positive choices: lessons from 4 years of sobriety

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“The most liberating and empowering day of my life was the day I freed myself from my own self-destructive nonsense," wrote Dr. Steve Maraboli, and I couldn't agree more. Last Friday I celebrated four years of sobriety and, difficult as it has been and sometimes continues to be, every day I am sober is both liberating and empowering.

When I think back to the person I was before sobriety, it's kind of hard to believe it's actually been years since I've had a drink. But here I am, four years in, and pretty darn excited about it—especially because research has shown that if someone can stay sober for four years, the risk of relapse drops significantly. While there's never a guarantee, it feels good to know I've hit some sort of milestone in my recovery.

Not everyone needs sobriety in order to live a positive, present life, but for me, it is absolutely essential. When I wasn't sober, I struggled to stay in the moment, often ruminating excessively about the past. (Or in some cases, I stayed too much in the moment—not considering the consequences of my actions and landing myself in some pretty big messes.) When I wasn't sober, I also struggled to stay positive, the depressive chemicals leading me down increasingly negative paths of thinking. 

For me, staying sober is a huge part of living a positive and present life. Whether or not you, too, choose to live a sober life, you may benefit from taking a look at the lessons I've learned about getting (and staying) sober over the last four years. While they're written specifically about my experiences with living a sober life, a lot of them apply to life in general so check 'em out! 

 

TO GET + STAY SOBER, YOU WILL . . . 

 

. . . HAVE TO WANT SOMETHING ELSE MORE. 

Getting sober took me a long, long time because, for most of my young adult life, there wasn't anything I wanted more than going out and having a good time. I didn't care if I hurt people or myself. I didn't care if I messed with my job or with my relationships. Nothing else matter more to me than doing what I'd always done—until one day something clicked. After years of placing blame on everything and everyone else, I finally realized that what I really truly wanted was to change myself, to become positive and present. I couldn't do that with a bottle in my hand and so I made a choice: I chose to want something (a more positive, present life) than I wanted to drink. 

 

. . . NEED TO KEEP REPEATING THE RIGHT CHOICE. 

It's one thing to make the right choice once (like asking for water at the bar instead of a beer), but to do it over and over and over again is really hard work. I'm four years into this, and I still struggle when a waiter approaches me to take my drink order. Even just doing every day things can be a challenge. For example, walking past a liquor store can send my mind racing, a little devil on my shoulder saying, "Just go in, get a six pack and drink it. No one will know." Making the right choice happens on a moment-to-moment basis and it's rarely easy. But, as frustrating as it is to have to make the right (often hard!) choice all the time, it's so incredibly satisfying to make the choice that I know will make me more positive and present. 

 

. . . HAVE TO FEEL REALLY LONELY SOMETIMES. 

I'll be honest: sometimes not drinking sucks. I miss the connections I had (or at least felt I had) with those I would go drinking with. I miss the invitations to bar crawls and happy hours. Even when I'm invited, I sometimes have to decline because I know certain events (like, say, an all-day tour of a vineyard) won't be good for me. It's hard choosing to be left out of the fun. And it can sometimes be the most lonely when I actually do go to social events. There's nothing quite like holding up your water glass during a champagne toast to make you feel alone in a room full of people. Luckily I have a partner who is supportive (and sober) so that really helps, but I won't lie: sobriety can be really lonely. 

 

. . . NEED TO ACCEPT YOUR (MANY!) IMPERFECTIONS. 

For me, drinking was always an escape. It was a journey I'd take to a familiar-yet-altered world where almost anything could happen. In that world, I was brave (can I drive home? sure!). I was social (talk to people I've never met? no problem!). I was free (leave the bar alone and wander the streets? sounds like fun!). All of my real-life problems could be avoided by downing a drink, and I could evade my many faults (particularly my inherent introvertedness) by simply cracking open a beer. Of course, sobriety doesn't lend itself will to this type of avoidance. One of the scariest things about sobriety is how real everything is. When I make a mistake, it can no longer blame it on a substance coursing through my veins. When I have trouble being social, I can no longer self-medicate to get through an evening out. Which brings me to my next point... 

 

. . . HAVE TO ACTUALLY FEEL FEELINGS. 

