2.74 years, 1,000 days, 1,440,000 minutes. That’s how long it’s been since I made the decision to quit drinking permanently.
Okay, yeah, “made the decision” is a bit disingenuous. After all, there was an intervention with friends and family and they outright asked me to stop drinking. I definitely didn’t wake up one day and decide it was go-time, so I can’t pat myself on the back for that one. However, no one remains sober unless they decide to do it for themselves. I have endless gratitude for the people in my life who helped me start this journey, but make no mistake, I made the decision to get here.
Over the past 1,000 days, a handful of young women have reached out, asking if I had any advice for quitting drinking. Every time, I’m honest: you couldn’t PAY me to do it all over again. The first few months were really dang rough. It doesn’t stay that way though. Today, 2.74 years, 1,000 days, or 1,440,000 minutes after I stopped drinking, I’m reflecting on the way things have changed from Day 1 to Day 1000.
Quick disclaimer: I hope none of my own reflections are taken as judgment toward people who drink. I wish I could do it normally! These are just my revelations going from a problem drinker to a non-drinker.
At the beginning: Everyone told me that my friendships would change when I stopped drinking, and I always shrugged it off. I thought, “You clearly don’t know MY friends.” Many of my friends had known me since childhood, long before alcohol entered the picture. I partied with my friends, but my closest ones knew me without partying too. They wouldn’t care if I drank or not.
I stand by those sentiments, to a degree. I don’t think that any of my friends cared that I was sober. However, big shifts did occur. Some of my friends didn’t see how they fit into my new life. Friends who used to feel more like family members were suddenly asking me if I wanted to “grab coffee sometime,” like I was this strange, foreign person to them. Others didn’t know what to think of me, so they stopped asking to hang out altogether. I knew I was the same funny, unfiltered, fiercely loyal friend I’d always been, but some of them didn’t know that. I know that before I stopped drinking, I actually thought sober people were boring, holier than thou, personality-less, and the list goes on. It’s hard to not take it personally, though.
Now: My circle is much, much, much smaller, and I think that just comes with the territory. When I used to have a lot of friends in high school and college, it was because my social life revolved around pre-games and parties and drunken brunches – activities that lend themselves to big groups. When you step away from that, it’s understandable that not everyone joins you. Plus, I think I’m still in the demographic that prefers spending time at the bars or big parties, and I spend a weird amount of time in stretchy pants, doing puzzles or binge watching reality television.
At the beginning: I remember when I first got sober, I thought it meant doing the same things with the same people, just without alcohol. I used to go to house parties or bars, refuse drink after drink, and inevitably go home feeling bitter and annoyed. I wasn’t having fun, and I assumed it was because I wasn’t able to drink. People used to repeatedly tell me that I needed to stop worrying and eventually I would feel comfortable being in those situations again. I figured there was just a weird period of adjustment, and soon the old things would feel fun again.
Now: You couldn’t pay me to spend my free time at a bar. It has nothing to do with being comfortable or not, and everything to do with enjoyment. It’s not fun to be stone cold sober in a loud, overcrowded, dark space, trying to talk to people over the music (or avoid talking to people) all night. I realized that when I removed alcohol, I discovered those “fun” things aren’t actually fun to me, and that’s okay. Some sober people (or light drinkers) really love going out to these places, but I can’t count myself among them. Now, I’d much rather try a new restaurant, see a movie, and hang out with funny people. This is another reason why my circle has gotten so much smaller!
At the beginning: When I first got sober, I felt a lot of shame being around my family. I felt like all of them had been talking about me for the past year (or more), and it was hard to act like that wasn’t embarrassing. In my head, it had been them against me, and I had to figure out where I stood with everyone.
Now: The past is the past. I’m closer with my family than I’ve ever been before, and part of the reason is because they saw me at my worst and loved me through it. It was never “them against me,” they were just worried. I never waste any of our precious time together being drunk or hungover, which means I can finally be the dependable sister and daughter they deserve.
At the beginning: I was mad and I felt sorry for myself. I accepted that I couldn’t drink normally, and that pissed me off. I felt like I was a victim who would never have a normal life.
Now: I don’t love that I’m an alcoholic (who would?) but I’m not a victim and I don’t feel sorry for myself. The personality traits that make me such a terrible drinker also make me a really awesome person. I go big or go home and I take chances and I speak my mind without filters. I didn’t half-ass my drinking (yikes), but I also don’t half-ass life.
At the beginning: I hated that I was struggling with this. I felt like a freak with no willpower, and I thought everyone was judging me for mistakes I’d made. I was terrified that people were gathered around, whispering, “Did you hear about Caroline?” To put it simply, I was extremely embarrassed.
Now: I’m different than a lot of people I know, and I love it. I’ve realized that even the seemingly perfect and “normal” people have struggles too. I don’t dwell on the past or compare my rocky times to anyone else’s. I’m only human and I hate that some people only know me as the old me, but hey, the old me had her moments. Again… the traits that made me a terrible drinker are the same traits that work for me in other ways. I feel good about that.
At the beginning: In the first weeks of sobriety, I was seeing someone and trying to play by all the “rules.” Don’t text him first or too often, act chill, don’t pressure him to put a label on it, all that garbage. The longer I was sober, the more clearly I saw how DUMB that stuff is. I got more confident, and I decided I didn’t want to date like some meek little girl. As I got to know myself better, I realized I had the potential to be a damn good girlfriend. Because of that, I decided I wanted a really damn good boyfriend.
One of the gifts of sobriety is learning how to be authentically, unapologetically myself. I’m wouldn’t go on date #2 if I didn’t immediately feel sparks on date #1. I wasn’t going to play any games or pretend to be someone I wasn’t. If a guy only seemed half-into it, I wasn’t going to waste any time trying to prove myself. I don’t think it’s good to be conceited, but if you’re going to be, do it while you’re dating. Don’t settle. Don’t waste your time trying to make someone see your worth OR trying to hunt for someone else’s.
Now: I get to marry the best guy I’ve ever met! Jeremy knew immediately that I didn’t drink and never would. We didn’t play any games. I told him how much I liked him before we even went on the second date, which I think would be frowned upon by most “dating experts.” We got to know each other in warp speed over extremely sober, well-lit dates. He never made me question how he felt, and over-sharing is basically the foundation of our relationship. Alcohol can be a fantastic buffer in romantic relationships, but it can also make it harder to genuinely get to know each other. I’m so glad it’s never been a part of ours.
The process of getting here has been a rollercoaster, and I can’t pretend it has been sunshine and rainbows. Alcohol plays a huge role in our day-to-day lives, and that’s glaringly and painfully obvious when you can’t have it anymore. I can’t join you for happy hour or a wine tasting or vinyasa and vino. I can’t try that pretty cocktail you’re offering me, I can’t grab a beer in the beer tent after the half marathon, and I’m sorry, I can’t take the shots you so graciously bought for the entire table. No, I can’t even have the flute of bubbling champagne you just offered me after selecting my wedding dress. And sometimes it sucks. It can really, really, REALLY suck. But most of the time, I remember that every time I say “no,” life surprises me in another way with a big freaking YES.