5 Things I’ve Learned in Sobriety

1. For me deciding to live a life of sobriety is a form of dissent from cultural norms, an insurrection for my soul, and an uprising to create a better life for everyone.  It is a definitive act of rebellion against all the things in society that want to keep me down, box me up, bridle my will, and pacify my natural inclinations to go against the grain.  When I look at the socioeconomic, religious, political, and cultural implications of alcohol in the society I belong to, it is easy for me to draw a line from my childhood, to where I was three years ago with using alcohol, and in the belief that it could be used to stop the ruminations of my own conscious and knowing.  It was then I said enough, enough with the numbing, enough with the lies, enough with the disengagement.

There is a reason that not drinking is considered beyond the pale.  Why you get so many questions.  Why people want so many answers.  They want to be able to pin it down and sum you up.  “Oh he’s an addict,” or “it’s probably a religious reason,” or “he’s just a strange guy.” rebel.jpg Today, for me, not drinking has less to do with addiction and more to do with choosing the reality that I want.  It’s about staying sane in an absolutely crazy world.  It is about seeing lies for what they are and not being told in endlessly offensive ways what success is, what will make me happy, what it means to be a modern person, because alcohol is an enormous part of that false narrative.  Sober people are bad for business.  We don’t make malleable citizens.  We won’t be taken for fools.  The alcohol industry coopted the cool image of The Rebel a long time ago, but you won’t find rebellion at the bottom of a bottle.  The truth is: being sober is being a rebel.

2. It’s OK to have regrets and I am a better person because of them.  There are a lot of ideologies in modern society that I can really get behind, but the self-assertive, unreflective, YOLO attitude, of NO REGRETS, is not one of them.  Regret is a tool to learn from and to grow from.  Admitting you have regrets, is one of those quintessential abilities that makes us human.  NO REGRETS is something your cat has when he knocks your favorite vase over and then stares at you blankly before licking his paw.  Not what one feels when looking inwards.  NO REGRETS means you have nothing to learn or that you lack the inability for self-reflection, and as such, self-betterment.

People don’t like regret.  I get that.  It gets shoved in the back of the drawer with so many other things we don’t like to spend time addressing: shame, anger, failure, cowardice.  Those things we know are there, but don’t know what to do with, so we ignore them, we compartmentalize them, we hide them.  We humans are endlessly inventive at creating ways to ignore our regrets, instead of looking at them and learning from them.  In fact, we get so good at not addressing them, that we spend all our time addressing the behaviors we have employed, to not address them, instead of addressing the reasons why.  We may address the excessive drinking from the night before, but not the why I drank.  For me, looking back on why I drank for so long, is what keeps my recovery progressing.  It is moving the needle from being someone who is recovering from alcohol abuse to someone who is empowered to be the best version of myself.

Not drinking has become increasingly easier, to the point of it almost being a nonissue, and this has given me the time I need to address the root issues that helped create my need for escapism in the first place.  It is here, in this space of self-empowerment that regret is not my enemy, it is not something I need to shy away from.  Being able to live with regret, means being able to live with failure, to live with pain, and to live with remorse.  Living with regret also means you are living with a strength inside you, it means you are living out your own morals, and it means you have courage.  The ever popular acronym YOLO isn’t wrong.  You only live once, so make it count, by listening to your own regrets it becomes easier to embrace your mistakes, apologize when you’ve hurt someone, help when you’re not asked to, give when it’s not expected, and love when others don’t know how.

3. The pain of staying where I was, hurt a lot more than the pain of growing, and changing into the person I needed to be.   There is a quote, I love, by Karen Clark, “Life is change, Growth is optional, Choose wisely.”  If anything is certain, it is that things change, but people get into habits and patterns.  We’re creatures of habit and when something works we tend to repeat what works.  It’s only natural, but human behavior can be counter intuitive and we can rely on short term solutions to solve long term problems.  Just because a pattern of behaviors helped you in the past, doesn’t mean those patterns will continue to help you today.  Our friends change, our environments change, our thoughts change, our bodies change, WE CHANGE.

