I haven’t had an alcoholic drink now since January 1, 2016, just over 20 months of complete abstinence from any alcohol. I knew I needed to quit drinking for my own personal reasons and I thought it would be hard because of the world that we live in. Society, it seems, prescribes alcohol as some sort of socially acceptable “medicine” to elevate human enjoyment, to deal with emotional issues, to commiserate bad times as examples. A quick fix cure for all human emotional needs.
A lot of adults in many cultures in this world have not gone for any extended period of time without alcohol since their teenage years and for many this is a happy crutch, able to control with ease and drink for pleasure. For others who are heavy drinkers or binge drinkers, unhealthy amounts are consumed in short periods of time but stopped to resume daily life and business until the next drinking session begins. There are alcoholics who have no off button when it comes to drinking and often end up in complete oblivion or black out on a regular basis, people that have lost control over their drinking. Unless, like me, who has complete abstinence from alcohol, chances are every person falls into one of those categories.
“My drinking days were fueled by the thought that I needed it, socially, to be a better version of myself.”
Binge drinkers and alcoholics are using alcohol in dangerously high quantities day in, day out and for what purpose? To enjoy life better? To be more sociable? To be able to get up and dance? For escapism? To deal with life? A constant cycle of being out of control. My drinking days were fueled by the fact I thought I needed it socially to be a better version of myself, a more fun, sociable, likable human being that could say and do things I wouldn’t normally because I had the liquid courage ― therefore suggesting I was a better version of myself when I was out of control. Until the next morning when opening my eyes for the first time and dealing with the fear and the hungover guilt and shame ― the absolute worst feeling.
When I contemplated my life sober it was initially too difficult to actually visualize a life of abstinence in this world we live in as possible ― it was this thought that kept me picking up the drink again. However, when I finally did stop drinking I soon began to realize that there s a complete and distinct difference between being “sober” and “living in sobriety.” Being sober is just not drinking ― you might be the designated driver, you might be completing dry January or Go Sober for October or whatever the newest fads are. Sobriety took me by surprise as a complete moral, spiritual, physical and mental reevaluation of life as I had known it since I first picked up the drink at 14 years old. Sobriety was a way of life, a journey through this life of complete abstinence that promises happiness and contentment in a way I never imagined, if you work for it.
“Sobriety took me by surprise as a complete moral, spiritual, physical and mental reevaluation.”
The longer I live in sobriety the more people ask me ― how? How do you do it? Here are a few steps that I’ve put together for how I am learning and continuing to learn to live my life in sobriety - which kept me and continues to keep me from drinking alcohol. These are a combination of ideas from recovery groups, ideas from people with years and years of sobriety and also some of my own personal reflections.
1) Admitting defeat when it comes to alcohol:
Every journey to the point of abstinence has similarities and differences but the point is, increasingly thinking, I want to stop, says it all - maybe life is becoming unmanageable as a result of drinking alcohol, maybe you are sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, maybe you can’t stand the hangovers, maybe you are conscious you drink too much, maybe you are ashamed of how you act when under the influence, maybe family members or friends have commented about your alcohol consumption or maybe you’ve just had enough of the wasted money and time spent drinking - whatever the reason, it is ok to admit defeat and say alcohol isn’t working for you. It can be an intimidating admission but if it’s affecting you, your mental health, your moods, your relationships, your job, your finances as examples in a negative way - it really is time to stop and to start thinking about how to deal with life without alcohol. A change that IS more than possible. The light at the end of the tunnel.
2) Belief that change is possible:
Change can be hard, humans get stuck in routine, even negative ones like unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption. Many people believe that they cannot change it because the thought of life without it is as difficult as the life with it. Change is especially hard if you have an addiction - there is no rhyme or reason for carrying on doing something unhealthy and destructive but getting stuck in a vicious cycle with alcohol can make people feel both emotionally and physically trapped. The change for me was complete abstinence and seeing and knowing that there are millions of people in this world who do not drink alcohol, at all through that power of choice and the faith in change. Recovery groups can help here tremendously through having the ability to listen to people who have been through the same scenario and changed their life path through abstinence. There is always hope and help all around. I share and write as I do because I am living proof of this change.
