[ Reader's Note: What I've written here is incredibly long. I've read time and time again that people hate to read long articles online and I completely understand that. Whether you read it all or read parts of it, please know that I've put my heart and soul into this. This is my life. These are my fingers shaking as I type this. This is my mind racing as I think of the people—both those I know and those I've never met before—who will be reading this. This is me. And, much as I would have liked to for your sake, I just cannot cut down on the words I have to say. For so long I have been silent and now that everything is finally spilling out, I have to run with it. I cannot edit down this part of who I am. ]
Today marks 365 days of me living without alcohol. It's pretty hard to believe—even though I was the one that actually did it—that I've made it to this one year mark. It hasn't been easy. And I couldn't have done it alone. I am so grateful to my boyfriend, my family, my supportive friends, my therapist. Honestly, I cannot put into words how thankful I am to have some fantastically supportive people in my life who have made this difficult year much easier than it would have been if I'd been flying solo. Thank you, thank you, thank you to anyone who has sat beside me or held my hand or spoken words of encouragement over this past year. I am so lucky to have you in my life.
This part of my life—my struggles with alcohol—is something I don't ever talk about on Positively Present. For whatever reason—shame, fear, sadness, insecurity?—I've held this part of my life close to my chest. But today—fueled by the pride I feel after reaching one year of sobriety—I want to share it with you, readers. You are such a huge part of my life and I feel it is now time for me to be open and honest about this part of who I am, scary as it might be to confront the reality I spent so many years running from...
Then: Picking the Weeds
I said it over and over again: I will stop. I will stop. If I want happiness, I have to stop. And again and again I found myself pouring myself another, recollection of all of the mistakes and the sob-filled mornings melting like ice in a glass. I knew I was causing my own heartache by giving into the sparkly temptation of alcohol—a comfort I'd known since the young age of fourteen—but the older I got, the harder it was to stop. I could see, from a logical point of view, how detrimental it was to me. There were failed relationships, lost friendships, countless tear-stained pillows, mornings stained with regret, and way too many repeated offenses. Much as I didn't want to see it, tried to ignore it, I knew my drinking was hurting almost every aspect of my life. I knew every emptied bottle was launching a full-fledged attack of negativity on my life, but drinking had become such an intergal part of my life that I wasn't quite sure who I would be without it.
After over a decade of alcohol consumption, drinking had become part of me. When I thought about my life without it—even though I knew that an alcohol-free life was what I needed—I couldn't quite see who I would be. If I wasn't going to parties and bars, getting infamously wasted and waking to wonder what I'd done this time, who would I be? If I wasn't pouring the stiffest drink, making friends laugh at my determination for drunkenness, who would I be? It crushed me to realize that alcohol played a part in every scene in my life. My friendships. My family. My boyfriends. Even school and work had been impacted by my use. Without it, who was I? Would I even be me?
When I write these words now, I realize why it was so hard for me to give it up, why I was able to do so for eight months before slipping back to it again, sneaking it in like a forbidden lover for one last night of fun. It was—and sometimes still is—terrifying to think of who I would be without alcohol to fuel me, inspire me, save me, free me. It felt, back then, like alcohol did so many things for me. It was my comfort. It was my release. It was my push out the door and into the world of other people, a world where I felt uncertain and less brave than I thought I should be.
But, scared as I was to live my life without alcohol in it, a year ago today I started again down the path of sobriety—a path I knew would make my life a more positive one. Over and over again, I listened to Kelly Clarkson's "Sober," her words reminding me that me-without-alcohol was still me. Below are the lyrics that have been inspiring me, helping me to realize that my life is just like an open field, filled with flowers and weeds. And reminding me that it's up to me to choose what to tend to. The flowers and the weeds will both grow, but whichever one I dote on, give attention to, that's what will flourish.
And I don't know...
