One year ago, my boyfriend challenged me to quit drinking with him for 6 months.
I thought 6 months was a long time. But the truth is, I was ready to give up alcohol.
Then, once the 6 months were over, I kept going. I don’t miss losing control, shitty sleep, and feeling blah for the next few days. Drinking even the littlest bit would effect my mood, diet, and fitness habits dramatically. The worst part is, that I didn’t fully realize it until I got sober.
But my sobriety wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. I don’t feel like I have this awe inspiring story of my life changing because I quit drinking. I haven’t lost 20 pounds, ran a marathon, or am any more spiritual than before. Instead, I feel like I’m starting my life over in some ways – in ways I wish I would’ve figured out sooner. However, I am grateful to be figuring it out now rather than when I’m 50. Or never. So, here’s my reflection over the last year of being sober.
I don’t have a problem with drinking. I never drank alone or constantly blacked out. It was always drinks at social gatherings and nights out on the town. And I was eager to join my boyfriend in his 6 month no alcohol challenge because I started noticing I didn’t feel good when I drank anymore. I’d be halfway through my first drink and begin to feel depressed and down. Or my stomach would get upset. This was very unusual because I always drank to have a good time, feel better, and enhance my already positive and energetic vibe.
I’m not someone who gets emotional or angry or crazy (in a bad way) when I drink. I’m the dancing, laughing, and ballsy drunk girl who passes out early because she drinks too much too soon. So, feeling shitty halfway through my first drink really started to bother me.
The first week was cake. But by week two, I was already craving a buzz. Badly. And I needed something to curb the urges. I don’t drink soda or much coffee. And I wanted something bubbly. So, I tried sparkling water. To my surprise, it worked. Not just for me, but for my boyfriend too. I won’t lie and say it’s delicious, because it wasn’t (I don’t mind it now). But it worked.
I feel like I barely made it through the first month. And if it wasn’t for Topo Chico with lime and Nixie sparkling water, I might not have this experience to share.
I might have relied on drinking for social interactions. I notice I get super anxious before going to a family BBQ or hanging out with a friend. And it’s easy to drink for those occasions. It takes the edge off. And I open right up willing to talk about anything. Without that drink, I feel like I can’t stay anywhere for too long. I feel especially anxious about family events. I’ve always loved spending time with my family. Now it feels like I have to talk myself into it and deal with all these emotions about just going to their house. I wonder if I’ve always felt this way.
At the end of month three, I had fewer cravings than the first 2 months. I took sparkling water wherever I went, and that seemed to be the relief I needed. It definitely satiated my desire to have a drink in my hand.
I notice I’m sleeping soundly and I eat healthily more consistently. When typically, after a few drinks, I’d eat whatever the hell I wanted and not sleep the best. Then feel derailed for a few days to weeks after. Thankfully, I’m noticing these things now.
I’m deeply contemplating if I should ever drink again. I’m halfway through the 6 month challenge and already see how much alcohol has hindered me. I used to call it liquid courage. But I see now that the courage has always been there. Instead, drinking numbed everything that made me feel uncomfortable. Being around family. Trying to fit in. Meeting new people. Being in new places. Trying something new. I want to be the person I feel like I am when I drink.
My boyfriend and I are going out to celebrate for dinner. It’s been 6 months and we’re feeling like having a glass of wine with seafood or steak. We walked down to the steakhouse just a couple of blocks from home and ordered appetizers. I looked at the wine list and immediately felt hesitant to order a glass of anything. He orders a glass of wine and I have water. Once his wine comes I smell it, and my insides turn. It doesn’t smell bad. But the sensations of drinking too much wine fill my body. I’ve never felt like this before, not without actually drinking. I let the sensation pass and after a little food, I felt better. And I accept that I’m not ready to drink again.
I already knew as we approached the 6 month mark that I wasn’t prepared for a drink. Part of me did want a glass of wine. But, something deeper inside me wasn’t ready.
I’ve drank since I was really young. Drinking was always a part of family trips, BBQs, and birthday parties. It was what you did to have fun. Not to mention my parents (dad and stepmom) were bartenders and had cabinets full of alcohol and mixers. I think I learned how to make my first cocktail at 12 years old. However, Malibu rum and pineapple juice aren’t much of a cocktail. But it was my favorite beverage at the time. I would make my parent’s drinks and bring them beers, but not before helping myself to some first, of course. I heard stories of my parents getting into their parent’s liquor cabinets and wanted the same stories myself. Little did I know I’d be sharing them as a warning versus a good time with my own son.
