If I had known in April 2014 that the Yoga teacher training course I was so excited to begin would lead to me giving up drinking and smoking for good, there’s a good chance I would have bailed on it.
The idea of sobriety, and living without booze, cigarettes or marijuana terrified me. Even in those moments when I could see the harm they were causing me, I couldn’t see a future without them.
The years since I stopped drinking in October 2014 have taught me a lot about the reality of a sober, recovery life. And I am always learning more.
Here are 5 of the biggest lessons society has given me. I could write about SO many more!
Sobriety isn’t boring!
“I can’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t drink. They’re so boring”
I used to genuinely believe this, that people who didn’t drink, or who didn’t drink to the point of blind drunkenness, were boring. I found it really hard to connect with them, and assumed it was because of their sober boringness.
Seeing the lie in that idea didn’t take me long in sobriety.
My drinking days all blurred into one over time.
The same friends.
The same nights.
The same conversations.
The same repeated stories.
The same drunken quarrels.
The same feeling of dread and shame each night.
Same, same, same. And this was fun, apparently!
Every experience had to have alcohol somewhere in the mix. If I couldn’t drink before, during or after, I wasn’t interested.
Alcohol made my life smaller.
Sobriety has shown me just how much fun is possible if you don’t need booze to be part of life. I remember everything I do (within the power of my menopausal, ADHD memory at least!). I try more things, and have lots more adventures.
And because I can always drive home, I can go anywhere my circumstances allow.
You’ve only got to look at my Facebook profile to know I could probably stand to make my life a little more boring. There’s always a new adventure, always something happening. Here are just a few things I’ve done in the past year alone!
Life is more colourful, exciting and fun than my drinking self could have ever imagined.
Live music and dancing are much more fun when you’re sober
I used to think that boozing was a vital part of the live music experience. Rock n roll baby!
I learned the joys of sober gigging long before I quit drinking. I was going to see Super Furry Animals with some friends. As I was driving to London the next day to see Queens of the Stone Age, I opted to drive. I didn’t want a hangover for the journey to London!
It. Was. AMAZING.
I didn’t even know the music well, and I danced the whole night, even still dancing as we walked to the car. I hadn’t needed to leave to go to the toilet or have a cigarette. Not once did I have to worry about queuing at the bar. And I didn’t need to think about how to hold my pint and dance. I had wonderfully clear memories of the gig the next day.
My first experience of a sober gig was a great success.
And it was also my first clear insight into what drunk people sound and behave like! It was quite an eye opening night!
After that, I would often offer to drive. Sober gigs opened up a whole new world for me. People would get me tickets in exchange for my chauffeur services (it was much cheaper than getting a taxi!). I could go to gigs that would otherwise be impossible for me, or that I would have to leave early to catch the train home.
There are many eagerly anticipated gigs in my past that I have little to no recollection of. It makes me so sad. Live music is and was one of my favourite pastimes. So sober gigging is now one of my favourite ways to enjoy my sobriety. Being so utterly in the moment and the experience of the music is a truly joyful part of my life.
Alcohol was never helping
I had many stories about why I “needed” to drink.
Alcohol “helped me sleep”.
But I’d stay awake till 2am finishing the bottle before passing out on the sofa). I was tired and groggy the next day, and rely heavily on coffee to keep me going. So then I couldn’t sleep until I had more wine. Hmm…..
Alcohol “helped me deal with stress”.
But the problems it created added to the stress. And I never dealt with the stress, or solved the problems that caused it. I was only numbing and fogging my brain so I was incapable of solving my problems.)
Alcohol was “a vital part of my social life”.
I tried spending time with friends without booze being at the centre of our time together, and it was excruciating. What did that say about our friendships at the time I wonder?
Alcohol gave me the confidence to talk to people.
Hmm…. well maybe. I was crippled with self doubt, and found it hard to talk to people I didn’t know. Especially if they were male and attractive. But did my drunken ‘confidence’ and incoherent rambling help me make new friends? I don’t think so. And I certainly regretted most of my drunken self’s interactions with ‘attractive’ men!
Alcohol was “central to how I had fun”.
Well, it’s true that I seasoned all my fun with wine and cider. But so many of the fun times were lost in the haze of drunken partial memories. So maybe I did have fun at the time, but I can’t remember it. And I have many memories of my drunkenness completely stopping me having fun. Losing your friends, not being able to walk straight and getting into dangerous situations ain’t fun!
