Every soberthday I reach I’m bewildered that I’ve made it this far. It’s shocking for me to announce I’m 6 years sober today and at the same time it’s very humbling. I’m one of the lucky ones. Not everyone has the support I had when I got sober and not everyone has the glimmer of fight in them like I did that morning of March 2, 2014.
I changed so so much as a person since 2014. I’ve grown the fuck up, I’ve matured, and I’ve learned so many lessons along the way. Here are 12 of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my 6 years of sobriety.
Friendships Will Change and That’s OK
If your friends didn’t stick with you through your recovery that doesn’t mean they were never your “real friends”. People have their own paths they lead, they do their own thing, they live their own life. A lot of your friends won’t follow you on your sobriety journey- either they don’t need to, they’re ok with continuing to drink, or they don’t have a problem (or maybe they do have a problem and they’re not ready to face it). You have your journey and they have theirs. Don’t take this personally. Circles of friends change and if your usual circle of friends were your drinking crew then you have to separate yourself from them in order to achieve continued sobriety. Bestfriend relationships will probably change too and that can be straight up sad.
Sobriety Isn’t Boring
When I first got sober I thought I was destined for a life of boredom and lacklustre events. I thought alcohol brought colour and joy into my life. I was so wrong- if anything it sucked the colour out. First off, I didn’t have time to be bored in my first year of recovery- I had appointments with my addictions counsellor, I attended a depression and CBT workshop, and I had meetings with a sponsor. I realized that I wasn’t able to live my old life of going to bars and getting in the moshpit (I was able to later on but just in a different way) so I had to get creative and find new ways to entertain myself and be social. It was still pretty hard to find new sober activities and I remember exactly what that felt like so that’s why I created Sober City! Now that I’m sober I have more energy (hangovers sure were draining), I have more money (booze is NOT cheap in NS), and I’m free to do whatever I want. The possibilities for entertainment are endless.
There Is Purpose In Pain
Back when I was in active addiction, I was so good at brainwashing myself and I could have won awards for my skills in denial. I was amazing at blocking things out (this is actually still something I’m actively working on) even though I had so many emotions all the time. I was full of intensity on the inside and it all felt jumbled up and confusing and overwhelming, so I’d numb it. Constantly. I hated feeling emotional pain so I made sure I dulled all my senses as often as possible. When I got sober I learned that whatever you stuff down will always come back up again. And that’s life and working through the shitty parts of life has a purpose. Pain = growth opportunities. Become aware of your paint, really examine pain, and accept it. This is key to growth and becoming a better person. Your pain has meaning and it is real and it has purpose.
Acceptance Is Key
Accept you can’t control everything… because you literally can’t. In active addiction that was something I felt so strongly- that I always had to control everything and it’s very freeing once you realize you don’t have to. Accept you can’t control other people too. Other people have their own lives and agendas, their own perspectives. You can’t control what they think or do or say about you or what they do in their life. Once you accept this fact you’ll be freed up to focus on your own self. Acceptance of yourself is also extremely important. You can’t grow and mature as a person until you see yourself for all of you and accept it. Accept who you are right now and love yourself anyway. Your flaws were instilled in you for a reason and that’s ok. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on yourself though. This doesn’t mean you can say “oh well I guess I’m a bitch and that’s just how it is”. That’s the first step and the second step is then putting in the work to become a better person.
Drinking Had to Stop for Real Healing
Alcohol wasn’t my only problem but it was the first that had to go. I had some unresolved PTSD, some trauma I had to work through, anxiety, and depression. In order to start healing, I had to stop being self-destructive. You can’t start to work on past issues then that evening go out and get hammered and feel like shit the next day. You can’t do personal growth work at the same time as destroying yourself mentally and physically. I tried to do both in the past and it only made me feel more out of control and more lost.
Recovery Is Holistic
It isn’t just “quitting drinking” and it’s an ongoing journey that changes and grows as time goes on. Recovery involves your mind, body, and spirit and they all must work together for continued success on your sobriety journey. Mind- counselling, working through problems, learning how to avoid relapse, mental health. Body- putting nutrients back in your body, healing physically. Spirit- doing things that feed your soul like going to the ocean or going for a walk in nature, breathing in the fresh air in your backyard after you cut the grass, being around close friends and family and sharing real laughs, things that make you feel good and grounded deep inside.
