Right now, I’m rounding the corner of my first sober year. When I stopped drinking, I started creating, living, and feeling again in a way I haven’t since my childhood. Here are all the important lessons I’ve learned since the start of my sobriety:
1. You Can Do Anything
You can choose to interrupt the thoughts that are saying you can’t. You can quiet the worries about how you will be perceived and the fears about what will happen if you don’t succeed. You just have to take the first step.
This is not a step on a smooth, stable staircase but one up a rocky, winding trail. See your hard choice at the top and imagine how beautiful it will be to arrive; know how wholly you deserve to get there.
Take one step, then another, and you will slowly realize that impossible thing was never really as far away as you thought. Life can be as lovely as we can imagine it to be and you can make the changes that seem impossible. But, first, you have to start.
2. Shame Will Hold You Back
Shame makes it nearly impossible to talk about drinking. When a person begins to question their relationship with alcohol or confront an addiction, the listener often feels compelled to defend themselves and their own drinking habits. This is because our cultural view of addiction is overflowing with shame; the very last thing we want is to be viewed as an addict.
I never want to make anyone else feel ashamed, which is a huge part of why it has been so hard to accept and talk about my addiction. I am a protector, a mother who wants to keep others from harm above all else.
I want to protect myself and my family from being associated with shame. I want to protect others from relating to my experience in a way that feels painful or makes them question their own choices. More than anything, I know that the only way to combat the shame of addiction is to proceed with vulnerability and honesty, even when that means saying or hearing hard things.
3. Addiction Isn’t Always Visible
You can’t always see addiction just by looking at someone. Culturally, we believe that once someone has become addicted to a substance, it becomes obvious. That we can look at another human and immediately know they are at rock bottom.
A few years ago, I don’t think people would have guessed how much I was struggling. I didn’t get arrested or look like I was diseased or obviously destroying my life. My struggle was internal, but that didn’t make it any less overwhelming or real.
4. You Can’t Erase The Past
The past has passed. Becoming addicted to alcohol does not mean that I was always an alcoholic or that I should feel guilty for everything that happened when I was a drinker (even though many of those things definitely were mistakes).
Drinking alcohol is unfortunately a normalized, expected part of our culture. Being a party girl or wine mom always just seemed like it fit for me. I will have to continue to work on accepting these parts of my past as they were, because there is no changing them now.
5. Knowledge Is Power
If I’m being fully honest, I started researching the science behind addiction because I was trying to prove to myself that I was NOT addicted. I listened to “Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction” by Judith Griesel. I listened to podcasts like “This Naked Mind with Annie Grace” and “Sober Powered.”
I read a paperback book for the first time in years called “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” by Holly Whitaker. The more I learned about the scientific and cultural causes of addiction, the more distinctly I realized it was time for me to change.
6. You Don’t Have To Go To AA
More than ever, there are communities that can support a journey to becoming sober that don’t include viewing yourself as eternally diseased and weak. You do not have to admit you are powerless. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to depend on the strength of a higher power to save your life.
I know that AA has helped so many people and is an incredible tool. Personally, I disagreed with some of the fundamental beliefs of this widespread group. I didn’t know that there were newer organizations that held radically different perspectives, like Tempest and SMART Recovery.
You are strong enough to save yourself. You can find support that fits your life.
7. We Can Choose Our Own Descriptors
Not wanting to be called an alcoholic cost me a lot of time. I spent so much energy avoiding that term, instead of simply questioning the role that alcohol had in my life. I still do not want to be associated with that label because I reject the disease model of addiction, much like I despise the medical model of relating to people with disabilities.
I will not be labeled as weak or deficient, forever defined by something I can’t have. I use words like “non-drinker” and “alcohol-free” instead of alcoholic. I still choose to use terms like “sober” and “sobriety” because they connect me to others but come with less negative association.
This may seem like it is just semantics, but I truly believe that the words we choose for ourselves are essential.
8. Addiction Is A Biologically Adaptive State
Becoming physically addicted to alcohol is not anyone’s fault; it is science. If you continue to use a substance, you will eventually develop tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal.
The amount of time it takes to become addicted to a substance is different for everyone. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes it takes a lifetime. But, if you repeatedly consume a substance, addiction will happen eventually because of how our brain and body work at the most basic levels.
For me, this knowledge has helped take away some of the shame of this chapter in my life. It has helped me move forward with power, instead of being burdened by guilt.
9. Trust Your Gut Feelings
I knew what I needed to do, but I just didn’t want to do it. Most people don’t sit around fixating on the question of whether or not they are an alcoholic. It became an obsession for me, steadily taking up more and more of my thoughts.
This was a clear sign that I needed to make a change. I wanted to be obsessed with my life, not alcohol. I didn’t want to accept the truth that I needed to stop drinking; I didn’t want to go through that struggle.
In the end, I had known for a long time what I needed to do. My thoughts were the arrows pointing me in a new direction.
10. Change Takes A Really Long Time
It can take months or years to accept what we need to change. Once we do know, this can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. In my life, awareness built up like the energy beneath a volcano, bubbling and hot, until an eruption of knowing made the truth impossible to hide from.
I tried with all of my energy to ignore or avoid the truth coming from within that I needed to stop drinking if I wanted to return to myself. Admitting this was slow and painful. I couldn’t speak the words out loud for a very long time.
