Early sobriety is an emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting time for most people who give up drugs or alcohol. Even with the occasional burst of energy or positive feelings, enduring the roller coaster that is day 1 to day 90 is—to put it lightly—really freaking hard.
Not only do you have to endure the initial week-or-so of physical side effects (insomnia or hyposomnia, stomach problems, increased anxiety or depression, agitation, hypersensitivity, shakiness, sluggishness, etc.), but you’ve also got the emotional and mental side effects that can hit you out of nowhere and blindside every best effort you make, threatening sabotage at each step in your journey.
But eventually, there comes a point for most of us when the decent days outnumber the shitty days, and we start to regain our balance. We sleep a bit easier, our bodies start working better, and our minds begin to clear. Saying “no” to a drink becomes ever-so-slightly easier each time we do it. We unlearn some of our destructive habits and are quicker to identify new habits that mimic our addictive tendencies; for example, maybe we notice that we’re eating a LOT more comfort food than we were before, or maybe we’re spending hours on the treadmill or lifting weights, or perhaps we’ve found that burying ourselves into work or relationships is hiding some of our darker emotional realities. We try to do something about it, instead of ignoring or hiding it.
For me, one of the major parts of enduring my early sobriety was finding the courage to celebrate myself at every milestone, no matter how small it felt, even though I was mostly celebrating by myself. I celebrated because I knew that I was finally doing something REALLY HARD, and I was doing it for myself. That made me feel proud. Like, really proud.
Somewhere along the line, though, I stopped celebrating so much. When I stopped thinking about drinking every day, and when I stopped feeling like sobriety was a novelty in my life, I lost focus on my pride except for the big things (like my 1-year celebration). I was never one for AA, though I’ve given it a try and appreciate what it does for people, so I didn’t cultivate a community of sober people around myself who would help me celebrate myself the way I should have been celebrating. My pride began to fade, and being a sober person just felt like another part of who I am.
One of the things that made it difficult to keep my celebratory momentum going was the fact that the main people in my life didn’t really know what a big deal it was to me. They knew I didn’t drink, but I failed to make it known how big of a freaking deal this was for me, mostly because I failed to make it known how big of a problem alcohol had really become. Nobody close to me knew that I would regularly lay awake in bed until 2 am willing myself to fall asleep until the anxiety became too much to bear and I wandered quietly into the living room to take a huge pull straight from a bottle of whiskey. Nobody knew about the times when I lived by myself, where I would buy a box wine and finish half of it in a night. Nobody knew how out of control I felt around alcohol, or how desperately I wanted to pull away from it.
Nobody in my real life knew these things about my struggle with alcohol, and so nobody really knew to celebrate with me because I didn’t send them an invite to the party.
Slowly I began wondering if what I was doing was worth being proud of at all. This self-doubt crept into other areas of my life, too. I began questioning myself and my worthiness. Like, what’s so important about going to graduate school anyway? What makes me think that my new career path is worth making a fuss over? Who cares if I biked 30 miles on my day off, or if I ran 6 miles today in the midwest heat? Why do I think anyone should be impressed by my ability to say no to a free cocktail? What makes me think the fact that I’ve overcome a divorce, abuse, an eating disorder and an alcohol problem makes my story worth listening to?
Self-doubt. It was everywhere. I was looking for others to validate me and the things I had been through, even though they hadn’t witnessed my struggles. So many of the changes I’ve made have been internal and extremely personal. I’ve mended my own broken heart so many times I can barely recognize it anymore, and I’ve kept a half-smile on my face the whole time. My 28 years have shown me such incredible joy and heartache that it’s hard to describe in words. I have overcome so much, and experienced so much, and loved so much, and lost so much.
I have no doubt that many of us here on the sober journey can say the same. We’re sensitive folks with big hearts that bruise easily. Alcohol and other addictions were our protective shields against an angry, hurtful world. In a lot of cases, they were shields we used against ourselves and our pain. And yet, we’ve chosen to step out into the world without that shield. We’re walking naked through this life, accepting the fact that we’re going to be subjected to both pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, anger and happiness, all with intensity and surprises and discomfort.
Yet we beat ourselves up. We feel like we fell so far down a hole that we need to lose 30 pounds and run a 5k and be the perfect employee/spouse/friend in order to qualify our sobriety. We feel like we’ve messed so many things up that there’s no way we could be proud of ourselves—not yet, not while we’re still figuring our lives out and trying to be “normal” for the rest of the world. But the thing we seem to forget sometimes is that sobriety is a life-long marathon, not a quick sprint to being “good” or “cured.” It’s not realistic to tell ourselves that we can finally feel proud once we make it to the end. We’re out there running the race of our lives and we’re trying to tell ourselves that we can’t be proud yet? Eh, I call bullshit.
So, seriously, how could we not be proud? How could we not be impressed by ourselves? Screw what everyone else thinks or doesn’t think. We are refusing to take the easy way out of our pain. Even though we’re not doing sobriety perfectly—I don’t think there’s any one way to “do sobriety” with perfection—we’re here, showing up every day for ourselves. And we’re doing it sober. Finally Who cares if we spend a whole day on the couch reading books sipping tea, in order to prevent ourselves from falling back into a path of self-destruction? Who cares if our old bar friends don’t notice, care, or support our sobriety? It’s not for them.
No matter whether you’ve got 1 or 1000 days, it’s impressive that you started, and that you keep trying every day, and that you refuse to give up. Be impressed by your dedication to yourself. Be impressed by the fact that you’re doing something hard that millions of people won’t. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you you’re worth the pride—and if you’ve been waiting for that, well, here it is. You’re worth the pride. Your sobriety is valuable and worthy. You’re impressive just for being here in the first place.
Sobriety is impressive. So, impress yourself. Keep going.