Going Sober

I got goosebumps. I randomly saw this on FB on January 27th 2017:

So I took the book I was reading, Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins and read this:

“When we do something for the first time, we create a physical connection, a thin neural strand that allows us to access that emotion or behaviour again in the future.”

You see I was on day 27 of a 365 day challenge I had given myself.

I’m sober.

I began to drink (more than occasionally) when I met my ex husband. That’s now 13 years ago.  It was all pretty innocent enough.  During the courtship phase it was fun to enjoy dinners together over a bottle of wine.

What I found odd, even then, was that we did this every day.  And as the relationship got more settled and familiar, I saw the pattern that was emerging.  Wine and beer were a part of every day life.  I would take breaks, not drinking every day with him, but it was weird to be sober while he was “relaxing” with a glass or two.  So most of the time I joined him.  Over the 7 years we spent together, the amount of alcohol we both consumed gradually increased.  By the end I alone was drinking a full bottle of wine every night, and regularly enough, a couple beers too.

When we split up I was sure that I was now going to kick that habit.  I was convinced that it was his habit, and not my own.  I mean I didn’t drink before I met him, so it was his influence that put me there, right?

And so began a long and painful process.  At first I still drank most days because I enjoyed it.  I even felt it was a part of my emotional healing from the breakup.  Then a year passed.  And two.  I found myself in a new relationship, with a man who doesn’t drink AT ALL.  Not socially, not occasionally, not at all!

Admittedly, when we first met I had a moment’s hesitation.  Could I really be with someone who couldn’t enjoy a drink with me, even just now and again?  The hesitation was brief though.  I already knew that that was not an acceptable reason for me in my life to reject someone as wonderful as he.

During the 4 years we’ve been together, his constant sobriety (can we call it that, if he’s never partaking?  Isn’t he just, himself, not a sober version of himself?) became a mirror for what was really happening in my own world.  My drinking wasn’t just a habit I picked up from someone else.  It was my own habit now.

I drank to relax.  To unwind from a long day.  To manage hard emotions.  I drank to celebrate.  Celebrate a birthday, good news, or a hot summer evening.  I drank with friends, I drank on my own.  But most frightening, I thought about drinking all the time.

Here’s the pattern:

  • I wake up after a less than restful night’s sleep.  And I think to myself, “Christine, you need some good proper rest.  Don’t drink today, ok?” and I would agree with myself.  Confident that I am in control of this situation and that I can recognize what I need and give it to myself.
  • Then after a coffee or two, I start to feel pretty good.  I hadn’t drank that much the night before and it seems to have not really affected me all that much.  And wouldn’t it be nice to have a glass tonight?  I mean white wine is refreshing/red wine is cozy/a beer while cooking is festive/it’s the weekend etc.
  • So now I wonder “what shall I have tonight?  Red, white or beer?  Where will I pick it up?  On my way home or do I have to leave the house to go pick it up?  Will Alex remark on how much I’m drinking?  Nah, he’s so good about it, he won’t say anything.  That’s practically permission, right?”  And so now I buy the drink of choice.  Have a-not-so-hot night of sleep.  And wake up swearing I won’t do it again today.

I don’t like the term “alcoholic”.  Not even “high functioning alcoholic”.  I don’t like it because it implies that something is wrong with me.  That somehow I am weaker than others who drink without thought or care.  I don’t like it because I am a powerful, self aware, and clear headed woman.  I was not under the spell of some demonic drug, I wasn’t ruining my life with my habit.  I believe I had simply let a habit go too far (for my taste) with a substance that no one wants to admit is highly addictive.

When I first began talking about my desire to change my relationship with alcohol with my coach last year she shared that she could 100% relate to what I was experiencing.  Only for her it was food.  Then I told my BFF about my desire for change and she said it sounded a lot like her relationship to sugar.

We can become addicted to many things.  Food, sugar, substances, shopping, sex, attention….  I was in a cycle with alcohol.

