One of the most unexpected, yet important, conversations I’ve had with all of you recently has been around my journey into sobriety.
Something I personally was never planning for myself, nor something I ever would have imagined writing about on this platform. And yet, here we are.
When I first shared my story of being curious around sobriety, I was overwhelmed by the response. I was flooded (and I mean flooded) with stories and questions and comments all saying the same thing, “me too”. The number one comment I heard over and over was “I kind of don’t want to drink anymore either, but I’m scared of……“
To this day, it’s been the most engaging topic I’ve ever shared on here.
Which tells me a few things. One, we are surrounded by alcohol everywhere we look. It’s become so ingrained in our culture that we forget we even HAVE a choice. And two, most of us are ready to change that (more on this soon).
The other day I asked you to send in any questions you had for me around sobriety. This is in no way meant to be taken as advice, but rather just an honest conversation. My hope is that by sharing some of what I’ve experienced or learned along the way, it can help you feel a little less alone or scared as you begin to explore your own journey.
So let’s jump in…
“Curious how much you were drinking before”. “Is there a family history?” “Was it causing problems in your family?”
These are the questions I probably get asked the most.
I find that people usually want there to be a big story around why I quit. A way to make a topic that’s so grey, feel a little more black and white. I think in hopes that by me sharing a specific “number of drinks”, or a specific problem, it makes labeling the “problem” a little easier.
Ultimately hoping to separate themselves- “that’s you, and this is me”. You drank x number of drinks, I drink Y, so therefore this doesn’t apply to me.
But for most people who stop drinking, that’s just not the truth. There usually was no big “problem”, which is why they have the clarity to stop.
I think anytime we get into labeling what defines a “drinking problem” we get into really dangerous territory – because it’s looking for separation.
When in reality, alcohol IS the problem. Not the person, or the number. No one is immune (as much as our minds like to tell us otherwise). Alcohol affects us all.
For me personally, there was no big “ah-hah” moment. It was a slow itch that had been gnawing at me for years. Drinking never felt aligned with who I was. Deep down I knew it, but until now, I never felt confident enough, or sure enough in who I was, to say it out loud. That changed for me this year.
Does your spouse still drink?
No matter what we believe, we can never “make” someone do anything.
When I decided I was going to stop drinking, it was something I shared with JP, but never something I expected him to do with me. It was and still is, entirely my own journey.
With that being said, over time, JP also slowly began cutting back, and a few months ago he stopped drinking. It was really unexpected for me, but truth be told, has been a wonderful welcomed surprise, and added a new dimension to our relationship.
We’re very aware that we can’t be dependant on each other’s choices. I don’t know if JP will start drinking again. And I don’t know if I will. Our individual experiences aren’t tied to each other’s choices (as difficult as that is). That’s way too much pressure for either one of us. I genuinely support whatever he decides, and will continue doing what’s best for me. With or without JP.
How do you approach a spouse who isn’t interested in also being sober?
Going back to my earlier point with this one- we can never “make” someone do anything. So while you can’t make your spouse stop drinking. You CAN (and must) clearly explain what it is that you need.
What would support look like for you? What do you need in this season? To feel heard? To feel safe? To feel supported?
Ask yourself those tough questions, and then without fear, ask for that.
And give your partner a moment to catch up. Most often these are things that have been on your mind, but may be new to your partner. Give him/her a moment to catch up.
But don’t shy away from clearly, and kindly asking for what you need. Clarity in asking for what you need in moments like this go a long way.
Do you feel like you need to explain yourself? What do you say when someone offers you a drink?
Short and long answer, No. For the first time, probably ever, I truly feel that I owe NO ONE an explanation.
One of the biggest, unexpected, gifts of sobriety has been a deep sense of clarity and a newfound TRUST I have in myself.
I know deep down who I am. I can trust my gut, my choices, and my words.
And with that comes all the freedom and permission I needed to stop caring what other people think.
I used to care. And feel the need to explain.