This could break my heart or save me
Nothing's real until you let go completely
So here I go with all my thoughts I've been saving
So here I go with all my fears weighing on me
 months and I'm still sober
Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers
But I know it's never really over
And I don't know
I could crash and burn but maybe
At the end of this road I might catch a glimpse of me
So I won't worry about my timing, I want to get it right
No comparing, second guessing, no, not this time
 months and I'm still breathing
Been a long road since those hands I left my tears in
but I know it's never really over, no...
 months and I'm still standing here
 months and I'm getting better yeah
 months and I still am
 months and it's still harder now
 months I've been living here without you now
 months and I'm still breathing
 months and I still remember it
 months and I wake up
 months and I'm still sober
Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers
Those words reminded me that I was in there, just beyond that liquid shield I'd been hiding behind, and it would only be a matter of time before the truth of who I was came out. Living my life without drinking was just me picking out the weeds—getting rid of what was holding me back—and without them I would be able to focus on the flowers. In them, I would glimpse the real me, the sober me.
Finding the real me, the truth of who I really am, is awesome, but it's been hard. It's been really hard. Some days are easier than others. Some are painful and leave me feeling isolated from the people I love. Some days I wonder why this had to be me, why I couldn't just have a glass of wine and behave myself. But most days, yes, most days, I am incredibly grateful for my sober life. It has taken so much to get to where I am now and, as Kelly sings, "I could crash and burn but maybe / At the end of this road I might catch a glimpse of me." It's still a struggle. One day at a time. But the fact that I've made it through one year—something I never in my wildest dreams imagined I could do—fills me with such pride and hope. I did this. I can do this.
My therapist once told me to write up a piece on what my life was like with alcohol versus what it was like without it. Though I wrote this a while ago, it serves as a fresh reminder for me today as to why I stopped doing the one thing that was hurting me more than anything else. In the next section, you can read the words I wrote when I was first living a sober life, when I was first learning that I didn't need alcohol to be me.
Then + Now: Living Without Alcohol
On Saturday morning, I wake up slowly, leisurely. It may seem odd, but the first thing I think is this: I am not in pain. My head is not pounding. I do not feel anything remotely like nausea. I feel awake, alive, energized. Now most people wake feeling well on Saturday morning and think nothing of it. For me, this is an accomplishment, the first obvious sign that things have changed. I roll over and engage in a cuddle session with my dog before getting out of bed and realizing that is only eight o’clock. Eight. It has been so long since I’ve woken up this early on a weekend that these hours feel like a gift. Hours and hours of free time—free time I will not spend curled up in a ball on the couch watching movies and moaning about the mistakes I made the night before. I shower. I clean my apartment. I eat a healthy breakfast; no greasy hangover food for me today. I have time (and an ache-less head) for reading. I have the energy to talk on the phone for more than five minutes. I walk the dog without feeling as if each step causes a hammer to begin pounding erratically inside my head. It has been a long, long time since I have felt this healthy and this alive.
In the past few months, a lot has changed in my life. Not only has my social life changed dramatically, but my emotional and physical lives have changed as well. First, let's start with the obvious: the weekends. The focal point of every weekend used to be drinking. Ever since high school, the weekly questions were: Where am I going to go to drink? Who am I going to drink with? If no one is available to drink with me, what am I going to do? Every single week, the questions were the same. Sometimes it was one night, sometimes two, but as long as I could find someone to partake in the drinking, I was drinking. And I was drinking a lot. I was drinking so much that I wouldn't remember what I'd done—or what had been done to me.
I would wake up disoriented and sick. My body went through weekly withdrawals in the form of vicious hangovers. I was physically ill for the majority of my weekends. I was also emotionally un-well. When I was drinking, I often cried. I often got angry at those around me. I did things and said things I was disgusted to recall the next day (if I could recall them). I would wake frequently with the "booze blues"—a feeling of sickening disappointment and despair when I realized what I'd done the night before or thought about the feelings/events I'd been trying to forget when I'd chosen to drink so much. I knew I was wasting my weekends, and this made me angry. Here I was with only two free days a week and I spent them on the couch with pounding headaches and dizzying recollections of my mistakes.