I didn’t drink much anymore.  During those days with my ex husband I drank at least a bottle of wine to myself, plus a beer or two every night.  More recently my drink of choice was one of those mini bottles of wine.  I knew I could still polish off a regular bottle to myself, but I also knew it really messed me up for the day after.  So I portioned myself out on an amount that would get me the feelings I desired, with as little impact as possible.  So I wasn’t “drunk” or hungover.  I would still go out and teach yoga, I completed my Life Coach Training, and began running my own business, while drinking some alcohol most nights.

What bothered me was the ongoing dialogue in my head.  The constant preoccupation with alcohol.  And the judgement I was now putting onto myself for not living the life that I truly desired.

I could go without it.  I would take a few days off.  Do a cleanse and take a couple weeks off, or even a month.  And it was nice when I did.  But I always looked forward to the day when I would get back to it.

Last summer I began working with a coach.  One who specializes in addiction.  I was ready to figure out how to deal with this.  With her guidance I read a SERIOUSLY impactful book, This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.  Holy shit was my mind opened up.

I see alcohol in a very different way now.  And I realize that I was experiencing a cognitive dissonance.  My conscious mind was clear that it wanted change.  My subconscious mind was still caught in all the excuses and desires to keep the comfortable habit I had engaged with for over a decade.  The only way out of cognitive dissonance is to make a hard and fast choice.  To eliminate any conversation or debate.  This is what happens when you hear of those who can quit something cold turkey, and they never look back.  They made a choice, that was non-negotiable.

So after some long and hard meditation I decided to do the same.

I decided that 2017 would be dry.  All 365 days of it.  No debate.  No negotiation.  No “just one drink”, “just when socializing”, “just when life feels tough”, or “because it’s a celebration!”  Just, No.  Always.  For 365 days.

I know that this journey is going to be long and hard.  I figure the harder part will be at the beginning, and then it’ll get easier.  But I also know that there are layers to be uncovered.

Here are a few layers I’ve already started to peel away:

  • Avoidance:  I’ve been avoiding social engagements that involve alcohol.  I can’t do this forever.  But I feel that at the beginning of this journey this is a safety net that I need.
  • Substitution: I have begun to drink A LOT OF TEA.  Every evening we make a pot of chamomile and I sip that while relaxing.  It puts me into a restful sleep so I still get to unwind and chill out, and its even better since it doesn’t ruin my sleep (unless I drink too much and have to run the bathroom all night long LOL)
  • Disconnection: I’ve discovered that pizza is not as enjoyable as I thought it was.  I used to love pizza with red wine, or beer as an end of the week treat.  Now I’m realizing, that was my way of getting Alex to join in on something “festive” for the weekend.  But the pizza itself is just ok.  What I really desired was time to reconnect with him after a week of focusing on our respective projects.
  • Anger: Thursdays are a bitch.  My “weekend” is Friday and Saturday, so Thursday nights have been when I would start the weekend and that ALWAYS including a drink.  Even if I hadn’t had a drink all week, Thursday night I would indulge.  Now Thursdays feel terribly NOT special.  I’m going to have to find a way to change that.  Because so far it just means that even though I know I’m not going to have a drink on Thursday for several more months, I still think about it.  The association is powerful.  And since I don’t think about alcohol at all anymore, the fact that I start thinking about it every Thursday is pissing me off.
  • Resentment:  Now that my patterns are broken, I “just want to have a drink” like “normal people”.  I saw this one coming.  I knew at some point I’d feel strong enough that a full year would feel tediously long.  However, that’s the commitment I made and I’m not backing down.
  • Boredom:  I didn’t realize how much of my mind was filled with alcohol that now that it’s gone I’ve got a bit of an empty space up there.  I feel like I’m too “good” and I want to be a bit bad.  Who knew I was such a a rebel?  I desire excitement.  Alcohol didn’t give me that though.  But it filled the space that my desire for excitement now lives.

Inevitably, when I share with someone that I’m cutting out alcohol for a full year the response is always the same.  “Wow!  I could never do that!”  Maybe we should be more curious about why that is?

