I was always a big drinker. From the age of 15, I loved the confidence alcohol gave me. It made me feel fun and free. It numbed my self-doubt, it suppressed my low self-esteem and it helped me to behave as if I was extroverted when actually I was quite the opposite. For a decade I drank heavily but not very different from most people around me.
When I became a mum, however, aged 28, my drinking slowly shifted into something very different. It became a daily crutch, a coping mechanism, an escape. Motherhood and the responsibility of family life made me feel anxious and overwhelmed. At times I felt really lost and unhappy too. I tried hard to moderate my drinking after my third baby, setting myself all sorts of rules and limits but it never worked. It seemed the more restrictions I put on myself, the more I drank.
In September 2015, when I was 37, I made the decision to stop drinking completely. I’d drunk a couple of bottles of wine the night before - it was a Tuesday evening at home, not a special occasion, just another night I had promised myself I wouldn’t have a drink - and I’d I passed out in bed before nine. It wasn’t a dramatic rock bottom but when I woke up that morning, feeling sick and tired, I’d reached a new level of self-loathing and I knew something had to change.
Moderation had proved impossible time and time again for me so I felt that abstinence was the only option left. No one knew I had a problem with alcohol. On that day I confided in my husband for the first time. I told him I needed to abstain from alcohol completely. I didn’t actually believe for a minute that I could stop, and in my mind, I was adamant that even if I did, it wouldn’t need to be forever.
At the beginning, all of my attention was on not picking up a drink. I did everything I could to distract myself. I worked really hard to form new habits and build a healthier lifestyle that didn’t revolve around booze. I did yoga, I ran, I ate a healthier diet, I meditated and practiced gratitude daily. I read and listened to everything I could lay my hands on about alcohol and addiction. I was incredibly proud of myself for getting my drinking under control, without any support, but something still didn’t feel right. I felt an emptiness, a feeling of disconnect, a void inside me. It’s a feeling that’s really difficult to explain and something I began to worry that only alcohol could numb.
So, after six months of abstinence, I made the decision to try an AA meeting. I have genuinely never been more terrified than the night I walked into that room but I was desperate for support. There were about forty people there. Men and women of every age, from every walk of life. They made me feel really welcome. There were lots of parts of the meeting that made me uncomfortable but I loved the feeling that every person in that room had a connection. It was the ‘shared experience’ I’d been seeking. I went again the following week but the things I’d been uncomfortable with in the first meeting stood out to me, even more, the second time. I decided AA wasn’t quite the right route for me.
A year or so later, still struggling with how I was feeling, I had a series of therapy sessions with an addiction/recovery specialist. He introduced me to Acceptance, Commitment Therapy. I found these sessions fascinating and although I had worked really hard to get to the point I was at, I think this was when I actually began to understand what it means to ‘do the work’. Unfortunately, his sessions were expensive so I talked to my GP and started some NHS counselling, which I also found really beneficial.
I used Instagram to build an amazing online sober network but I felt I really wanted to meet some ‘real life’ sober people. So in the summer of 2019 I bit the bullet and went along to a big, sober social event at a restaurant in Manchester. A sit-down meal with thirty people I had never met before. This took me completely out of my comfort zone again but surprisingly I found it easy to be open and talk to these strangers in a way I had never really spoken before. Being open and honest with them felt refreshing. So much of what I said about my drinking and mental health, others had experienced too. I have always felt unsure of myself and like I’m being judged, always questioning what people think of me. But talking to other sober people, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel that way. I felt a closeness even though I barely knew them.
On that night I met the ‘Bee Sober’ girls. They had connected through the Sober Girls Society and were just setting up their own social group in Manchester. The timing was perfect as their first event was the following week. I went along and from there I started to socialise on a regular basis with a group of local sober people. Walks, brunches, festivals, nights out, workshops, cinema trips, climbing mountains - it was exactly the connection and support I needed.
For me, one of the most surprising benefits of stopping drinking has been the huge sense of achievement. Every day I’m achieving something I once believed was completely impossible. I have an ‘actually I can’ attitude now because successfully breaking my drinking habit has made me feel invincible like I can achieve or be whatever I want. That sense of pride in my sobriety has really helped to increase my self-worth.
These days, five and a half years down the line, sobriety is my norm. People sometimes ask me if I still crave a drink and the honest answer is yes, often. I especially miss the easy escape that alcohol offered when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, but when I look at the bigger picture and at all the benefits of sobriety and the healthier lifestyle I have created, I could never regret the decision I made to stop drinking.
At 42 years old I am finally learning to live authentically. I am slowly accepting that who I am is ok and everything I feel is ok. Being true to myself is the only way for me now. Without alcohol numbing everything, the good stuff and the bad, I have no choice but to live life in high definition. That means facing a crazy mixture of amazing and awful, exhilarating and terrifying, ordinary and overwhelming every damn day. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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