But I’ve found, as I look back, that every time I was ever “explaining” myself to someone, I was really just defending myself.
I have nothing to defend anymore. This isn’t something anyone can take from me, or that I’m seeking approval on. I no longer look outside of me for approval on things I already know.
Is it awkward at moments? Oh my gosh, heck yes.
But not for me.
That stuff stopped bothering me. And it will for you too.
From a practical standpoint – I simply say ‘no thank you”, order sparkling water, and leave it at that. Less is more in those moments. I save my time and energy on “explaining” for other things that matter more to me now.
Curious about using the word “sober” versus “not drinking”
Honestly, I’m not sure. I don’t truly understand enough yet. But for now, it’s “sober”. Because that’s what I am. I’m not using or taking anything.
But I think this could look different for a lot of people. There are certainly plenty of people who don’t drink alcohol but do other things. And I don’t think either is wrong. There’s room for both.
Did you make an official announcement to family and friends?
To some. But not all. And looking back I’m not sure what’s best.
I remember sharing my decision at first with some people close to me and being really disappointed by their reaction.
But as hard and disappointing as those conversations were, it helped give me clarity. It prepared me for what was to come. To understand who I could share what to, what questions to respond to, and which to simply ignore.
People will have reactions and feelings about your decision. There’s no way to avoid it. But just remember, it’s not your job to make sure they’re ok with your choices. Your only job is to make sure YOU are ok. So make sure you enter those conversations knowing why you’re going into them, and who they’re for. Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
How do you navigate social situations?
Even before I stopped drinking, I became a lot more particular about where my time and energy went. I never feel like I “have to” go anywhere.
I go places, and surround myself with people and situations that ADD value to my life. The moment it begins to feel anything other than that, I respectfully find my exit.
On a side note, I just want to add that this question comes up a LOT.
Which leads me to believe two things. One, we’re all being invited to A LOT of social/work events where alcohol is front and center. And two, a LOT of us are ready to change that.
I would challenge us as we’re planning events, work meetings, retreats, social gatherings to be mindful that more than likely there’s a large population of people who don’t want to have to find an excuse as to why they don’t want to have a glass of wine with their boss. Or a dink at the school fundraiser on a Tuesday evening.
Language like “let’s grab a drink’, is quickly becoming outdated, and we can do better.
If we all made even just a little bit of effort to be more aware, I think the conversations around alcohol would change. And I think ultimately, people would feel less pressure to always have a drink in their hand and would benefit us ALL.
Do you think you’d ever have a drink here or there ever again? Or is it all or nothing?
This is a really complicated question for me because I think this is where I lived for YEARS, and I think where many people want to be – but I think it’s the hardest place of all.
Over the past decade, I’ve taken many months “off” drinking each year. The month or two “off” was never the hard part. I always felt amazing! It was the transitioning back into a world of drinking that I found exhausting. I’d have a glass of wine on a Saturday night because it was a “special occasion’, and I’d feel terrible mentally and physically the next day. I personally hated it. It’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to quit.
I hated the mental rollercoaster. What qualified as a special occasion? Am I having a drink this Saturday but not next? With these friends, but not those?
Ultimately, it felt really inauthentic. I was working so hard on living my values, and drinking just doesn’t align for me. It was that simple. But for years I held onto it because I think deep down I was too afraid to make the clean break and say publicly that I was done.
Making that black and white decision to just be ‘done’ has been liberating, and it feels so empowering to be off the rollercoaster. There is freedom and power in clarity. The vague grey areas are not a fun place to live.
When you’re triggered to drink, what do you do instead?
A lot of things.
Being mindful and aware of different triggers has been a big part of the work I’ve been doing this year – bigger than just alcohol. There are so many things that can “trigger” us from the moment we get out of bed until we fall asleep. Kids, work, finances, relationships, social pressures – there are so many things that can trigger a variety of feelings in us.
Two of the biggest things that have helped me when I feel any type of ‘trigger” is first, to just be aware. And then two, my breath. This is why meditation plays such a large role in my life.
