10 Surprising Lessons from 6 Months of Sobriety

It has been exactly six months since I have had a sip of alcohol.  I started drinking in college to be cool and to be happy.  I cut alcohol out because I wasn’t cool and I wasn’t happy.  This realization has taken me 20 years and countless stumbles to figure out, but in the end it is exactly as simple as I stated.  I’ve given up alcohol for over two years when I was pregnant and nursing, but that was a completely different ball game.  This time, the decision was for me.  This was for my life.  After 20 years of trying to drink responsibly, I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel very cool, and I decided to stop blaming everyone and everything around me and take control of my own life for a change.

So here I am, six months after setting aside the wine glasses. At risk of sounding self-patronizing, I’m really proud to see how far I’ve come.  I thought I might be closing myself off to life when I cut out alcohol, but as it turns out, I was actually letting life in.

Some of what I learned was expected.  Some was not.  Here are ten things I’ve learned in six months of sobriety.

  1. I can get through bad times without alcohol. When the going gets tough, the tough grab some booze.  It’s natural in stressful times to look for something to help, and alcohol usually fits the bill.  I’ve heard it said that when you put an intention out in the Universe, the Universe responds by giving you plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.  Well, the Universe certainly gave me some tests in these last few months.  I lost my sister-in-law to cancer two months ago, followed shortly after by the unexpected death of my brother’s father-in-law, a man that I loved very much, and then to top it all off, I found a lump in my breast.  Tough times.  In the past, the first place I would have gone is the liquor store to buy some booze to help me and everyone else through the bad times.  Instead, I was forced to find other ways to deal with the painful times.  I actually dealt with the pain, instead of numbing it with alcohol or pretending it didn’t exist.  I can’t say it felt good, but it was a good thing to do.  I got through the bad times, and I got through them without alcohol.
  2. I can get through GOOD times without alcohol. I survived the holidays without booze, y’all!  The first thing most people think about when they think of a celebration is alcohol.  Champagne at New Year’s Eve.  A glass of wine to toast someone’s birthday.  An Irish coffee on your ski vacation.  There were plenty of celebratory opportunities for me to enjoy alcohol during the last six months, and it was sure tempting.  My big brother turned 40.  Beer-loving relatives came and stayed with us.  It was Halloween, and Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  I went to several football games and relearned how to watch football without beer.  I even watched my beloved Spartans win the NCAA Big Ten Football Championship, and watched my Broncos win the SUPERBOWL.  And I didn’t need a single drop of beer to get me through any of those wonderful moments.  Turns out, you can celebrate good times without booze.  Go figure.
  3. I feel more, and it’s beautiful. Alcohol numbs.  Alcohol turned off my emotions when they felt out of control or painful.  Wine was a soothing salve that relaxed and comforted me – but the relief was only temporary.  The bad feelings always came back after the buzz wore off, and usually with more vengeance and insistence – at which point, I poured another glass.  Rinse and repeat.  A never-ending cycle.  Now, I cry more often.  I have crazy urges to put on music and dance, or laugh, or sob.  It feels incredible to feel again.  I don’t know why I ever wanted to numb the gorgeous colors of emotion.  Humans are meant to feel emotions, not to block them out.  I get that now.
  4. I have more money. What would you do with an extra $1,560 each year?  That’s what Bankrate estimates the average drinker would save by cutting out liquor purchases for a year.  I drank pretty regularly, and so did Lancelot, so I can safely say our household spent $3,000 a year on beer and wine.  That’s two plane tickets and accommodations for a week in Hawaii!  That’s a shopping spree I would never dream of giving myself.  That’s a start on a new deck in our backyard, or tuition for both our children to attend full-time preschool for four months.  However you look at it, it’s a lot of cash.
  5. I have lost weight and started eating sugar again. I’m down between 5-10 pounds since cutting alcohol out of my life, without even trying.  In fact, I’m eating more sugar than ever before – seems as if I had “lost my sweet tooth” when I was drinking alcohol because the alcohol was giving me my sugar quota.  Now, I enjoy brownies and muffins and birthday cake, and I still fit in smaller clothes.  It’s one heck of a perk for a body-conscious woman like myself.  And it’s a good thing I saved some money so I can buy myself some smaller clothing.
  6. I have more energy, patience, understanding and compassion. For others … and for myself.  It’s hard to be patient and kind when you kind of hate yourself, and you don’t feel all that great from putting poison into your body.
  7. I’m not sick all the time. I didn’t drink to excess every time I drank, but even one beer would give me a headache.  That’s a sign of my age, for sure, but also a sign that the beer just wasn’t worth it.  I’m a stay-at-home parent, a stressful and emotional job on a good day, and I wasn’t doing myself any favors by adding a sour stomach and pounding head on top of it all.  I no longer have to Google “hangover remedy” on a regular basis.  I just wake up, and I feel good.
  8. I have more time. I literally erased hours of my day, every day, by drinking alcohol.  As soon as I poured a glass of wine, I was checked out of life.  Sure, I would read, or watch TV, or chat with Lancelot or my friends, but I didn’t do anything productive.  In the last six months I’ve started exercising regularly, doing yoga almost daily, meditating, writing and blogging (this entire blog was built in the time I’ve been sober, in fact).  I’ve had time to organize our house, and get some long-forgotten or long-delayed projects around the house actually finished.  I don’t have enough time – I could certainly use more – but I do have more than I did before, and I use it better, and everything I’ve used that extra time for has improved my life.  Every single thing.
  9. I’m not scared all the time. I don’t worry about what I said or did the night before, or what I didn’t do, or what I might do later.  I don’t apologize for myself in fear that alcohol made me do something stupid.  I know I didn’t do anything stupid, because I was in control of myself at all times.  I’ve done horrid and ugly things while sober, but I’ve held myself responsible for them instead of hoarding all this guilt and shame.  I own up to my mistakes now, rather than cower behind excuses.  The alcohol doesn’t make me do stuff – my emotions make me do stuff now, and I don’t apologize for that.
  10. I’ve connected with people on a truer, more real, more honest and more joyful level. I was terrified – absolutely, unequivocally terrified – that I wouldn’t have any fun when I stopped drinking alcohol.  I had this dooming sense of finality that I would say good-bye to beer, and good-bye to fun and friendships and laughter.  How would I talk to people without alcohol?  How would I relax?  How would I laugh?  It didn’t seem possible that I could connect with people, or want to be romantic with my husband, or be anything other than a shy, stupid, silly stick-in-the-mud.  I thought that my life without wine and beer would be BORING.  I have found the absolutely opposite to be true.  Sure, I was a pretty fun drunk girl.  I would dance on tables and tell silly stories and make people laugh.  Here’s the truth.  I can do that stuff without a drink in my hand, and it’s more real and more honest.  I can get crazy with someone and remember everything we said the next day.  I can giggle until my sides ache and the only things that hurt the next day are my cheekbones from all the laughing.  I feel closer than ever to Lancelot.  I’m a better and more fun mom.  I’m nicer to myself.  I’m having a good time!  I don’t feel boring!  I actually think that Drunk Carrie was the boring one.