3) Letting go of selfishness and self will:
Many people drink to fill a void in life, mainly heavy drinkers and alcoholics. People may feel discontent with life, so they may drink to fill that hole. Alcohol is merely a symptom of a bigger issue - issues which people bury and ignore and continuously drown with booze because it is a quick and easy fix. A life changing revelation took place for me very recently for me when I realised I was running my own life on self- will - in short, selfishness. I found this admission a relief rather than a shameful admission. Running my life with a selfish attitude has contributed to the years of discontentment I found with life. Getting frustrated and pissed off when things didn’t go my way and then taking on a self pity style attitude of why me? Getting frustrated when I placed conditions and expectations on other human beings who did not live up to what I thought I wanted and needed rather than letting that shit go and stop trying to control the past, present and future. This is one of the most fundamental reasons that I drank as I did, my ego and selfish attitude towards life dominated me so I was never satisfied. Something that is fueled by the materialistic world that we live in and the idea that we can and should be able to get everything we want, when we want it. Life just simply doesn’t work like that. This attitude also shifted me further and further away from my spiritual side and more and more towards covering it up with alcohol.
4) Making a conscious effort to remove negative emotion from life:
A programme of recovery would recommend a moral inventory, exploring past issues and negatives emotions, namely resentments and anger towards the past. It is anger, resentment and negative emotions and the unwillingness to remove these from the present which are the biggest hindrances to sobriety. Without fully releasing these demons as such, mental wellness and long standing sobriety cannot be achieved. Sharing these with another human being is also essential, whether it is a sponsor in recovery, or a trusted friend or family member - it is almost like the burden of the past is lifted. The most rigorous kind of honesty about life to this present point is essential - some things are difficult to say, especially bad aspects of character or bad actions and thoughts but a release from these is necessary to move beyond what has been to what is and what can be. From this point forwards it is also imperative to recognize negative emotions and character traits and make real efforts to change them. Emotions like greed, anger, jealously are intrinsically based within all humans but it is when these emotions and traits dominate, mental well being is at a disadvantage; life is lived in the selfish cycle and repeat, day in, day out. It is these emotions that drive people to drink, take drugs or fill a void because a lot of humans (especially heavy drinkers/alcoholics) can simply not handle them or do not have the tools or frame of mind to do so.
5) Exploring a spiritual and moral way of living:
For many people, making a fundamental moral and spiritual change isn’t easy. People can go to counseling, therapy and have CBT as examples of addressing the negative thoughts and emotions mentioned previously and actively changing them. Some people turn to spirituality, religion, recovery groups such as AA, meditation, prayer, yoga as other examples. All of which aim to bring about a new peace of mind that is deviated away from negativity. Some people find God, some people express an interest in Eastern Religions, some people begin to develop their own moral code and way of living, some start to trust more in their own intuition. Whatever it is, it is personal to individual understanding of what it means to be good and happy . In short, sobriety enabled me to actually get off my ass and think about becoming the person I always wanted to be, a good, honest and decent human being who was happy with life through opening my eyes to spirituality and morality on a new level and letting go of the old version of me who was selfish, discontent and restless.
6) Focus on others ― be more selfless:
For me personally, after 20 months of sobriety I always seem to come to the same conclusion. Whatever moral code you follow, whether it be religion, spirituality, even a self developed moral code, the core value of each one if love, care and compassion for other people, for animals, for the environment and the world that we live in. I feel that the discontent I was feeling was because I had lost touch with this spiritual side and had become selfish and bitter as a result, which led me to drink to fill that void or a hole in the soul - after months of soul searching and remaining abstinent through the ups and down - what always comes back to me is love and the joy and gratitude of helping others whether it be to achieve sobriety themselves, clean up the local nature reserve or simply saying something positive to uplift someone who is feeling down - it is love for ourselves and love and care for others that make long lasting sobriety possible.
Sobriety isn’t for everyone because some people get pleasure and enjoyment out of drinking that is not problematic. Some simply cannot because alcohol is a problem and the drink has made life unmanageable to some degree. It may or may not be in the physical sense, it may not be to the level of the homeless, hopeless alcoholic on the park bench but the unmanageability may be there emotionally. An internal battle that people don’t always see, a sense of feeling lost, confused, restless, discontent and trapped and wondering how it is possible to break the cycle and live an alcohol free life but lacking the hope and courage to do so. It can be broken through abstinence and accepting that a inner change will take place when worked for which is the key to long lasting sobriety. Hope and change is there for all who want it.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.