One Year of Sobriety, finally. It’s hard to find the words to describe how this makes me feel, so instead I’m going to write about my experience a bit and share what has helped me.
In early sobriety, a year seems like an utterly unattainable task. It is so far away that sometimes it feels like it isn’t’t even worth the attempt. Anyone feel this?
I started my quest for truth on March 21, 2016. Three years ago, almost to the day. I called a friend, in tears of desperation, begging her to go to an AA meeting with me because I didn’t know what else to do or where else to go.
Since then, with each slip up (there have been many), I seemed to feel more and more confident (and more terrified) that I’d never make it to the 365 day mark.
Ironically, it was when I let go of worrying so much about making it 6 months, or a year, or forever, that I was finally able to achieve it.
After my last ‘relapse’, I let go of the expectation of myself to stay sober forever, and took the pressure of “what if” I relapse by acknowledging that the world will not, in fact, end. This new found acceptance of the possibility that another relapse could very well happen, somehow actually helped me stay in the moment. Nothing was looming over my head anymore. I got to choose to stay sober TODAY and I didn’t have to explore it further than that.
The inner dialogue became, “what will happen if I drink (as I go through the honest play by play in my head)?” instead of “the world might end if I drink (so let’s test the waters!)!” and day by day, I was able to navigate the longterm much more easily.
Due to my fascination with health and the human body, I gravitated towards science in early sobriety, and still do. In order to grapple with my new reality, I turned to scientific research and finding the truth behind dependency and addiction.
Our culture glorifies alcohol in a way that can’t truly be understood unless you remove yourself from it. Imbibing is straight up a right of passage.
It is how Americans celebrate, unwind, escape, relax, process emotions, cope. It is how we hold ourselves together in times of sorrow and what ends up tearing us apart if we aren’t careful, typically without much warning that it is one of, if not the most, destructive drug on the planet. We turn to alcohol in almost every situation: birthdays cheers’d with shots, baby showers toasted with champagne, weddings drenched in tequila, Wednesday nights watching TV drowned in red wine, lunch breaks sprinkled with beers, yoga classes ended with free booze (I’m sorry, what?)…breakups, job promotions, bachelor parties, house-warmings…all marked by a mind-altering substance that could be classified as a poison.”Rosé All Day” is a coined, and common, term. “Mommy’s Juice” is how wine is described among an alarming number of new mothers. “Work Hard/Play Hard” is the anthem of my generation…
..But, why? I wanted to know. What on earth was really going on to make everyone so obsessed with booze, and some of us so deeply shattered by it?
After many attempts at going to meetings, I ended up going it alone without AA. One reason I shied away from AA* was due to the lack of scientific education within the program.
For me personally, I felt that in order to accomplish something as monumental as longterm sobriety, I must understand what had happened to me. This brought me to do my own extensive research and read every book I could get my hands on. I took inventory (in-depth) of myself, my habits, the way I had used alcohol to cope, why I felt the need to escape, and at the end, why I couldn’t stop drinking. I read about alcohol’s affects on my brain, liver, emotional development, memory, and how our genetics may play a role in developing a disorder. I believe this process was the key to being able to sustain a booze-free lifestyle longterm, though it took me a few tries.
Since science played a huge role in my sobriety, I counted on learning and then taking action steps based on what I had learned in order to propel me forward. I couldn’t just rely on my willingness to change — I needed concrete tools to help me.
Here are some of the surprising facts I’ve discovered throughout my on-going research.
Alcohol abuse and its dreaded cousin Alcoholism have been redefined in recent years. The American Psychology Association’s DSM-V manual does not use the term “Alcoholism” to describe problem drinking or even addiction — it is instead now considered a spectrum of risk under the term Alcohol Use Disorder. There are different classifications under the umbrella: if you imbibe regularly, you are now placed somewhere on the spectrum and could be at risk of developing a problem, dependency, or even full-blown addiction. This is regardless of your genetics, drinking history, or otherwise.
The most shocking part is that nobody knows about this major shift in the definition of alcohol abuse. Most people still live under the “no one in my family is an ‘alcoholic’ so I’m safe” rock. Or they think that if they manage to wake up for work on time every morning they aren’t slowly developing a dependency by drinking 3 glasses of wine every night.
Alcohol is technically a poison (it is made from the very same substance that we power our cars with, ethanol), and up there with heroin in terms of addictive potential, yet we are told from a young age (mostly by the example set forth by the adults in our life) that drinking is not only normal, but if you don’t do it, there is something wrong with you.