“Sober” is such a scary word.  It sounds lonely and boring.  It conjures up an image of a Catholic nun with a ruler ready to yell or give a disapproving look at every wrong juncture.  Maybe that’s why I was so scared of putting the bottle aside.  Yet, “lonely” and “boring” are hardly the words that describe my experience of the last several months.

More.   Better.  Those are the two words I hear myself repeating when I think of my six months of sobriety.  I have more money, health, energy, vitality, feelings, giggles, tears, and abundance.  I have a better relationship with my family, friends and myself.  I have more laughter and a better body.  I have more money and a better life.  More time and better friendships.  More.  Better.

More.  Better.  Wonderful.

Now, I’ll be real.  It’s not like I stopped drinking alcohol and suddenly all these wonderful things happened, and it’s all good, all the time.  It’s not exactly like that.  There are moments that I see a character sipping wine on a TV show and inside I feel like screaming because I want that – I want that joy, that freedom, that levity.  Sometimes, not drinking is hard.  Sometimes, it’s isolating.  There have been down moments in the last six months.  Yet – somehow – I’ve gotten through them.  The urge to drink passes.  The “left-out” feeling vanishes.  The thirst dissipates.  I’ve never regretted turning down a drink.

I don’t know where I go from here.  Will I ever drink again?  I’m not sure.  I’m at such a different place in my life now that I truly know adding alcohol back in would be different than it was for me before, but I’m still tentative.  I have an anniversary trip coming up, and the idea of not drinking a Mai Tai in Kauai is pretty depressing. I’d like to be able to drink in moderation, like normal people, and maybe I will.  Right now, I don’t know, and I’m okay with not knowing.  The “forever” question is overwhelming, to be honest, and all I can look at is today.  Today, I don’t want to drink alcohol.  Today, I’m feeling pretty great with my coffee and tea.

I don’t have all the answers.  I still feel shy and scared.  I am intimidated by life at times.  I am confused.  I am actually still overwhelmed by parenthood and wifedom and friendships and career choices and life.  Wherever “there” is, I’m not quite “there” yet.  But I’m on my way.

In six months, my entire relationship with alcohol has changed.  Alcohol used to be the comforting friend that I’d curl up with at the end of a hard day and made me feel like everything was going to be okay, and also the silly pal that would drag me out onto the dance floor, convince me to flirt with strangers, persuade me to act extroverted and outgoing, and in short, make me feel good enough.

Now, I feel good enough all on my own.

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