When I was drinking, it often felt as though my feelings were magnified—every heartache was the worst one ever and every fight was a dramatic battle. But I didn't know what really having to feel was until I got sober. With no escape from the way I feel, I've been forced to actually, you know, feel. Even when escaping into a night of drunken rumination actually made things worst, emotionally, drinking away any pain somehow allowed me to feel as if I was getting away from painful feelings, if only for a night. Now, there's no escaping how I feel. I found this especially challenging last year when I put my beloved dog Bella to sleep. I wanted nothing more to escape from the loss and pain, to ease myself into some sort of oblivion where the loss of her didn't hurt so much, but I couldn't. I had to feel and it hurt like hell, but you know what? As cliche as it is, learning to feel without any escape has made me stronger and that strength (unlike the temporary escape that comes with numbed feelings) is something that can never be taken from me. 

 

. . . NEED TO KNOW IT GETS EASIER, BUT NEVER EASY. 

Someone who'd been sober for a few months once said to me, "It's really not bad. I haven't really missed drinking that much." My mind instantly clouded with a green fog of jealousy. Not bad? Haven't missed it? I wanted whatever sort of calm state of mind would allow me, too, to find sobriety so effortless. For me, it's never been easy, and though it gets easier—I've learned how to better avoid triggers, how to handle my emotions, and how to make things less difficult for myself—it is never something I don't really miss. Drinking was a like a dear friend I'd had for over a decade, and even though I know she was a terrible friend, I still miss her and the fun we used to have together. I keep waiting for a day when I won't miss her and maybe that will happen someday, but for now, I've chosen to accept the fact that sobriety gets easier but never easy

 

. . . HAVE TO TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME. 

Ah, yes, the good ol' "one day at a time" slogan, courtesy of AA (which, by the way, I tried, but just couldn't seem to get into). It sounds incredibly cliche, but it has been incredibly crucial for me in my recovery. When I think about never, ever drinking again, I feel a wave of panic wash over me. Never? Never ever? Telling me I can't do something is the best way to make me want it more than anything so the thought of never being allowed to do something makes me feel increasingly rebellious. And so I don't think about the never-ever part of sobriety. Instead, I tell myself, "I'm not drinking today." When I think about it that way, it gets so much easier to manage. Not drink for a day? I can do that! And so I do it for one day and then another and another... and suddenly it's been four years. Whether it's drinking or something else you're trying to quit, if you focus on each day (the present!), the idea of change can become the reality of progress. 

 

. . . NEED TO TOLERATE PEOPLE WHO DON'T GET IT. 

A lot of people don't understand sobriety. Either they don't have the aching need for alcohol so they don't see why you'd need to give it up completely or they're so attached to it themselves that thinking about you being sober makes them have to question their own habits (which most people don't really want to do). It's hard when people don't understand or don't think sobriety is necessary, but after four years of this, I've realized that it just doesn't matter what people think or say. What matters is making choices for myself that help me to live a more positive, more present life. If those same choices work for other people too, awesome. If they don't, that's fine too. Luckily, I haven't had people who try to pressure me into drinking, but sometimes the lack of understanding or support can be just as tough. The trick, I've learned, is to focus my attention on the people who do get it and allow their love and support to drown out the questions or disapproval of others. 

 

. . . HAVE TO ACCEPT (BUT NOT FORGET) THE PAST.

I could spend my days wallowing in regret, wishing I could go back and change some of the mistakes I'd made while drinking, but that doesn't do me much good in the present does it? Nope. However, I've also discovered it's important not to completely forget the past—especially the negative parts of it. When I find myself reminiscing about the glory days of drinking, recalling how lovely it was to sit outside on a hot day with a cold beer or how great it felt to be amped up on RedBull and vodka and dancing without a care in the world, I have to remind myself how the past wasn't all dancing and laughter. There were a lot of very unpleasant things that happened while I was drinking and sometimes (negative as this sounds!) it helps to recall those bad times to remind myself why I no longer drinking. Romanticizing the past can be a dangerous thing when it comes to sobriety so it helps to recall what the past was really like. 

 

. . . NEED TO RECOGNIZE YOUR UNIQUE TRIGGERS.

