When I tell people I don’t drink, I usually receive one of a slew of congratulatory responses. “Oh wow good for you!” “That’s so impressive!” “I wish I could do that!” “You must feel so great/healthy/responsible/mature/etc.”
I’ve been sober well over a year, long enough to have adjusted to this alternative lifestyle I “chose.” But every single day is as hard as the last. Even now, after 14 months of sobriety and 5 years of trying (and inevitably failing) to quit drinking, there are days where the cravings reach new heights of discomfort. My urges for alcohol become nearly unbearable. I’ve made it through a whole year of weddings, holidays, dinner parties, 365+ happy hours. Will it ever get easier? (That’s not a rhetorical question).
In AA, the women I met all shared such a sense of gratitude for a life without alcohol. Each echoed the sentiments of the other, “I can’t imagine my life with alcohol now.” Maybe in the grand scheme of things, 14 months is only a blip on the timeline, but I can’t erase such existential thoughts as “is this really it? Is this what it’s gonna be like? What I’m going to be like for the rest of my life?”
What keeps me sober is the fact that if I ever slipped up I’d never be able to find it in me to stop again. If I slipped up I’d lose everything and everyone important to me (and, if history is any indication, probably my life). And even with that knowledge, sometimes it isn’t enough. The most troubling aspect of all of this, to me, isn’t how profoundly I’m still grieving alcohol, but what little joy I feel in my life. I’m happy, I’m very happy. I have the most incredible and supportive family, understanding and sympathetic friend(s), and a compassionate and loving significant other. None of whom I’d trade for anything in the world. I want for nothing. I even feel like I’m close to professionally realizing my “purpose.” But joy is an emotion that I experience few and far between. Rarely, if at all, do I experience the same sublime happiness that came with the initial alcohol buzz.
Most upsetting of all is that I feel I’ve lost my desire to experience life in all its richness. And I don’t mean for that to sound melodramatic. I’ve just lost all interest in traveling (because what’s the point of going to the Amalfi Coast without being able to drink wine?), of going out to dinner, of literally doing anything that involves leaving the house. The ambivalence toward my eventual wedding day breaks my heart. How will I get through my wedding night without alcohol? All those people? The dancing? Everyone will be celebrating a beautiful evening and then I’ll be feeling what— feeling like this? Putting on a fake smile at my own wedding?
Even if I can muster up the courage and (sometimes forced) optimism to leave the house, my tolerance and interest in socializing is tenuous at best. I don’t even consider going out to bachelorette parties or birthday dinners, or visiting friends who’ve moved away. But, if we’re being honest, what friends? I was never very comfortable in social situations, but without the crutch of alcohol the scenarios that were once merely uncomfortable have become triggers for panic attacks, mental breakdowns and extreme hostility.
Externally, I’ve broken the habit. So in that sense, I guess it actually has gotten better. I no longer reflexively reach for the wine list on those rare evenings where I do go out to dinner. At holidays and weddings I avoid the bar. I’ve become reluctantly accustomed to cheers-ing with water. But internally? It may as well be day one without alcohol. And I hope that changes. I really do. But until then, I guess this will be it.
I’m not entirely sure what the point of putting this out there is. All these ideas have been marinating around up in my head for a while now and I guess I wanted to put it all into a remotely cohesive narrative, if not for anyone else than for myself. Hopefully, it’ll all get easier with (more) time. But until, then I’ll take it one hour at a time.
Author: Bella, Resource and Crisis Helpline Volunteer at Common Ground