alcohol for good.
Then came the deeper work.
Once we get through the first few months and we’ve moved beyond the physical and emotional cravings for alcohol, we enter the second stage of sobriety. The deeper work. This is where, I believe, the work is done that ensures we don't return to alcohol. This is where we look at WHY we were drinking, and we objectively look at our lives to see what needs to change.
The biggest mistake I see people make in their sober journey is thinking that it's just about removing alcohol and not doing anything else. Keeping everything else the same - social life, hobbies, how we spend our time, and who we spend it with. In most cases, this leads to us returning to booze - it did for me many times and has done for so many others.
Here's the truth: Alcohol is not the problem.
Alcohol was initially the solution to the problem but then alcohol became the problem. When we think it's only about alcohol, and we work hard to remove alcohol from our lives we've ignored the reason we were drinking in the first place.
So, if we want to be truly happy in our alcohol-free life, we have to explore WHY we were drinking in the first place. What we were getting FROM alcohol so we can make changes in our life, so we no longer need it.
So, what are we looking for in alcohol?
For me, it was a few things.
"I love yooooooooo" screamed into my ear by a random woman I'd met two hours earlier was music to my ears as someone who had experienced a lot of loneliness in childhood.
We drink to make those horrible feelings of loneliness disappear.
There is no denying that in the initial moment of having that first drink, we alleviate the symptoms of stress because alcohol is a depressant. The problem is that we then go on to create more stress and anxiety in the body because of drinking.
I had to work hard to make changes in my life to address these underlying reasons. It becomes about what we are adding IN to our lives to create more meaning and purpose. For some this doesn't happen until the 2nd year of sobriety.
The first year tends to focus more inwardly on healing ourselves and in many cases. In the 2nd year we feel ready to start exploring what else we are ready to add in. And this takes many different forms - going back to uni, changing jobs, setting up sideline businesses, discovering what activates that fire in our bellies and finding ways to work with that. It's incredible to witness what sober women can achieve.
Alcohol keeps us small.
And it really keeps women small. We ALL deserve a big, wonderful, fulfilling, and happy life. But in so many ways, alcohol prevents us from achieving this. Who can go on to achieve all they want in life if they are constantly hungover, tired, anxious, and unmotivated? We live a life of unfulfilled dreams, unmet needs, and disillusionment when we constantly turn to the bottle.
And yet we live in a world where this is marketed to us ALL the time. The marketing spend of Big Alcohol in the USA in 2023 is set to hit $7 billion! That's $7 billion to cleverly work on our neural pathways to keep selling us the belief that we need alcohol to have fun, socialise, relax, be liked, be successful and be an adult. What I know is this…
Sobriety delivers everything alcohol promises. We just have to do the work to make it happen. And then your life is yours for the taking.
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