Everyone has something that sets them off, and it's no different when it comes to staying sober. I have some annoying triggers (summer, Saturday nights, weddings) that make me want to drink, but learning to recognize these has helped me. Just knowing that something is a trigger can help me make it through the tough times. For example, when I hear neighbors having parties and getting wild on Saturday nights and I feel that awful pang of loneliness in my chest, I remind myself that tomorrow it will be gone and it'll be much easier. Just knowing that the feeling will go away helps a lot. Also, knowing what types of events to avoid makes it easier for me to avoid situations what will be really difficult for me to handle. I can't always avoid triggers (Saturday nights aren't going away any time soon...), but I've learned to be aware of them, which allows me to feel more in control of how I react to them. 

 

. . . HAVE TO LEARN TO PUT YOUR SOBRIETY FIRST. 

It's taken me awhile to realize this, but I now know that if you want to really commit yourself to getting and staying sober, it has to be your number one priority. It has to be more important than the party of the year. It has to be more important than the once-in-a-lifetime celebration. It has to be more important that escaping loss or unhappiness. It has to be more important than what other people think (or what you think they think!). It has to come before everything, because if it doesn't, there will always be a reason to let it go. Sobriety is a squirming, moody thing, and there are moments when letting it go seems easier than hanging on. But those are just moments and moments end. So do parties. And weddings. And Saturday nights. Sometimes it's really hard not to hang on in the moments when I feel like I'm missing out. But I've realized that, for me, letting go of sobriety would mean missing out on so much more—on the positively present life I'm striving so hard to live—and that knowledge reminds me to always, always put my sobriety first. 

 

It wasn't particularly easy for me to write this post. I don't talk much about my sobriety here on Positively Present, but it's important to me and it's important to the blog because, without it, there's no way I would have been able to commit myself to these words—and to my readers—the way I have all of these years. So, hard as this was to write, it was important for me to share what I've learned. If you're sober or trying to get sober, I hope these words help you. And if you aren't sober or don't want to be, I hope you've gained a nugget or two of knowledge from what I've learned over the last four years of sobriety.  


B.R.E.A.K.: 5 tips for breaking bad habits

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I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I've been biting my nails for as long as I can remember. This wasn't such a big deal when I was a kid, but there's something about a full-grown adult with bitten nails that's just, well, gross. I've managed to stop a few times over the years, but I always seem to come back to it the second just one nail gets chipped. As I've gotten older, I've wanted to break the habit even more, but the longer I keep at it, the harder the habit is to break. 
 
With my book coming out at the end of the year, I've been daydreaming about what it will be like to sign books for my readers. I'd envision a pen in my hand, the book propped open, me ready to write a positive little note, and then... the vision would be tarnished by the thought of writing with those god-awful nails of mine. It frustrated me to no end to imagine my nasty little habit ruining the act of doing something I'd waited my whole life to do: sign a book I'd written. I knew I had to break the habit, no matter how hard it was. 
 
Having quit a few things in the past — I gave up smoking after about ten years, and I've been sober for almost four years now — you'd think it wouldn't be that hard to give up a little thing like nail biting, but it's actually an incredibly difficult thing to do because, you see, I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person. I don't have the willpower to do things in moderation; if I don't want to over do it, I have to completely quit, removing all temptations from my life. And it's not so easy to remove the temptation when it's physically attached to my body. 
 
I've tried all of the physical tricks for breaking the nail biting habit — coating my nails in anti-bite polish (just got used to the taste), wearing gloves (not really possible if you spend your days typing), getting regular manicures (just picked the polish off, making it a waste of money) — but none of those seemed to work for long so I decided it was time to address the issue from an internal point of view. That's how I came up with the B.R.E.A.K. Method. 
 
The B.R.E.A.K. Method includes what I've found to be the five essential aspects of breaking a bad habit. (Note: a bad habit is very different than an addiction. If you think you might have an addiction to a substance or activity, I'd highly recommend seeking help from a trained professional.) It's only been a few weeks of bite-free nails, but I really believe that using this method is going to allow me to break the habit for good. Whatever habit you've been trying to break (and we all have that one we just can't seem to quit!), these five tips — B.R.E.A.K. — should help you tackle it. 

