I never thought I’d live in a time where sobriety is considered cool. Social media has a sea of sober influencers. The non-alcoholic drink scene is thriving. Even Big Alcohol is releasing alcohol-free products.
And 6.5 million people participated in Dry January in 2021. The rising popularity of Dry January and Sober October paired with folks posting photos of going #boozefree helps destigmatize substance use disorder and the reality of cutting back on binge drinking.
Like those 6.5 million folks trying Dry January this year, my own sobriety also began as a challenge. And while I’m grateful for my personal journey, I wish I was more respectful to folks with long-term sobriety when I was in the “let’s try this whole sober thing” phase.
Gone are the days when one must attend a 12-step meeting and identify with the A-Word (alcoholic). The only prerequisite to evaluating your relationship with alcohol is the desire to be “sober curious.” Maybe I’d have stopped drinking sooner if sobriety was this celebrated and accessible back in my whiskey-chugging days.
I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol from ages 15 to 29. Fourteen years of my life were spent living the stereotypical dancing-on-bars party girl lifestyle. Several nights a week ended in a blackout.
I never stopped to ask myself why I drank the way that I did. I was a career bartender and occasional college student who drank like my peers and coworkers. We egged each other on with Maker’s Mark on the rocks and intermittent shots of Jägermeister.
When drinking buddies dropped off due to getting sober, graduating college, or simply just growing up, I poked fun of them behind their backs. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to stop drinking or how they spent their time if alcohol wasn’t part of it.
Now, with six years of sobriety and five years of therapy, I can clearly see why I drank until I blacked out — a clarity that may have never arrived with a round of shots on the table. I have PTSD from a traumatic event that happened at age 14. My mom did what she could by putting me in therapy and on anti-depressants, but those methods only work when the patient wants help. I didn’t want help. I wanted escapism. That’s where self-medication came in.
My first experience with an altered consciousness included getting drunk and high at the same time. Therapy and antidepressants wanted to help me process the past in order to live a happier reality, but that paled in comparison to my newfound chemically altered state. I no longer thought about that traumatic event or school or my parents. I felt free. So I stayed with that feeling for 14 years, choosing jobs like bartending that celebrated a boozy lifestyle and partners I met in bars.
Somehow, my hazy brain finally graduated college at age 28 and I got back into writing. And then, only once I finally ditched booze for good, I began the never-ending process of recovery.
At age 29, I moved from Texas to New York City to focus on my writing career. While I still drank in my early NYC days, I drastically cut back once I was no longer in the bartending scene.
My final drinking night was calm, unlike the dramatic rock bottoms often portrayed in Hollywood. It was a Sunday afternoon, having drinks with friends. We chatted about why we moved to New York City and how we don’t have enough time to focus on the passion projects that brought us here.
My three-beer buzz escorted me to the subway along with a new thought: How can I say I never have time to write when I just spent four hours drinking in a pub? The lightbulb went off as I realized that alcohol was a hurdle that I kept placing in my own path.
I decided to not drink for a week. That week turned into two weeks. Those two weeks turned into three weeks. Then I made a decision that changed the trajectory of my life: ”I’ll be 30 next week. I’ll celebrate by not drinking for the duration of my 30th year.” My gonzo journalist instincts took it a step further by documenting the entire experience, in real time, in a blog that I named SobrieTea Party.
The phrase “sober curious,” coined by Ruby Warrington, holds space for folks who want to step back and evaluate their relationship with alcohol but don’t necessarily identify as alcoholics or problem drinkers. “Sober curious” wasn’t around when I was newly sober, but that’s exactly what I was.
There are a few things I wish I did when I was sober curious to (a) get the most out of that time and (b) respect folks and their long-term sobriety. I share these “coulda woulda shouldas” with you now so you can take your own Dry January to the next level.
Find Peer Support
Since I treated my approach to sobriety as a social experiment, I didn’t think I needed therapy or a support group, or other resources that folks benefit from. I started therapy nine months into my sober journey and found a support group two years in. So in the beginning, everyone in my immediate orbit (friends, co-workers, roommate) became my defacto emotional support since I didn’t seek out professional help or peer support. This dynamic put a lot of strain on those relationships that could have been prevented if I admitted that I needed guidance.
Understand Sobriety Vs. Recovery
Sobriety is the act of abstaining from a particular substance. For folks doing a dry month, that substance is usually alcohol. Recovery is figuring out why we flock to that substance in the first place. This is why it’s so important to have a therapist or peer support even during a dry month. I didn’t understand how important alcohol was in my life during those early days. I wish I allowed myself to nurture the recovery aspect instead of focusing on just abstaining.
Step Off The Pink Cloud
In early sobriety, I organized private Facebook groups and dry month challenges. Looking back I can see that I was cultivating my own version of peer support group since Alcoholics Anonymous’s terms didn’t resonate with me and I didn’t know of any other peer support option. I also see that I was riding the pink cloud (the part of early sobriety where everything seems rosy and wonderful) and was somewhat delusional. While my heart was in the right place, my approach needed some grounding. If I could do that part over, I’d forgo leading those groups altogether or ask someone with more experience in their sobriety to help moderate.
Find A Booze-Free Buddy
Whether or not you go to AA, the concept of a sponsor is invaluable. A sponsor is your go-to fellow sober human who helps you navigate the bumpy terrain of early sobriety and beyond. Maybe for you, that’s someone who’s also doing a dry month. Maybe it’s someone you connected with at an alternative peer-support group. Basically, you need someone to text when shit hits the fan.
Every person’s relationship with alcohol is different; not everyone can “just stop.” Many folks need rehab, detox, interventions, or other additional resources. My journey, like all sobriety journeys, is unique. While it worked for me, I wouldn’t recommend the path I took (blogging about a personal decision in such an open way) to anyone questioning their relationship with alcohol.
I’m a writer who’s always looking for new experiences so I can document them. My first year of sobriety was a social experiment that kept me accountable for both sobriety and writing. Perhaps that’s the way I had to do it — it clearly taught me a thing or two, because I recently celebrated six years in recovery.
Whether you’re in long-term recovery, “California sober,” practicing harm reduction, or participating in a dry month, the most important thing to remember is that we’re all just taking it one day at a time.