I stopped drinking 14 months ago. It was roughly 1 month into my sober journey that I had the realisation, I had not lived any of my adult life without alcohol. I had used it periodically to deal with many different aspects of life from the age of 14. Socialising, de-stressing, dealing with bad days, celebrating the good, unwinding and more, all seemed to involve alcohol somehow. I had been using it to self medicate, self soothe and give me the boost I thought I had needed for nearly 20 years. Prescribed to me from a very young age by the society I live in that this is just what people do, a socially acceptable drug to take, the norm for adult human beings ― without ever really questioning why.
In early sobriety I faced obvious challenges such as dealing with those situations, places and times where I used to drink but what I did not anticipate was the hardest challenge of them all ― myself and my own thoughts and emotions. I no longer had that society prescribed “medication”, that crutch that I had been using for 20 years to help me in many different areas of my life. I thought it would be as easy as putting the drink down, I didn’t anticipate what some people call the “emotional roller -coaster,” that period in early sobriety when you literally have to re learn how to think, feel, behave without turning to alcohol and that is challenging, especially on the more difficult days that life has to offer.
I found the most valuable tool was to talk to other people who are also in sobriety, hear their stories and experiences and also reflect upon my own thoughts and feelings and write them down. Here is a collection of the best advice I have been given over the last 14 months and some of my own personal reflections on how to survive early sobriety and the emotional roller coaster.
Alcohol is an integrated part of this world but I do not have to drink it.
It sounds straight forward but this was the first hurdle I had to overcome. Especially when alcohol had been such a big part of my life.I accepted this pretty quickly and I told those closest to me I was not drinking anymore, this made going from being a drinker, to a non drinker much easier because I had the support of those closest to me. I also accepted that it was not only possible but more than achievable to live in this world sober, even when alcohol is all around.
Putting sobriety as my number one priority.
With this premise in mind, it made making decisions early on in sobriety much easier. It allowed me to think very carefully about the situations I was putting myself in, the places I was going and the people I was hanging out with. By putting myself and my want not to drink first, I stopped doing things that would otherwise have enabled me to drink and fall off the wagon. My sobriety was my absolute priority (and still is.)
Accepting the things I cannot change.
This was a valuable piece of advice for me. This includes the past and other human beings and their actions. The past cannot be changed but I can learn from it and ensure positive behaviour is emulated but negative behaviour is not repeated. I also started to realise that other people’s actions are out of my control. With these both in mind, the only thing I am in control of is myself and how I react to things and as long as I keep my metaphorical side of the street clean, then I know that I am doing the best that I can. There is peace in that.
If something is bringing me down and it doesn’t look like it will not change – it has to go.
Peace of mind is important and it might sound harsh but it is necessary. I changed jobs as an example, I removed people from my life, I stopped going to places I didn’t really want to go to. There are some things I have no control over but there are some things that I do and the things that I do, if it is negative or toxic - well, it needs to go. Negative and toxic behaviour that directly affect me but I can remove is key to good mental well being. I am much happier surrounding myself with the right people, the right places and the right situations that bring out the best in me.
The power of saying no.
In early sobriety this is a must. There are events, situations and even people I have to say no to for my own well being. There is nothing wrong with saying no to someone or something if it is not right for you. It took sobriety to highlight this to me. As a result, I no longer feel like a people pleaser and I have taken the time to concentrate more on the things I actually want to do to fulfill myself. I also apply this principle when someone says no to me - people need to do what is best for them. There is no point being offended.
Letting go of resentments.
Resentment leads to bitterness which leads to anger which is poison and is detrimental to a human growth. I had to focus on people and situations from my past. Rather than burying resentment, I had to face a few personally difficult issues from my past, address them and release them. I wrote letters as examples, I shared with other people who I trusted and the burden was lightened. It’s human nature to be annoyed from time to time but by carrying the burden of past resentments around I was in turn angry. Releasing it means the weight is lifted.
Be honest and share it.
I am much more honest with those closest to me and most importantly myself. It means I very rarely get lost in my own head because I share and I share honestly and openly with people who I trust. I have learnt there is no shame in how I feel about anything. True honesty and acceptance means not getting lost in your own head/thoughts/feelings/emotions and the world seems easier and lighter as a result – it is this that has changed me the most.
Life is like a heart monitor, without the ups and downs you aren’t living.
Life can be great, life can be s**t but nothing is permanent, things change and sometimes I just have to accept that and ride out the s**t times knowing that eventually it will pass and things will be ok. This can be quite hard in early sobriety – when you are feeling low about something because it feels so negative. However, I have never felt more empowered and enlightened than when I’ve faced the downs without alcohol and come out the other side stronger. I know I can handle life and all its terms.
Removing alcohol has taken me down a complete transformative path. I have learnt that I do not need to have alcohol, to be a better version of myself. I am the best version of myself without it.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.