Sobriety is a Baby Bird

Over the past 6 years of my drinking career, up until now, I made several quit attempts that, surprise surprise, ended up failing. I would start out on my day 1, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (okay, no, that’s not true, I was probably very hungover) ready to take that next big step toward achieving my goal of health, wellness, vitality, chi, balanced chakras, and a rainbow of flowers shooting out of my ass at 7am every single morning. I was going to get SOBER!

Right. So, the next thing I’d do is go to those who saw me most often and knew my drinking habits – perhaps my boyfriend or husband, maybe a best friend or a coworker – and say, “Hey, I’m doing this sober thing. No more drinking for me. That’s it. Done. Nada.”

I’d place my proverbial fists on my proverbial hips and beam a big, cocky smile at them as if to say, hey, look at me, I’m good, I’m doing the right thing, you should be happy for me.

Without fail, though, I’d usually be the recipient of one or more of the three big D’s:

Disappointment

Disbelief, or

Distaste.

And then would come that sinking fear almost everyone has going headfirst into sobriety: what will others think? how will they react? am I going to have to try to defend myself? Why isn’t everyone happy for me?

Because, for some reason, we feel the need to justify and defend the choices we make for ourselves, especially when it comes to alcohol. And let’s get real about this, people – alcohol is the only drug we have to actively justify NOT using. Let that sink in.

Anyway, at those moments in the past, I wasn’t ready to be faced with anything other than overwhelming support. I thought that everyone should be happy for me because I was doing something to protect myself. But, addiction is a strange thing, and while some did offer their unconditional support, others were far more vocal about why THEY didn’t think drinking was an issue, either for me or for themselves.

And thus, the three big D’s manifest in a variety of different ways.

Disappointment might sound a little like this, though your mileage may vary:

But what about our favorite breweries? What about event XYZ coming up? Will you still do fill-in-the-blank with me? Can I still drink? Will it bother you if I drink around you? I’m gonna miss my drinking buddy. But hey, good for you, so long as I can still drink.

Disbelief might sound like this, though again, YMMV:

Oh, what? I didn’t think you have a problem with alcohol. You just have to try harder at moderating. Drinking a glass of wine each night is supposed to be good for you, though. I don’t think you need to quit drinking, just cut back a bit if you’re worried.

And here, we have some classic varieties of distaste:

I would never quit drinking. I don’t trust people who don’t drink. Being sober is no fun. What are you going to do when you’re bored?

dude

What do you mean you don’t drink?

Truthfully, people’s responses were one of the biggest reasons I kept drinking for as long as I did. I didn’t want to be that girl, the one who stands awkward and sober on the side of the dance floor, clutching her soda water with lime so tight it might break the glass, while everyone is getting down and dirty with the hottie they met five minutes before.

I hated being the one to order a diet coke at dinner while everyone ordered their favorite IPA or Imperial Stout.

I didn’t like feeling uptight and withdrawn while my friends were becoming increasingly loose-lipped and lovey-dovey about each other.

In telling people I wasn’t drinking, I almost felt like they would try to accommodate me like they would a small, lost child. By the end of the second or third week, I’d usually give in to my desires to fit in, grab a glass of booze, and breathe a huge – if not discouraged – sigh of relief. Well, that’s over, I’d think. Drinking doesn’t feel right, but staying sober was too hard anyway. At least now I won’t be the odd man out.

cheers

Yeah, soda water! Oh… wait.

It took me way too long to understand – REALLY, truly, and deeply understand – that my choice to remain sober is mine and mine alone, that it reflects the value I place upon myself and my own sanity/health/waistline/mental clarity/whatever, and that in all reality, people don’t actually give much of a shit if you drink or not. Most of them are just concerned with themselves – much like you are concerned with yourself.

The ones who question you, act upset, or give you a hard time are probably the ones with a drinking problem they’re not ready to face quite yet. Or maybe they’re ready, but they’re fucking scared. Which is understandable, right? You were fucking scared before you took the leap. Deciding to stop doing the one thing that literally millions of adults do on a daily basis – the biggest and most socially acceptable form of fucking your body up and turning yourself into an adult-sized toddler – is actually a very scary thing to do.

But, you do it for yourself because you see the value in remaining sober. And when you stop worrying about how others will view you, the decision is made that much easier.

Want to know the real secret to making it even easier, though?

In the process of allowing yourself to not give a shit about what others think about your sobriety, you can and should allow yourself the mental peace to say “no” to the things you don’t want to do, for whatever reason, and say “yes” to the things you do want to do. Try being 100% honest with yourself about what you want to do, and the rest will follow.

Let’s say you’re not interested in hanging out at a concert where everyone is drinking but your friends are pressuring you to come. Sit it out. Just don’t go. Tell them, sorry, not tonight  – let’s catch up soon though.