You Don’t Need Others’ Approval
And you don’t require their validation to live your life. For most of my life, I relied on other people’s opinions and thoughts about me in order to feel worth something and I’ve learned that that doesn’t get you very far. I didn’t know myself and I didn’t trust my own thoughts, so I needed other people to make decisions for me. Everyone has their own perspectives, life history, and tastes, so relying on them is pointless because they’re not you. The only one you need to rely on for your own validation is yourself because you’re the one who has to live with yourself every day.
The Addict Voice Quietly Stays
That little voice never leaves you, but it does fade considerably. You know the voice- it’s the one that will say “you need to drink”, “you should drink cause that’s all you’re good at”, “nobody will know if you have that beer”, “you’re on vacation so it’s ok to drink- just get back on the wagon when you get back home”, “you just need one to relax”. That little voice will be there forever but it will fade with time and with personal growth work. My little voice faded somewhat quickly because I worked so hard at finding counselling and I had so much determination to get better. But it does still pop up every once in a while for me. I went to Montreal when I was 1.5 years sober for Heavy Montreal (Iggy Pop was an amazingly fantastic skeleton with a 2 sizes too big skin suit on and seeing Faith No More was a dream come true) and I hung out with some old friends. And they were having a lot of fun and getting into some stuff that I also used to get into and so I was remembering exactly how much fun I also used to have. I was extremely tempted to partake and I was extremely close to just saying “screw it, let’s do it, it’s ok”. My boyfriend (now husband) recognized I was on the verge of a relapse and took me out of that situation immediately and I’m so thankful he did. Nowadays, that voice comes in like once a year and now I’m way more equipped to deal with it as I can logic my way out of it.
Self-Destructiveness Fades Away
I thought being self-destructive was part of my DNA- that it was who I was as a person. I thought I was always going to have the tendency to self-sabotage and it would have been had I not received counselling, improved my self-esteem, and gained new perspective. The life I’m living now is one I specifically built for myself. I chose what I went back to school for, I specifically chose my career path, I chose the man I married, I built this life on purpose and I love what I’ve created. The thought of losing one part or all of it in a self-destructive moment scares the shit out of me. The more you build your life and the happier you are in your own self, the more you don’t want to screw it all up.
Quitting Cured My Anxiety
For me, the best medicine for my crippling anxiety disorder was quitting drinking. Living “one day at a time” is so helpful in dealing with anxiety because you’re focusing on the now and it makes things a lot more manageable because you’re not worrying about the future or the past, you’re thinking about today and how you’re going to get through those 24 hours. Studies have shown that excessive drinking can actually start to rewire your brain so there is a known connection between anxiety and alcohol on a molecular level. Also, drinking can make you more susceptible to be put into a situation that can be traumatic which can then make panic and anxiety worse. The symptoms of withdrawal during a hangover can trigger anxiety because they’re so similar to that of an anxiety attack- sweating, feeling foggy-headed, trembling, nausea, woozy, feeling “not all there”. That used to happen to me all the time and was starting to happen the day after having just one drink. I would have almost hourly panic attacks, I’d have to leave work sometimes because I felt like I was in a dream, I needed to wear sunglasses all the time because the light made me feel panicked and confused. I legit thought I was going crazy. It was hell but since quitting drinking my anxiety disorder pretty much stopped dead in its tracks. I had maybe a mild panic attack once in the past 6 years.
Selfishness Can Be Cured
I also thought that being selfish was part of my DNA. I grew up as an only child, so I had that “only child syndrome”- bossy, selfish, doing things that only make me happy. When things got bad with my drinking in my late twenties, I didn’t give a flyin’ Flannigan frig who I hurt and I hurt a lot of people. I did what I wanted when I wanted and if you didn’t like it then bye. I was obsessed with myself and with what I wanted to do. No one’s thoughts and feelings ever came into the equation. I learned through personal growth work and through learning to love myself again that other people really do matter, that they have real feelings, and I learned to have real compassion for other people. I truly care about other people now. I have real empathy and it’s amazing.
I’m Stronger Than I Thought
Back when I was in active addiction I thought I could get through stuff only because I was so good at denying things and pretending like everything was ok. I’d go through a traumatic event and come out the other side broken then I’d block stuff out and tell myself to move on and never process my feelings. I thought I was strong, but I was really just good at brainwashing myself into thinking everything is fine. Now I realize I can get through a lot. There’s no way in hell I would have been able to make it through everything I’ve been through in the past 6 years if I was still drinking. Between 2018-2020 alone I made it through the death of a friend, the death of a family member to murder, watching someone I love die of cancer, major surgery, and 3 miscarriages. I was able to get through those horrific times because I am emotionally mature and I no longer block out my feelings. I can now process major life events and find real healing through the sad times.