5 Months without Drinking Compared to My 5 Years without
It would appear I no longer have a 'thinking' problem
On September 15th 2022 I achieved 5 months without drinking. On one hand, it didn’t seem worth celebrating; compared to my last milestone of 5 years, 5 months seems like a drop in the bucket and unlike the last time I gave up drinking, I haven’t spent my days thinking about drinking.
But. she says with a long pause…
Anyone who goes ONE day without drinking deserves celebrating it as if it were a lifetime. After all, most of us spend a lifetime being socialized to drink.
In the past when I would quit drinking I counted the days, racing from one milestone to the next, eager to build a streak and get as far away from the last drink I had as possible.
This time has not been that. The only reason I’m aware of my ‘monthly marker’ is due to an App I downloaded the morning I decided I would no longer be drinking (again). I thought I would need accountability. Something to keep me on track and away from it. Motivated. Like I have every other time I’ve tried quitting.
But like a bad relationship that I romanticized and went back to one too many times, I finally ran out of energy to keep trying to figure it out.
It’s occurring to me now, as I’m typing these words that I have been trying to figure out my own drinking since I was 31. It was around that time that I felt the effects of it mentally and emotionally. I started to see the toll it was having on me. I vaguely remember saying to friends, I can’t keep drinking like this.
I knew it was a problem or. At the very least it was becoming one in my life. Others around me thought differently.
Compared to the people I was raised by, I was a ‘normal’ drinker.
Compared to the drinking and drug use of my teenage self, I was nothing short of a lightweight… and no longer fun.
Compared to the people in AA, I belonged in Al-Anon.
But fuck if my mind didn’t have more to say about it. By the time I was 32, I desperately didn’t want to drink and yet, couldn’t seem to stop.
Until I did. It took a few tries that year, but on October 24th, 2012 I had my last glass of wine until the evening of February 12th, 2018.
Thankfully, when I decided to quit drinking at 32, I was able to create a home and space that was free from it. However, that didn’t free my mind and relationships from it. It has consumed my life from as early as I can remember.
Be it my parents being the life of the party until partying became the demise of their relationship
to my own substance abuse
to my partner's drinking
to me as a parent seeing my children engage with it
Alcohol, despite my dislike for it and what it has done to the people close to me, myself included, has been a constant in my life.
I could write a book alone on me trying to solve other people's drinking problems; the child in me trying to save her mother and self from its destruction and how that’s played out over the years.
It’s probably the main theme of my memoir.
With the exception of the last 5 months. Since I’m throwing dates around I would like to add to the timeline April 15th, 2022.
From that day on, I have not obsessed about, thought about or worried about drinking.
After a lifetime of a drinking and an even bigger thinking problem, it would appear there is not one.
To have 5 months of my life not consist of the negative byproducts that alcohol has consumed over my last 42 years, is for me, nothing short of a miracle. It’s literally not in my life.
Five months and I don’t think about it. Five months and I’m not afraid to tell someone, I don’t want to be around you if you’ve been drinking. Five months and I don’t associate drinking with food. Five months and I don’t have a craving. Five months and I don’t fantasize about sitting on my sofa with a book and a glass of red wine.
Five months and my mouth doesn’t water.
Five months and I no longer have a thinking problem.
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When I reached 5 years of no drinking, the magnitude of celebration came mainly from the fact that white knuckled discipline got me there. That combined with the sheer surprise that I had gone that long without something that I continued to think much about.
Today feels worth celebrating, but without grit and persistence.
It’s been effortless.
Maybe I needed those 5 years sober as a ;dry drunk; plus the 5 on and off drinking ones for me to arrive here. Maybe not.
The answer is irrelevant.
I only know this; the struggle is real. I hear you when you say it’s hard and scary. I feel for you. To contend with it feels like a battle you will never win.
To that I’ll say, just know that one day it won’t be a problem of yours to fight so hard for. You’ll drop it. You’ll walk away. You’ll leave it without another word.
And you’ll never give it another think.
I thought it would be interesting to go back and see what I wrote when I celebrated my 5 years without a drink in 2017. Not too bad, huh? It’s the last time I blogged about not drinking.
I still stand by the advice I gave then.
Of course, I have more, but today I want to celebrate what she did then.
I’ve got to hand it to her… she’s a fighter.
I get to reap the benefits of her hard work then, today.
Where ever you are, don’t give up. Streaks do not matter. Everyday and every way is your path to the life you want. Progress, not perfection.
