Sobriety has been one of my life’s most humbling and illuminating experiences. The process, however, isn’t always comfortable.
The deeply UNCOMFORTABLE aspects of sobriety help you grow the most, which is why I want to talk about them.
Sobriety shows you who you are, but also who you were.
When you abuse alcohol, that inner addict’s voice takes you hostage.
There’s the real you in there, buried deep, but it’s suffocating under the weight of addiction, problems, and (in my case) untreated mental health problems like depression or anxiety.
And so this hybrid version emerges – a Frankenstein creation of disparate parts that should never coexist.
But they do. And not very well, I might add.
One minute, the real you pops up. This is the version of yourself that allows you to sleep at night, who wants to be a good person and live a fulfilling life. She (or he) is the one with the friends who got the job or was charming on that date.
(For sake of ease, I’m going to use ‘she’.’ If you are a man, switch the pronouns how you see fit.)
But then the other sides emerge – usually after a few drinks or in the absence of desperately needed ones.
The circus begins.
Seeing Your Ugly Side
We all have the ugly side of ourselves that emerges with the drink.
Maybe you’re hilarious and wobbly. Or maybe you’re THAT girl. There’s no way to predict who will show up.
Your problems come rushing to the surface, and you become the person who emotionally unloads on acquaintances or work friends.
This person has no idea how inappropriate it is.
She just keeps going.
All these competing parts have you morph into a woman who irrationally obsesses over love interests she’s just met.
The person who drinks herself silly on a Friday night and posts self-deprecating posts on social media, hoping to find validation for the pain she’s in.
Or maybe she decides to rehash old gripes with unsuspecting friends, family members, or exes.
That version of yourself is a mess.
She considers herself the victim of a hard world that has rejected her. Nobody stands by her. Everybody leaves. She drinks, so she doesn’t have to feel any of it.
And she has no brakes. There’s never enough.
The next morning, the real you has to deal with the carnage while the messy parts sleep it off.
You feel like the worst person in the world. You are so sorry. You’re going to do better.
And you mean it when you say it.
But those messy parts wake up and know how to get their way with you. So the cycle begins again.
It’s awful. Some people don’t survive it.
Realizing that YOU were the problem
Sobriety means you no longer have to participate in these dramas.
Sure, you still have to contend with your inner addict from time to time, but she can’t steamroll you like before.
And mental health issues? You’re dealing with them now, and it’s getting better.
But it also means confronting the monster and seeing her for what she is.
Sobriety forces you to rewrite your personal history. To take responsibility for your role in the darker periods of your life.
And that ain’t easy, my friend.
Self-Reflection in Sobriety
Part of my sobriety journey involves forgiving myself for being a truly atrocious and high-maintenance friend to some pretty amazing people.
In my drinking days, I was bitter.
The people I’d hung out with and felt close to often faded away. When I moved abroad, I didn’t hear from many of them unless I initiated a conversation. I felt forgotten.
My sober self sees it differently.
Those people escaped me, and I’m certain their lives are better for it.
Whenever we hung out, it was a drunk venting session. They were less my friends and more unpaid therapists, and that’s MY fault.
Did I show up for them? No. My entire world revolved around drinking and unleashing my feelings onto well-intending people, no matter how irrational.
I’d mix in some humor so it could seem like we were having “fun,” but it didn’t change the fact that I was a negative person.
I felt attacked if someone tried to call me out or help me. See! Another person being mean to me.
When invitations to hang out or communication stopped, I used it as an excuse to feel sorry for myself. See! Everyone rejects me.
Me. Me. Me.
You’ll Start To See Things Differently
When you abuse alcohol, you become the center of the universe and can’t imagine why anyone might want to escape your orbit for a second.
You expect the world to nurture you, and when it doesn’t, you fall to pieces.
Sobriety allows you to develop empathy and to put yourself in the shoes of others and see it from their side.
Of course, people stopped asking me to hang out. Who wants to be around someone who drinks too much and constantly talks shit about people?
I wouldn’t be friends with someone like that.
Oh, that one guy didn’t text me back? Maybe it’s because I drank three strong cocktails at dinner and got a little slurry with the life story he didn’t ask for.
Of course, I didn’t go far in that job. I was terrible at it, and it was driving me and everyone I worked with miserable!
Dealing With The Hard Stuff
But those are the milder cases.
Sobriety forces us to reckon with the parts of ourselves that run deeper and darker than just being a bad friend or lousy date.
Maybe sobriety reveals that you’ve been a shitty daughter, spouse, or mother, and there’s damage you don’t know how to fix.
Or maybe sobriety teaches you that you wasted a decade of your life. What are you supposed to do with that?
The answer is: handle it.
You will learn who you are in these moments. Are you the addict who runs scared back to the bottle, or are you finally ready to get your hands dirty and face it head-on?
I’ve chosen both paths at one point or another. That first option? It doesn’t lead anywhere good.
And that’s where support comes in.
One of the most difficult lessons of sobriety, especially for the stubborn among us, is that you probably can’t do it alone. Sometimes the weight is too much.
Where you go for that support is entirely up to you – there are many paths forward. But you have to go forward, and that’s not an easy direction.
Sobriety has a brilliant way of showing you your strength, even if strength looks like surrender.
How many relapses result from people thinking they can handle it by themselves? Sobriety will teach you humility.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Embracing The Suck
“Embrace the suck” is US Military speak for acknowledging that something extremely unpleasant is necessary and unavoidable to move forward.
Sobriety is FULL of these moments.
And it’s not linear, by the way. Some days you will persevere at embracing the suck, and on others, when you fail in some aspect.
So long as you don’t drink, you’re still headed in the right direction. And if you do? Well, you start over.
For me, I always thought that not drinking was the hard part. If I could tamp down the riot in my brain and stay sober, everything after that would be easier.
I was wrong.
Sure, I’ve leveled up in life. I’m no longer a self-absorbed, sad woman drinking herself into oblivion every night.
But I still do things and fall victim to thought patterns that resemble the person who did.
And that’s the reality of sobriety. You still have your “shit” to deal with, and maybe that never ends because, well, life. It just looks a little different.
Why am I telling you this?
Because you need to hear it. I needed to hear it when I was starting out.
We don’t talk enough about the fact that sobriety CAN’T solve your problems. We say, “alcohol has destroyed your life and led you down this path,” which is true, but YOU also had a role in it.
That’s the hard part.
Sobriety will teach you about yourself, and you may not like what you learn.
But I also think the uncomfortable parts of sobriety provide the biggest benefits. Our ability to survive our darker side, and push through despite it, is what makes us better and keeps us sober long term.
That’s the trickier part of sobriety. You must be willing to do the work and embrace the suck. You learn the hard lessons, And you evolve. You become better.
Not perfect. But better.
And that’s a powerful thing.