Today’s post is a follow-up to my One Year No Beer and Two Years No Beers posts written specifically about my sobriety journey. I decided to ask you what you were most curious about, and these were the most commonly asked questions. I hope you enjoy reading my responses. I plan to write more about this topic moving forward because if I’ve learned anything in the last two years it’s that many of you are sober curious – very sober curious. If I can help just one person by shedding light on living an alcohol-free existence, then I am happy to do it.
Did you “relapse” and start drinking again after you quit?
This question is interesting because after thinking it over I came to the realization that I had been “quitting” for years, I just hadn’t realized it yet. My husband and I had tried a few strategies to reduce our drinking, like limiting a night out to three beers. Strategies like these inevitably fail because three beers is just enough to inhibit your decision making capabilities and sabotage a plan. My husband quit alcohol for a while years before we both quit, but I did not, and because of my inability to see alcohol consumption outside of the “alcoholic / normal person” binary, that ultimately failed as well. However, because I was still living under the assumption that alcohol is safe and in denial about it ruining my mental health as long as I drank it in moderation, I did slowly reduce my consumption and stopped drinking anything other than beer, or champagne on a “special occasion.”
I give all of these examples because over the years I did everything except actually quit. Because I was afraid of what life would be like and because I was afraid of what that might mean I was. Not because I was actually physically addicted. When I look back, I can see someone who was desperately trying to break free of alcohol, I just didn’t have the tools to do it yet.
Once I made the decision to quit, after years of alcohol being more of a problem in my life than something “fun,” I did so with 100% certainty and conviction. It was like going vegan. I had that symbolic last drink and that last slice of cheese pizza and off I went into the unknown – happily. To say that I quit “cold turkey” in either situation would really be a lie. I had been quitting alcohol for years, and I had been quitting all animal products ever since I went vegetarian. It was only a matter of time. So no, I have not “relapsed” since making the decision to actually remove alcohol from my life. And because I have never questioned my decision, I will remain sober.
Was it hard to quit?
There are two things I want to say on this topic. One: Not quitting and continuing to live a life you know deep down is wrong for you is exponentially harder than the very temporary discomfort of quitting. Two: It is hard at first, but that passes quickly.
What is actually hard are hangovers, and wasted time and potential. Fighting with your husband for no reason. Emotional instability, repressed trauma, depression, missed work, horrible periods, sabotaged healthy eating, and not exercising because of lack of energy. What is hard is letting your sense of creativity, imagination, and sense of wonder die in your skull. Work days that never end because of your fatigue and brain fog, and regularly hanging out with people or in places you can’t stand without the use of alcohol to numb you. Not being able to find joy and happiness in the “little things” (which are actually the big things) because your dopamine receptors have been trained not to – by alcohol. Those are the hard things. What is hard is knowing you could just stop but choosing not to, for years. I really want to emphasize that those things are what are actually difficult, because you’re perpetually trapped.
Quitting, on the other hand, was hard at first but is very temporary. It was not difficult on a daily basis, but the “firsts” were an initial struggle. The first wedding you attend sober, the first family gathering, the first party, the first holiday, the first night out with friends. Those will be hard. In the beginning I constantly had a mock-tail in my hand that I used as a safety blanket and a way to deflect conversation away from my not drinking. As a woman, this can be especially challenging because if I ordered a diet soda I got the: “Are you pregnant” question more than once. So I would go to the bar before anyone got there and order a soda water with a splash of cranberry and a lime. No one would even know it wasn’t a cocktail.
The weird thing about this is that my real friends were aware I quit and were supportive – this charade was something I put on for my own comfort, and for the comfort of people who really weren’t my friends anyway. Isn’t it strange how we’re so conditioned to think drinking is normal that we protect the feelings of those around us that do drink? I didn’t want to “make anyone feel weird.” Would you act this way with cigarettes? Pretending to smoke so that you wouldn’t make your smoker friends feel uncomfortable? What a strange concept.
So it was hard in the beginning. I created rituals at home to replace my beer at the end of a long day. Usually some type of sparkling water in a fancy glass with lemon. It achieved the same desire – helping me wind down with something fizzy – it’s all just part of a ritual. After a month, I didn’t do that regularly anymore, only when it really was a tough day at work or a sparkling water just sounded good. And I stopped going to events I didn’t want to go to, and hanging out with people I didn’t like. I stopped staying up late (because I hate it), I learned to say no to clients and their fundraisers (I will still donate, just not attend) and I started having real boundaries.