But as far as actually being “triggered” to drink, I read advice somewhere (which I can’t place for the life of me now) and it really stuck with me.
When I find myself wanting a glass of wine (which happens less and less now), or any drink, I don’t fight it. I tell myself that we’re just going to stick with this feeling for a minute.
I acknowledge the feeling, and then literally just stay with it for one whole minute. Allowing myself to really feel it (sometimes even saying it out loud to myself). Just sitting in the uncomfortable feeling and not brushing it off or pushing it aside, but rather welcoming it in.
I truly let myself ride the wave if you will. And the wildest thing ALWAYS happens. A minute passes, and the feeling passes too. The hold it had on me is gone. It’s over.
It’s amazing what our minds can do if we just give it a moment. So my biggest of advice to anyone who is just starting off and you’re feeling an ‘urge’ to drink. Give yourself that minute. Don’t fight. Just stay in. And I promise you, it fades.
What do you do instead when you want a drink?
Giving myself new “cues” to relax has been really important in this process.
Drinking for me was never really about the alcohol – it was more the symbolism of what holding that glass meant. I was “off”. It was a physical cue that I could relax.
JP and I would pour a glass of wine, put on a record and we were “off”. So when we both stopped drinking I remember thinking, “now what?”.
I’m not sure I have it 100% figured out – but we just have new cues now. New ways to relax. We’ll still sit and put a record on – but now I make myself sparkling water with mint and lime (which by the way is delicious).
I take more baths, go for more walks, eat more desserts, get more massages, read more books.
Not drinking was never a way to deprive or punish myself, so I don’t think of it as taking something away, but rather ADDING in more of what I actually need. Learning new ways to relax and be “off’, that are actually good for me, has been really empowering.
How has it affected your friendships? I’m worried about it changing my friendships, losing friends?
Ok so let me just cut to the chase here. You don’t need to worry about “if’ not drinking will affect your friendships – because I promise you, it will. It’s a guarantee.
You’re changing. Your friendships are living and breathing things. They’re going to change too.
But I promise you – once you let go of that need to keep your relationships “the same”, a whole new world opens up.
One of the most unexpected gifts from this has been the deep connection I’ve had with other women on this topic. Many I was already friends with – but I had no idea felt “the same”. It was like a weight was lifted and I feel so much closer to them now that we can support each other with this. You’d be amazed at how many people in your life probably feel the same about alcohol as you do. So open up the conversation. Give them the chance to surprise you.
But in that same breath, there will be relationships that are probably at their end. And this may be the issue that brings some of that to light for you.
And that my friend, is going to hurt. Endings are hard. But I promise you, you’ll be ok. You are not alone. The friendships in your life that are meant to be there, will be there.
Being able to evolve and grow and change as a person takes a lot of faith and trust in yourself. And it can feel so damn scary because you ARE going to feel alone in a lot of that process, but I promise you, you’re not. Just keep having faith and allow those friendships and relationships to ebb and flow as they’re meant to. The people who are meant for you will stay, and new ones will come.
If there’s any advice I could have given myself six months ago, or say to each of you who sent in a question, or are simply reading this now contemplating your own journey, It’s that I promise you…
you are ok, you are safe and you are perfect just as you. You can trust yourself. You are worthy of loving yourself enough to make these changes. You are enough, and I love you.
I think for me personally, as a look back, I’m just realizing now that I spent the past 42 years not truly trusting myself. Always looking outward for approval or the answers.
It took me all these years to really learn who I am, to love and accept myself truly & deeply, and without any hesitation, trust.
And once I did that, everything else stopped mattering as much and the answers were clear. They were there. The whole time, I just couldn’t see it.
So if for any reason, you’re reading this and you’re struggling with your own changes (alcohol-related or not), it starts with you.
It starts with you, loving yourself exactly as you are in this moment, and learning to trust your own voice.
You have the answers you need, to every question, right within you.
Thanks for letting me share a few of mine along the way.