I am a lot of things.
Wife, mom, artist, sober enthusiast, and quite possibly, the most self-centered 30-something the world has ever known. I spent 20 years of my life hooked on alcohol and stimulants and the last few, trying to make up for it.
I would like to share with you three things I wish somebody would have let me in on while I was still ensnared in the game. They might have saved me a lot of time, ink, puke, money, and lying to myself. But then again, they might not have.
True: the path is not linear. But you still don’t have to f*ck it up as bad as I did.
1. You do not get sober trying to do it by yourself.
Here are two ways I used to try and soberize myself. Neither of which worked.
Failed Method One: The Drunk-O-Log.
To keep my various consumptions in check, I used to keep a detailed record of my efforts each day in something I now affectionately refer to as a “Drunk-O-Log.” There was one column for each substance, and a row for each day of the week. But just in case anyone found the notebook, I used code words. Such as “peps” for Adderall and “pop” for drinks. As if anyone with a brain the size of a lentil couldn’t figure that out.
The most sober days I ever strung together on my own was five. But by the end of the fifth day, I was so pleased with myself that I drank two bottles of wine, smoked an entire pack of cigarettes, and woke up the next morning with a jackhammer between my ears. Not a win.
Method Two: “Sunday Scaries” promises.
Umm…I don’t know if you’ve heard, but like, Saturday nights are for drinking. Before I quit drinking, I wasn’t one for arguing with “logic.” The dude abides. We’ve all been there.
We wake up on Sunday with major hanxiety (hangover anxiety—because alcohol is a depressant, and if we spent the night before on a bender and every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then…cue heightened anxiety) and swear to all that is holy that we are never drinking again. But just like clockwork, Monday afternoon rolls around we tell ourselves that life is too hard. That all moms drink to cope with motherhood. It’s just the way of the world.
Fast-forward to 30 minutes and a glass-and-a-half of rosé later, and we feel so much guilt, shame, and disappointment that we have to drink twice as much to forget that we’re letting ourselves down. Can you see a not-so-subtle pattern forming here?
I wasn’t able to stop until I called my brother and told him I was done. At that point, I finally had someone to be accountable to. I had my integrity to uphold. And that made me take it more seriously. I could lie to myself until the cows came home (the cows, as it turns out, do not come home, at least not to my home). But I respect my brother more than that.
Find someone you respect. Someone who has what you want. Tell them first. But you have to tell someone. Keeping secrets is what keeps us sick. You will feel 200 pounds release from your chest. It is worth every near (or actual) panic attack it takes to get there.
2. You do not have to be an alcoholic, addict, or living under a bridge to want to quit doing what you’re doing.
We do not need to have a “problem” in order to want a better life. We do not have to fall into a certain category of people. Nor do we require a scarlet “A” affixed to our foreheads in order to cash in our chips on an endless cycle of misery and pain.
We have free will (even if we do, regrettably, from time to time, happen to have lentils for brains). We do not need permission. We do not need to make people feel comfortable. It is certainly not what we were put on this earth to spend our time and energy on.
3. Find your People. They’ve been waiting for you.
We need a support system. We need a place where we feel seen, heard, and safe. Because when we first pull back those drunk goggles, we’re going to be afraid of what we find behind them. We’re going to need handshakes, hugs, high fives, head nods, and pats on the back. And those things don’t just come knocking on our door.
In my first year of sobriety, I spent 10 hours a week in my outpatient therapy group. I took notes on lectures about addiction and alcoholism, triggers, relationships, and codependency. I watched VHS tapes from the early 90s about the brain functioning of an addict, and the process of deterioration alcohol has on the brain every time we get drunk. And let me tell you, it is some scary business.
I also attended two 12-Step meetings per week. I felt safe and supported in both places. Enough to share some dark secrets and missteps, and get solid feedback on my thoughts, actions, and behavioral patterns from my peers.
Becoming a member of both these communities taught me how to listen, how to respond instead of react, and how to accept the love and help of others.
Learning how to function in both society and relationships is not something that just switched on in my brain after all the liquid dried up. I did not do this by myself. I worked. Hard at it. With other people. If I f*cked up, if I acted out, if I had a problem, I brought it to my group. Either one. Usually both. I shared it in the circle. As hard as it was, I made a habit of it. And it helped me finally get to where I could slot my feet into those grown-ass-woman shoes. That had been collecting dust in the top of my closet since, well, forever.
In addition to physical groups, there are also plenty of online communities. Hip Sobriety is where I got my footing. And Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind, has a huge following on Facebook and Instagram. Do a search and see what you find. It might be a less daunting way to try sober on for size.
The people we surround ourselves with need to have what we want. They need to elevate us to a level of responsibility and accountability that make us feel proud.
If you don’t feel proud of yourself right now, ask yourself why. What is getting in the way?
If you’re taking this first step, and a long last saying goodbye to something that no longer serves you, then I would first like to offer my sincerest and most enthusiastic celebratory fist pump. I would also like to strongly encourage you to make damn sure you have an accountability buddy or group of persons in place that either share in your struggle, or at the very least, understand it intimately.
Look, I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. Right where you might be at this moment. Shivering in your timbers. (If that’s an actual thing.) Wondering how long it will take for the sky to fall down if you let your secret out of the bag and finally tell someone else. And I’m not here to take that fear away from you. It is real. And it’s f*cking terrifying. But I will say this: you’re making it 10 times harder on yourself by trying to hold the sky up with your own two hands.
Okay, that’s it for now.
Let’s do a quick review.
1. We do not get sober in a vacuum. If you were capable of quitting ________, don’t you think you would have done it by now? Accountability. It’s what’s for dinner.
2. You do not need a reason to stop drinking. You liking yourself more when you’re off the sauce is reason enough for anyone who loves you. Enough.
3. Surround yourself with people who have what you want. And remember, in order to get what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do things you’ve never done. Get brave. It’s in there. Trust me. Even the most self-centered sobers have “brave” in their arsenal. This coming from the most self-centered sober the world has ever known (wink).