I’m writing this at 9:35 on a Wednesday night. I’m in my bed, I’ve got on cozy socks with a hole in the heel. Outside, I can hear the cars passing and the distant sirens. The sky is dark and the chilly night air holds the promise of winter. Today, I’m 25 years old. Today, I’m a woman. Today, I’ve got an undefined sexuality. Today, I’m 255 days sober.
I went through the last three years of my life hating labels, thinking they were a means to define a complex and ever-changing me. In a way, it’s only natural that we categorize ourselves. I’ve heard it’s how our brains work. We see a piece of fruit, and our brain runs a series of deductive algorithms that assess the shape, the color, the smell, the flavor and open all these doors in our memories until we settle on the word for the fruit. We’re basically taught to categorize ourselves in the same way. Smart, funny, tall, short, athletic. These words have always held more weight than just the simple adjectives they’re intended to be. They’re both inward and outward perceptions and opinions that define our self-image. That’s heavy. It was heavy when I was trying to find the word for my sexuality. It was heavy when I was afraid I’d fail at sobriety and chose to say “I’m not drinking,” over “I’m sober.” Because sober is a state of being. Sober is a label.
Today, I’m really damn proud to be sober. There are very few labels I’ll accept for myself, but that is one of them. I decided to be sober because I got really tired of making the same mistakes. I was in a really violent cycle that I couldn’t seem to get out of. I was always in between extremes and never able to find balance: sober or drunk, self-love or self-destruction. It wasn’t that I needed to drink all the time. It was that when I did, I didn’t always stop. I was addicted to the high, and the fight to find balance felt like a war I wouldn’t win. I put myself in danger. I embarrassed myself. I played into my insecurities and traumas until I was so caught up in years worth of a violent cycle that I ended up disliking the person I was.
I played with the idea of sobriety for years, even experimenting in short spurts. I knew the lessons I needed to learn, but it took me years to commit to learning them. Since I announced to the world my sobriety so recently, I’ve gotten an outpouring of love. A few people have shared that they too are considering sobriety, or struggle with similar issues as I do. I wanted to get everything about my experience and what I’ve learned down in hopes that my testament and advice can help others make the decision to be sober.
Whether you’re sober curious or trying to put an end to a problem, I’m hoping these tips can help.
Find Your Why
I think a lot of people mistake the need for motivation when what they need is purpose. Like everything with sobriety, your purpose for choosing this lifestyle is personal to you. Someone recently told me that you seek out sobriety somewhere between the last thing you lost, and the next thing you can’t afford to lose. Personally, I chose to be sober for a multitude of reasons. I made a lot of really dumb decisions that could have cost me my entire life, quite literally. I lost a lot of friends, ruined my relationships, put myself in danger, and disrespected others. Then, earlier this year, someone that I went to high school with that had just finished his doctorate degree was hit by a drunk driver. Like that, he was just gone. I realized that one more of my bad decisions could cause irreparable damage. Whether it was to someone else, or to myself, I knew that I couldn’t go on the way I was. Every time I drank, I was gambling and the stakes were too high for me to keep hedging my bets.
You have to find your purpose. Sometimes, we don’t want to. Finding a purpose means finding a reason to stop. As much as we can talk about wanting to stop, the feat can seem impossible. We can convince ourselves we don’t need to. We can convince ourselves that we don’t actually have a problem. Regardless of if you have a problem or are merely sober curious, find your reason. Maybe it’s for your physical health, or your mental health, or for a better relationship with those around you. Envision your end goal, a better you, and keep that close. Cherish it like an old photo you keep in your wallet. Don’t let go of it, because it’s within reach.
