You never could have convinced me that being sober was going to be this awesome. From the drunk side, sobriety looks like it sucks. It looks like the thing you “have” to do when your drunken behaviors sadly catch up to you, like you have to sit down in a room full of people and say things like “I’m an alcoholic” with a bunch of strangers. The idea of sobriety seemed very depressing and fluorescent-lit and full of bad coffee and store-bought pastries. It felt stale, and I really had (what I thought was) fun getting drunk.
Interestingly, there are probably only a few individuals in my life who knew how bad my drinking was. When people find out I’m sober, usually they say something along the lines of “I didn’t know you struggled with alcohol*.” To most, I probably looked like something of a “normal” drinker who occasionally overdid it. I’d never lost a job to it, I didn’t drink and drive, I didn’t become violent while drunk or use other hard drugs… I just drank. A lot. Still, I managed to keep it just to the side of the line most people deem problematic, and only talked about it with people who were very close to me.
However, I knew that drinking was a destructive behavior rooted in the need to avoid generations of pain and also as a way to maintain my energy (which, as it turns out, can get pretty ridiculously high). I felt deeply ashamed of the way I routinely sickened myself. My father was an addict and I was addict and I felt like would only ever perpetuate this issue in my family. Hiding it was part of it.
I knew it was a problem by the time I was in my early 20s, and by my mid-20s I was launching all kinds of “cutback” campaigns: A four-drink max, a month off here and there to make sure I wasn’t physically dependent, a relinquishing of hard alcohol, etc. I suspect anyone reading this is familiar with the game we play before we’re finally hit with the understanding this has to stop now. It takes all of us something different to get there. As this game went on, I still hated the idea of quitting full-stop, in part because I thought it meant I wouldn’t be social anymore.
But you know what’s so awesome about being sober now? I still party. I stay up til all hours in conversation, I go to shows, I dance my ass off, and I meet amazing people. I definitely had to sit totally alone eating cake in front of a TV for about 8 months before I got to this point, but my travels have taught me that I can still be outgoing and do even more fun stuff because I’m not nursing hangovers and/or feeling awkward without a drink.
The flipside of drinking is that, in time, it totally erodes your self-confidence. You begin to only feel capable of interacting with others in a real way when you’ve had a beer or two. You start to drink out of habit, alone, while writing or reading and don’t even care to interact as often anymore. Even if you don’t feel you cross the threshold into “addiction,” it really does begin to isolate you and keeps you from pursuing a more interesting life. Alcohol becomes your bestie, and all kinds of opportunities slip away.
For a good number of us, drinking slowly yet predictably becomes warm, easy, and eventually life-denying.
*Just because I get asked so often: No, I don’t smoke weed either. Although the physical effects are far less damaging than most other drugs, the path to true freedom is about releasing attachments without exception. That includes weed, my loves.
I’m not going to bullshit you: The work of getting sober is the work of a lifetime—that’s because it’s you, literally reclaiming your life.
And you should be prepared for literally everything to change as a result of getting sober, including those things that seem fine right now. It is possible that once you are in a clearer, more elevated headspace, certain friendships/relationships/employment situations won’t feel right anymore. You’ll start to get a sense that much more is possible for your life if you can give up drugs and alcohol.
I now consider getting sober to be something of an overall “life upgrade” rather than simply the illness-oriented idea of “recovery.” Yes, we’re recovering, but getting sober changes your mind dramatically as you heal your brain and body. If you upgrade your mind by clearing it of toxins, you’ll also upgrade your perception of reality (a function of the mind), as well as begin to uplift other people’s as well. I don’t know if that sounds too hippie-dippie for you all, but this is my experience with getting sober.
Some things will immediately improve (my skin was smoother and shockingly not-dehydrated after about two weeks), and others will take some time (feeling confident enough in my writing to launch this blog, submit fiction to publications/pursue writing in a real way, peace out on my life to move to an ashram with no guarantees, etc.).
In any case, if you stick with it, changes will occur.
I want to be clear that none of this is about “changing your relationship to alcohol.” That’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time. Now, when I talk to people about sobriety, I hear them say these kinds of things, but I don’t buy into the rhetoric. It reveals that they still think alcohol is a “good thing” they’d like to “be able” to partake in. It is not that. Drinking actually sucks; we’ve just all been culturally programmed (and then psychologically and physically programmed) to believe otherwise.
From where I sit now, this sentiment appears to be little more than a bargaining chip the mind uses to keep us entrenched in its existing patterns. The mind will rationalize and justify in many (MANY) sneaky ways why it’s okay to keep doing what the real You knows needs to stop. Odds are that you’re going to end up just as drunk as you always were in a short amount of time. Alcohol is a drug of dependence; that’s its whole thing. No one is special and immune, it’s just that some of us are more sensitive than others.
The sane way to give up alcohol (rather than the disease-oriented narrative) is to see it clearly: Alcohol is poisonous and consciousness-lowering, end of story. Are any of us trying to “change our relationship to arsenic”? No, we are not. The primary difference is that we are all heavily socialized to believe alcohol plays a vital role in being an Adult™ and many of us cannot imagine our interactions without it. Just because it’s the drug of choice for the masses that doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or something we should be using like we do.
Having said all that: I love my friends and family members who drink (which is pretty much all of them) and hold no moral judgment in my heart about… well, anything really, especially this pattern of behavior I understand so intimately. I still like being around drinkers and feel no temptation in their presence. I will wholeheartedly support anyone in their path to sobriety, and wholeheartedly accept anyone who isn’t even close to thinking about being sober. I do love all human beings without exclusion and see my Self in them.
Personally, I just don’t drink anymore. The result? I’m clear-headed, not saying/doing stupid shit while intoxicated, I remember everything, I don’t fall over when I dance or make out with people I wish I wouldn’t have, I hold cogent conversations well past 2AM, and when I wake up I feel great, like, every single day. Even when I get two hours (or zero hours) of sleep, I feel great. On top of that, I get to post things like this and feel really good about it.
Really, the only downside of sobriety is that my energy is sometimes off the charts. I wake up and I want music going, loudly; I want hot coffee while doing jumping jacks; I want to run, to sing, to dance, to create. Nothing is fast enough. I think all of this is generally part of awakening spiritually, of being labeled “bipolar,” and of being creative. We go hard naturally and alcohol helps to keep us somewhat palatable and even, so much that we often end up abusing it. I’m still learning how to best maintain my energy without lowering it in that way, and when I feel I have it more streamlined, I’ll share that wisdom for sure.
Instead of alcohol, what feels warm now is laying my head wherever I happen to be sleeping, listening to music and feeling my heart expand, going over whatever I’m writing and knowing without a doubt that I am getting better. When I say “getting better,” I don’t even mean recovering from alcohol addiction. I mean as a human, I am rising and improving, little by little, just by virtue of not clouding my mental space with the toxic and emotional baggage that comes along with drinking and smoking.
It’s a beautiful life, even when I uncomfortably feel kinda like a rocketship. Though life be uncertain, I know alcohol could never be a replacement for the solidity of knowing for sure who I am.
Location: Burlington, WA