We’re going out to dinner in a place I haven’t been to in two and a half years. It’s a more upscale bar I always drank and ate at with my friends for many years. But my boyfriend and I had never been there together. They had a new menu and we wanted something different to eat. I’d been out to a bar in a different town before this with a friend and had my first mocktail. Who knew drinks without alcohol would taste just as good, if not better? Because of this, I wasn’t too worried about revisiting a place I experienced countless drunken nights.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was instantly overwhelmed by something I didn’t expect. The smell of the bar. It smelled like late nights laughing and deep conversations. It smelled like making new friends and stepping out into the cool night air and walking a few blocks to the next bar. It also smelled like the sadness I felt when I was going through my divorce.
I was shaking, sweating, and nervous. I just needed a drink. And for the first time, something with alcohol sounded good. But I knew better. Once I had a virgin mule in my hand, the buzzing started to settle, and I felt better.
I see it more clearly the longer I’m sober. I would drink to numb the nerves, the pain and insecurities, the noise inside my head. I feel like maybe I’ve gone backward in life because I haven’t learned to handle these emotions.
But I can’t numb myself anymore. I won’t. I’ve done more damage to my body and mind than good from drinking. I can see now that I did have an alcohol problem. I needed it to feel better about who I am, what I wanted to do, and the food I wanted to eat. I also needed it to avoid the things I didn’t want to feel or think about. I didn’t overthink as much after a few drinks. And this is how I operated for 15 years of my life.
Looking back, it’s easy for me to focus on every shortcoming and negative expectation. So instead, these are positive takeaways and changes I made over the past year.
- I say no. And I’ve stopped giving explanations to everyone. I don’t need to say why I won’t make it or lie as to why I canceled at the last minute. I simply won’t be there. And I’m not sorry. I love you, but I just can’t.
- I’m starting to truly not give a fuck. It was easy to not care once I had a drink. But that didn’t last. Now I’m learning to truly not care what people think. I wear what feels comfortable. I do what feels good for my soul. I speak my mind if I must. And if you think something about me, I’m not making it my business.
- I protect my energy for the people and events that fuel me. I’ve given a lot of myself to others throughout my life. I was a people pleaser. Getting sober solidified that I can’t do that anymore. I can’t give myself to anything or anyone that doesn’t make my heart feel full.
- I love myself more. I’ve gained 25 pounds over this last year and it’s humbling. But it’s part of the journey. I’m happier, healthier, and more confident. I also know that I have to love myself at this size or I won’t love myself at any size.
- I have to learn new ways to manage stress. My life isn’t all that stressful. But after growing up in high stress environments, I constantly worry or behave in ways to create more stress in my life so I can feel “normal”. This has weighed on me the most over the last year. But the more I suppress, the more I’m depressed. I don’t want the sadness, guilt, shame, and struggles to feel so heavy. They are a part of me. And if I must carry them, I will learn to do so lightly.
It’s not that I’m not celebrating. I just can’t help but feel like I have such a long way to go. But fortunately, I’m figuring it out at 28 years old rather than 50. Or never. I can do better. And I will for mine and my family’s sake. I think it’s my purpose in life to be the change I wish to see.
A Note From The Author
When I first wrote this article, I wasn’t feeling positive at all about my experience being sober. Thankfully, I didn’t publish and sat on it for a couple of weeks. I went through and edited a few things, but I didn’t want to change it completely. In its raw form, how I feel about my sober experience is somewhat saddening. But I don’t always give myself credit for my progress. I could still be doing the same shit, like most people around me. Yet here I am, learning, changing and growing.
Quitting alcohol isn’t for everyone. And I’d never tell anyone they should quit. But it has helped me so much. Hopefully, through my story, you can see the changes I underwent during this last year. And that’s just getting beneath the surface. I could probably write a whole book diving into each month and the mostly mental challenges I face even today. But I love who I’m becoming. And my sobriety is proof to me that I’m breaking the cycle.
I don’t want to influence my son with alcohol in a positive light. Experiencing life sober is hard. But it’s better than living numb and snuffed out. I think some of the greatest rewards come from doing the things that scare us the most. And I don’t want to be afraid of myself.