6 lessons I learned from 6 years sober


Sober


Today I have been sober for six years! I should be used this word -- sober -- by now, but sometimes it still shocks me that I'm the one saying it. That I've been saying it for six years. Over the past six years, I've taken away some pretty big life lessons from living sober. Here are the top six lessons I've learned. Even if you're not sober or trying to get sober, I hope they'll inspire you!  

 

LESSON #1
YOU HAVE TO WANT IT 

It took me a long time to get and stay sober because there wasn't anything I wanted more than the rush of going out and drinking. It wasn't until I started Positively Present and started seeing a wonderful therapist that I realized that my alcohol-fueled behavior wasn't at all in line with the kind of life I wanted to be living: a positive, present one.

Once I had something that mattered more to me than drinking and the exciting possibility of having a wild night, I realized I had to change. I wanted to be more at peace with who I was and I wanted to make positive choices. With that at the forefront of my mind, I was able to begin making changes and, ultimately, was able to quit drinking. 

 

LESSON #2
YOU HAVE TO TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME

Cliche? Yep! But it's a oft-repeated phrase for a reason: it's true. What scared me most about the thought of sobriety was that I'd never, ever drink again. Telling me I can't do something is one of the quickest ways to get me to want to do it. So instead of focusing on the never, ever, ever part of sobriety, I choose to focus on a single day.

Whenever I'm struggling, I tell myself, "I'm not going to drink today." Today seems much more manageable than thinking I'll never drink again. This present-focused trick works for any negative behavior. If you're struggling to stay on track, tell yourself, "I'm not going to drink today" or "I'm not going to text him today" or "I'm not going to eat a whole bag of junk food today." If you're still struggling (as I sometimes am), break it down further and promise yourself not to drink, etc. for an hour. 

 

LESSON #3
YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT LONELINESS

Sobriety comes with a variety of level of loneliness. First, there will be people who don't get why you're getting sober. Because you're not waking up in a gutter or destroying your life, sometimes people will have trouble grasping just how negatively alcohol has impacted your life.

There will be people struggling with their own addiction issues. Admitting you have a problem means they might have to take a look at their own actions, and this might be difficult for them. Rather than do this, they'll simply shrug off your sobriety as something dramatic rather than necessary. 

Also, being the only one at the party not drinking can be lonely at times. No one seems to care that I'm sober (people I know well are used to it and new people are usually impressed or curious), but it's still isolating, particularly when drinking used to be my go-to resource for easing my social anxiety. But, for me, the little bit of loneliness is worth the positive benefits of being sober. 

 

LESSON #4
YOU HAVE TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOURSELF

By far the hardest lesson I've had to learn is getting to know who I truly am without alcohol. When I drank, I became a lot of things I'm normal not: brave, social, adventurous. Through sobriety I've had to learn which traits are truly me and which were fueled by alcohol. And, in some cases (like socializing), I've had to learn how to cope with my anxiety sans alcohol, which has been challenging at times. 

Also, without alcohol to numb emotions, sobriety requires that you really get in touch with your emotions. Sobriety is scarily real. There is no escape from who you are or how you feel. My flaws and my feelings are glaringly obvious (as are my mistakes, which now can no longer hide behind the words, "Sorry! I was so drunk!"). 

Feeling all the feelings and being who you truly are is hard, but it's made me stronger than I ever was before. I'm more self-aware and much more in control of my choices than I was six years ago and no amount of partying could ever feel better than that. 

 

LESSON #5
YOU HAVE TO LEARN YOUR TRIGGERS

Triggers sounds like a word that should be reserved for hard-core drug addicts, but was all have triggers -- situations, people, or things that prompt us to behave in ways we'd rather not. Sobriety has taught me how important it is to recognize those triggers and avoid them if possible. 

Some triggers -- like a wine tasting -- are avoidable for me. Others, like a stressful day or a beautiful summer afternoon, are not. I do my best to avoid situations that will be difficult for me. And, for those that I can't avoid, I do what I can to make it easier on myself. For example, I know Saturday nights are hard for me so I'll make plans to keep my mind off of drinking or, if I have to attend a triggering event, like a wedding, I might leave a bit early if I feel heightened temptation. 

I'm not sure why this is, but simply being aware of a trigger makes it easier to cope with. Maybe it's because you have an idea of why you're feeling the way you are and, with a solid explanation in hand, you can better choose how to react rather than impulsively responding. For example, let's say when you're really stressed at work, you're more likely to snap at your children when you get home. If you're aware of this, you can do a few things to make it better: try to lessen the stress at work, try to minimize stressful feelings by calming yourself on the ride home, or explain to your children that you've had a bad day and you might need a little less interaction that night.

Knowing your triggers is incredibly helpful, even if you can't always avoid them. And this goes for all kinds of situations -- what triggers you to feel angry at your partner, what triggers you to feel extra stressed out, what triggers you to eat an entire gallon of ice cream. So often we're impulsively reacting instead of thinking about why we're making the choices we are. 

 

LESSON #6
YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT - NOT FORGET - THE PAST

Wallowing in the past does absolutely no good. You cannot go back and change it (no matter how much you might like to!). To be truly present, you have to accept what's past. But accepting isn't the same as forgetting. And, when it comes to sobriety, it's critical not to forget the bad things.

Yes, that sounds exactly opposite of saying positively present -- focusing on the negative aspect of past -- but romanticizing the past, especially if you're trying to get or stay sober, is dangerous. It's hard sometimes not to long for the days when I was laughing with friends, a cold beer in hand, or hitting the dance floor with my Red Bull-and-vodka-fueled confidence, but I have to remind myself that it wasn't all laughter and dancing. 

Drinking had serious consequences for me and, while I certainly don't want to dwell on the past, sometimes I have to recall some of the negative situations I encountered as a reminder to myself that I am better -- and safer -- when I'm sober. 

 

I also made a YouTube video (warning: it's a long one) about why I chose to get sober and I go into more detail about these six lessons. You can watch it below or click this link.  

 

 

 

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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.