Have you ever seen a movie that takes place over the course of one long and eventful day? And did you notice that the main character does more in that single day than you typically do in a whole week?
You may have rolled your eyes at movies like this, as I did, scoffing at the likelihood of accomplishing so much in 24 hours or less.
I used to experience “movie days” maybe once a year, proudly completing a ridiculous number of tasks and visiting numerous locations. Now I have them all the time. Well, maybe not all the time, but far more frequently.
What kind of Hollywood magic caused this shift to happen?
I gave alcohol the boot. Showed it the door and waved bye-bye.
A Quick Flashback Montage
Two years ago, I quit drinking because I wanted more from my life. And I got it! My life has opened up, expanded, and wandered onto strange new paths. Clearing alcohol out of my life created time, space, and energy I didn’t know I had.
For the record: Starting in the fall of 2017, I took an intensive six-month writing workshop that helped me develop a book proposal and encouraged me to start using my Instagram account as a mini blog. I followed that up with some freelance writing on sobriety for which I got paid.
About a year ago, I left my full-time job and am currently exploring a new chapter in my career, working at a local fitness studio. My husband and I just started our own communications business, and we hope to launch our own kombucha brand in 2020. Over the last two years, I’ve managed several large home improvement projects at our house, with another one just about to start.
Pilates, yoga, and meditation are now regular practices in my life, and I’ve tried all sorts of new activities, including indoor rock climbing, zip lining, flotation therapy, tai chi, and indoor skydiving.
During this “unfurling” (as I like to call it), I’ve accumulated many insights. Two big ones keep reverberating in my head, my heart, and my bones, and I’d like to share them in honor of my second anniversary of sobriety.
One: You don’t have to be on the brink of disaster to quit drinking.
For decades, I drank the way lots of people drink—to unwind, to celebrate, to connect. I loved the warm space that alcohol created inside and around me. It was a place where I felt safe and accepted. Where I knew the terrain.
I turned to alcohol for fun, escape, and relaxation. But it made my life repetitious and hazy. Like driving home from work only to realize that you barely recall the drive because you’ve done it so many times.
Abandoning an action that I knew so well, that I relied on, was going to be difficult. Not because I was physically addicted, but because I was emotionally addicted. Since I was a teen, alcohol had provided me with a go-to set of emotions, like a special box of crayons with colors more vivid and muted at the same time.
All those years my life was pretty darn good: I loved, and I laughed, and I did some awesome stuff. But the drinking, oddly enough, was like a cork on my very essence—keeping my spirit bottled up.
With the cork removed, so much more energy, so much more life flows out. I want to explore and try and dare. I’m doing it, but I’m still fearful sometimes. In sudden moments, my jittery, exposed nerves cry out for the dull plug of alcohol.
I imagine what it would be like to once again sit down in a comfortable bar with good friends and down glass after glass of white wine. To let the minutes and hours slip away. To blur the edges. To collapse into myself.
The urge usually goes away pretty quickly, and I’m left wondering if this feeling will keep popping up out of nowhere for the rest of my life.
If it does, it’s a small price to pay for the life I’m living now.
In our society, people don’t typically quit drinking unless alcohol consumption is really messing with their lives. If your livelihood, health, or life is on the line, it’s acceptable and even expected that you do whatever it takes to sober up.
But we don’t talk much about choosing to give up booze the same way you might decide to join a gym, take vitamins, study a new language, or start traveling more—as a way to get healthier and expand your horizons.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it can be an amazing decision that you make for yourself without having to teeter on the edge first.
But to get the most out of the experience, you do have to “do the work” as they say. Which brings me to the second important lesson I’ve learned…
Two: It’s not really about alcohol.
Since I was a girl, I’ve had a basket full of personal issues. None of them ever exploded into full-blown disorders or addictions or whatever you want to call them. But they all worked together to keep me consistently distracted from the self-doubt and anxiety that haunted me.
When you eliminate alcohol, you’ll likely discover, as I did, that there are lots of other bad habits waiting in the wings ready and willing to take the place of drinking. You must be willing to uncover and interrogate the thoughts and emotions behind these behaviors.
Getting sober is about so much more than gritting your teeth as you pass by the liquor store. It’s an opportunity, and I would argue a privilege, to get to know yourself better. To figure out how to live a different kind of life—a more mindful and intentional life.
I should note that I did not go to Alcoholics Anonymous or any other program (I attended exactly one Refuge Recovery meeting). Each one of us should find the support system that works best for us. I did turn to a number of websites, blogs, podcasts, and books to help me with my journey, and I still read and listen to a number of them. The sober community on Instagram also offers great encouragement.
Here are just a few of the additional obstacles that I’ve been addressing:
Television was my first true love before drinking came along. Someone else’s life was always more funny, glamorous, or admirable than my own. Then the internet, social media, and smartphones came along to gobble up even more of my attention. I’ve made huge strides in this area recently because I’ve finally accepted that if I want to achieve my goals, the screens must fade into the background.
Body image, food, and weight also dominated my mind from an early age. My weight has gone up and down, up and down—and it has the power to bring me to tears. I’ve finally found a way of eating and a form of exercise that together keep me healthy. But I still step on the scale religiously every morning and fret about going over some completely arbitrary number.
Shopping because I’m bored or I need a quick hit of gratification is a deep-rooted habit. Then, after spending too much money, I obsess about the financial ruin I’m certain is right around the corner. This issue requires firm boundaries and tight policing and will probably always be a struggle.
There’s more. So much more. Apparently, I spent the first 50 years of my life accumulating a lengthy list of short-term coping mechanisms and unhealthy attachments. Now, I plan to spend the rest of my years keeping ineffective diversions at bay while focusing on long-term, constructive answers to my angst.
Leading a sober life doesn’t have to be a punishment or an ending. If you see it as a beginning, as just the first step in an amazing journey, so much can unfold.
These days, I’m not just having “movie days.” The overall plot of my life is going through a welcome reboot. Directed by me, not alcohol.
Saturation Point – My first post about sobriety; includes links to lots of great resources
Five Questions at Five Months – A review of why I started drinking and why I chose to stop rather than continue trying to moderate
My Original Bad Habit – Trying to curb my obsession with television and social media