follow-up to thoughts on 1 year dry
When I moved to Seattle just a few days before 2019 began, I was deep into what had been a brief but rapidly escalating relationship with alcohol. I started my days with a cocktail of vodka and Monster energy drink, a concoction I might as well have called “battery acid”. I drank at work. I drank whenever I was in front of a TV. I drank on the bus. I drank while hiking. I even drank in therapy once.
When I admitted to myself that I was an alcoholic, it didn’t bring about the feelings of shame and fear that I thought it would. Rather, it felt like a relief. I embraced my new identity with desperate ferocity. I gave up on expecting good things for myself, because wouldn’t I be disappointed anyway? Drinking felt like a rush toward a dark destiny.
Yet a sliver of hope remained in the dusty recesses of my mind.
May of 2019 was when I finally let myself get help. After a little over a week in the hospital––during which time I detoxed and got back on medication––I stepped through the sliding doors and into a world that was very new and very, very sober. The sunlight felt so bright it was blinding me.
The first few days were excruciating. While the physical withdrawals had been eradicated, I had yet to face a stressful situation without my liquid courage. Those early days were ROUGH. But the days turned to weeks turned to months and suddenly I’d hit my 1-year mark. But that was just the beginning.
It wasn’t long before I swiftly replaced alcohol with even more self-destructive coping methods. Binging and purging, restricting, over-exercising, nicotine, OTC meds, ill-advised relationships, you name it. Sure, I’d quit the booze. People praised me for getting through the shitshow that was 2020 without relapsing. While I was proud of myself for getting through another year, I felt that their accolades were unearned.
Didn’t they know I was still broken?
After years of therapy, I know WHY I drank. Part of it was to speed up the passage of time. Another part of it was that the only times I felt I could truly let loose and relax was when I was drunk. If I’m being honest, I also drank because I knew it was killing me and I felt like I deserved it. In the end, the alcohol didn’t even matter. It was simply a means to an end. It helped me turn a blind eye to the gaps in my life.
When I stopped drinking, I halfway expected these gaps to be filled. As it turns out, problems don’t become easier to solve if alcohol alone is removed from the equation. If anything, the gaps grew larger now that I was facing them with a sound mind. It was clear to me that while I’d been flirting with oblivion, I’d neglected almost every other part of my life. And now that I was sober, I had to undertake the task of picking up where I’d left off.
The prospect was overwhelming.
Want a hot take? Addiction is a sneaky bitch. So sneaky that it can move from one host to another with ease––meaning that once drinking is no longer on the table, it grabs onto another behavior and convinces you that you can’t live without it. And I fall hook, line, and sinker time and time again.
No matter how long I’m sober from alcohol, I feel as though I’ll never let out the breath I’ve been holding since I took my last swig of water bottle vodka in a friend’s car as we drove to the ER two years ago. I’ll never feel comfortable accepting praise from others, because in my mind, I’m still just as much of an addict as ever. Just because I don’t drink anymore doesn’t mean I don’t use other substances to numb myself out.
I’m not fixed.
There have been countless moments in my sobriety with alcohol in which I asked myself if it was really worth it. After all, I’ve been struggling just as much as ever. I haven’t fixed the issues that were causing me to abuse alcohol in the first place. Rather than gaining control of my life, I seem to have spun into an even more helpless cycle of addiction. And it really sucks.
That’s right, sobriety can really suck.
All of a sudden, it feels like all the uncomfortable scenarios in the world are being handed to me now that my social crutch is gone. Making friends has become a million times more difficult. (And don’t get me started on alcohol-free dating!) I feel like I’m constantly inconveniencing others as they awkwardly scramble to come up with activities that aren’t drinking. Either that, or they believe me when I say I’m not bothered by their drinking, subsequently taking it as my blessing to get absolutely hammered. (Turns out being around drunk people when you’re sober is really boring.)
The cravings are sometimes unbearable. It sucks not having such an accessible mind eraser at my disposal. It wasn’t REALLY hurting me, I think to myself. If I started again now, it would probably be healthier than vomiting after every meal or downing 25 Benadryl tablets at once in pursuit of a high.
Yes, I really did use the word “healthier” in conjunction with alcohol. Brains are silly, aren’t they?
Today marks two years since I had my last drink. I should feel proud of myself––and I do! But it still feels like there’s more beneath the surface that I can’t talk about. I browse through sober Instagram accounts and wonder why I can’t do sobriety as effortlessly as some of these beautiful, carefree people with their mocktail recipes and workout regimens.
When it comes down to it, I’m really tired of pretending like sobriety is a walk in the park. I’m tired of pretending I like it all the time. Because for a large percentage of my waking hours, the opposite is true.
Sobriety fucking sucks. But you know what else fucking sucks? Blacking out all the time and going broke as a result of my expensive habit. Waking up with the dread of not being able to remember how I got home or what I texted to whom. Getting turned down by insurance companies because my liver was diseased. Neglecting my cats, who I love more than anything, because I’d rather get drunk. And the list goes on.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I’ll take the suckiness of sobriety over the suckiness of being an alcoholic any day. As miserable as I feel sometimes, I have to remember that I’d be even more miserable if I were drinking. Sobriety isn’t fun, but at least it has provided me with the gift of opportunity.
Today it’s been two years since my last drink. But what I want people to know is that I’m not recovered. I haven’t dealt with all of my emotions. I’m still terrified of living life without armor. So I keep looking for protection in food and substances and exercise and relationships because it helps me cope with the fever dream that is reality.
Have I grown? This is a question I ask myself all the time. As I enter into my third year without alcohol, I feel like I’m finally ready to tackle the other demons that have latched onto me in the absence of booze. Maybe it was necessary for me to first prove to myself that I could give up such a powerful, destructive force in my life.
A few nights ago, I was sitting in my apartment reading a book and listening to the sound of rain through an open window. I was living in the moment. And then it hit me: I was doing the very thing that I’d been terrified to do when I was an alcoholic. That past version of me routinely drank herself into oblivion rather than sit and face her own thoughts. And now here I was doing the very thing I’d once considered hell.
If I have the capacity to do this, who knows what else is possible?