And just like that, after a handful of awkward dinners or parties, it became easy.
And not only easy, it became AMAZING. When you’re the only one able to get up at five am the day after an event to workout, have a smoothie and a quick magazine read, it feels better than good. When you go to Pilates and work on your blog on a Saturday morning instead of laying in bed all day, it feels amazing. When you can get all your office work done in one block of a few hours instead of spread out over the entire week, it’s magic. When you’re so productive you knock your work week down to three and a half days, it’s almost hard to believe that that time existed before and you were just wasting it. And that’s just the beginning. I will tell you it gets better and better as you grow into yourself and heal those parts of you that you used alcohol to suppress. I can sense that even two years in, I’m only just scratching the surface of discovering myself and what I’m capable of.
How do you deal with friends and/or family members that don’t support you or understand? Or people who give you a hard time or call you “no fun?”
One of the ways I realize now that I was quitting alcohol long before I quit is through the company I keep. Several of my closest friends do not drink alcohol, or drink very little. Alcohol and drug dependency and addiction is common on both sides of my family, as well as mental illness. So I also have several family members who have quit alcohol and drugs. I am very fortunate in that way – everyone seems to understand, or at least on some level, get it.
Because I haven’t had to deal with this personally, I cannot give you advice on what to do aside from tell them it’s the healthy choice for you, and that they should respect that, just as you are not disrespecting them for drinking.
I do and have however, dealt with comments like that regarding my choices to be vegetarian and then vegan. All I can say to that is if you know in your heart it’s right for you, the judgments they pass on you are simply a reflection of what they see as flaws in themselves or challenges to their own moral frameworks. Otherwise they wouldn’t care so much. In other words, when someone judges you negatively for evolving, changing, or growing into a new (and hopefully better) version of yourself, it is typically not about you. It’s about them, and the fact that they are having to confront their own growth, or lack thereof. Hopefully looking at it in that way helps. The “you’ve changed” comment shouldn’t have a negative connotation. I’d rather change than be the same person for the rest of my life.
Before I wrap this answer up, I did want to mention one more thing that I have experienced, and that is weird. When you get sober and no one gives you a hard time, but also NO ONE talks to you about it. Ever. For me personally, I write because it helps me to be creative and expel ideas that would otherwise spin around in my head until they drove me insane… with the intention that maybe those ideas can resonate with, and help others. This topic (which by the way has exponentially more readership than any other topic I blog about) is no exception. I love talking about sobriety and my choice to quit alcohol, but to this day, no one has asked me about it directly, or brought it up in conversation. I’m not sure if this is because people are afraid this will offend me, or are not sure how to start the conversation. But I know it’s definitely not because of lack of interest or curiosity. You all want to know about it. So I’d say, in order to normalize not drinking alcohol, don’t be afraid to ask your sober friend questions, or just talk about it like you would anything else.
Do you just smoke weed now instead (or use other substances)?
No. But this question can get complicated. Depending on what school of thought you subscribe to, I could be considered not sober because I still consume things like caffeine, the occasional Ibuprofen or CBD. At this stage, I’m all about defining sobriety for yourself, and for me personally, I choose not to consume anything that inhibits my ability to be productive in ways that bring me joy. I know that I cannot get high or drunk (or even a tiny bit “buzzed”) and enjoy listening to a record, or drawing, reading a good book, or writing an article. I become a blob of anxiety with the capacity to basically only watch The Bachelorette and sleep, and nothing more. I want to be able to work on my business, enjoy time with my husband – drive somewhere. I want to be able to start a new project, hang out with my dogs, watch a documentary or reorganize the house with energy and awareness that I just do not have when I have mind altering substances in my body. I feel like it robs me of a lot of my joy, mental health, and self love, and does not align with my lifestyle or beliefs.
That being said, I am aware that caffeine and CBD also alter your brain and mood, but I choose to regularly partake because I enjoy them and do not feel as though they are a hindrance to these goals. I plan to write more about this in the future because it is a complex topic, but for today we will suffice it to say that no, I did not simply replace alcohol with other drugs.
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