My Sober year—the half way mark

I want to say I remember it like it was yesterday—January 1st, 2020. Like my friends, I was convinced that this would be my year. We were excited, ready to tackle anything.

And then the world threw everything at us. At all of us.

But here’s the thing…I’m still convinced this is my year.

Though COVID-19—and a host of other pressing issues at the forefront of my mind—the mind I’m facing everything with is clear.  

❝ For many of us, getting Sober Curious begins with a simple question: Would my life be better without alcohol? To discover the answer for yourself, all that remains is to put the cork back in the bottle, open your eyes, and see. ❞

―Ruby Warrington, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol

Have you ever wanted to tackle an obstacle but convinced yourself it wasn’t worth doing? Maybe you’re relatively healthy and want to lose ten pounds, but convince yourself that others will think you’re ridiculous for wanting to shed the minimal weight. You look great, they’d say.

That’s how I felt about becoming sober for a year. The idea had been stuck in my head for some time. Seeing my friend—activist and bestselling author, Alicia Cook—post on social media about getting sober gave me the final push. 

But unfortunately, before that, I pushed it away as a silly idea. You see, I haven’t been an avid drinker for a few years. My focus on my writing and home life is my biggest priority. I started to realize that the social outings I always took part in involved alcohol. So, when I wanted to remove alcohol from my life, slowly, friendships began to deteriorate. There are friends whose place in one’s life—hilarious memories shared, fond stories—is centered around alcohol. 

Social drinking is so widely rooted in our world that we don’t view it as an odd or harmful thing. I was in denial about friendships that may not survive if I were to give up alcohol.

I’ve never been the kind to drink at home, alone. From the day I first got drunk at almost nineteen, my alcohol use has been a necessary evil in my attempt to fit in and have fun with others.

❝ Alcohol is the only drug where, the second you stop taking it, you’re seen as being too weak to handle it. It’s truly bizarre. ❞

―Catherine Gray, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober

I am not fond of small talk, and unbothered by long silences. I enjoy simply existing in the world. Unfortunately, I find it hard to remember this in a social setting. Being an empath means I can feel others’ emotions. I can feel the discomfort others feel around me. Alcohol lowers my inhibitions—allows me to fill those long silences—to make others feel at ease around me. I’ve always been told I make others uncomfortable, that I seem closed off. It took me a long time to realize that others’ perception of me is not my responsibility to change. It’s not my job to numb myself down with alcohol to make myself more palatable.

❝ I wanted one version of me in the world, instead of the dozens there were.

― Laura McKowen, We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life

My writer’s mind is fascinated by the fact that there are many versions of us the world, reflected by the people we know. We are viewed and perceived in their unique lens.

I no longer want to be complicit in letting alcohol change me into multiple versions of myself while drinking to fit in during social settings. The phrase “a drunk mind speaks a sober heart”—often attributed to French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau—is a lie. There’s a reason we can’t give consent when drunk or blacked out.

For years, my belief that the things I said while drunk were seen as authentic pieces of my heart led to next-morning shame. Now, most of us have suffered through unbearable hangovers. It comes with the territory of drinking. Unfortunately, my tendency to get blackout drunk more often than I’d care to recall, led to a more severe side effect.

The list of reasons I decided to embark on this sober year—helping me cultivate a more mindful approach to drinking—is long. But at the top of the list is the thoughts I was having while hungover. It was more than a pounding headache, bloating, or being sluggish for the day.

I was having suicidal thoughts—for days—after drinking.

❝…being ‘shame-prone’ is more common in those who perceive themselves as being ‘other,’ defined by Brown as women, people of color, sick people, poor people, divorced people, children of divorced people, overweight people, people who have experienced sexual abuse, people who have experienced bullying . . . the list goes on.

― Ruby Warrington, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol

Everyone has a different list of reasons before they embark on a sober or sober curious journey. Everywhere I looked, I never found suicidal hangover thoughts on the list. I started to feel like I was losing my mind. But we often forget—in a world that talks more about mental health every day—that all the stigmas are not washed away. We have miles to go before we, as a society, are where we need to be. If you’re thinking about giving up alcohol, and have ever had these thoughts tied to your drinking, know that you’re not alone.

Sometimes it takes only one person to have a shared experience with to make the leap you’ve been considering.

❝ Spending a night out drinking is akin to dismantling every piece of protection we have—our cognition, our decision making, our reaction time, our memory, our standards, our voice. If we thought about alcohol in this way—as something that undermines our collective momentum and personal agency and vitality and self-worth—what would that mean for us? What if we all rejected the poison—then what?

― Holly Whitaker, Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol

In late 2017, I wrote the bulk of my novel, Kiss Me Like You Mean It, which is inspired by my real life. While promoting said novel, I listed some of the issues addressed in it that women face, such as: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Alcohol Abuse

When writing about the last issue, I always paused. Had I abused alcohol? I was just having fun with my friends—and one-night stands make for great stories.

I would say I could write a book about how society places shame on women for seeking sexual pleasure—and the part alcohol plays in making women feel like they are free to act on their desire, or have sex like men—but I’ve already written it. And I will continue to write about every struggle my childhood abuse has caused me to have to face head-on in the world.

We all know the misattributed Ernest Hemingway quote—write drunk, edit sober. He didn’t even believe in that, so why should we?

I falsely believed I wrote my best words while tipsy on a glass of wine.

I falsely believed I had my best sex while drunk.

I falsely believed I connected with other humans more intimately while we imbibed together.

I falsely believed I needed to be someone else for the people I spent time with to enjoy being around me.

All the power we own—our words, our strength, our ability to connect—is within us. We don’t need a depressant, a drug, to unleash it.

We unleash it by sitting with uncomfortable moments, by living uncomfortable truths, and being vulnerable with others.

❝ We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I don’t know what I’ll do when the clock strikes midnight, bringing us into 2021. I committed to a year of sobriety to cultivate a better relationship in my own life with alcohol. 

I don’t miss alcohol, and I’ve had only two moments in which I desired a drink. For all of its challenges, 2020 has made it easier for me to abstain due to social distancing and my tendency to drink socially to fit in.

The real challenge is ahead. But I’m ready to face it—with a clear mind. 

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