What I learnt my first year sober

When I imagined myself sober, the image was wonderful. I would be transformed into a bohemian, happy, floaty type who would wear pretty summer dresses, practice yoga and meditate daily while walking around in a mindful haze. I would serenely cook healthy meals for my family. Sugar would have no part in my life. My peaceful state would be such that reading, art and exercise would all come naturally. My children would obviously have my undivided attention and they would feel the love emanating from me.  I WOULD BE ZEN!!!! Well that didn’t happen! I soon realised that I was exactly the same person – just minus alcohol, hangover and guilt. That may seem disappointing but it’s not! It is actually wonderful! Nothing has to change, you already have the power within you to be sober and be you.  You have the power to cope with everything, and to face head on the things you are hiding from.

Conversely though, I am slowly becoming the person I imagined, not through some miracle transformation, but because I am choosing to become that person.

I used to laugh at the idea of using yoga to relax instead of alcohol. I remember talking to some girlfriends after a job interview for a very stressful job. The interviewer had asked how I would cope with stress and I, of course, said I’d do some yoga and have a bath to reflect. To my friends I said hahahahaha, like hell, I’d actually drink a bottle of prosecco and cry. We all laughed. But seriously? Why was I laughing? I frequently did drink a bottle of prosecco and cry. It wasn’t nice and it didn’t help, so why did we laugh? I actually really wanted to be that person who did yoga and had a bath, but I felt it was so far from anything I could ever become that I had to laugh or I would cry.

Since I stopped drinking I am now becoming that person and I love it! Not completely zen yet – or anywhere near in fact – but I am working on that! I try to practice yoga every day. If I’m seriously pissed off I’ll do a HIIT session and my mood evaporates. I love baths, candles and breathing exercises. I feel so much better than I have ever felt before. No regrets, no shame, no guilt and no hangovers!

Expectations, that may seem unrealistic when drinking, can be achieved sober, you just have to choose what is important to you and work up to it slowly.

Choice is a huge part of sobriety and happiness. One of the quotes that struck me most in my journey was ‘change could for should’. We all, especially as mothers, feel there are so many things we ‘should’ do. But why should we? Who says we should? What if we changed that should to could and asked the question again? Say there is a party for a friend. You feel a bit off but feel like you ‘should’ go. Change it to I ‘could’ go. If you still don’t feel up to it you can ask yourself why and then based on those answers, make your decision. Another example, my sister gets annoyed with me because I currently have no idea about what’s happening in the news. She says, ‘how can you have a degree in international relations and not care what’s going on’. The fact is I do care what’s going on. I care deeply. But I changed ‘I should listen to the news’ to ‘I could listen to the news’, and then asked myself why I wasn’t. Currently I get upset with the state of the world so I am protecting myself emotionally; I have so many things I am doing, that I need to protect my time so I am not overwhelmed. I am protecting myself and choosing what is important for me now. Later I may choose current affairs, but not right now.

Everything we do is a choice. In choosing ourselves we can begin to find out who we truly are. I used to feel like a bad mother if the children were driving me crazy – especially at ‘wine o’clock’ – so I drank to cover it. Now, if it’s too much, I close the kitchen door, cook supper, listen to an audio book and drink a diet coke. Does this make me a bad mother? No, I am choosing myself for 20 minutes so that the boys can have a happier, more stable, sober mother. Those 20 minutes are better for everyone in the long run! Choosing yourself is part of the self-care and self-love that is crucial in early sobriety and beyond. 

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These are the things I have discovered about me in my first year sober.

Celebrations

I still love celebrating and no alcohol has made very little difference. I do not like sit down meals or date meals. They feel formal and forced and I feel pressure to make conversation in an unnatural environment. Now we go for date breakfasts, and I love them!

I am actually surprisingly good at parties, but I think this is because I can move on or leave when I need to. I love dressing up. As a mother there are fewer opportunities so I used alcohol as an excuse to dress up. I have dressed up less in this year sober but I know that I love dancing and at some point when the boys are a little older I will be able to dance more often and that’s a perfect excuse for dressing up!

I love birthdays. Mine, my children’s anyone’s! But instead of a big party and flowing booze, I want to eat good food, be with those I love, take a trip, sing karaoke and dance. I was even loving musical statues at The Baby’s third birthday.

I love Easter and Christmas. This Easter was the best one I have had. Family around, lots of food, painted eggs. We did yoga in the garden, my nieces and nephews sunbathed with music on, we played silly games outside, watched a film and played board games in the evening. It was a whole day of fun and I loved every minute. With alcohol I’d have been tired, anxious, feeling sick and just wanting it to end.

Christmas I have loved since a child so I suppose it’s not surprising that I still love it, although it surprised me a great deal! But what I have discovered is that I don’t like Christmas day. We never did Christmas Day as children because my mother was a nurse for the elderly so she chose to work. We celebrated Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. For this reason Christmas Day has never sat right with me, although I’ve tried to do it for the children. Next year we’ll try something completely different but it doesn’t have to look like a ‘normal’ Christmas Day does it?

Evenings

I always dreaded evenings but I have realised I was creating that situation myself by drinking. I love evenings now and hardly ever get the evening blues anymore. They were a daily occurrence before. In the winter I love being fluffy and cosy, lighting candles, looking at my YouTube fire, reading books and having baths.

I also enjoy going out in the evenings, just to walk or drive around. Both summer and winter evening can be insanely beautiful. Lights on in houses, Christmas decorations, ice sparkling on the grass or rich red sunsets, warm breezes and swishing leaves in the trees. Ooooh, so yummy!

