When I first quit drinking I wanted everything in my life to stay exactly the same. The only difference would be that I was no longer drinking. I didn’t want anyone to know if I was drinking or not drinking, and I definitely didn’t want it to be the topic of conversation. I feared my relationships would change, or that others would feel uncomfortable around me. I wanted to go on living my life, only somehow secretly not drinking alcohol.
Now, at 3-years sober, I realize how that was both unrealistic, and not in my best interest.
Looking back it doesn’t surprise me that I had all of these expectations. I had set myself up to live an unliveable life in many ways. I wanted to go unnoticed and keep everyone around me happy at all times. I also never wanted to feel anything. If I started having an intense feeling, I would get disappointed in myself. It was easier to pretend it didn’t exist. Whatever the feeling was, it had to be wrong, and it was my fault for feeling it.
I expected myself to be flawless. This was something I could never live up to, and I punished myself for it. I expected myself to be able to drink alcohol without consequences. So day after day, I would berate myself for having a hangover — and not to mention, become overwhelmed with embarrassment. I would get heart-pounding panic attacks knowing others had seen me too tipsy, or remembering myself, buzzed in front of my husband and kids.
Sobriety changed all of that.
Most of my biggest fears came true, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Fear 1: My Relationships Will Change
My relationships changed because I changed.
Certainly, my sobriety makes some people uncomfortable. My excessive drinking also made people uncomfortable. I now realize that my responsibility is to me, and staying sober is the healthiest choice. I choose it over someone else’s comfort, every time. All the energy I was spending trying to please others is now spent on showing up for my health. That is the only thing I can really control, anyway.
When you are newly sober or thinking about quitting drinking, I know the fear of how others will react can feel like a hurdle. My relationships have not only changed, but have improved since I’ve quit drinking. Drinking gave me a one track mind, always seeking more alcohol. Sobriety has made me a better wife, mother, daughter, and friend. Instead of a drunken buddy to commiserate with, I can offer others real support in a crisis. I have become a role model. I’m now able to give as much as I receive.
Sobriety has also gifted me a better relationship with myself. I have become my own best friend, diminishing my desperate need to belong with others. With love, I have also had to let go of some friendships. Endings can be painful, confusing, and sad. Some people are in our lives for a season, not a lifetime.
Fear 2: I Will Feel Emotions In Full Force
It was the stuffing that created the suffering. The human experience is to feel a wide range of emotions.
The next realization was that I feel things. Shocking, I know. It is more than okay to feel. And I feel deeply and intensely. I used to think this would make me “too much.” Now, I allow myself to feel what I feel. I create space for my emotions and I welcome all of them. They usually pass fairly quickly once I pay attention to them. This process makes me whole, not faulted.
My goal is no longer to feel nothing and escape emotion. My goal is to manage my emotions. When I got sober at age 40, I had very few coping skills. My whole life, I had reached for alcohol for everything, happy or sad. Now, I recognize my emotions and instead of numbing them with a drink, I get curious about myself. I journal, work out, talk it out, or meditate. I have many ways to cope, and none of them involve alcohol. I allow myself to settle into the discomfort. My resilience has grown since ditching the drink. I have grown stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually in the process.
Life is uncomfortable at times, that doesn’t mean I am doing it wrong.
Fear 3: I Will Fail At This
I failed to realize that getting sober was a process and not a single event.
I’ve had many attempts to quit drinking, and I “failed” at most of them. Yet here I am, now 3- years sober. For a long time, I was so afraid to try. What if I couldn’t do it? I told myself I had to nail sobriety on my first try, or else I was a big failure. I left no room for anything in between. When I started looking at getting sober as an experiment, instead of a tightrope to walk perfectly, I was able to give myself a lot more grace. Staying curious and loving myself through even my worst days was the magic it took to stay on my path.
It was through sobriety that I burned through my self-hatred and learned to love myself as I am. Not a perfect version of myself, but the real me. The person who had made mistakes and would surely make them again. I allowed myself the space and freedom to mess up over and over again. Now I see failure as proof that I am on my way to success. I fail spectacularly, I fail often, and I fail forward.
Becoming sober meant facing all these fears I had been running from. I was nervous about relationships changing, emotions erupting, and confronting failure. But I made a decision to love and accept myself anyway, even in my deepest hole, and that became my way out. Fear, shame and self-hatred had kept me sinking, and I had to try something different. Love and acceptance worked. Now, three years sober, I know to expect imperfection in the process. Sobriety is a practice. Life is a practice. And I am practicing every day.