It’s the end of summer, 2019. You just flew back from Paris back to your home on the East Coast of the U.S.A. Tomorrow you start your sobriety journey. I know you’ve been drinking almost every day these last few weeks, and that you’re really anxious at the idea of letting the booze go.
Past-Anne, you’ve relied on alcohol to regulate your emotions for most of your teenage and adult life. That’s what you were taught at home. But good for you, you’ve decided to break the family cycle, to take matters into your own hands and wean yourself off of the substance that is keeping you away from life, rather than making you more alive.
You’re sick of the hangovers, the headaches, the nausea. You’re sick of the shame, the guilt, the secrecy. You’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, although you’ve never heard that expression before, nor have you heard any kind of other AA language.
You have no idea what awaits you.
Well, first of all, you’re going to get smashed tonight. You won’t remember much when you wake up (something about being ubered home by friends while carrying a pull-up bar AND a giant barbell found on the street). But man, will you remember the next day… the bile-puking, head piercing, regret inducing hangover. The “please god, I will never drink again, I promise, make the pain go away” hangover. The one you know so well by now. Except this time, you committed, for real. In a way, it helped. It made Day 1 easy.
Then, you’re going to get through your first 30 days with the help of One Year No Beer’s daily videos. Ticking the days off, like a prisoner. Reading people’s stories on the Facebook group. Hanging in there, realizing you are not alone. During that time, you’re going to go through a breakup, and the devastation will be a good indicator of how raw your emotions are once the liquid lubricant has been removed. You will unveil patterns of attachment, codependency, abandonment, and you will spend the next couple of months working through grief, sadness and anger, that run much deeper than the recent events in your life. You will go back to therapy, you will relapse on the nicotine front, you will start a visual arts journal called “The American Struggle” (LOL). You will meditate, and have tears streaming down your face almost every morning while you do. You will get back on anti-depressants, “to quick smoking.” You will feel very, very alone.
And you will keep going. You will stay sober, pick yourself up, gather your strength, or rather, find it inside you. You will take that resilience everywhere you go, and face every situation armed with it. The sober Holidays, sober Christmas with your alcoholic family, your sober birthday, sober sex, sober restaurants, sober New Year’s eve. Gradually, you will start to enjoy sober living. You will reconcile with your partner (for better or for worse), who despite all the turmoil, will always be supportive on the sobriety front, and whose own sobriety will be a huge help in keeping you committed to your own journey. You will begin to taste the joy of life. You have no idea that in a few months, a global pandemic will hit and these simple pleasures be taken away from everybody. Sobriety helped you enjoy them while they were there.
The months will go by. Sobriety will help you focus and put in the long work hours as you write your PhD and conquer the academia-related anxiety that used to keep you paralyzed a couple of years ago. Your self esteem will increase, slowly but surely. [cue Montage scene of Anne buried in a pile of books, writing at her desk, sipping Kombucha] You will quit smoking, get off your antidepressants, pay off all of your debt, keep meditating every day and practice yoga several times a week. You will fight of the feelings of worthlessness and negative thought patterns. You will have discovered new coping mechanisms. Most of them revolving around self-compassion, breathing, self-forgiveness, and being gentle.
And before you know it, you will reach the 1 year milestone. By then, sobriety will have become the new norm. You will look back, and realize that throughout this last year, a stream runs, connecting every experience. That stream is the WordPress blogging community. Through ups and downs, you will have reached out regularly to a group of incredible people, who were there for you no matter what. Supportive and nonjudgmental, present yet not intrusive, funny yet deeply empathetic.
So when the time comes, and September 4th 2020 has passed, you will emerge from your pile of books and sit at your desk to write them this short note. To say thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you. May your own journey bring you to the place you want to be. Mine has allowed me to completely change my relation to alcohol. To be the first in my family to ever get sober for a whole year and work on myself like this. To realize that drinking is just the surface issue, that the reasons that make us want to drink are what needs to be “fixed”. That drinking keeps those conveniently out of sight, until they explode in your face.
This year has and will have changed my life completely.
I am so grateful that I did it, no matter what the future holds. I feel like a completely different person, and am forever grateful to you, as you read this. I hope I can do the same for you no matter what your aspirations are.
May we all keep moving on our path, no matter where it takes us.
Lots of Love,