It gets easier. Thoughts about alcohol and concerns about sobriety consume less of my time as each day goes by. Sobriety feels natural for me now, even if it didn’t always. The urge to grab an alcoholic beverage has become less intense over time. I gravitate towards an ice cold can of Diet Coke rather than a beer, and I actually feel contentment with that choice.
It has also become easier to be in the presence of others as they drink socially. There was a time during the first few months of sobriety that I felt a bit like a hermit. It was really hard to go to a social function where others would be drinking. Now, I can attend those functions relatively easily, and I no longer get the “why aren’t you drinking?” question.
With that being said, I’ve also learned that I don’t need to go to every social function or party. The fear of missing out has decreased to the point that what matters more than attending every social event or party is making sure that I truly want to attend in the first place. I check in with myself around what I need and what sounds good.
As easy as it is for me to be in the presence of other people who are drinking, I recognize that this may not be the case for everyone. Some people may have to avoid bars or certain events where alcohol will be in abundance in order to feel in control of their sobriety.
Which leads me to my next lesson that I’ve learned: sobriety will look different for everyone.
Each person will have different needs in their process, different ways of getting sober, and different triggers. For example, I needed the support of a therapist. She was with me once a week as I explored the challenges that came along with choosing sobriety. Other people may need AA or another type of support group. Some people may need more intensive support, such as seeking help from a rehabilitation center. There is no right or wrong way to get sober. Choose the path that meets your individual needs as you work towards abstinence.
In regards to triggers, I’ve learned that you have to understand what has led to abusing substances. For me, stress and anxiety are pretty big triggers that led me to drink at a pretty young age. Though I began drinking at the age of 17, I didn’t learn how to deal with anxiety until about a decade later when I finally quit drinking.
Since quitting drinking, I have learned to cope with anxiety differently—in particular, social anxiety. Alcohol allowed me to take on a life-of-the-party persona that made me feel like an extrovert and masked my true introvert self. After two years without alcohol, I’ve accepted that I am an introvert. I need to recharge after spending time with friends, and I don’t like to spend the majority of my time in large groups of people like I once did. Now that I know myself better, I no longer need liquid courage to function socially because I respect my limits in a way that I never did when I was drinking.
The most difficult thing I’ve learned as I immersed myself in a life of sobriety is that there will be regrets. It’s been hard to look back at the decade that I was drinking and think about time wasted. It pains me to think about the friendships I could have formed or the hobbies I could have cultivated had I not been drinking. Accepting that there is nothing I can do to change this can be hard, but I try to practice self-compassion and stay in the present moment as much as possible.
Lastly, I have learned that sobriety can’t be reached alone. I could not have done this without the support of family, friends, and a therapist. Sobriety was only possible when I allowed myself to be vulnerable. It takes courage to be honest and open about struggles. There was a lot of shame around quitting drinking and admitting that alcohol had been problematic, but the more I talked about it, the more support I seemed to get.
Being vulnerable about my struggle with alcohol helped me get to a place of acceptance because I found that the people who genuinely loved and cared for me only wanted what was best for me. They did not judge me, they merely provided a space for me to talk openly about the challenges, as well as the “aha” moments and milestones of sobriety.
The most exciting part about sobriety is feeling like every day I am learning more about myself. Alcohol no longer masks my true self. Instead, sobriety allows me to live each day as authentically as I can.