On the morning of March 10, 2014, I emerged from a restless sleep with a devastating hangover.
As soon as my eyes opened I felt a familiar rush of shame and embarrassment—I had drunk too much, again.
I reached for my phone to try to piece together the hazy fragments of the night before. Who was I with? How did I get home? Do I still have my debit card?
This particular morning was not unlike dozens of others, but it still came as a surprise. What is wrong with me? Why does this keep happening?
I’ve never really liked drinking. I didn’t consider myself a “party girl.” I wasn’t all about the pre-games or tailgates. I didn’t drink every day.
But still, I was blacking out more and more frequently. Almost every time I drank, in fact. And despite my best efforts at moderation, I couldn’t help it. After the first drink, the buzz set in and instead of saying, “that’s enough,” I wanted more.
I was only 23 at the time, and up until that point I wasn’t willing to admit that I had a problem.
Wasn’t it normal to drink a lot in your early 20s? And besides, what had I lost from my drinking? I wasn’t homeless. I didn’t fail out of school or lose a job. I still had a relationship with my family. I still had friends—they drank too!
But somehow, other people were able to move through the world without the same trail of devastation and shame that seemed to follow my drinking. And most of them could remember their nights out.
On that morning, I was struck by grace and desperation when I realized that It didn’t matter how much I had left to lose. I was done.
I knew that I could no longer drink safely and something had to change.
That was 1,000 days ago.
My life has gotten so much bigger since then. I’m no longer here to just blend in and exist. I want to thrive.
This doesn’t mean that it’s been easy. Somedays I feel excruciatingly vulnerable because I have to actually feel painful emotions. I can’t ignore unhealthy relationships or situations. And trust me, I’m far from perfect.
But today, I can honestly say that I love myself. And I am committed to progress, not perfection.
If you’re struggling, I want you to know that it gets so much better than you can even imagine. And that there is no “right” way to have a drinking or drug problem. Everyone’s bottom is different and valid.
I was a nice girl, a good friend, a straight-A college student, and I also had a drinking problem. If you think you might have a problem don’t feel bad, just go talk to a professional.
So to celebrate 1,000 days of sobriety, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned over the past two and a half years.
1. Not drinking doesn’t solve everything.
To my surprise, life did not magically fall into place once when I stopped drinking. In fact, for a little while, it got much worse. I had to start feeling the anxieties and fears that I had been trying to ignore for so long. And I had exactly zero coping mechanisms. I was completely exposed.
Luckily, I was, and still am, surrounded by people who understand what I’m going through and can offer me love and guidance. Change is painful. And I’ve had to let go of some relationships to make space for new, more supportive people in my life.
This is crucial. Find people who support you and respect what you’re trying to do.
2. Sobriety isn’t a health kick.
When I stopped drinking, I thought I had to fix everything all at once. I put undue pressure on myself to get healthy physically as well as emotionally. But here’s the thing: getting sober isn’t a juice cleanse. You do it for your survival: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Not to brag to your friends in yoga class.
Now that I’ve been sober for a few years, I do want to take care of myself. I enjoy eating better and working out because it makes me feel good. And I don’t have that nagging voice in my head telling me that I need to look or feel a certain way to be valuable.
But this stuff comes with time. Just relax, you don’t need to worry about changing everything all at once.
3. You can still have fun without drinking.
I have so much more fun now that I’m sober. Seriously. When I was drinking I would pretty much hang out with whoever was around and didn’t mind me tagging along. I didn’t have a very strong sense of self — I just wanted to be liked.
Now, I surround myself with people who make me feel good. I don’t waste my time doing activities that I don’t enjoy. And I can actually say “no,” when I don’t want to do something. That’s a new one.
Getting sober gives you the opportunity to really get to know yourself and what you like. Trust me, this is way more fun than raging in a 4am blackout.
4. Perspective is everything.
Before I got sober, I always had this terrible feeling that I had to do everything and be everyone all at once. Unless I was sick with a hangover, I didn’t know how to relax or be patient.
But once I got sober, I realized that difficult emotions pass and that that I can’t be everything to everybody. Things have a way of working out if you just give it time.
5. I don’t have to be perfect.
Just because I don’t drink does not mean that I’m some kind of saint.
I can still be selfish, restless, and seemingly incapable of being on time. But the point is, I’m aware of these issues, and am working on them.
Rather than kicking myself for being a regular, imperfect human, I try to celebrate the fact that I’m a work in progress.
6. Dating is hard.
When I was drinking, I used to think that I was super outgoing when it came to guys. Since getting sober, the shy girl from middle school and high school has made her timid return. Now, if I’m attracted to you, you can pretty much guarantee that I will ignore you at all costs.
Plus, I find it hard to meet people to date.
First of all, some guys are not into the fact that I don’t drink. I’ve been asked out on dates, only to be ditched once I told them I’m sober. I also don’t really know how to meet people. I feel kind of creepy hitting on drunk guys at bars — and honestly, I’m not all that attracted to these guys in the first place.
Maybe this is something I’ll get the hang of in my next 1,000 days of sobriety.
7. Sometimes I just don’t want to go out.
This is the tough thing about being sober in your 20s. The stuff that’s fun for most people, can be really exhausting for me.
Every once in a while I love to go out dancing until 4am. But when I do that I know that I’m going to be a wreck for at least two days. Sometimes, I would rather stay in and watch Netflix so I can be productive and have fun the next day.
This could be sobriety or the fact that I’m on the wrong side of my twenties.
8. Change is necessary for growth.
I’ve never been good at transitions. I hate uncertainty and I get extremely anxious when I’m venturing into the unknown.
But sobriety has taught me that when I’m in pain, I’m probably on the cusp of making some major, positive life changes.
Change is hard and it’s scary. But shedding people, jobs, or habits that no longer work for you is so freeing and brings you closer to a more authentic version of yourself.
9. It’s okay to be myself.
When I was drinking, I had no idea who I was or what I wanted. Today, my tolerance for bullshit has gone way down. When I’m doing something that I know is wrong for me or when someone is treating me poorly, I can’t ignore it.
Wishy washy boys? Nope. Negative self-talk? Shut it down.
I don’t want to spend my life hating myself or wishing I was someone else. Now, I know myself, and I like who I am.
10. Wherever I go, there I am.
When I was drinking, I was trying to escape from my anxiety and low self-esteem. Now, I have to confront these feelings head on and accept myself for whoever I am at this very moment.
Outside circumstances may change — relationships, jobs, apartments — but wherever I go, there I am. So I better take care of myself.