Change can be scary, and the fact that it is inevitable can increase our anxiety over it because we know it’s coming, we’re just not sure when.  So given this inevitably of change, which is essentially unknown risk, choosing to change on your own helps mitigate the negative windfall that is bound to happen when we’re not prepared.street-art-977816_1920 There are, of course, varying degrees of change, but almost nothing can be as impactful as deciding to let go of patterns of behavior that are no longer working for us.  When you do this, you become the captain of your own ship.  The water is going to be choppy, hell maybe the mast will even rip and you’ll end up a drift for a while, but at least you’ll still be able to see the stars, you’ll still know where you are going.  I spent to many years doing the same thing and hoping things would get better, but they weren’t.  My world was changing and I wasn’t adapting, I wasn’t growing. I had allowed myself to take the easy path of least resistance when dealing with difficult life events, and sure it worked for a while, until it didn’t.  You can only take the easy way out so many times, you can only choose not to face the pain of growth for so long before you lose yourself to the pain of staying where you are.

Life is change, Growth is optional, Choose wisely.

4. My sobriety has allowed me to be a more honest person.  To know what I want, what I need, and who I am.  I spent a long time hiding behind my drinking.  I used it as a crutch, I used it as an excuse, I used it to not have to be open, I used it as a fall back for when I thought I’d been to open, I used it to not admit to myself what I wanted because I was scared that I would be judged.  People want to attribute these kind of cognitive behaviors with fall down drunks, but I believe it’s just as common with people who consider themselves “functional drinkers,” maybe more so because they still believe it’s working.  Life is hard and it’s no small thing to hold a job, or go to school, or have a family, or raise kids, or belong to social circles, and most of us are juggling a lot of these responsibilities at once.  You don’t have to be falling over drunk to realize you’re using alcohol to mask how it feels to be overlooked at work, to hear gossip about yourself, to have a kid who is in trouble, to not be getting along with your spouse.  You’re still showing up, day in and day out, and you’re an adult and having a few drinks to take the edge off is what adults get to do right?

I understand this sentiment completely.  It is what adults get to do, but adults also get to choose how they want to deal with their problems and part of the reason society has deemed that this freedom to choose, is ours, is that we have the faculties to understand the implications of our choices.  One of the best choices I made was to start being honest with myself about how events, people, relationships, and situations make me feel.  I couldn’t do this when I was actively drinking.  Things were to muddled, but when you cut out a lot of the noise and allow yourself to clearly admit how something makes you feel it is liberating.  Being fully present is hard at first, I won’t lie, but it allows a self-reflection that just can’t be realized when your actively using alcohol as a blocker.  It takes some getting used to and you and your feelings aren’t always going to be in the right.  Being fully honest with yourself is admitting you may also have some toxic traits that you need to work on, but that is what showing up and being fully present for roll call means.  Each time you choose to confront something uncomfortable, you become a little stronger and that is called bravery.  Honesty allows you to be able to grow from a deeper understanding of yourself and when you can become fully open with yourself, you start to understand who you really are.

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5. There is never that perfect time to make a change, to take the jump.  For years I spent putting off my own progress by always setting future dates to make personal change.  Realizing you need to create change in your life is an important step, but once you’ve made that realization, it is also incredibly easy to justify putting it off.  I did it for seven years.  I was always going to quit smoking after that big Christmas party in three weeks.  I’d quit drinking as much as soon as football season was over.  When it gets a little nicer out then I’ll start exercising. These dates would come and then new ones would appear.  New dates…same problems.  Sound familiar?

For me, making the huge decision to actively pursue sobriety, had a type of domino effect, that toppled a number of other hard decisions that I was putting off.  I quit smoking. I started exercising. The added benefit of my sobriety meant more time to make other new decisions and to start answering YES, instead of maybe or someday, to questions I asked myself.  Should I pick up canning fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market?  YES, I certainly have the time now.  Should I start a blog and start writing?  YES, I’ve always wanted to and now I have the focus, time, and renewed passion to do such.  Should I start training for a half-marathon? Yes, I have so much more energy. There are many decisions in life that are not your fault you have to make, but they are your responsibility.  Three years ago I was trapped in an ever tightening grip of addiction and sadness and despair.  I had no idea that one small word could release such a torrent of freedom and happiness and hope.  That one word was YES.  YES, yes to sobriety, yes to change, yes to decisions, yes to happiness, yes to hope, yes to showing up, yes to making my own choices, and yes to owning my life.

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