It’s the only drug in the world that when you manage to quit, you are told you still have a problem. And if you decide to quit when you don’t have a problem, you are still ostracized and met with suspecting eyes. If you replace the word Alcohol with Cocaine, you’ll see how absurd this is. “Nah, I don’t feel like doing cocaine tonight, I have to get up early” or “There are kids here, I don’t feel like doing cocaine in front of them.” Yet alcohol is pushed on us even when we have good reason to not want to do it. Many of you will read this and say, “Yeah, but cocaine is different!”. Do some research and you’ll find it’s really not that different at all.
It wreaks havoc on our organs, skin, and brain (it literally changed the way my young brain developed since I was still growing when I began binge drinking). It disrupts our ability to form memories, regulate our hormones & emotions, make rational decisions, think clearly, mature emotionally, have thriving relationships and make meaningful connections. It damages our heart, liver, and kidneys. It causes cancers of the throat and stomach.
On a list curated by DrugAbuse.com detailing the most addictive drugs out there, alcohol makes the cut alongside amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and crack.
“Excessive alcohol use leads to about 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, and shortens the life of those who die by almost 30 years. Further, excessive drinking cost the economy $249 billion in 2010. Most excessive drinkers are not alcohol dependent.” – Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
The above statistic does NOT include all of the thousands of car accidents caused by and involving alcohol each year in the United States.
My stages of sobriety went something like this:
+ Thinking I had a problem but ignoring it.
+ Recognizing I had a problem.
+ Seeking help.
+ Asking myself why the problem had started.
+ Understanding why and figuring out what needed to change.
+ Implementing practices in order to form new pathways in my brain and replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones.
+ Facing my fears.
+ Letting go of unrealistic expectations of myself & my crippling fear of failure.
+ Failing over and over again, always to get back up and try again, each time trying a NEW way.
+ Forgiving myself.
+ Becoming hyper aware of my environment and learning how to optimize it.
+ Letting go of the expectation to be perfect in my sobriety (relapses happen and that’s part of my story, not what’s dooming me).
+ Very importantly: removing unhealthy facets of my environment without guilt.
+ FORGIVING MYSELF, again and again.
& Most of all, choosing to celebrate my sobriety — I do not live in shame, secrecy, doubt, or believe something is wrong with me because I have removed alcohol from my life. It is quite the opposite, actually.
Removing alcohol has only improved my life experience (‘improved’ is an understatement).
As a more positive end to this post, here are 10 ways teetotaling has changed my life for the better:
I remember everything and am in complete control of my actions. I’m not perfect, but at least I can be confident that I made whatever decision and it wasn’t my monstrous drunk alter-ego Staci.
I have a much deeper, meaningful, and level-headed perspective of life. I no longer think apathetically about how I spend my time or consider late-night cigarette-fueled porch convos as YOLOing.
I truly know myself now. In my 20s, I tended to just follow in the shadows of others, not really understanding my own depth, interests, core values, beliefs, passions, or intentions. I now feel completely secure in who I am and have a wide array of interests I literally never thought I’d be into (watching Anime, being plant-based, playing RPG video games, spending a lot of time alone, and being a parrot owner to name a few).
I have overcome my intense social anxiety without using a social lubricant. This may have been extremely uncomfortable at times, but once I get through the initial nerves, the connections I make are substantially more authentic and impactful. Just to be clear, I still get nervous…but I go forth and talk to people anyway. 🙂
I have learned to manage my anxiety/depression without substances or medication. In fact, I know now that a LARGE part of my anxiety & depression was created, fueled, and propelled by alcohol.
I no longer procrastinate on big life decisions. I take small steps instead.
I wake up every morning feeling pretty damn good.
My skin has noticeably improved.
My relationships with my boyfriend and my mother (and many others) are better than ever, and continue to grow. Our connections have only strengthened in the absence of alcohol.
I sleep like a champ, getting 7-8 hours nearly every night.
I could literally go on and on and on all day about all the ways that ditching booze has brought light into my life. There is no downside, other than “missing out” on social outings where copious amounts of booze are ingested…but honestly, there’s not much I’m missing that I haven’t already done or seen before.
Stoked to say I *finally* made it an entire year, and excited to see what happens from here.
If you’re struggling with your relationship with alcohol, ask for help. There is no shame in addressing things in your life that do not serve you. You are not alone or doomed, and if it takes more than one attempt — it is absolutely still possible. Don’t give up. There is not just one way to get and stay sober.
*AA works for many, many people. Just because it wasn’t my cup of tea does NOT mean I’m knocking it. Please don’t comment on this, I will not respond.