That moment you realize it's not as easy as simply removing alcohol

At the jump, it's all about alcohol and then at some point it shifts and it's not about alcohol at all.

Today we’re going to dip our toes into a very complex topic. I didn’t imagine diving into this so soon but based on the questions I’m receiving from these newsletters; I think this topic makes sense. And like some of the other themes we’ve covered, this likely won’t be a comprehensive dive but will aim to introduce an important concept.

When I initially said adios to alcohol in September, my world flipped and became immediately totally centered around alcohol. I was no longer drinking alcohol, but I was also immersing myself in alcohol culture. My days would start with a 30-minute walk listening to a sobriety podcast, followed by a video lesson from the alcohol-free course as I was attending while getting ready. Once I jumped in the car to bring the girls to school, I would tune into another podcast or audiobook that I’d come back to throughout the day. In the evenings I’d try to take care of myself when cravings arose and experiment with various NA beverages while making and enjoying dinner. To be frank, it was exhausting. I understand why it’s hard to string together 30 days when you’re fully in the habit of drinking. My world revolved around alcohol all the while trying to eliminate it.

That’s the thing about early sobriety, it’s allllll about alcohol. This is where it’s super common to have thoughts like:

Drinking’s really not that bad.
I can drink like everyone else.
I didn’t care about drinking as much as I’m thinking about it now.
How is this better than actually drinking!?
This is way worse than the couple of drinks I have here and there.
My life is worse now that I’m not drinking and thinking about it all the time!
My drinking wasn’t so bad.
I’ll just need better rules to moderate when and how much I drink.

The thing with early sobriety is that it’s all-consuming, especially when we’re not just relying on willpower but trying to learn more about the substance through education. You’re using willpower to fight through cravings, trying to stay open-minded while taking in new information while combating doubt and uncertainty about this new world. It’s exhausting. It’s what kept me stuck for years. I’d make it a couple of weeks and inevitably give into the temptation to drink to stop the incessant thoughts.

If you’re in this cycle of starting and stopping and can’t seem to string together as many days as you’d like, I want to share something that changed everything for me. What you’re walking through is part of the process. When you’re in this cycle it can feel like you’re just failing repeatedly to reach your goals, but what you’re actually doing is walking the road to sober curiosity. Here’s my best advice, just don’t quit quitting. At some point, you’ve come too far to go back. You know too much about alcohol and how it affects your physical and mental health. You’ve experienced hangxiety and you want off the hamster wheel. There’s a piece of you that can see it so clearly – a beautiful, fulfilling life without alcohol. But then the reality of how to get from where you are to where you ultimately want to be, feels like an ocean apart. It’s okay. I was there and so were many others on this path. If you’re here learning from others and trying, you’re doing it right.

Here's one of the (many) things that can trip us up in this stage of the process – trying to imagine what life can look like as a non-drinker while living in our current life that was designed by a drinker. We’re in the same life we’ve lived for years, even decades and the only thing that changes initially is that we’ve removed alcohol. For many of us, drinking was the primary activity even when partaking in actual activities. Alcohol plays a central role in many of our favorite pastimes. Even when the activities involved others and actually doing something, drinking was at the center. Take for instance going to sporting events, going out to dinner, attending kids’ soccer games, traveling for work, boating at the lake, going up north, going on vacation, camping, cheering at dance competitions, catching a movie, trick or treating, having a bonfire and countless other activities, there was always alcohol. When you simply remove the alcohol, you will suddenly be keenly aware of how much the activity revolved around the alcohol.

At some point during my journey, I went on vacation with a group of friends. This was during a stint where both John and I were not drinking together. Going into the trip we had multiple conversations about whether to partake in drinking or focus on other aspects of the trip so that we could remain alcohol free. I researched various activities, museums, and excursions that would allow us to view the city we were traveling to and have a great time while not drinking. Sadly, this research went mostly unused as our group was more interested in seeing the inside of local establishments than experiencing the city around us. Please hear me when I say that this is not a judgement of the group or the preference of activities. Up until a couple years ago my preference for vacations was to drink heavily, now it’s not. The circumstances haven’t changed, I changed.

Prior to my sober curiosity, I went on many trips with friends where I was much happier to bar hop around the towns we were visiting than I was to sightsee or take in the beautiful locale around us. I shudder to think of all the money I wasted on travel that I do not remember and alcohol that obliterated the memories I was trying to make. It would have made more sense to stay home and check out the local bar scene in Appleton than hop on a plane, pass out in an expensive hotel, and pay exorbitant tourist prices for the same old bottle of wine I could buy at our local Costco!

On the surface, it seems that when we decide to remove alcohol, we would just remove alcohol. Just stop drinking. Right? It seems that way until you try and then when you try you realize your life, albeit unintentional, orbits around alcohol. Here’s the unfortunate, but true reason for this...there were reasons that led us to drink in the first place. When we stop drinking, we realize very quickly that on some level, we used alcohol to escape different aspects of our lives. Maybe it’s the never-ending responsibilities with children, a career that makes us feel stagnant, an unfulfilling marriage, a house that’s been neglected, our health that’s suffering, a draining friend, a frantic schedule, or an incessant nagging for a passion project we keep putting off. I don’t know what your reasons are but mine were surprising and overwhelming. In the beginning of this newsletter, I mentioned that in the early stage of sobriety it’s all about alcohol. This was the case for my first 30 to 60 days. After that point, it switched, and it went from being all about alcohol to not being about alcohol at all. It became about all the reasons my drinking slowly but steadily increased over the years.

When we stop drinking, we realize very quickly that on some level, we used alcohol to escape different aspects of our lives.

I’ve shared that alcohol has been in my life for no less than 20 years, but I can pinpoint moments in time where my drinking kicked up. There are macro and micro reasons that we turn to alcohol. Here are a few Macro examples where I turned to alcohol to numb the painful feelings:

- after having kids when I struggled with postpartum depression
- stressful career transitions
- trying to fit in with different social circles
- feeling alone and uncertain during COVID-19
- losing friends after the pandemic

There were also many small daily reasons or Micro reasons such as;

- a lack of boundaries
- not sticking up for myself when a friend was cruel
- struggling with impostor syndrome throughout my career
- feeling left out with friends
- not feeling good enough in general
- burnout, exhaustion, self-sacrifice, etc.

The thing we face when we stop drinking is the reason we drank in the first place. When we stop drinking, we’re confronted with the reality of a life that resulted in drinking. If you’re currently facing this reality and you wonder how you’re going to keep on keeping on in your existing life without alcohol, I have some exciting and somewhat scary news…you can choose to change your life. The incredible power we realize when we stop drinking is that WE get to choose what our life looks like! There’s so much on this topic but for now, please know that it is more complicated than just removing alcohol and there is a way to design a kick-ass life you don’t need to escape from. We’ll get into that more soon, until then, I’m thinking of you and cheering for you.

XOXO - Jess

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