Wow. Just wow. I couldn’t imagine seven days without a drink at one point. Now, one day at a time, I have made it to seven years. Has it been easy? Of course not. Has it been constant highs and euphoria? Nope. Has it been worth it? Absolutely.
I had no idea what to expect when I first got sober. I just didn’t want to drink anymore. In fact, I didn’t want that life anymore. I was broken. Completely and utterly smashed to bits. Yet, cyclic destruction was all I knew. What I didn’t know is that it was the cause of all the problems. My days would follow a similar path; wake up feeling rough, not really knowing how it had happened, vow not to drink, slowly recover throughout the day, vow to have a drink but only one, repeat. One drink starts the problem. If I don’t have one, I can’t have two, or three, etc. I didn’t know this until it was too late.
Thankfully, the rock bottom was enough of a bump to rattle me out of the cycle of destruction. It was enough pain to make me want to change. I just had no idea how to change. The first year, was trial and error. Insanity and desperation interspersed with moments of peace. Fleeting moments of happiness were a reminder that sobriety was the right thing to do. And they were enough to offset the trepidation of walking an alien path. It was a strange time. But I just kept going, one day at a time. Trusting the belief that things might not get better but at the very least, quitting drinking would stop things from getting worse.
The tools I learned in those early days have been the mainstay of my sobriety. Through trial and error, I learned what worked for me and allowed me to disregard the things that didn’t. Some things work for some and not for others. I can only advise you to find what works for you. As long as it isn’t drinking. That never worked. Ultimately, it is swapping negative vices for positive ones. The small things that kept me sober in the early days are the same things that work now; eating well, reaching out, exercise, meditating and learning. When I am feeling well those can slip. They take a back seat and my mood slowly slides into negativity. It doesn’t take long to realise why. The times I keep up the practices of staying well are the times I am rewarded. I have to practice to be well. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Even after all these years, I have to maintain the bridges to healthy living. By building a stable foundation it is possible to expand my life in areas that weren’t possible during my drinking days.
Alcohol consumed my wages and my soul. I was left with nothing but dreams and despair. Slowly rebuilding my mind, body and soul after quitting alcohol, seemed like I was bucketing water from a sinking ship. I never seemed to be progressing. I wanted miraculous changes overnight. I doubted they would ever happen. I expected a flash of light awakening and to be profoundly changed in some way but it didn’t happen like that. After seven years of sobriety, I can proudly look back at the things I have achieved and say that the miracle did happen. The change took time. The experiences took sacrifice. But I was rewarded far beyond what I ever could imagine. Moments of inner peace were a worrying trend when I first quit. I was so used to shame, guilt and chaotic thinking that I thought it was a mistake. But slowly they become more frequent. Until a chaotic mind was the signifier that something was wrong. It was a complete change. With this clarity, it was finally possible to try and point my life in the direction I would like to head. TRAVEL was always high on my list. Sobriety gave me back a LOT of time. But I was still in mountains of debt. Travel takes money. So I started to pay it off. It was liberating. Freedom from addiction and debt was the liberation I needed.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve met great people along the way. Even in the drunken chaos I still managed to hold down a job. That helped clear the debt. But I had to sacrifice trivial things to do it. I had to cut down on frivolous spending and miss opportunities. I always looked at it as travel was delayed happiness. The reward of doing it was worth the wait and the sacrifice of short term gratification. I can confirm, it was worth it. By doing this I have been lucky enough to visit; USA, Mexico, Peru, Belize, Guatemala, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, Turkey and Germany. I have walked the El Camino de Santiago from France and Portugal. It has been an incredible journey. It is all thanks to sobriety.
It hasn’t always been exotic locations and blissful serenity. In the early days, I would sit at home on a Friday and Saturday night, imagining that everyone else in the world was having a great time. I would feel left out and isolated. Slowly, it faded and I found other things to do, with other people. There have been times when quitting drinking feels like quitting life and in the UK it could be deemed as such. But there are other things to do. It just takes time to find them. It is also important to remind myself why I quit. Was alcohol really giving me the joyous sexy freedom that was advertised or was it misery, self-hatred and debt? If you are unsure, it was the latter.
There have been difficult times that I wanted to escape. My mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour when I was three years sober. During her twelve-hour surgery I didn’t want to feel the fear I felt that she might not make it. Every ounce of me wanted a drink to take the pain away. But thankfully I knew that it would only delay the pain. I remembered all the pain that alcohol had caused. Thankfully, she was okay and I made it through without a drink. Each hill I overcame in sobriety prepared me for the next. Whether it is overcoming break-ups or a breakdown. Each served as a lesson for being better prepared if it happens again.
Last year I suffered a breakdown. By not drowning my sorrows in alcohol the turnaround time for an uptick in mood was vastly hastened. Swimming in a bottle of whiskey only serves to hasten the end of life and slow down the escape to freedom. Alcohol never brought me freedom for any sustained period. Just delaying and magnifying the pain. Facing problems seems hard. I can categorically state that delaying them is FAR worse. Sobriety gives the strength to face the present. To engage in life in ways I never thought possible. It isn’t always easy but it is easier than it was. Life still happens. Struggles still happen. Bad things still happen. But they just seem to be a little more manageable with the clarity of sobriety.
I can’t tell you what to do with your life. All I can say is that one day I stood at a fork in the road. One was continuing down the same path. The one of guilt and shame. The one of misery and destruction. That road was to continue drinking alcohol. The other was to quit. I couldn’t moderate, I had tried. The road to sobriety was unknown. It appeared boring. I mean what do you do if you don’t drink? The answer? ANYTHING. The road less travelled is rewarded with some of the most divine experiences I have ever had. If I did not quit drinking I would not have done the things I have done. It is that simple. It isn’t easy. But it has been worth it.
So after all these years what is the reason I keep going? Because amongst the travel and breakdowns. The peaks and troughs of life. There lays the base layer of my happiness. The longer I go without drinking the more balanced that becomes. I used to think that a constant level meant flatlining. That without chaos and drama there was only boredom. What I found was contentment. I found the moments of bliss I’d searched for by consuming alcohol. Even on the dullest of days, there can be a wry smile at enjoying the simplicity. Life isn’t perfect. Nor would I want it to be. But it is a lot more manageable than it once was. It isn’t all butterflies and rainbows but it definitely isn’t the guilt, shame and chaos that it once was. I’ll take manageable contentment over chaotic misery. It really isn’t as boring as I once thought it would be. The clear-headed mornings and the feeling of wellbeing is irreplaceable. Life without alcohol isn’t easy but it is a challenge worth taking.