Initially, I stopped drinking without an end goal. After about 50 days, I went back to trying to moderate. The bubbling volcano knew that this was not the answer. I had to be done.
Now, 200 days later, I can say that I don’t drink anymore and that I will not drink again. Not because this is easy to say, but because I know can’t go back. Accepting myself a non-drinker has been a very slow process, one that has taught me that deep, true change takes so much time.
11. People Don’t Care If You Don’t Drink At A Party
There are no shocked faces and there is no pressure to join in. I built up my anxiety on my own, creating answers in my head for questions that were never asked.
12. Moderation Doesn’t Work If You Are Addicted
Trying to moderate the number of glasses or how many nights per week I was drinking felt impossible. For someone who has developed an addiction, one glass is never enough. There will always be a reason to stop for a bottle of wine.
Decision fatigue is a real thing. When I spent my days deciding if I was going to drink or not, I ran out of energy for the rest of my life very quickly. By the end of the day, I couldn’t focus on life decisions because moderation had become my new obsession.
13. Not Drinking Can Feel Incredibly Isolating
Being the only person who isn’t drinking sometimes feels like being a deflated balloon in a pile of bright, shiny balloons that are filled with glow-in-the-dark paint.
14. Cravings Are Truly Overwhelming
They can be triggered by a time of day. A trip to the store, a song, a day at the beach. However, I’ve found that cravings are never really for the actual drink.
The craving is more for a change in emotional state, like wanting to feel relaxed or to end a stressful moment. There are a million ways to move through a craving.
Sometimes, going in to the feeling and searching for the real longing that needs to be fulfilled is enough. Sometimes, I need a walk, a snack, a hug, a conversation, yoga. These strategies started out as my ways of overcoming a craving; now, they have become the ways I move through heavy emotional states in my daily life.
15. Feeling All My Feelings Is Hard
Quitting drinking has taken away the number one coping mechanism of my entire adult life. One of the deepest changes of being alcohol-free is that I am actually learning how to feel and deal with my emotions instead of turning to the very efficient numbing balm I have leaned on for so long.
Turns out, some people really do feel their feelings more deeply. I’ve always known my oldest daughter was a “deeply feeling” or “highly sensitive person.” It’s taken this new process of sobriety and feeling life fully to see myself in this same way. I understand my daughter and myself in a new, powerful light.
16. Alcohol Is Literally Everywhere
It’s in basically every television show and movie. It is available at every social event and outing, regardless of the occasion. It is ingrained in every celebration and holiday. As soon as you realize you can’t drink anymore, you realize that you can’t look in any given direction without seeing alcohol.
17. Alcohol Doesn’t Selectively Numb Feelings
Oftentimes, the very point of drinking is to stop feeling stressed. At the end of the day when we are exhausted or when experiencing sensory overwhelm, we drink to silence our thoughts and bring on a feeling of calm. But, the way alcohol works in our brains is a lot like a tidal wave.
As we drink to numb “bad” feelings, we also become numb to the good feelings in life. We feel less joy. The things that made us happy don’t anymore.
Our brain learns that the only thing that feels good, the thing that feels the best, is the effect of alcohol. A month or two after I stopped drinking, I found myself in tears over the beauty of a sunset. I started laughing loudly and actually feeling deep joy in moments, instead of wondering why I wasn’t enjoying myself more.
18. Rest And Nourishment Should Be Prioritized
Not just when we are healing or trying to accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of moving past addiction, but all the time. We should treat ourselves gently and with great empathy and trust the messages of our body, go to sleep early, and eat nutritious food.
This isn’t babying ourselves; it is treating our self like we deserve to be treated in this life. In the same line, healthy habits and regular routines bring stability when life feels hard.
There have been days where I could feel myself actively shattering. Acting human and being a present parent on these days was all I could do. As time moved forward, I found little rituals and moments of structure within my day. I started mornings by writing a message to myself on an index card. I made tea or cranberry juice with coconut water in the evening.
Consciously building a new routine helped life feel stable when I did not.
19. Our Brains Can Heal
Our bodies are resilient. As humans, we have been born into a vessel that is truly powerful. It wants to thrive and will do anything to survive. This means that we can adapt to new situations, to new choices again and again. We are made to stretch and shrink, to grow, to heal.
I have experienced firsthand the ability a brain has to change the way it functions. Now that I am not obsessively questioning my addiction, there is so much space to do new things. I have returned to creativity, to writing and playing, to making art.
My brain is healing and with this newfound strength, I have returned to dreaming of the future. I know this isn’t just a dream; I have the power to manifest it.
20. I Can Be The Same, But Also Radically Changed
Today is about two decades since my drinking became part of my identity. It’s been almost three years since I started sinking so slowly that I couldn’t see what was happening. It’s been one year after I looked around and found myself completely submerged beneath an ocean of disconnection, addiction, and mental illness.
Here I am, 200 days after my last glass of wine. My drinking self no longer exists in the same way. She is still present, but I am learning to hold space for her, to separate her from who I am.
I have absolutely grieved the loss of her. I have experienced a deep shift into a new phase of life, one where I feel like I am learning how to make purposeful choices for the first time.
It has been terrible and miraculous. It has been the reintroduction to feeling fully. This is one part of the wild, wonderful journey called life.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly Rock. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Subscribe to our free email newsletter, Living Better—your ultimate guide for actionable insights, evidence backed advice, and captivating personal stories, propelling you forward to living a more fulfilling life.
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