“Hi, my name is Catherine and I’m an alcoholic.”
I’ve never said those words out loud. In 18 months of sobriety, I’ve never been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or rehab. When I first gave up drinking – on the advice of my GP who could see alcohol was impacting my mental health – I was certain I wasn’t an addict and wouldn’t miss booze. I didn’t need meetings or sponsors or sober friends. Turns out that’s bullshit.
It’s been tough but I’ve learned a lot about myself since quitting in January 2017. I thought I’d share my experience for anyone who’s ever thought about giving up, or anyone who’s just embarking on a life without alcohol.
You Need To Find Your Tribe
No matter how strong your resolve to quit alcohol may be, it’s virtually impossible to go it alone. I didn’t join AA because I couldn’t commit to a program that’s based on a “higher power” and the idea of being vulnerable in front of strangers makes me want to vomit. I’d tried (and failed) to give up drinking before and the one thing that always tripped me up was lack of accountability. I didn’t have any friends who were sober and some even tried to derail my recovery, so I had to search the internet to find my people.
Thankfully, I found my tribe online. In the forums of Soberistas I discovered a community free from judgment, preaching or smugness. I also found inspiration in blogs like Hip Sobriety, One Year No Beer, Girl and Tonic and This Naked Mind. I discovered Facebook groups, podcasts, a thriving alcohol-free Twitter community and an Instagram search for #sober generates 1.8 million results. I’ve made virtual friends from around the world who will lift your mood on dark days and celebrate your alcohol-free milestones with you. Social media can be a force for good sometimes!
Friendships May Change
Most of my friendships were built on a foundation of drunken nights out. There are people I’ve known for 10 years who haven’t seen me sober. I was the life of the party and even when I was aggressive or hurt myself whilst drunk, no one told me I should cut down or quit. The only legitimate excuse to stay sober on a night out was pregnancy and even then, a glass of prosecco was normally thrust into the hand of the mother-to-be because: “one won’t hurt.”
When I took my first tentative steps into a life without alcohol I became a social recluse. I couldn’t imagine going out and enjoying myself while my friends got hammered. I only shared my sobriety with a handful of people and the reactions ranged from surprise to disgust. “I’d rather die than not drink” was a common refrain.
After a year I “came out” as sober, publishing an Instagram post about giving up alcohol. I quickly spiraled into panic, switching off my phone. I wanted to delete the post, my account, and my entire online presence. I felt naked and vulnerable but when I turned my phone back on I was flooded with messages congratulating me on my achievement. The response was overwhelmingly positive although I received messages from friends who thought I would try and recruit them into sobriety like it was a cult. Some people I loved disappeared and unfollowed me on social media which stung at first, but the majority stuck around and supported me as I tried to navigate this new normal. Turns out that Instagram post was a great way to weed out real friends from casual acquaintances.
You May Feel Worse Before You Feel Better
Early days of sobriety can be rough. You may be prepared for physical withdrawal symptoms like shaking, sweating and nausea but I wasn’t ready for was the psychological side-effects I experienced after cutting alcohol from my life. I was depressed, irritable, combative and constantly on edge.
In early sobriety, you start to feel all the emotions you had anesthetized with alcohol. Everything feels too bright, too loud, too much. The insomnia I had been battling with for five years worsened as I spent nights reliving my embarrassing drunken moments. Imagine flashbacks every time you closed your eyes but only replaying the very worst moments.
I spoke to my GP who assured me that what I was experiencing was entirely normal and gave me web links to local organizations who support addicts in recovery. On the sites, I found the answers to most of the questions I had been too nervous to Google. The bottom line is – while you may experience temporary emotional pain – it will get better. Sobriety isn’t the end of the world; it’s the beginning of a new one.
Don’t Idealize Your Drunken Past
It’s perfectly normal to feel nostalgic for “the good old days” when everything seemed fun and carefree but try not to romanticize the past. I moaned that I’d never be able to dance, date or party sober. I missed the warm buzz, the flush of my cheeks, the loosening of my tongue and my inhibitions melting away. I’d tell myself I didn’t have a drinking problem, even when the evidence to the contrary was damning. I frequently drank to the point of blackout, hid alcohol around my house for “emergencies” and would often have to piece together a night out through photos and bank statements. I was reckless with my body and my heart. Countless sexual encounters happened when I was too drunk to say my own name, let alone consent to intercourse.
Forgiveness is a huge part of the recovery process, especially when anger you once buried with booze resurfaces. Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Some days the only thing that fuelled me was my self-loathing. Thankfully talking and sharing on forums helped ease the suffocating hatred I felt daily. I kept a journal with the most embarrassing, shameful stories I could remember and once a month I would tear out the pages and shred them. Every time I turned those scribbled pages to snow I could sleep a little easier.
Celebrate Minor Landmarks And Major Milestones
On the day I saw my GP and decided to take a break from drinking I installed the Nomo app so I could track my sobriety and earn chips. I’ve just earned my 23rd chip for 18 months of sobriety but I’ve encountered a hundred small milestones that I should be celebrating. The first time I went on a date sober, the first sober sex, the first time I bought alcohol as a gift for someone and didn’t feel the temptation to drink it myself – I am proud of all those tiny landmarks.
In the first year of sobriety, I encountered a series of stressful events that nearly drove me to drink. I attended five funerals in the first three months of 2017 after a series of shock bereavements tore through my friends and family. I started a new job, suffered financial woes and experienced the worst PTSD episode of my life. But I survived them all without drowning my sorrows. I found determination I never knew I possessed and allowed myself some smugness as the days slowly turned into weeks, then months without a drink.
I recently celebrated a close friend’s birthday – my former partner in wine – without alcohol and I danced until my feet hurt, laughed until my face ached and woke up the next morning able to remember the whole night. I was terrified people had been talking shit about me during my social isolation and would miss “drunk Cath” but I needn’t have worried. Everyone was kind, congratulatory and missed me, not the drunken caricature I’d been.
Some days I still fancy a drink, even after all this time but I’ve come too far to undo my hard work. And as much as I can accept that I am an addict – I am so much more. My addiction no longer defines me.