Woman Links Depressive Symptoms To Alcohol Use, Creates Safe Sober Community

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What Led To My Sobriety

“Hi there. My name is Julia and I’m a 27-year-old living in the city of Chicago. I was 26 when I embarked on my sober curious journey. I began this journey when I realized my weekend drinking habit was seriously affecting my overall well-being. I discovered that even though I was in therapy, taking antidepressants, physically active, consistently journaling, and even meditating, I was still struggling mentally about half the time.

It was a cloudy Monday in September 2021, and I woke up extremely anxious. For context, I had drunk the Saturday prior. My physical hangover from the day before had subsided but my emotions felt unmanageable, yet again. I had felt this feeling many times before but for some reason, this day was different. Something clicked and I noticed a trend in my emotions. I realized I felt especially low on Sundays, Mondays, and sometimes even Tuesdays.

There were days at the beginning of the week when I would cry all day and not exactly know why. I just knew I felt sad, ashamed, and hopeless. This is what I like to call my revelation moment. I realized this happened especially after nights where I drank. Definitely, after nights where I drank too much, but even on nights where I drank in moderation. My mood was being impacted either way.

sober young woman wearing bikini holding alcohol alternative bottle on a boat
Courtesy of Julia Reyes

Diving Into My Childhood

A bit of backstory about me… I have suffered from depressive symptoms since I was a teen, but it was not until 2018 when it got to a point that I could not get out of bed. I finally sought professional help in the fall of 2018. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and began taking medication. The combination of therapy, medication, and later leaving my job in the service industry was beginning to have a positive effect on my mental health. Through therapy, it had become obvious I had accumulated a lot of emotional baggage from my childhood.

I have a very loving and supportive family, but we went through hard times when I was young. My parents divorced when I was in elementary school. They did their best to keep me and my sister sheltered from the extremely awful state of our family, but the reality was we lived through many damaging moments that caused trauma I would carry with me into adulthood. I believe my upbringing has had a huge effect on me and it is something I actively have to work through to this day. In therapy, I was making progress but it was slow and painful.

Going On A Sober Curious Journey

As mentioned before, I left the service industry in early 2019. While I was working in the service industry, my alcohol consumption was at its worst. My work schedule was inconsistent and I never began work before 5 pm. I went out at night with other people in the service industry, multiple nights a week, and it felt quite normal.

I eventually grew tired of working on the weekends and began looking for a job with a more traditional schedule. I began my new job with a Monday-Friday, 9-5 structure in the spring of 2019. Again, my mental health improved at this point. I did not realize it at the time but I believe reducing my alcohol intake was also a huge factor in that improvement.

To bring us up to speed, from 2019 through 2021 my alcohol consumption consisted of drinking on the weekends only. The same as literally everyone around me. I suffered from the ‘Sunday scaries’ and the ‘Monday blues’ just like everyone else, right? So for a long time, I never questioned this routine. To be honest, I am still unsure how I connected the dots on that Monday in September 2021, but I am glad I did.

I decided to re-evaluate the role alcohol had in my life. I initially set a goal of a 30-day break from alcohol and what I would discover in that 30 days would change my life forever. I first started researching not only the negative effects alcohol had on the human brain and body but also the positive effects taking a break from alcohol has on us. It was then I found alcohol can throw off our chemical balance for days at a time, even after nights of moderate drinking and even on days when you are not drinking.

The trend in my mood swings was starting to make sense. At this time, I also discovered there are many online communities out there for young and sober people to connect. This was a great discovery because I felt like I was the only one in my real life that was even considering life without alcohol. These online communities made me feel a lot less alone. At the end of my 30-day break, I discovered my mood improved tremendously.

I learned I love Sundays. I learned I did not have to dread Mondays. I realized starting and completing that break gave me confidence in myself that I had not previously experienced before. Not to mention the huge strides I was accomplishing in therapy. I had made more progress in 30 days than I had in months.

sober young woman wearing white skirt and black top sitting on bathroom counter smiling at camera
Courtesy of Julia Reyes

Resorting Back To Old Habits

Unfortunately, I returned to drinking after that initial 30-day break. I thought maybe the progress I made from the break would somehow change my reaction to the substance. I was wrong. The substance affected me the same.

When I drank only a couple of times after the initial 30 days, I found myself missing the person I was on that break. She was optimistic, confident, creative, and determined. She discovered things that brought her organic joy like creating, reading, and connecting with other young, sober people. I realized I had been reintroduced to myself completely.

I did not expect this to happen when my sober curious journey began. I also found I could no longer enjoy the effects of alcohol like I did before. I did not enjoy having to pay for it with a hangover either. I wanted to feel optimistic again. I yearned for that confidence, creativity, and determination I lived during my 30-day break.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I no longer saw the substance the same at all. I could no longer be ignorant of the fact it was harmful to just about every major system of our bodies. So on October 31, 2021, I decided I would be taking another break from alcohol… but this time, it was indefinite. I have been alcohol-free ever since.

