If I had a dollar for every time someone called me “brave” for publicly sharing my struggles with alcohol abuse and sobriety, I wouldn’t be driving around with a massive dent in the side of my car that I can’t afford to get fixed. My propensity for over-sharing my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – has apparently given some people the idea that I’m courageous. I have a confession to make though: I don’t deserve any of the praise, and that’s because it’s not about bravery. To be brave, you have to face something that scares you, and sharing my story doesn’t scare me in the slightest.
I share my experience for every woman who has reached out and asked, “Is it hard?” Because it is hard, really hard, but it’s worth it. Four years ago, when I stopped drinking, I didn’t have a single kindred spirit who could relate. I felt like I was flying blind, with no idea what to expect as I navigated my 20’s fueled only by coffee and La Croix. While everyone’s experience is certainly different, I hope my own experiences can serve as a general roadmap for other young women who are making this colossal yet unspeakably rewarding decision.
Stage 1: The Come-To-Jesus Moment
Bar none, the hardest part of quitting drinking is realizing I needed to quit drinking. I was a binge drinker through high school and college, but wasn’t everyone? Over time, a little voice in the back of my head started whispering, “This isn’t normal,” and that voice became harder and harder to ignore. As my hangovers began affecting work and drunken fights continued to wreak havoc on relationships, it became impossible to pretend alcohol wasn’t the common denominator.
If I admitted alcohol was a problem, that would mean I couldn’t ever have it again. While that was an incredibly scary realization for me, it was followed by an immediate peace. We’re out of the gray area, and it has been decided: I am getting sober.
Stage 2: The Honeymoon
Everyone I know who has given up drinking has a honeymoon phase in the beginning. Suddenly, the world seems full of possibilities. You know those scenes in movies where a beautiful woman pops out of bed and throws open her window to let in a flood of sunlight and a chorus of birds singing? That’s how every morning felt for a while. I didn’t have a hangover! I didn’t have to apologize to anyone! I could go to the gym and make myself pancakes before half the world even woke up. It felt like magic!
Yes, the honeymoon phase wears off. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not very real while it lasts. Savor it! Embrace all those little joys and try not to lose sight of them – those are the reasons you quit drinking in the first place.
Stage 3: The Lonely, Hermit Days
It quickly became evident how alcohol-centered most of my extracurricular activities were. In early sobriety, I didn’t really want to be around alcohol and, quite honestly, I was intimidated by the idea of socializing without any liquid courage. Without even meaning to, I became a total recluse.
Isolating yourself is pretty common, and it was the hardest phase for me. After the honeymoon feeling had officially worn off, I was left with incredible loneliness. How did sober people spend their time? Did giving up alcohol also mean giving up a social life? I spent quite a few nights in tears, feeling sorry for myself and being cynical about the entire concept of sobriety. The good news is that this stage, like all the others, is temporary. Don’t second-guess your decision to quit drinking on the days when it feels lonely and hard.
Stage 4: Trial & Error
When you stop drinking, evenings and weekends suddenly become five times as long. I hadn’t realized that drinking had been my fast-forward button for so much of my adult life. I knew I had to find new hobbies to fill my time. That’s where the trial and error part comes in. At first, I thought I could go out and do the same things I used to do, just without a drink. It only took a few bars and a couple house parties for me to realize that, when I’m in my right mind, these things bore me to tears.
With a little bit of soul-searching and exploring, I started to fill my time with things I actually found fulfilling: workout classes, freelance writing, running, learning to cook vegan meals, volunteering with children, and spending time outdoors. I began strengthening my friendships by talking over a good meal, rather than over loud music at a pub. I met my now husband on a sober, coffee shop date, and I spend a lot of my free time playing with our two rescue dogs. These are the things that work for me, and you’ll find things that work for you. All of these things make me happier than alcohol ever did.
Stage 5: Contentment
It took a long time, but I feel settled and at ease. I’ve faced so many different events and experiences sober: weddings, holidays, birthdays, trips, deaths, celebrations – all of it. I am content. I know who I am, what I enjoy, and what I need to maintain my own inner peace. I protect my sobriety and my mental health by taking care of myself and creating boundaries. I celebrate my recovery loudly and proudly, because I want to be a resource for other young women.
Whether you’re toying with the idea of giving up drinking or you’re hoping to help a loved one through the process, take away this: no one ever regrets getting sober. No one ever wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I wish I had more to drink last night.” There will be bumps in the road and sometimes the bad days will outnumber the good, but this journey is worth it. I promise.