One of the most surprising benefits of sobriety I’ve experienced has been its ability to reveal to me who I really am. I did, thought, said, and felt things in my drinking days that I look back on now and think, “Who was that person?”
She is not me.
Drinking me was a victim. Before I quit drinking, I was all drama and no substance which is a shame because I had so much potential.
I was a wildly creative young person – writing, singing, making music. But as much as I was bursting with talent, I was equally filled with self-loathing.
Guess which side won out?
I wish I could go back in time and love some sense into that kid.
Becoming A Heavy Drinker
The budding alcoholic of my late teens and early twenties was incredibly book smart and tragically lacking in emotional intelligence. The gaping wound in my life (as I saw it) was that I’d never had a proper boyfriend and that meant EVERYTHING.
Of course, the roots were deeper than that, but that’s a topic for another day.
Things happened in my formative years that forced me to carry some trauma into adulthood. For whatever reason, my thinking was that having a real relationship would wipe the slate clean. It would make me whole.
There was no other passion guiding my life stronger than my desire to be romantically loved by another person. It colored everything I did until my early thirties.
And because I perceived myself to be an empty, unlovable shell of a human, I filled that space with alcohol, drama, lying, and manipulation.
Old me was in a constant state of hurt. Why is my social circle so inconsistent? Why do men never want a relationship with me?
I have empathy for the old me, but I can’t blame a single person who rejected her. She was a mess – a bad friend, self-absorbed, and clingy.
She had no identity that could not be shaped or moved by an outside person, nothing that belonged to her exclusively that she would not willingly give away for the possibility of being with someone.
Frankly, I’m glad she’s gone.
Sobriety means I get to finally be who I could’ve been had I not decided to self-medicate my depression and neediness with alcohol. Falling in love with myself has been the most incredible experience of my life next to becoming a mother.
And it’s the reason my life’s work is currently helping people who’ve been where I’ve been, get through it.
So with that, I want to share with you some things I noticed I stopped doing when I quit drinking that has drastically improved the quality of my life and relationships.
1. I stopped gossiping all the time.
When you hate yourself, it’s easy to hate on other people, and that’s exactly what I did.
Even though I was a total mess, I was more than willing to pick people apart behind their backs. I’m witty, so a lot of my gossip would be shrouded in humor, but we all knew what it was.
My brand of gossip put a magnifying glass up to other people and blew things way out of proportion. It was exhilarating, a rush. We’re all programmed to be drawn to gossip. It’s part of being human. But I took it too far.
If there was drama to be had, I was in it.
Gossiping is insidious. It riles you up and fuels the worst parts of yourself. I did it ALL THE TIME.
Sobriety means I’m no longer a big-mouthed asshole. I mind my business. Because I don’t need to talk shit about people in order to feel connected to another human, the compulsion is no longer there.
Sure, I engage in venting sessions with friends and hear them out about who did what at work, but I don’t create or spread rumors and I’m not drawn to conversations that are mean-spirited anymore.
It’s a total weight off my back.
2. I stopped lying.
Oh, I was such a good liar (or maybe I wasn’t). And I lied about everything, even stupid things that didn’t call for it.
At the root of my lying was a complete dissatisfaction with my life. I didn’t like who I was, my roots, my experiences, none of it. So I frequently embellished, committed to half-truth versions of myself, and outright lies to dodge reality or give myself cover when I didn’t want to take responsibility for something.
It’s not uncommon. A lot of people who drink heavily are notorious liars.
And I’m sorry for it every single day.
Once I quit drinking, I stopped lying. I gave up the facades of who and what I really was. And what a relief. Honesty is always easier.
3. I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
Drinking makes wallowing in self-pity incredibly easy.
It’s what we’re taught, right? How many movies or TV shows send us the message that when you’re feeling down, grabbing a glass of wine or a bottle of scotch is the remedy?
We’re all familiar with the archetype of the lone drinker sitting in a dark room with tears running down his face, a sad melody playing in the background. For whatever reason, that appealed to me.
I leaned into that persona with all my might. You would think a halo of tiny violins enshrined my head.
What I did NOT do was take responsibility for my life by actively doing anything to make it better. I certainly tried here and there, but I gave up quickly which added to my belief that I was a dysfunctional loser.
The problem is, I was trying to DIY my own therapy with the self-help aisle and meditation when what I really needed was professional help and perhaps rehab.
My brokenness became my identity and I did not know who I was without it. It was the only way I connected to anyone, by sharing my problems of who did what to me and when.
I don’t do that anymore. If something happens to me, I deal with it the best I can (which is not always perfect) and then I move forward. I’m proactive. I care about solutions. And I don’t have anything to feel sorry about.
I’ve created a life I absolutely love and own every bad decision I’ve made on the path to getting here. Even if turns my stomach to think about it.
4. I stopped being afraid of everything.
From an outside perspective, maybe it didn’t seem like I was playing it safe.
I’d left my home state to go to college in Atlanta, something a lot of people where I’m from don’t do. From there I moved back to Indiana temporarily before heading to Miami, Florida for four years, then to Brooklyn, New York, and finally halfway across the world to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
But a lot of those moves were just my way of running from something. After I graduated from college, I got into teaching and was absolutely miserable. But I was too afraid to try something else despite having SO MANY opportunities.
By the time I’d finally gotten a job outside of the classroom, I was so heavy into daily drinking that it hardly mattered at the point. Besides, I didn’t care for that job either.