 

 

BE AWARE OF YOUR UNIQUE TRIGGERS

Whatever you habit is, you probably have specific situations in which you engage in your habit (at a certain time of day, in conjunction with another activity, when you're with a specific person). The first step to breaking any habit is to identify what these triggers are and avoid (or transform) them if possible. For example, I always seem to bite my nails when I'm alone and when I'm reading. It's something I do mindlessly, without even really thinking about it. Obviously I can't stop reading, but I could be more mindful of what I was doing. Every time I found myself putting my hand near my mouth, I'd quickly return it to my book, making sure I was holding the book with both hands at all times. Keep in mind that your triggers will be unique to you so you can't just go looking them up online; you have to pay close attention to when and where you engage in your habit (then you can search online for some ways to tackle the trigger if you can't think of any ideas). 

 

RECOGNIZE WHAT'LL MOTIVATE YOU. 

For decades I've longed to stop biting my nails, particularly in recent years when nail art became such a fun, creative trend. I'd always searched for some sort of motivator — an upcoming event, the start of a new year, etc. — to inspire me to quit, but nothing really worked for long. It wasn't until I thought about signing books (my dream come true!) that I really buckled down and felt motivated enough to attempt breaking my habit for good. No matter what bad habit you're battling, I bet you there's something out there that is better than the habit, something you'll receive (like pretty nails, for me!) that will make all the trouble of quitting worth it. It's not always easy to find a motivator that will keep you going, but don't give up. There is absolutely something that's worth quitting for and once you find it, it'll be the inspiration you need to keep the habit broken. 

 

ENCOURAGE YOURSELF WITH LITTLE REWARDS.

Though I don't have a ton of extra money to spend, I know how important little rewards are to keep me motivated. (After all, my love language is gifts.) In order to keep myself on track, I'm giving myself little treats along the way, including manicures, new bottles of polish, and even some custom nail decals. These little rewards keep me interested in staying on track and they serve as reminders of my progress. If you don't have something directly linked to the habit you're breaking (like pretty polish for nail biters), try rewarding yourself with little things that make you really happy (and make sure those things are also positive for you — you don't want to go breaking one bad habit only to begin a new one!). These rewards need not be big or extravagant, but they should be things that you don't get or experience every day, things that will keep you inspired to keep going. 

 

ASK OTHERS TO HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE.

I've found that letting others know what you're up to can really help you stay on track with breaking a bad habit. I've told my close friends and family members that I'm trying to stop biting my nails so that they can inquire about my progress (or simply look at my hands!) and I've even asked my boyfriend to tell me to stop if he happens to see me taking a nibble at nail. Telling others about what you're trying to do makes it feel almost as if you've made a promise to them as well as to yourself, and I've found that it's hard to break promises to others than it is to break them with yourself. If you have someone looking out for you, supporting your choice to break a habit that serves no positive purpose, you'll be more likely to stay on track. 

 

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE FROM TEMPTATION. 

The further away you keep the temptation, the easier it is to break the habit. Of course, when it comes to something like nails (which are always with you!), this can be really tough, but I've made it a new rule not to put my hands near my mouth — not even just to get that one tiny hangnail! — which makes it easier to resist biting. It's not always easy to do this — just as it won't always be easy for you to keep your distance from whatever's tempting you — but the more space you put between yourself and what tempts you, the more the temptation will lessen and the easier it will be to break your bad habit for good.    


pick the weeds, keep the flowers: my year of sobriety

 

Pickedtheweeds ()

 

[ 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 believeeven though I was the one that actually did itthat 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 lifemy struggles with alcoholis something I don't ever talk about on Positively Present. For whatever reasonshame, fear, sadness, insecurity?I've held this part of my life close to my chest. But todayfueled by the pride I feel after reaching one year of sobrietyI 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 alcohola comfort I'd known since the young age of fourteenbut 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 iteven though I knew that an alcohol-free life was what I neededI 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 wasand sometimes still isterrifying 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 sobrietya 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

[12] 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

[12] 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...


Wake up
[12] months and I'm still standing here
[12] months and I'm getting better yeah
[12] months and I still am
[12] months and it's still harder now
[12] months I've been living here without you now
[12] months and I'm still breathing
[12] months and I still remember it
[12] months and I wake up
[12] 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 weedsgetting rid of what was holding me backand 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 yearsomething I never in my wildest dreams imagined I could dofills 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 doneor 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.