Alcohol is the only drug (yes, it’s a drug.  It alters your state of being, and is addictive.) that is socially acceptable, encouraged, and endorsed.  In fact we routinely try to encourage the one sober person at a table to have “just one glass”.  We have advertisements for it everywhere, and menus often pair it with our food.  Alcohol is celebrated and accepted in many environments.

And yet, we pity the drunk street person who has let their addiction ruin their life.  We have an image of alcoholism that shows us rage, violence, irresponsibility, health issues and even death.

Does it have to get that bad before we see that it has control over our lives?  What if we were to take a step away from it?  We don’t “need” it.  It doesn’t enhance our lives in any way.

Whether or not you can agree with that last statement, doesn’t matter.  I don’t write these words to try and convince you to do the same thing I am.  This is my path, my choice, and my journey.  However, I do hope that by exposing this part of myself, that perhaps even one person will begin to ask more questions about the place that alcohol has in their life and within our society.

I’m only at the beginning.  And I do hope that it gets easier.  I’m willing to bet that it does.  I already feel so much better.

So tell me, do you drink?  Why?  Like really…  why?

Comments 23

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      Congratulations! Can you tell me more about your commitment? Is this a forever choice for you? A whole new reality for your full time future? Or do you see it coming back into your life at some point, in some way?

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  1. I’m very happy for you. I think that kicking out bad habits (that are more than just “bad habits”) takes a lot of dedication, focus and determination. Added to it, when it doesn’t seem to really affect anyone else and you are a “normal person” they are that much worse. I’m proud of you! While alcohol hasn’t been a factor in my life, other things have and staying “sober” (or staying away from someone or some people in my case) until I knew who I was with out was a very strange, but gratifying journey. The fact is, it can be really boring at times and I think that was the hardest. Courage! before you know it’ll be effortless. Love.

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      So true! My drinking didn’t directly affect anyone else, but I saw how it affected me.

      TBH it’s already much less effort than the wasted energy I spent thinking about it all the time!

      Good for you in taking distance from your own habits that didn’t serve you. We are growing and evolving, every day!

  2. Hi, It could help you to attend AA meetings, both to listen to other people experiences, what they suffered, how they managed to stand up eventually, but also to share your experience and feelings. Sharing is one of the most effective therapies, and it is amazing how our positive experiences by being sober, and our past suffering from alcohol, might be similar and enlightening for ourselves.
    It’s been 6 years since I’m sober, and everyday I’m grateful to renew my daily commitment to be sober. At first, I also thought it would be boring to live without alcohol, but that was a fear I had because of my addiction. Like you, I drank to fill some empty space, but the problem is that this is a false perception created by the disease of alcoholism itself. And it gets emptier and emptier, as the disease progresses.
    I agree totally with you that this emptiness must be addressed. For me, it is one of the constant goals I have in my recovery. Constant because it is what keeps me renewing my sobriety, every day. And from many people I’ve heard, this is one thing that keeps them sober as well.
    Alcoholism is not a weakness. It is a chronic disease, just like any other chronic disease. Not everybody is, or will be, affected by it, but those who are, those are affected their whole lives.
    There is no “consume with moderation” behaviour for those people. Along with accepting that I had lost control of my life, this was another difficult reality for me to accept while taking my first steps towards sobriety.
    And I have heard many stories, from people sharing their relapse episodes, and pretty much all of them went straight back to their pre-sober drinking levels. No moderation, no gradual comsumption increases; these people just simply relapsed drinking as much as they were before stopping. No matter how long this period was!
    In these last 6 years since I’m sober, I’ve never had a relapse. And I hope I’ll never have, because I know I would go straight back to my drinking behaviour I had before that.
    Maybe after your year sober, you’ll be able to drink in a more moderate manner afterwards. But since you mentioned your drinking problem as an addiction, I hope you renew your vow for next year as well when the time comes. An addiction doesn’t get cured, but can be treated.
    To finish, there is this 12-step approach that could be very helpful. It was for me, and still is. So that I don’t forget my condition, and that I continue to work on being sober.
    Thank you for sharing, and for letting me share as well!