Of course, all of this changed when I gave up drinking. Now that I no longer focus on who I am going to drink with or where I will be drinking, my mind is free to think of other ways to spend my time. When I get together with friends on the weekends now, I am sober. Our conversations and activities are meaningful to me now. I realize now that so many of my friendships were based on a mutual desire to get as drunk as possible as often as possible. The connections with those people were not real. When I spend time with friends now, I realize I am just getting to know them—the sober people they are on a daily basis—and I am, in turn, showing them my true self. It's not always easy to do this. I am not used to being sober with friends. I am used to being uninhibited by alcohol, and without it I feel less open. But with each sober experience, I feel it getting easier. I am slowly adjusting to being social without the mask of alcohol to hide the real me.
And the real me has experienced extreme emotional changes over the past few months. I used to feel so sorry for myself. I would make mistakes while drinking. I would drink to erase dealing with them. I would make more mistakes. It was a vicious cycle and, rather than taking responsibility for it, I would simply cry, "Why me?" I was sad both when I was drunk and when I was sober. I was angry at myself for being sad. I would lash out at myself and at others. I would act and speak irrationally. I would blame others and I would also accept a great deal of blame that was not mine to take. I drank to numb the feelings that were aching to come out. I did not want to feel and, when sober, I avoided my emotions at all costs. When I would drink, however, they would boil to the surface and splatter everyone around me. I would be covered in the mess and I would spend most of the next day (or days, depending on how bad the mess was) wallowing in it. Swimming in sadness, I would find a way to avoid it again. I would drink or sleep so I did not have to feel.
Now I allow myself to feel without the cloak of alcohol. The feelings I have now are rational, followed by a series of questions I can ask myself when I am sober (and logical). What is making me feel this way? Why is this feeling important? What can I do to address this situation? The task of asking, of course, is not simple. It is (and may always be) hard for me to feel. My instinct is push the feelings away, but I am learning to sit with them, to be okay with their presence, and not to avoid them. It has been months since I cried for no known reason. It has been months since I've uncontrollably sobbed, felt sorry for myself, or classified my state of mind as "miserable." This is not to say that I am constantly happy. I am just much more mindful now and aware of my emotions. If I feel something, I think about it. I sit with it. I do not run from it. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have been pushing away from emotions of any kind (good or bad) for so long that it is extremely difficult to embrace them. However, not all emotions are bad. Without alcohol in my life, I have felt emotions more strongly than I did in the past. This means I can feel the good emotions more too. I feel happiness in a way I'm not sure I can recall having experienced before.
Happiness is not as elusive as I once believed it to be. If it leaves, I know it will come back. Happiness is part of me; it is not just a visitor. Sometimes it's not obvious, but it's always there. When I feel happy now, sober, I let myself be happy. To some, this might sound odd—either you're happy or you're not—but it is not that simple. Happiness used to scare me and, like all other emotions, I would avoid it. Learning to embrace it, to be in a moment and to feel joy without thinking about the future or the past, is an amazing experience and it is something I could not do before I started down this road to recovery. I used to look over my shoulder, waiting for the next bad thing. Now I know that I have the ability (though I may not always do it) to just be.
The removal of the frosted glass clouding my vision has clarified things. Everything—friendships, conversations, feelings, daily tasks—is clearer now. Through sober eyes, I can see my life—and my past—from a more objective point of view. Now I can see why I am the way I am, and it is not and never was my fault. My emotional state, my physical state, and my social life have all been affected by the past, but I know now that I don't have to live in the past. I don't have to keep repeating the same mistakes. I can—and I do—live now.
Now: Keeping the Flowers
Everything I wrote about what had changed in my life when I first stopped drinking is still true. Everything is better for me now. That doesn't mean it's easy to be around alcohol and not drink. It doesn't mean it's easy when I think about my past and I have to see it as a separate part of my life. Every day it's hard. Every day I have to experience my life without an escape from my emotions. If I am upset or unhappy, I cannot cloud my mind with something that makes me forget. I have to deal. I have to be present. And it's hard sometimes, but it's also real.
Before I was living my life in a field filled with weeds. Some of them were beautiful; some I even mistook for flowers. But now that I've cleared the field of them, picked them out one by one, I can see the true beauty as the flowers unfurl their long stems. I can see the way the field was meant to look, filled with vibrant color. I know now that these flowers were there all along, waiting in the weeds. It just took me a while to clear things out, to give them the room they needed to grow.