5 Years without a drink… What have I learned?
First of all, let me start off by saying I cannot believe I've made it 5 years without drinking.
holy hell!! I remember thinking how great it would be to make it to 5 years, but was not sure I ever would or could. It seemed
I'm also going to say that I am beyond proud of myself.
Proud because choosing not to drink has proven to be the best choice I've made for myself.
More proud because getting to this point of pride has taken me years and has been incredibly difficult, to say the least.
I fought my choice to not drink for years. And then some. For whatever reason, I couldn't give in to the idea that drinking was no longer going to be a part of my life…
After all, it’s all I knew.
Since choosing not to drink I’ve obsessed over thoughts and questions like:
Do I have a drinking problem or was it just a bad weekend?
Maybe I’m not an alcoholic but the child of one and that’s the problem.
I'm in a much better place now. I can definitely have a drink and it won’t be a problem.
Maybe I'll drink after 1 year. yah. I'll celebrate 1 year with a drink.
Wine with dinner is not problematic. Look at Europeans…
What would 1 drink really do?
Not drinking is boring.
Maybe I do want to make bad choices and be hungover. What's wrong with that?!
I am not exaggerating when I tell you I have been planning my next drink for 4.5 years.
Only recently was I able to stop obsessing and start embracing the choice I've made.
As a matter of fact, if you had come to me in the beginning and told me you were thinking about giving up alcohol I would have straight up said,
‘wait. do you really have a problem? because giving it up entirely is really hard and if it’s something you can moderate and manage, just do that’
Talk about being the worst sober advocate, but that’s the real-real y’all.
I'll still tell people it's difficult, but now I can add more to it than that.
I can suggest a few things that I know helped me along the way.
I can encourage you, if you are feeling #sobercurious, life doesn’t have to suck if you choose not to drink.
I've kept pretty quiet over the years about my choice not to drink, but I'm done doing that. Whatever shame or guilt that I associated with it is gone. I'm here to be a voice that maybe speaks to you, the one who is struggling or has a friend who is struggling.
It can be a very dark and scary time. Knowing that someone has walked before you that can hopefully inspire you to take one more step to a healthier lifestyle is the least I can do.
This is for all the people that came into my life and left my life when I chose to stop drinking.
You each taught me something positive that I could take away from the experience. I made it this far because of that.
So let's get after it…
here are the 5 things i’ve learned in 5 years
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Some of us need something greater than ourselves to help us achieve our goals. I needed to create ‘reasons’ that were bigger than me having a drink. Personally, one of my biggest struggles at the time was ‘I'm not good enough’. I couldn't see past the anxiety and feeling of ‘I can’t anymore'. I was on my knees wanting out of the life I was living and the only reason I didn't give up was because I had 2 kids that needed me. Who loved and valued me more than I loved and valued myself. They gave me the courage to admit that I needed to stop drinking and change my life. Though my kids did not know what was going on during that time, they saved me from myself so many times I've lost count.
I encourage you to write down a few things or people you value above all else. Your dog. Your child. Your job. Your Oma. Your garden. You don’t have to share the list with anyone, but you can come back to it. It will give you a little encouragement to get through one more day.
Eventually you will begin to channel that energy back to yourself. That's the beautiful part of the process; you will begin to have a relationship with yourself for the first time in a long, long time. It will not be overnight, but it will happen. you will learn to love yourself again. (At first you will feel terrible and hate your life.)
You will also find that the people you choose to come into your life will vary and be different from the ones before.
Stay open to these people.
Last year I joined a running group for marathon training and did it for accountability. I literally went into it with the mindset of ‘I'm not here to make friends. These are not my people’. How quickly I was humbled. Some of my closest friendships are a result of that community.
You will have days when you are feeling weak and you will doubt your self will. Your list of who and or what you value will not seem like enough to get you through the day…
This is when I encourage you to call on some of these new found souls.
They are not by mistake, I promise.
Self Protection, not Self Projection
A mistake I made early on was not setting good boundaries for myself. I thought that I could hang out with my friends that partied and be in the same social scene. Not only was that not healthy for me, I can look back now and see that I was projecting my discomfort on them. This in turn left them feeling judged. When we were together my mind would ruminate about everything going on around me. I couldn't shut it off. I can only imagine the look on my face as I tried to pretend I wasn't interested in what everyone was doing in the bathroom and drinking.
I internalized everyone around me having a problem with me not drinking when the reality was, I HAD A PROBLEM with me not drinking. Yet, I insisted that I keep putting myself in these situations. Not only was this incredibly uncomfortable for not only me, but for them as well. It was as if I had something to prove.