Making A Commitment To Sobriety

Although I was excited to return to sobriety, I realized drinking is quite ingrained in almost all social activities, at least here in the United States. Every event I had looked forward to in the year prior was accompanied by alcohol. For example, a night out with friends, going to brunch with friends, going to a concert, attending a wedding, a sporting event, a weekend at the lake… you get the point.

It was as if socializing and drinking had become completely synonymous. Now to clarify, I can attend all of these events while abstaining from alcohol. But I found it quite boring to attend any event where the main focus or point of the event was drinking to get drunk.

I wanted to find connections with sober people face-to-face, in addition to the online communities I found. So I did just that. I began using platforms like Instagram and Facebook to find other sober people in Chicago. I was shocked at how many groups and pages were dedicated to these types of meetups.

I have now gained a group of sober women that I am lucky to call my close friends. We go out, we dance, we stay in, we talk, we walk along the lake, we hike, we go to yoga, we bond. The connection I have found within the sober community in Chicago has been nothing short of amazing. I am so grateful to have these people in my life and I can’t imagine life without them now.

sober young woman wearing work out attire with one foot resting on bleachers
Courtesy of Julia Reyes

I faced another challenge when ultimately deciding to go alcohol-free indefinitely. How would my peers take this news? It wasn’t until I hit my 3 months of sobriety that I shared the news on my personal Instagram and Facebook.

In the beginning, I was so nervous about the judgments other people might have of me. You see, I do not identify as an alcoholic, but I want to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using that label. Some of the most incredible people in my life use that label to identify themselves and I think that is amazing. I think it is amazing because that label allows them to speak their truth.

For me, that label does not feel like my truth. For further clarification, I am still often assumed to be coming from a place of addiction but I take no offense. Again, I have many people in my life that do come from a place of addiction and I have no shame in being assumed to be the same. I just prefer to speak my truth if I have the chance.

Sober on the other hand, does feel like truth to me. It feels like truth to me because I am not someone that ‘just does not like to drink.’ I did like to drink. I just absolutely hated the way it made me feel afterward. So, I have to actively choose my sobriety all of the time, and using the word sober makes me proud that I have committed to this decision.

As time went on, I discovered there was not a lot of gray area in the language between ‘normal drinkers’ and alcoholics. The conversation felt very black and white. It was as though you had to identify with words like ‘in recovery,’ addict, or alcoholic to justify the decision of living alcohol-free.

This was quite frustrating because when I ultimately made this decision to go alcohol-free, I was only drinking about once a week. A Friday or a Saturday. For full transparency, many of those times I drank too much.

There were times I made mistakes that hurt people close to me when I was drunk and I want to take ownership of those bad decisions. But again, there were many times when I drank in moderation. From the outside looking in, most people in my life saw me as a responsible and normal drinker. With this all said, language is important. I want to encourage people to use the language that speaks the most truth for them. This is when I decided to do something about it.

Sober young woman wearing white long sleeve looking into camera
Courtesy of Julia Reyes

Creating My Own Sober Community

I began my Tik Tok in December of 2021. I wanted to create a space for people who fall under that ‘gray area’ of drinking but still benefit greatly from a sober life. I strive to be a voice for non-drinkers that do not come from a place of addiction. I strive to be an advocate for the sober curious movement, as well as an ally and cheerleader for those that identify as being in recovery. I have built a small community on Tik Tok of about 28K people where I do my best to normalize sobriety, especially for young people.

I want to show my following, as a living and breathing example, that sober does not mean boring, and socializing does not have to mean boozing. I have maintained my social life, found a true sense of confidence, and gained a new appreciation for life. Your life does not have to be over if you decide to ditch alcohol. It wasn’t until I ditched alcohol that I began living the life I’ve always strived for.

I am currently working on bringing my lived experience to stages at high schools and colleges so I can share my story and offer tips on how I am successful in being young, sober, social, and finally living the life I’ve wanted. It is a work in progress but I hope to finalize my talk by January 2023. Thanks for reading!”

sober young woman wearing jean jacket and white shirt posing at camera next to white wall
Courtesy of Julia Reyes

This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Julia Reyes of Chicago. You can follow her on Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

Read more inspiring stories on addiction:

‘Do you think it’s too late for me?’ He bravely responded with a single, ‘No.’: Mom details overcoming alcohol addiction, finding healing in music

‘Everything in my life was crumbling and I COULD NOT STOP until physically stopped.’: Man shares how he achieved long-lasting sobriety after addiction journey

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