Today marks two years since I quit drinking alcohol. Not a sip in two years. Wow!
Considering it once required tremendous effort to go a week without wine, this is a spectacular feat. Ironically, I’m not sure how to mark this anniversary since my mind still automatically falls back to champagne as the way to celebrate a momentous occasion! And, yet, I definitely have no intention of returning to alcohol any time soon, if ever. One of the ironies of embracing the alcohol-free lifestyle after decades of social drinking - those old habits continue to linger in the mind.
For anyone who is sober curious, or who has just recently quit drinking alcohol, reaching two years without alcohol may seem impossible or crazy or horrific - or all of the above. I know it seemed impossible to me when I first committed to sobriety. I struggled to get through one month, never mind 12 of them. In fact, my vow was to simply quit drinking for one year, and then decide at that point whether to return to “moderate” wine drinking. I was not an alcoholic, so I never considered going to Alcoholics Anonymous for direction and support. The onus was completely on myself to make it work.
Truth be told, I didn’t think I’d last the whole year. It seemed so ridiculously hard! But, I did. And today, I’m two years in with no plans to drink again.
I deserved better, and so do you
For this blog post, I thought I’d share how it feels to be sober (still) after two years.
These are the types of questions I would have asked myself before I’d committed to an alcohol-free lifestyle. I had no one to talk to, and frankly, there wasn’t that much online at the time that I felt I could relate to.
Here’s my quick background - I’d been drinking socially for 30 years. My life had its share of challenges. I mean, how many people reach their mid-40s without some major baggage? My marriage had ended, I was raising (with my ex) our three boys, the oldest was a difficult teen going through his own issues, I did not have a stable job. I’m not saying my life was tough, because there are many people with much more difficult circumstances to endure, especially during these times. I’m just saying we all have our struggles and regardless of how big or small they may be in comparison to others, we all feel the weight of those challenges.
Personally, I believe that by the time many of us reach our 40s or 50s, all the stuff that we’d buried or ignored for the previous three decades start rising to the surface in one form or another. Combine that with the daily struggles we face through work, raising kids, marital problems, and it’s no wonder we feel the need to have a drink. Like many others, I felt I deserved my nightly glass of wine. I was stressed and I needed reprieve. A drink or two would soften the tension and fear that gripped me.
“I deserved it.”
If you’re using that term a lot, well, perhaps it’s time to think about what you truly do deserve. I agree, you need a break from the struggles. But is drinking actually helping you face your shit? Or is it just temporarily drowning it? Maybe it’s time to consider what you really want out of life, particularly if you’re in your “second half.” That’s what compelled me to quit drinking. I wanted more out of life and I wasn’t getting any younger. Time was ticking and I wanted to really make the most of my life. I knew that my drinking was limiting my potential. I still wasn’t sure how it was doing this, or by how much, but I knew I could do better for myself and for those I loved.
Ask yourself: do you deserve to forget all your discomforts every night or do you deserve to make yourself the healthiest, most compassionate, most productive and self-aware person you are capable of being?
Downing a bottle of wine every night is not helping you get there. I drank between one and three glasses of wine most nights, with periodic hangovers from binging. That amount of alcohol consumption was holding me back tremendously. But I would never have known how much had I not gone sober. I also want to make a note that this is not about getting drunk. The impact of even a couple glasses of wine every night is probably bigger than you realize. You don’t need to be an alcoholic to experience the wonders that arise once alcohol is eliminated from your life.
Temptation is still there
The first alcohol-free year is transformative in quite a visible and drastic way. You feel healthier, you look healthier, you begin to look younger, your weight is more stable. Relationships come into focus. You wake up every Sunday feeling amazing! You recalibrate your friendships (expect to lose a few). This first year provided constant change that made the journey exciting and worthwhile, even if it still was a struggle at times to say no to the drink - particularly in the first six months.
Year two of alcohol-free living? A different kind of transformation is possible. I’m speaking from my own experience and it may not happen with everyone. First, I’ll start with the bad news.
I still get the temptation to drink. It’s not anywhere close to what it was when I drank almost every night, but it’s there. I’d love to tell you that I never have any desire to drink. But, for me, it hasn’t happened yet. The temptations are infrequent however, and surface in one of two ways.
The first way the desire arises is almost wistfully when I experience a set of pleasant circumstances that, previously, would have also included alcohol. On a hot Saturday afternoon, for instance, I might suddenly have a small desire to drink a glass of white wine in my backyard, as I’d done dozens of times in the past. It’s fleeting. The thought comes up, out of the blue, and I’ll let it go quickly.