It’s hard to find work you care about when you have no idea who you are anymore.
Once I got sober and had my daughter, I knew that I wasn’t going to keep living my life this way. After fourteen long years, I quit teaching and threw myself into my writing and this blog full time, which in turn has led to other professional opportunities.
And I have never been happier.
Taking a leap of faith meant our income was reduced to half. It meant learning to tolerate a level of risk and uncertainty that would’ve been impossible if I’d been drinking.
5. I stopped binge-watching TV.
In the age of Netflix, it is very easy to curl up on the couch and lose five hours to a riveting TV series. There is SO much good content out there.
But I mostly steer clear of it.
It doesn’t mean I don’t watch shows. I do. But I don’t sit down and become a zombie scrolling on my phone while the autoplay does its thing.
For one, I have a toddler and she’s not into The Marvelous Mrs. Maisal. Secondly, I have shit to do! I fill my free time with learning, developing websites, and working towards building a better future for myself and my family.
But even when I’m finished working for the day, I’d much rather dig into a book before bed than a series (usually anyways). I no longer feel compelled to find ways to lose time.
6. I stopped being a quitter.
You know those people who are constantly starting things they never finish? Oh hey, you’re a vegan now? Cool. Two weeks later, they’re scarfing a burger.
That was me.
In my drinking days, I was flailing to find a redemption story. To my credit, I did look, but my search was misguided.
I tried yoga and hated it. Then I tried to get into meditation. (That one I DID stick with but it was not, in itself, a solution.) For some delusional reason, I dropped $5,000 USD on this scammy “school” to become a certified health coach.
Maybe I was going to start going to the gym at 5 AM before work or start my day with green smoothies. Whatever healthy trend I wanted to hop on fell swiftly by the wayside.
In my defense, none of these things were going to work so long as I refused to get any kind of help for my drinking, but years of pulling these little stunts did create a terrible habit loop in my brain.
I became accustomed to my own failure.
Once I quit drinking and got sober, I could start the process of breaking down a lot of the “stuff” that drove me to feel like I wasn’t worth a damn. Through online therapy, I learned how to deal with these feelings in healthier ways and not let them define me.
Eventually (although not at first), I got to a place where I could set goals for myself outside of sobriety and stick to them.
The early days were pure survival mode. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke.
Being on bed rest and severely ill with morning sickness certainly helped this process, but I stuck to “don’t drink, don’t smoke” for almost a year before I was able to really take on other goals long term.
I’m sure my pregnancy impacted that timeline, but the point I want to make is that you may not experience this in the early days of sobriety. But you WILL get there and when you do, your entire life is going to transform.
Access should not be a barrier to help.
7. I stopped hating myself.
I love me some me. Truly. This relationship is new, mind you. I’ve only been here for about two years, but it is magical.
If you had told me even five years ago that I would publicly profess to love myself and genuinely mean it, I would’ve called you a liar. I have always tried to get to this point, but it felt so forced.
I tried it all. Visualizations, affirmations, manifestations, gratitude journals. The problem is just like you can’t force a relationship with another person to work if there’s no love or connection there, you can’t force love on yourself.
I can stand in front of a mirror and say, “I love myself” 50,000 times but if at the end of the day, I’m drinking myself sick and accepting horrible treatment from men because I’m desperate to not be alone, then what’s to love?
I’m just a weirdo talking to my reflection.
You have to believe you’re worthy and start doing things to show you believe that before you truly get to this point.
A lot of us have buried that worth underneath a mountain of pain. So we drink. We become the kind of people we would never want to hang out with.
Once I got rid of the alcohol, I had to deal with that mountain and start chipping away at it. If I didn’t, I’d be right back where I started.
Falling in Love
Sobriety helped me have enough mental and emotional bandwidth to take on that mountain. The process of quitting helped me start. Every day that you stay sober is one you can finish and say, “I did that. I deserve to have this.”
It starts a ripple effect, which is why when we relapse, we take it so hard. It contradicts this new narrative we’re building.
Here’s the important thing to note – it doesn’t have to because the act of trying again is also a powerful act of self-love and self-worth.
Not only has sobriety made me feel empowered to actually improve my life, but it has allowed me to see myself as someone who deserves it.
This might be the thing I’m most grateful for because, without it, none of the other changes are possible.
Why Am I Telling You This?
One of the biggest saving graces of my journey has been reading the stories of people who struggled with alcohol addiction and came out the other side a better, transformed human being.
Once you’ve destroyed yourself long enough, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing left to work with.
I spent years of my life stuck in a cycle of hating myself, drinking, hating myself for drinking, and repeating. A very loud part of my brain thought that a relationship would fix it. Eventually, I DID get into a relationship and, In 2014, got married.
And you know what?
It didn’t fix anything that was fundamentally wrong with me. How could it? The expectation that it would nearly destroy my marriage.
I had to quit drinking, get some help, and do the work on myself. That’s why so many attempts to quit drinking failed in the past.
I just focused on the drinking part and didn’t do any of the other work.
Once I gave sobriety my undivided attention, everything else in my life dramatically improved. I became a better friend, wife, and mother.
And that’s what I want for you and anyone else who reads this. A little bit of hope that you can come back from all of this and make it.
In the immortal words of Mother Ru, “If you can’t learn to love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
Can I get an amen?