Written on day 730 but not posted till day 740 cause, well, a girl gets busy.
I put aside the classy, glamorous, life-and-ambition-and-joy-sucking white wine two years ago today. Crazy, right? I don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about my drinking days as I used to, but with this date approaching I have been thinking of what those early days of sobriety were like–all that I didn’t, couldn’t know because I’d never been there before. If Today Me could have given Sober Newbie Me a glimpse into the future, here are some of the things I would have told myself:
- You think right now that being sober is a condition you’ll learn to tolerate–that you’ll make your peace with it as a safer but also somehow lesser way to live. But you’re going to end up loving it. Seriously. It will turn out that clarity is your ideal and happiest state of mind.
- You will be a distance runner who has completed two half-marathons. (No, I’m not fucking with you, even though that’s kind of fun.) Unfortunately, you’ll still have a tendency to overdo things and override your own signals, and you’ll run those two half-marathons in the space of, uh, three weeks and get IT band syndrome and have to go to physical therapy. ‘Moderate’ is just not how you’re wired, babe. But at least you can see this now, and you’re getting smarter about working with your own innate qualities rather than against them.
- Your lifelong issues with depression and anxiety will be reduced by, what, 50%? It’s hard to measure. But the difference will be dramatic. You know how they say alcohol is a depressant? Turns out that’s not just a figure of speech. It’s, like, science. Who knew? Well, scientists and doctors knew. And now you do, too.
- You will choose your work carefully and thoughtfully, because you will have learned that the environment you spend your days in needs to be one that works for you as much as you work for it. You’ll spend less time thinking about which boxes you need to check to climb the ladder and more time considering what you actually like to do and are great at. Not exactly rocket science, but still, it’ll be new to you. And it will serve you well.
- You’ll still be hyper-aware of how booze-soaked the world seems to be. People line up to buy cocktails at the fancy movie theater at 2 p.m. Anyone posting on Facebook about a bad day will be advised to drink wine ASAP. Even running events will brag in their marketing materials about ‘wine gardens’ and margaritas, because what better way to end a 13-mile race than with mid-morning tequila? And greeting cards aimed at women–don’t even get yourself started on that topic. You were never someone who personally enjoyed daylight drinking, but it didn’t seem strange to you that others might. Now you will sometimes look around a sunny plane or restaurant and think how much it’s going to suck for people to be dehydrated and sluggish by mid-afternoon.
- Per the above–you’ll still be on the judge-y side. You didn’t want to become one of those people who thinks everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, and mostly you haven’t become that person, but you will sometimes dwell on how much time and effort people put into absenting themselves from their own lives. Argh, see that? Judge-y again, and smug to boot. Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean you don’t still suck sometimes.
- You’ll also be shocked, shocked to realize that lots and lots of other people don’t drink, or only drink a little. They were there all along, but you never noticed them because you were off being all ring-a-ding-ding with the party people like a total fucking Holly Golightly jackass. Now? At parties, now you will make a beeline for the light drinkers and sober people because they are the only people guaranteed not to ask you the same question three times in a row.
- You’ll be a little lonely sometimes. All your old forms of socializing tended to involve drinks, because that’s how your corner of the world operates. You’ll still be figuring out other ways to see people, to make friends, to feel like part of your old group. It’s not easy, though. You’re an introvert, and on top of that you did some natural isolating when you first got sober. Now you’re slowly digging out. But you may never dig out completely, because being a little dug in is your happy place.
- Sober vacations are AMAZING. They basically contain twice as much time as drinking vacations.
- Your husband will quit drinking too, and given your long and illustrious (and yes, often glamorous, often lots of fun) history of drinking together across decades and countries and continents, sometimes the two of you will be like ‘Who ARE we?’ and laugh. You’ve been lucky to do so much evolving in parallel over the years.
- When you see a police car behind you, you’ll almost wish you’d get pulled over because if the cop is like ‘Ma’am, have you been drinking?’ you’ll be able to respond smugly and self-righteously, which come to think of it probably will not work out well for you at all. Never mind.
- You will have bad days. Some fairly unpleasant things will happen. You know what your reflexive reaction will be? No, not ‘I wish I could drink.’ You’ll find yourself thinking ‘Thank God I’m sober.’ That’s right–when faced with pain, you’ll be glad to be facing it head on. Because being sober means you can be smart and thoughtful about making a bad situation better.
- You’ll know that thoughts aren’t the same thing as reality, and that thoughts change and pass if you give them a chance.
- When you read op-eds about how the internet is making us more isolated and less civil, you’ll smile because you know the internet is also where people who are getting sober, or who just want to get sober, connect in generous and rich and beautiful ways. The internet sort of saved your life.
- None of your fears about sober life will have come true. Not a single one.
- You’ll no longer think of yourself as damaged or broken. Because you’ll know now that you never were damaged or broken. No matter what anyone else told you. And no matter what you told yourself. You just needed to get alcohol out of your life to be able to see that.
- Best for last: you’ll be writing again. A lot. And it’s fun in a way it never was before, back when you were a wunderkind. It’s also really hard, and kind of boring sometimes, and scary in any number of ways. But you keep showing up and doing the work. And you know what else? The work is still good. Really good, actually. This, above all else, will be the miracle of your sobriety. The thing you never expected to have again.
That’s what I would tell my Sober Newbie self. And to you out there, who may be struggling or wondering if it’s worth it: I don’t know exactly what your own list will look like at two years or six months or one month. But I can promise you that you will have one, and that the good stuff on it will far outweigh the bad. Look, you’ve upended a LOT about your life–don’t underestimate that. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for it. In very early sobriety, you’re a badass for just staying sober. Other doors and windows will start to open over time, once you’ve had the time and space to start figuring out what you want to do with this life you’ve reclaimed for yourself. But it takes a while–even at two years I suspect I’m just cracking the surface. So for now, just keep doing whatever you have to do to stay sober, knowing you have such good things ahead of you. And someday, when you write your own list to Sober Newbie You, send me a link. Because I will want to read it. 🙂