I have come to accept that I have a massive memory bank filled with experiences that include alcohol. Some are not so positive but some are quite nice. What the memories don’t always include, however, is what happens after the first drink. If the temptation is more than a quick thought, an important part of my thought process is to play it out to the end. If I have a drink then…
- I’ve broken my dry period, which I am so proud of!
- I’ll feel ashamed that I gave in just for one drink
- I decide, well, I’ve had a drink now so no point in continuing with my no-drinking
- Maybe I’ll have another glass of wine tomorrow
- I’m meeting a friend for dinner later. Now that I’ve broken my sober commitment, may as well have a drink. Maybe we can share a bottle
- I return to my old drinking patterns
- I have to put myself through all the struggles of quitting alcohol again.
Worth it? Nope. No way.
The second type of temptation to drink is based on my emotional triggers. This is rare, and the temptation is very easy to resist at this point in my life. Nonetheless, I want to be honest about what it’s been like, for me, to not drink for two years.
I first became aware of the relation between my emotions and my desire to drink during the first six months of my sobriety. My urge to imbibe was often initiated by negative emotions. Loneliness, sadness, anxiety, frustration, despair, insecurity, fear. Of course, I enjoyed wine for many other reasons - comradery, celebratory, relaxation - but the negative emotions had a stronger influence on my drinking habit.
I didn’t want to sit with my uncomfortable feelings. I mean, who does? Too often, I reached for the bottle of wine to soothe that discomfort. To make it go away fast.
During my first year of sobriety, I faced a lot of these triggers and learned to find other, healthier, outlets for them. In fact, it was only because of my commitment to stop drinking that I even realized I was reaching for the wine in reaction to my emotions.
Through my second year, I realized I had to more deeply address these uncomfortable emotional triggers. That’s because they don’t just disappear on their own, unfortunately. And, avoidance works only as long as you’re willing to keep facing them.. and avoiding them. And facing them... and, you get the picture. I needed to make change from the inside.
Removing the barrier to self awareness
Alcohol had acted as a barrier that prevented me from facing my reality. It was a layer that distanced me from my awareness of my self. When I quit drinking, I removed that artificial layer and, as a result, got to know my true self more deeply. Or, in other words, became more self-aware.
This also forced me to be more accepting of myself - especially when it came to those characteristics that I felt were unlikeable. Those qualities that made it harder to fit in with the crowd. Being fully present, all of the time, made me more vulnerable to my uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, and situations. But there’s an upside to this.
We get to befriend all these feelings and thoughts more intimately and can then question why we feel this way. I found my difficult emotions too strong to ignore, so I chose to work through them, one at a time. I adopted various mindfulness practices to help with this. It included journaling, breath work, yoga and meditation, as well as reading books by enlightened and knowledgeable authors (check out my list of favourites here).
That being said, we may find other ways to avoid them through fitness or hobbies, and that’s ok, too. Being outside or learning a new skill are also great options. They don’t compromise mental awareness and there’s only so much inner work a person can handle without getting overwhelmed.
The ego barrier
These practices moved me closer to my centre of being or what some refer to as the inner light which every human being has. And, this is where we reach the next layer or barrier to self-awareness. The ego. This is actually much more difficult to eliminate than alcohol. For most of us it takes a lifetime, if it can even be done within that time frame. I have slowly been breaking down my ego by shedding behaviours that I had identified as part of myself.
For many years I had considered myself a “party drinker”. I identified myself this way until I realized drinking was a behaviour. It was completely separate from the actual me.
I began the “behaviour” of drinking in my teens and it continued into my 40s. No wonder I was so identified with it. However, when I decided to quit I recognized it as it was: a behaviour. I had started it at one time, and I could quit any time. My identification with it ended with that realization.
Bit by bit I’m recognizing all the false identifications with my self so that I can connect more deeply with my true self. My inner light.
Connecting to the physical body and nature
In the same way, I’m able to connect more profoundly with my physical body. My body has long detoxed from the negative effects of alcohol. Over the past year, I’ve experimented with my diet to determine the foods that best nourish my body. I pay attention to how I feel after I eat. How I feel after I run. How I feel after I do breathwork. I’ve never been so curious about how the human body functions than I am now.
Lastly, I’ve become far more attuned to the natural world. Ironically, the deeper I connect with my inner self, the deeper the connection I feel with nature. I have an increasing reverence for the earth and all that lives on it. I realize that by saving the earth we are saving our selves. By protecting and caring for the earth, we are protecting and caring for ourselves.
So, in a way the barrier that prevented my awareness of the intrinsic link between humans and the earth has also broken down in this second year of my sobriety.
I know this is a lot, and it might seem crazy that such a journey began with the simple vow to stop drinking alcohol. But that’s the truth. I realize not every person who lives alcohol-free will follow this journey. All I can guarantee is that your life will transform if you remain open and curious. But you gotta ditch the drink.