Family

I love being with my family now and don’t find the children nearly as stressful. Don’t get me wrong, they drive me completely crazy at times but I don’t get cross in the same way I used to and we feel more of a team than ‘me versus them’. I have realised I can’t stand wet and cold children. So if we go swimming (which I never used to do but now do twice a week), or we go to the beach, or play in the fountains in our town square, or get soaked in the rain – I need to know that I can get them back to a shower with ease, then it all feels more manageable.

Job

I have somehow always had it in my head that I would find the right niche for me and then I’d be a complete high flier at work. Now I have realised this is not me at all. Firstly, by this age wouldn’t I have found it already? Secondly I can’t stand being part of a huge corporation or institution – I’d much rather do my own thing; thirdly, if I’m going to put massive amounts of stress on myself, it’s going to be for something that means something to me, like family, or a business of my own, or this blog – not for a job.

Holidays

I adore holidays, but what I have discovered is I prefer the planning and the travelling to the destinations. This has been a huge revelation. I have always known I have itchy feet but I have fought against it as there is the feeling that you ‘should’ settle down, you ‘should’ have a house/car/mortgage. But why? My husband asked me why I had to do any of those things and the question really surprised me because I hadn’t considered that I had a choice before. I then found a quote that I loved which goes ‘not all who wander are lost’. I had always felt that my need to move around and travel was because I hadn’t found myself and I wasn’t happy. But maybe I am just a wanderer? To find out, we are planning 6 months of nomadic living in Asia with the children. I may come back saying how awful, but at least I have taken the chance.

Exercise

Exercise is my salvation. Without regular exercise I become more grumpy, emotional and anxious. I choose to find the time every day to exercise. It has to take priority over other things and the more I do it the easier it is to find that 25 minutes.

Safe space

I need to know I have a safe space I can get to if I start becoming anxious. For this reason I need to not be reliant on other people for lifts, not stay at other people’s houses unless I am very comfortable and not agree to do things that I don’t want to do. Yes, I am also working on my control issues!!

Feelings

I have found my feelings so much easier to manage since I stopped drinking. This is mostly because I now recognise my feelings, so can question them, or just let them be, because I know they will pass. I am not hiding from them or frightened by them anymore. Now that the guilt, shame, raging anxiety and hangovers have gone, feeling are much easier to manage. There is way less black and white thinking without booze.

Stress

I react to real stress in life with a huge bout of IBS that takes months to settle back down. I used to blame this completely on alcohol but it’s mostly because I still haven’t worked out my coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Currently I try to avoid it.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t challenge myself. I am very driven and constantly looking for new challenges. However, if I feel that they are detrimental I am now equally happy to walk away and not feel like a failure.

Being kind to yourself

I was never very kind to myself and I believe that for most people struggling, this is the crux of the issue. If you pay attention to your inner voice, how often do you say nice things to yourself? Imagine if that was a child and you were saying all those things. Would they grow up happy and successful? Learning to stop berating myself was one of the most important things in my journey to sobriety and away from depression. To the extent that healthy eating never stuck, stopping drinking never stuck and exercise never stuck. I would make unrealistic plans and then get so angry with myself when they didn’t work that I would stop trying. Now if I eat pizza, so what? I made that choice. If I choose not to exercise one day, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed my 30 day yoga challenge and have to start again! It just means I pick it up where I left off and keep going. This was an absolute revelation for me! The only thing I will not do is drink. Luckily that is now because I really don’t want to.

Community

I am a bit of an introvert and people scare me, so I always struggled with the idea of community. In my head community meant having lots of friends who came over of drinks or making plans to meet in parks or going to their houses. Massive pressure, totally freaked me out, so I stayed hidden. I have realised in my year sober that that isn’t all that community is about. Family and friends are so important but so is being part of where you live. I now love going to local cafes, taking the bus, going to the library, going to our local cinema or swimming pool. All stuff I never considered as special before, but if you do it enough you get to know the people who work there or go there regularly. You can have random conversations and find out what people are doing with their lives. It Is often surprising and sometimes awe inspiring. It makes me feel grounded and connected.

One thing I always loved was the idea of big Italian family’s eating food together and being in their community. One of my stumbling blocks in stopping drinking was that this idyll then couldn’t be for me. I felt I would lose my dream of living the Italian lifestyle. When I read The Little Book of Hygge, it changed my viewpoint. The Italian lifestyle is about the community, the sharing and the food – not about the alcohol. Companionship is so important for all humans and without it we become depressed and despondent. I am so grateful to all my local cafes for their friendliness and good food!

Be grateful

How many times have we heard this. It used to really piss me off. Those Facebook posts that say ‘cleaning the house? Feel grateful that you have one to clean’ – oh fuck off!!! However, I found that when I went warm and fuzzy about something I would make a note of it in my phone. Then when  was feeling pissed off and not particularly grateful, I could look back at my notes and the warm fuzzy feelings would start to peak in. Gratitude makes things you have to be grateful for grow exponentially. So help yourself on bad days by having a list to remind yourself of what you have to be grateful for.

Let go of control

Stopping drinking was not a magic elixir that cured everything straight away, but it allowed me to start working on loving and getting to know myself which made all sorts of surprising and wonderful things happen, not least of which is being happy!

I am still a control freak and get very anxious when I lose control. But I am working on this. To manage my dread of evenings I’d plan them meticulously, but this never worked and I ended up frustrated, annoyed and anxious. Since I’ve let evening go, my ideal evenings actually now happen. It’s about setting an intention and then letting it go. Then the universe gets to work on your intention to makes it happen. If you cling on tightly to it, this will never happen! Sorry if that sound hippy dippy but its worked too many times for me not to be true. For more on this read Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

You have to be who you are, acknowledge what is right for you and honour yourself.

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