I told myself so many stories about why alcohol was necessary for my enjoyment of life.
And you know what?
Everything I thought alcohol gave me, sobriety has given me in bucketloads.
Menopause and life’s challenges have caused me some issues with sleep, but the sleep I do get is real, restful sleep.
When life gets difficult and stressful, I am able to face it, and process it. Instead of numbing out and making my problems worse, I sit with the discomfort, find solutions and learn from the problems that arise.
I have a great network of friends I can enjoy spending time with. Some are the same friends I used to drink with. We now enjoy walking, going for food or coffee, climbing, going to the cinema, going to gigs and festivals, or just hanging out together. Others are friends who only know me as a sober person.
My social life hasn’t suffered at all due to my sobriety. It’s different, and I know I get left out of some things, but I don’t let that get to me anymore. I know that some people can find someone else’s sobriety challenging, and many think like I used to. I know that I make my own fun, so it’s all fine!
You don’t have to be ashamed of your journey
I carried a lot of shame around with me when I was drinking. As a single mother, there is a lot of fear when you have mental health and addiction issues. There is a lot of stigma already attached to these things. It’s magnified when you’re a mother. And even more when you’re a single mother.
I was afraid to ask for help when I needed it. I was convinced that if I admitted I was struggling, I’d be at risk of losing my children.
And so I pushed on. Not getting the support I needed. Making everything worse.
I found my way to recovery without any of the conventional support that is out there. Support that is sometimes worryingly hard to access. Particularly for women, and for single mothers.
And I refuse to be ashamed of any of it anymore.
Alcohol is aggressively marketed at women, at mothers. And yet, drunk women, and especially drunk mothers, are subject to a lot of judgement and shame. Not to mention the added risk to our safety. A drunk woman who finds herself in bed with a stranger will be judged for “her behaviour”. Not than the stranger who preyed on the drunk woman. Women who get raped while drunk report a far more negative view of the way their rape is viewed by the police and other authorities.
I carried around so much shame that it nearly broke me. But now I’m proud of who I am, of what I have overcome, and the strength I now bring to my life.
And I hope you can feel the same. If you’re reading this and you’re on the recovery path, or even considering it, I want you to know that you don’t need to be ashamed. You’re a fucking warrior and I am very proud of you.
Yes, it hurts, but that’s ok
“I don’t get it, I don’t drink anymore, how come life is still SOOO hard?”
When I got sober, I had so fully accepted that drinking was a problem that I had started to think it was THE problem.
So when I stopped, and I still had problems, I was confused.
When I started to think and feel things I hadn’t thought and felt in years, I was baffled. Wasn’t recovery supposed to make it easier?
Well, yes. But there was something I was forgetting.
Alcohol had become a big problem in my life. But before that, it was a solution to my problems.
I had turned to drinking to oblivion when reality was so painful I needed to escape.
Overwhelmed by pain, I had sought the welcome numbness of booze. It had done an admirable job of getting me through some unbearably painful times in my early 20s.
In the absence of the numbing power of alcohol, the pain I had numbed for decades awoke and demanded soothing. Life showed me time and again why I had turned to booze so much, as not only old pain, but new pain appeared.
And it hurt. On more than one occasion I could have welcomed oblivion back into my life for a few hours.
But I didn’t. Because I knew that drinking wouldn’t solve the problem. It would still be there the next day. Probably be made worse by my drunk actions. And the shame and regret I’d feel in the morning would make ME feel so much worse it just wasn’t ever worth it.
Instead I learned that when you lean into your pain and problems, you can heal. You can solve. You can grow.
I am stronger and more able to deal with the many challenges life throws my way now that I deal with life sober. And I’ve dealt with a lot in my almost 9 years of sobriety.
It’s like a workout at the gym. It hurts like hell at the time. You will definitely need someone to support you through the biggest challenges. And there will be times when you feel that you can’t take it anymore.
But you do. You rest when you need to, You take care of your wellbeing. And you get stronger.
Pain isn’t a problem. It’s information. And when we listen to it, rather than numb it, we can act on it.
What has your recovery taught you?
If you’re in recovery, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?
And if you’re not, what would you most like to know?
Share your thoughts and questions in the comments,