Others Will Project Onto You, And That’s Okay
The best advice I got going into sobriety was that others would project their experience with alcohol onto me and that it was okay. When I used to tell people I had a problem before I was sober, they would tell me I just hadn’t found my limit yet. My limit became an obscure end goal that I tried for and tried for again and again. Sometimes I’d maybe even felt like I’d grasped it, but like sand, it would slip through my fingers. After five years of never actually getting a good and steady hold on it, I realized that maybe that just didn’t work for me. And that’s okay. Finding your limit doesn’t work for everyone. Now that I’m sober, when I tell people I still get a mix of things thrown at me.
You just need to find your limit.
Did you try just having two?
A part of me gets a little annoyed. You’d think after all of this struggle I would have thought of just having two drinks, huh! Go figure. *rolls eyes* When this happens to you, don’t be afraid to tell the person that they are projecting their experience with alcohol onto you. It’s not fair of them, but it isn’t malicious. It comes from a lack of understanding, and knowing that makes it easier to wipe their comments away. They aren’t intended to harm. You know your experience. You know why you’re here. Stick with it, and know that what they say and what they think is not personal to you.
The 30 Seconds Pass
I love this one. I think the hardest part about sobriety is getting started. The idea of never having a drink again in your life feels like you’re missing out on something special. It feels impossible. It’s scary. But once you start, time goes by. Ten days turns into twenty, and twenty days turns into fifty. And in all those days, you’ll experience a handful of 30 second moments where you question your decision. Maybe it’s after a long and hard day. Maybe it’s when you’re with your family and drinks are being poured. Maybe it’s when you’re at a friend’s and everyone’s drinking and you’re not. Maybe it’s when you’re feeling like an outsider. Maybe it’s when you smell it and it reminds you of that high. But then the 30 seconds passes. And you didn’t drink. And suddenly, you’re 255 days sober. That’s a total of over 22 million seconds that you conquered, and those measly 30 seconds lose their power. You have the strength to get through it, and seconds, minutes, days, and months take on a whole new meaning to you, and it’s lovely.
Find Your Very Special Sober Sip
This was also a great piece of advice given to me at the beginning of my journey. Play the mind game. Get yourself a special drink! Maybe it’s a mocktail, sparkling water, Kombucha, coconut water, what have you. Having a drink in your hand makes you feel more comfortable in social situations and making it something special that you don’t have often makes you feel like you’re treating yourself. Sometimes, just having your hand around a glass of Kombucha in a crystal champagne glass with some raspberries floating it gives you both joy and peace.
Reconstruct Your Narrative of Sober
This is a big one. So many people think of sober as boring, sleepy, timid, quiet. The most empowering part of sobriety is reconstructing that narrative and ending that stigma. I was worried that I wouldn’t be sexy, or dangerous, or wild. I was worried that I wouldn’t be confident. I was worried that I wouldn’t be fun. The first weekend I was sober, I was in Florida for a friend’s wedding. The group of friends I was with like to party, and I was worried that my not drinking would be “a thing.” So I didn’t tell anyone that I wasn’t drinking. I mentally prepared for the fact that I would be dancing, taking photos, and talking to people. I ordered sprite with lime and I tipped back coffee after coffee on the edge of the dance floor. I found power in the fact that no one knew I was sober, and suddenly the narrative of sobriety crumbled around me. I ruled that dance floor. I laughed from my belly. I glowed that night. I was the life of the party that outlasted half of the group. I felt beautiful. I felt free. I discovered confidence in myself and a freedom in who I get to be and when. It was the best first experience of sobriety that I could have possibly hoped for, and it showed that it was possible for me to be sober and still be every version of me. I didn’t need alcohol to be happy, to have fun, or to be confident, and that was liberating.
It’s Your Journey and Yours Alone
If you’re sober curious or are looking to better yourself, I hope these five tips can help. I also hope that hearing about my experience can help, but please know that your journey with alcohol and without it is entirely your own. You will experience different things, and you will find what works and what doesn’t work for you. Life through a sober lens is magical. You find yourself more present, more confident, more grounded and more balanced. I hope that you can experience that magic, and I’m cheering for you.