June 13, 2023

Who Am I without Alcohol? 5 Ways to Reconnect to the Booze-Free You.

Who am I without alcohol?

Upon reflection of my drinking days and active addiction, this is likely the question that haunted me the most and kept me stuck in the toxic and destructive cycles I was in. Who was I if alcohol was no longer in my life?

After many years of heavy drinking and weaving alcohol into nearly every facet of my life, I had come to understand myself in relation to alcohol; alcohol and drinking became part of my identity and who I understood myself to be.

I attached meaning (that wasn’t actually there) to the role that alcohol played in my life and what it meant about me that I drank a lot and frequently. Upon reflection, I can also see that I falsely attached attributes of my personality to my drinking, such as my perceived sense of confidence, extroverted tendencies, my capacity to voice my opinion, and my ability to connect with others and generally feeling comfortable in my own skin.

What I came to realize as I was reluctantly approaching sobriety was that I actually didn’t know who I was at all. And perhaps more concerningly, I wasn’t sure I was going to like who and what I found.

When starting to research the topic of alcohol and identity, I came across the term “Drinking Identity,” which describes the tendency of a person to view themselves as a drinker and also includes the value, importance, and investment one puts on that aspect of their identity. What the research tells us is that those with a stronger drinking identity (or those who more strongly identify themselves as drinkers) are more likely to use alcohol to cope and subsequently experience more problems.

While the majority of this research on drinking identity involved college-aged students, studies also show us that classifying ourselves as drinkers isn’t an identity that dissolves at graduation. In fact, it’s easy to see how strongly identifying oneself as a drinker (an identity marker that could arguably strengthen with the accumulation of additional years of drinking over time as it did for me) could easily extend to those of us beyond our college years. Understanding the relationship between drinking identity and drinking behavior is a helpful entry point into adjusting behaviors when it comes to drinking and consuming alcohol.

When we think about the formation of identity and sense of self, we think about things like values, beliefs, interests, hobbies, relationships, our innate qualities and the like. Much of identity is passed on and shaped by our parents/caregivers and we also largely come to understand ourselves in relation to others and our sociocultural surroundings. What’s important to remember is that while alcohol may have obscured how we come to relate to ourselves, our identities are still there and intact, and sometimes we just need some time and intention to reconnect to who we are without booze.

Because of normative alcohol culture, we have come to enmesh and associate alcohol with large parts of our lives that strongly relate to our identities, including within family and social events, major milestone celebrations, sports events, and so on, which also happen to be tied to essential human needs like love, connection, and belonging. Key developmental stages of our identity formation (adolescence and young adulthood) can also overlap at a time in our lives where many start to experiment with alcohol and other drugs, so these times can often result in alcohol having an imprinting effect on our identities.

Considering how complicated and intertwined our identities can become with alcohol and our drinking identity, it makes sense that quitting drinking can prompt feelings of overwhelm, unease, and discomfort. Please know that despite how daunting and scary this part of your sober journey can feel, your identity is there and exists entirely without the presence of alcohol.

Here are some ways you can support yourself in reconnecting to who you truly are.

1. Rediscover your interests and passions. When alcohol is in the mix, it’s sometimes hard to know if we actually enjoyed that activity/event/group of people or if our perception of our enjoyment level was blurred because of the booze. Engaging in activities that you genuinely enjoy can help you rediscover and nurture parts of your identity that may have been overshadowed by alcohol.

2. Revisit your values. Grounding in your values can bring a lot of clarity and guidance to your life and what feels important to you. Give yourself time, patience, and grace when connecting with your values; if you’re anything like me, you may have accumulated some distance between yourself and your values in your drinking days, so this activity might bring up some strong emotions. This isn’t about judging yourself or past versions of you but instead about committing to a different way forward that feels more aligned with who you are now and who you want to be.

3. Clarify your priorities. Now that alcohol is out of the way, no longer eating up chunks of your time and infringing on what’s important, it’s a great opportunity to figure out what actually matters most to you. When I first start working with clients, I always invite them to identify their top five priorities, and once identified, to take actions to reduce or eliminate things in their lives (even temporarily) that are not in line with their priorities. When it comes to how you spend your time, energy, and attention, use your priorities (kinda like your values) as your north star. This will support you in feeling more aligned with who you are and the life you want to be building.

4. Understand your needs. Chances are if you’ve been drinking heavily for a while, you have likely lost touch with your needs. As a human, you have needs, and in the wise words of Mara Glatzel (who wrote an incredibly helpful book called Needy), “It is both essential and normal to have needs.” In my experience and the experiences echoed back to me by my clients, in my drinking days, I very much abandoned myself and my needs. I was hyper independent, didn’t want to rely on anyone else for anything, and presented an image of having it all together. And yet, I often looked to alcohol to fill the void left by repeatedly neglecting my own needs. You might not be surprised to learn that that was an ineffective strategy to actually meet my needs. You are a human, and you have needs. Learning what they are, how to meet them, and how to ask for support in meeting them is vital.

5. Make friends with boundaries. Now that you’ve (re)discovered your values, priorities, and needs, you’re going to want to protect them—fiercely. This is where your boundaries come in. Boundaries are vital to protect your time, energy, attention, and emotions, and without boundaries, it will be easy to fall into old patterns and habits that don’t serve you. (This book and this book will be helpful in your journey with boundaries.)

In getting to know ourselves, learning how to meet our needs, and discovering who we truly are without alcohol, not only are we reconnecting to our identities but we are also supporting ourselves by learning healthier ways of coping, thereby reducing the need to lean on booze to manage our lives.

Without alcohol in the way, you will have the time, space, and opportunity to explore your most authentic, most aligned self. While alcohol may have influenced and blurred your perception of self and others, it’s vital to remember that alcohol is not part of your core identity; you and your unique, beautiful, and multifaceted identity have always been there, and now is as good a time as any to reintroduce yourself. If you want support in this work, it’s available and you don’t have to do this alone.

Cheering you on, always.


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