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      Hello Albert,

      I believe that AA is a wonderful program for many people, but it is not for me, thank you.

      I have chosen to share my story in this way. Sharing it with those, who may, or may not, have fully come to see how alcohol fits, or doesn’t, into their lives.

      Congratulations on being 6 years sober! Amazing!!!! How do you feel?

      I do not agree that it is a disease. It is an addictive substance for everyone who consumes it. Why some get into trouble, and not others are for reasons far more complex than I can address here. But I do agree, that for many who get lost down the rabbit hole, there is no moderation. For them, it must be a firm and constant NO.

      I do not know what will happen for me after this year. I am surrounded by support and love, and I know that I am ok, and will always be ok.

      Thank you for sharing your story, your caring, and your insights!

      1. This is so interesting. I think alcoholism for some people IS a disease, and for some people it’s not. For some, to ID as “alcoholic” helps them to live their best life, and for some, it doesn’t. I think the most important thing is “progress, not perfection” (as we say in AA, muahaha) and as long as YOU feel that you are moving closer and closer to yourself, in love and truth, then that is the most important thing.


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  3. Great piece Christine. I can certainly identify. I smoked for years even though 8 out of every 10 cigarettes made me nauseas. Same story with booze. I convinced myself that I could not have fun without alcohol. While that’s somewhat true when you are the sober guy at the party, I’ve decided to make my health and feeling fucking fantastic all the time a bigger priority. Good luck on this journey!! One day at a time.

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  4. It’s been a year and a half dry for me. And I love it!
    Good for you!
    Of course, it involve a lot of change in your lifestyle. Some that you can’t expect right now. Although it may seem like sacrifice at first, I wish you to find the same positive impact that I found. I sometimes miss my old crowd, (’cause yes, some people will be challenge by your choice and will wish to take their distance) but the new connection I’ve made with myself and other respectful person is worth it.

    Good luck and enjoy!


  5. Thank you for your frank sharing your going sober journey with us! I don’t drink regularly (“except when…”) but it made me consider all the “little” dependencies and habits that I do have…chocolate, anyone? You make a great point that it is so easy to blame others and circumstances for the things we do, while knowing they are not good for us, and these things gradually eat into our lives. It takes courage to look truthfully at ourselves, and even more courage to change our behaviour! Bravo for coming clean and best of luck! hmmm…Now I want some chocolate…

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  6. What a lovely post. I was addicted to chocolate since I knew myself. It’s crazy how I can relate to everything you listed -even though I was “recovering” from a relatively harmless addiction/habit.

    I used to have something with chocolate at least 3 times a day, every day. I ended it last year. I now enjoy an occasional chocolate every now and then, but it is nothing like before. The emptiness is very real and I was only able to identify it after I made the decision to control my addiction.

    Thank you for sharing and see you in the next yoga class 🙂

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      Hi Yunus – it’s incredible how many times I have heard that my story with alcohol reminds others of their story with food. This reminds me that we are all the same, it’s only our circumstances, stories, and the details that are different. But ultimately, we are all capable of the same feelings, same struggles, and same worldly experience. Here’s to learning from one another!!!

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  9. Been sober for 21 years, thanks to AA. Anyone can stop drinking – the challenge for “problem drinkers” (aka alcoholics) is to stay stopped, and in my experience, AA is the best solution. And let’s be clear about this: it is neither religious nor a cult. It’s a SPIRITUAL program, and you can come and go as you please. But the people who stick around and do the 12 steps honestly and to the best of their ability are the ones with the most contented and longest-term sobriety. Almost without exception, those who look for shortcuts or worry about being “labelled” or seen as morally weak drift in and out of the rooms and continue to drink, with ever more disastrous consequences, including death. For me, alcoholism is a deadly disease that I underestimate at my peril.

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      Thank you for sharing! Yes I know many people who have had much success with the support of AA. I also believe that every story is unique, and that there are many paths towards change. So long as we seek our path earnestly and humbly, we shall all find what we need.

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