Amazingly, I’ve learned more about myself in a month sober than I did in the two years prior. I use two years as a reference because that’s when I started therapy and my entire life began to morph. Therapy has been outstanding for me, sobriety has been better. While I’m new to sober living, I’m committed. These are the lessons I’ve learned in the first month:
You need a support system.
You absolutely cannot do this alone. You may be able to white-knuckle it for a few days, but sobriety is a communal effort. You need to have people to lean on when the going gets tough. For me, I truly haven’t craved alcohol all month. But, as you’ll learn — I think — alcohol isn’t the root of the issue, alcohol is what you think the solution is. The root is anxiety. And when those overwhelming emotions pop up and you don’t have alcohol to lean on, you’ll need to lean somewhere else. If you’re all alone, that may lead to other toxic (addictive) substances. Now, don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to out yourself as a non-drinker if you’re not ready. Anonymous communities exist online: r/stopdrinking and r/dryalcoholics are great, anonymous Reddit resources that I’ve depended on a lot in the first month of sobriety. I even created a secondary profile to communicate only in those subs to maintain my anonymity until I was ready to go public as a non-drinker.
My wife has also been an enormous source of support. She doesn’t have the drinking dependency that I had, but as soon as I went to her and told her that I needed help, she hopped on it. (I suppose because she was also sick of my drinking problem.)
My “rock-bottom” was driving home drunk, getting my truck stuck in my front yard, and having to wake up at 5am the next morning to get it unstuck with a hangover so the neighbors wouldn’t see and I wouldn’t be embarrassed. I gave up alcohol for three months. Surprisingly, I didn’t quit for good that time. (Do we ever quit successfully on our first attempt?) After three months of sobriety, I decided I was cured and could moderately drink. Nope. A few months later I was back to 7–8 beers a night or half a bottle of bourbon. My final straw was telling my wife I was going to the pub for a MAX of 2 beers, calling her six hours later after having had 8 beers (high alcohol beers) and needing a ride home. (I didn’t want to get my truck stuck in my front yard again.) At this moment, I realized I had no control over alcohol and something had to change. My wife was the only one that knew about my problem for a long time and was the only one that knew about my sobriety for the first three weeks. She’s been a tremendous support system. Find someone that will relish in your successful sobriety with you and cheer you along the way. If you don’t feel like you have a person in your life that can do that for you, reach out to an online community. Those two aforementioned Reddit groups are truly the friendliest places on the internet.
Although AA doesn’t work for me, they’ve helped thousands of people get and keep sober.
Go at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
Like I mentioned above, no one knew about my drinking problems. I kept it hidden so well. I was successful at work, I was a good friend, I was living a great life. But alcohol was my invisible prison. I wasn’t ready to admit that, and, in turn, wasn’t ready to out myself as a non-drinker. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided it was time to share with my best (most supportive) friends my struggles and my newfound sobriety. It was still an extremely raw and vulnerable place, but I felt that it was important to come clean (pun intended) so I could move on in my story. That being said, you’ll know when it’s right for you to go public. I think it’s important to be public about your sobriety but do so in your own time.
Read. Learn. Devour.
Knowledge is power. I struggled with labeling myself a diseased alcoholic. There’s nothing wrong with me: I’m smart, powerful, successful, a great friend, lover, spouse, sibling, child, in-law, grandchild. And I pride myself on that. I’m not some diseased addict / lost soul that should be stigmatized or seen as “other.” I’m a productive member of society, pay my fair share in taxes, take good care of my old dog, and I’m funny, usually.
The problem I found with AA is that it’s contradictory to all of these things. It tries to tell me that all of those things I love about myself aren’t true. That I’m morally bankrupt, I have no power, and I need to beat myself down to build myself up. No thanks.
The first book I read was Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker. (Everyone on this planet should read this book — not just women.) ((This is not an affiliate link. This book is just truly that life-changing.)) And the second was This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. ((samesies)) These two books changed my entire outlook on alcohol. I’m not the problem, alcohol is the problem. Regardless of the direction you go, arm yourself with education. Read, Listen, Learn, Devour from people who have been in your shoes and intimately get your struggle. It’s so damn helpful when you’re questioning why you’re choosing this path. And you will.
Exercise = Sanity.
This one needs to explanation. I used to drink to calm my nerves. Now I exercise. Find a routine that works well for you and stick to it. My weak hour is 3 o’clock. That’s usually when I’d crack open my first beer or pour my first whiskey drink. Now, it’s when I go on a walk or hit the gym. If I can get through that hour and until dinner time, I won’t drink. That’s the goal. Also, working out hard calms my nerves. Win/Win.
Perfection is not the goal.
Acceptance is. I’m not a perfect person. I never will be. I can try to be a good person, an honest person, a person of my word, but I can never reach perfection. My goal is to accept that, love myself so damn much, nourish my body and my soul, and get up every day to return to that same place of acceptance.
No one ever became an addict because they were overwhelmingly loved or cared for. I bet that if you’re reading this, you’ve felt unloved, unwanted, and uncared for. Learn to love yourself and teach others how you want to be loved. It won’t always be perfect, but that’s not the goal. The goal is connection. The opposite of addiction is connection.
This is advice on what to do. I’ll write more on how I love myself in a later article. I’d recommend, immediately, mediation apps like Calm or another, relaxing teas, good music, good books, and a sweater you love.
This is the way.
I know what you’re thinking. “You’re only a month in, what the hell do you know?” I know I don’t know a lot. I know that I won’t drink today. I also know that this is the way. I’ve learned more in the past month about myself than I’ve known in my previous 35 years of life. Not all good, but all eye-opening and empowering.
This is still a learning path for me — it always will be. But I’ve started down this path and I know this is the way. Waking up every morning clear, sans hangover, no anxiety, no shaky hands, no pukey stomach does wonders. I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I show up for myself, and my wife. I show up and work better, faster, and more inspired. I show up for my friends. I don’t show up for toxic people (which is just as important.) And most importantly, I inspire myself daily.
Sobriety hasn’t been a venture of deprivation. Quite the opposite. I’m living more fully now than I ever have. I’m a fan of the sober life. Stay tuned for more.
*This is just my story and is not intended to be life advice or medical advice; nor is it meant to be detox advice. Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly. Seek a doctor’s advice if you’re thinking about getting sober and have a physical dependency.**