Each time I have made a whole-hearted attempt at sobriety my best friend always says the same thing: “Absolutely NOTHING bad can come from being sober. Anyone would benefit from giving up alcohol, not just addicts, and I assure you countless improvements in your life will happen naturally.” She drinks, in moderation, and abstains from time to time for health reasons. We partied a lot together in college, but as she matured, she lost interest in drinking on a regular basis. She also understands the threats, to her physical and mental health, and would rather not put herself at risk. Out of all of the books & articles I have read, all of the facts and opinions I’ve been told, and podcasts I have listened to, this resonates the most. Nothing bad happens by being sober. Well, nothing bad in the sense that it won’t benefit you in some way. Obviously bad things still happen, it’s life. But what she means is, nothing bad will come directly from the choice to be sober. In other words, I do not ever wake up thinking, “Man, I wish I had gotten wasted last night.”
Here is a list of the most impactful things that have changed naturally and somewhat effortlessly just by being sober. Some of them were easy to accept (and even celebrate), while others have been an emotional struggle (even though I know it is healthy for me in the long run). Nothing important is ever easy, but when we face our own adversities and challenge them, we build our character and strength in ways never imagined possible. It’s all about the small things, the day-to-day almost unnoticeable victories, that end up really changing your life.
- I stopped biting my nails. To some, this may seem silly. But to me, it is everything. It represents so many milestones for me. I’m 31 years old and have been biting my nails for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had so much shame surrounding this habit. My mother would always tell me it was the first thing she noticed when she interviewed someone; it would show her their level of emotional stability and self-discipline without having to exchange a single word. I know she didn’t mean to be insensitive, but every time she voiced her opinions about nail biting, I’d immediately feel like a failure, like my emotional stability would always be doomed, and my anxiety was directly my fault. When I decided on sobriety, it started to naturally happen. A week or so in I noticed I hadn’t been biting my nails. I was so excited, and wanted to continue this change, so I wrote down exactly why I wanted to stop biting my nails: It’s gross. It makes me feel like a child. I love the way a freshly done manicure looks and feels. It represents conquering my fears & anxiety. I can open things (like cans) more easily. [My friend also mentioned one time that it was on par with licking a toilet seat, which may have shook me enough to make me stop, but I’d like to think it was also my will-power and new found freedom from alcohol induced anxiety]. I told myself I would stop for good, and I started keeping a nail file with me at all times and whenever I’d have the urge, or a nail would get a snag, I’d file them to keep them manicured. If I forgot my nail file, I’d ask coworkers or friends if they had one, and in the act of asking, I consciously avoided biting or picking at them. Even if I could not find a nail file, I deterred the urge long enough to continue on my path towards my goal. I did waver, a few times, but recovered quickly instead of wallowing in defeat.
- I’ve let go of unhealthy relationships. This was incredibly difficult, but also seemed to come naturally. I had been very verbal about wanting to distance myself from toxic relationships. Not for weeks or months, but for years! My best friend started to roll her eyes when I would bring it up, “I know, you’ve wanted to ditch that social group for years!”. For some reason unbeknownst to me (I’m sure I knew deep down…) I continually said yes to plans I didn’t want to make, invested my time and my energy into people that were not building me up but instead tearing me down, and surrounded myself with people still stuck in the cycle of addiction. Since getting sober, I have made many promises to myself, but the most important being that I would break these negative behaviors once and for all. I vowed to never do anything I didn’t want to do, stop investing in toxic relationships, and stay true to myself. So far, I have had to let a few friendships go which has been confusing at times and difficult, but it feels liberating, a weight has been lifted and my time is used wisely and rewardingly. I have noticed a shift in my thinking, and I have a lot more energy for my friends who are supportive, like-minded, and healthy for my well-being.
- I’m still a little flakey, but I’m honest about it. For years (I mean, more than half of my time on this earth) my social life was my life. My friends meant everything to me (and still do, don’t get me wrong, but I matter more to myself than ever before, too). I was constantly hanging out with my friends, saying yes to every social event that came my way, and incessantly overextending myself. This led me to rely on my friendships for affirmation, and I also got totally lost in my social life. After years of making socializing my hobby, I realized I didn’t have any hobbies (I have and always will make art, but it was such a rare indulgence I wouldn’t even consider it a hobby during my worst drinking), nor did I know who the hell I actually was behind the shadow of all my friends and all the parties and all the time lost to Blackout Oblivion. Often, I’d flake out on my friends, more often than not because I was drunk, hungover. And even more likely, I would flake on people who matter: my judgement was clouded from the booze (i.e. I’d flake on a plans with someone I had a healthy relationship with in order to drink). Nowadays, I do decide sometimes after making a commitment that I, after all, simply do not want, or do not have the energy, to follow through with plans. The difference now is that I let the person know immediately and do not wait until the very last minute. I apologize, let them know my reason, reschedule if necessary, and move on. I don’t beat myself up for cancelling only to do it again a week later, or live in fear that they won’t like me anymore if I cancel, and I certainly don’t lie to get out of anything. I’m also not flaking out because I’m drunk or hungover, usually it is because I want to be productive.
- I’ve stopped making excuses. I could go on forever about this one. Long story short, for me, drinking=procrastinating. Not procrastinating just a project or an idea, but literally putting off my entire life. I would have these grandiose ideas of what I wanted my life to look like, but I never wanted to take any action toward my goals, much less get excited about them or believe I could achieve them. Drinking enabled me to live in a constant state of “once I do that thing’s” and “only if’s”. I am now finally taking responsibility for my own success and happiness: taking the risks necessary to start my own personal training business, doing the emotional and spiritual work to heal, and practicing a level of faith in myself I never knew possible. I also do the dishes (as discussed here) when they need to be done, take care of my teeth and follow a skin regimen nightly, meditate, keep appointments, and have managed to keep 10/12 (that’s an 83% success rate people!) houseplants alive. This new found level of not making excuses, and in turn getting shit done, is mind blowing.
- I believe in myself. ‘Nuf said.
It’s incredible how much a glorified poison can limit your potential, I am so grateful to finally be on the other side.