But, on the other hand, if you DO want to go to that concert, don’t let yourself get miserable about being the only sober asshole in the room. Just try it. Instead of sulking over your NA beer or shirley temple, take a breath, focus on what you’re really there for (the music, right?) and just enjoy it. You don’t need to walk around telling all your friends that you’re sober now while showing them how much money you just saved getting a water (because let’s be honest, when you’re drunk, you rarely care about the money).

If it’s too hard for you to enjoy yourself, or you start to get angry about the drunk dude in front of you singing all the lyrics out of key, leave.

That’s all you have to do.

Trust me, it gets easier every time. And eventually, the more you leave the things that don’t fulfill you behind, the more room you’ve got in front of you to make time for the things you WANT to do and that you WILL enjoy while sober. Whatever those things might be.

concert

How can he possibly enjoy this amazing music with all his friends without a beer?!

For me, this time around getting sober, I tried hard to think of ways I could make my decision really stick. I didn’t want to dive headfirst into sobriety, only to end up treading water, eventually getting out because I got too tired, bored, or frustrated.

So, I tried things a little differently.

First things first, I stopped drinking. I took the biggest step first and promised myself I would give myself the tools I needed along the way to make it work. I made  a plan, I knew which day would be my first of sobriety, and I did’t make a big deal out my last drink. It was what it was, nothing more.

Second, I armed myself with loads of information, both of the anecdotal sort, and of the sciency, research-driven sort. I gathered books* and sober blogs** and random, one-off articles from the internet that helped me solidify the mental and emotional reasons I had for wanting to quit drinking. I needed to believe, in reading through hundreds of personal stories, that the majority of these people were telling the truth when they said sobriety was the best thing that ever happened to them.

Third, I started a private journal, which ended up turning into this anonymous blog. I knew I needed a place to keep my thoughts written down, but was SO not ready to make any of it public. So, I found a space that worked for me, and turned it into a way to anonymously connect with other sober folks in the process.

Fourth, I joined the Reddit Stop Drinking community. I promised to post regularly, even if it was only to check in and confirm my sobriety.

Fifth, I got a therapist. More importantly, though: I was honest with a therapist about my drinking.

Sixth, I took my first week of sobriety to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, and I let myself relax a bit on some of my superfluous responsibilities. I cried when I needed to, sometimes even in the bathroom at work. I tried to move my body daily, but didn’t beat myself up if I didn’t.

Notice anything missing?

One of the biggest things I didn’t do this time was walk around (you know, metaphorically speaking) and parade my sobriety in front of others.

I didn’t tell my step mother, a bottle-of-wine-each-night drinker who I live with currently.

I didn’t tell any of my close friends.

I didn’t tell my parents.

I eventually told my boyfriend, but that was a private, honest discussion on why I needed to stop. And yes, he is one of the supportive ones.

The only other people who know are ones who I’ve been in social situations with, where I have actively turned down drinks. Even then, I never explicitly said, “I’ve quit drinking.”

In a way, what has worked for me personally this time around (so far, no stopping yet!) has been maintaining a quieter form of sobriety, one that is just for me. I recognize that I can’t do this all on my own, but there’s no need for me to broadcast it out into my social circles before I’m ready.

Instead of feeling compelled to blurt my non-drinking status to others, I hold it in my hands like a fragile baby bird. There is no use in me throwing it up in the air quite yet – it won’t be able to soar until I’ve nourished and cared for it for an extended period of time.

I may open my hands a crack every now and then, to show people close to me this special thing I’m holding. For the most part though, I’m keeping a close watch over this fragile, innocent thing, and guarding it as it grows and gains enough strength to stand on its own. Very few people in my daily life know I’m holding it, and that’s okay.

One day in the future (near or far), I’ll open my hands wide to reveal the most beautiful, healthy bird. When it flies from my palms, people will see it and remark, WOW! Look at that. It’s gorgeous! And listen to its song! Where did it come from?

And there will be me, hands wide open and smiling, saying – hey, that’s mine. I made that. And you know what? I’m really fucking proud. If you want your own, come with me – I can tell you how I did it. 

bird

Freedom!


*Books I’ve read & loved are:

  • This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. READ THIS. If nothing else runs across your eyes but this, it’ll be worth your time. Seriously, do it.
  • Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. A beautiful and poignant memoir, this one is geared more toward the female audience, but a good read for anyone who is interested in memoir.
  • Tired of Thinking About Drinking: Take my 100 Day Sober Challenge by Belle Robertson. This book sprung from a blog with the same name, which I’ve been following for several years now. Belle’s writing was one of the first, solid buoys of hope I found while floating in an ocean of what seemed like endless drinking and drunkenness.

**Blogs I love:

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