I wish that I hadn't tried to ‘be cool’ in the beginning and had communicated with my friends what I was truly experiencing. That I didn't yet know how to handle myself. Instead, a wall was created and never brought down.
Fortunately this is no longer something I experience. The personal discomfort I felt is no longer there. Even when it comes up, (because it will) I know how to process it internally. By being self aware I can protect.
There will be certain people or certain places you cannot go. Accept this as you are standing up and protecting yourself from what is no longer healthy for you.
Meditation in Movement
It took me 6 months to walk through my front door and not think about having a glass of wine to wind down from the day. It took me 1 year to decide I could go another. It took me 2.5 years to decide I could go 5. It took me 4.5 years to decide I was done thinking about the day I would have another drink.
It has been a very slow process. I only recently heard the saying, ‘time takes time’. Think about that- ‘time takes time'. And your time is precious. Fill it with things that will encourage growth and acceptance of the lifestyle you are looking to create.
If you have ever wanted to try something, but found something was holding you back -for whatever reason- now is the time to start trying. You will find that the time you spent at happy hour, going out after dinner or sitting on the sofa, will not be the same without a drink. You may have to take a time out for a little while until the desire leaves you and you're comfortable in those settings again. In the meantime, start exploring ways to fill up that time. Discover new things to do with your new found time.
I took up 2-stepping. I started cooking more often. I continued yoga and running.
I HIGHLY recommend some sort of workout 3-5 days a week. The adrenaline and dopamine will help your brain create some necessary chemicals that will assist you in countless ways. Yoga has proven to be more helpful in my healing than getting flexible, if that says anything.
Creating time for these activities gave my mind a break from what was my norm. It distracted me from my daily routines and rituals I'd been living. I say ritual because I'm a person that almost enjoys making coffee and pouring in the creamer and stirring it more than the coffee itself. These daily rituals make me tick. I look forward to them. Removing wine from dinner, the wine I held in a long stem glass, swirled it around and inhaled before sipping was a mind fuck. I needed to fill that void so that I wouldn't obsess over it. Insert a giant wine glass filled with sparkling water. Aame moment. Less obsess. Do I feel the need to do this 5 years later? No. Do I smile inside when my sparkling water is served in a giant wine glass at dinner?
I digress. The point is, we are creatures of habit and habits are hard to break.
As you begin to move in different directions, you will expand your mind with new conversations, challenge it with a new recipe or workout and you will begin to outgrow your old ways. Slowly you will lose sight of the old activities that would occupy your time.
You owe nothing to no one
This may have been the hardest one to move past. Drinking is more acceptable in society than not drinking. It seems that no matter the occasion, people are drinking; work. holidays. good times. bad times. people will encourage you to drink. They will question you if you have a problem. They will want to know why you are choosing not to. They will tell you that you can stop next weekend. They will say they have a problem, but you don’t drink or use as much as they do.
It goes on and on. Only you know what is going on in your life and your mind when you have a drink. Someone who doesn’t have a problem will not understand the voices that you have to silence when you're drinking. The life that you are scared to face after another night out. The doubt you have that you can keep going. People who don’t struggle or haven’t experienced the pain of alcoholism and addiction will never understand - and that’s okay. You don’t have to convince them of anything. You know the feelings of fear you are experiencing internally. You know the feeling of being on your knees begging for help. You know the feeling of your life crumbling around you. You're the only one who needs convincing.
Life is better without hangovers... le duh
That doesn’t mean life gets easier. It actually feels worse and may seem harder at first- but… and this is major- you will never regret not being hungover.
Regardless, life still happens. You will still feel overwhelmed, angry, disappointed etc. You will wake up some mornings wondering why you said what you said the night before.
You may wonder, what’s so great about this?
It's all real. It’s you feeling without numbing, avoiding, being a victim or trying to please.
It’s you experiencing you.
The beauty really lies in the processing of these emotions without a drink. You will move through them at a different, more constructive pace. You will have clarity; times you feel high from being self aware and sober. You will also have times where life sucks and you can’t seem to catch a break. Guess what? This is life. It happens with or without drinking. The difference being you will be able to manage your life moving forward. And you will be present for life. Not compounding the problems by avoiding and buffering.
You will no longer doubt yourself like you once did. You will know that your rock bottom was your own personal hell and anything above that is progress.
and that you are able to make progress… one day at a time.