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Just over four years ago, I decided to take a year off from drinking alcohol.
I didn’t think that it was going to be a permanent decision. I really felt that it would be the kind of thing where I quit drinking, got my stuff done, and then went back to it. From where I sat, I didn’t have a problem with drinking.
Regardless, I had been picking up on some little whispers from my intuition. My life did not feel good with how I was consuming alcohol and the levels that I was drinking. Although my life looked great, it didn’t feel that way.
We all get these intuitive hits from time to time. They can make us feel vulnerable and isolated, especially when we’ve worked so hard to make our lives look perfect on paper. Trusting yourself in that moment of intuition can be so hard because it can go against what we’ve built for ourselves.
Had you asked me on January 2, 2017, if I were going to quit drinking, my answer would have been “no, absolutely not.” I was somebody who identified drinking champagne as my thing. It was in my brand photos!
But for a couple of months, at least, my intuition kept saying that I needed to reevaluate my relationship with alcohol. And on January 4, I woke up, and I had a little bit of a headache. I had had maybe three glasses of wine the night before—I wasn’t severely hungover.
I thought to myself, “this is not serving me. This is not how I want to be waking up in the morning. This is not me at my best.”
Four years later, and I’m still sober. I had lots of ideas about what sobriety would be like that turned out to be wrong, and I’ve been consistently surprised throughout the journey, too.
I recognize now that this is a side effect of how much I was performing. In my pre-sober life, my anxiety and doubt were in charge. I was living from a place of trying to be everything I thought I needed to be.
When I drank, there was something freeing about having permission to be uninhibited. I was afraid that not drinking would mean that I was nothing but inhibited.
In hindsight, of course, I can see that alcohol was my coping mechanism. I was using it as a security blanket. Taking away alcohol gave me a chance to learn how to self-soothe. I didn’t know that would be a side-effect of not drinking, but I’m so glad that it was.
I thought no one would find me interesting or that I wouldn’t have anything to say. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I still have plenty of things to say! And not only do I have plenty of things to say but the things that I have to say feel so much more authentic and so much more real. They’re coming from a different place.
Alcohol was such a great connection point for me. It was how I celebrated, how I got to know people, and how I dealt with difficult moments and feelings. It was how I had fun!
I don’t want to negate the friendships that I developed when we go out to bars. But so, so many of my experiences were wrapped up in the consumption of alcohol.
That’s why I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to connect with people. I didn’t know if I would know how to be supportive if I couldn’t bring someone a glass of wine. I didn’t know how I would be a dinner party hostess if I weren’t continually filling wine glasses. I didn’t know what my role would be.
Honestly, I think I’m a much better friend now because I am, again, more myself. The hard times feel harder than before without the numbing. But they also feel more real. Because of that, I’m better able to support my friends, show up for them, hear them, and be present with them.
The asterisk to this is that I don’t have surface-level friendships anymore. My friendships now are built on something more profound than just gossiping at a bar. I might have fewer friends in my life now, especially after moving to Colorado a few years ago. But the ones I have mean so much more.
There were so many times I thought about quitting alcohol and thought, “Oh, I need to wait until after the holidays. Or until after this dinner party. Or until after my next vacation.” I thought that a wedding or other event without alcohol would be boring! But I was wrong. I still have a fantastic time and dance my feet off at weddings. I have a lot of fun in my life.
There’s something freeing about going out with friends and later thinking, “I didn’t even miss drinking tonight.” It’s such a gift, mostly because I thought about drinking a lot before. I was always worried about drinking too much, about keeping up, about having one too many.
I think it was Laura McGowan who once said that the internal brain drama of moderation made moderation not worth it. That rings true for me now that I don’t wrestle with moderation drama every time I go to an event.
Part of the reason I quit drinking was that I wanted to accomplish things in my life for which I needed to be at my absolute best. I also know now that there was so much more going on and so much more that I was craving that I didn’t realize I wasn’t getting.
I thought quitting drinking for a year would help me become a person who wakes up at five o’clock in the morning and writes her novel. I am here to tell you that not only did that not happen, but for a while, it actually got harder.
As the alcohol started to leave my body and as I started to learn what was happening in my world, there was this feeling of, “Oh my God, I’ve been exhausted for so long and didn’t even know it.” I was so tired.
I still had to do a lot of work to become a morning person. I still have to make a conscious effort to go to bed early. I still don’t wake up quickly. I do sleep so much better since I gave up drinking, though!
I thought that I would quit drinking, and then with the tap of a magic wand, everything would change. But that’s not how it works. That’s how we might want significant changes to work, but big changes just aren’t that simple.
We are so good at identifying something that needs to change and mapping it out and strategizing, and making a plan. But all of that ambition makes it hard when things don’t go as planned or when they inevitably take longer than we want.
One of the things where we can get into trouble with ourselves is believing that if we haven’t gotten to the finish line, we’ve done it wrong. We’ve failed ourselves, we’ve let ourselves down, we’ve dropped the ball.
But what if there is no finish line? What if there is a sense of the direction you want to go and then the chance to be present and in it?
It’s not that the days where you push harder are the good days and the days where you pause are the bad days. Every day is an opportunity to give yourself what you most need and want, without thinking about how much you produce.
So here’s the secret: if it’s taking longer than you think it should, that probably means you’re doing it right.
I inherently knew this before giving up alcohol, but I hadn’t articulated it yet. It’s true for all of us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.
In the Inner Circle, people are often stuck between two choices. But it isn’t about finding the “right” choice. It’s about flexing your trust muscle so that you can say, “I know that this is the direction I want to go in.”
If this feels hard, I often recommend that people live as if. Pretend—just for 24 hours—that you’ve decided to let something go. And rather than stewing in it and spinning it out in your mind, just let yourself be okay with having made the decision. And then watch how it feels to be you for the kind of foreseeable future.
I thought that quitting drinking would help me accomplish my big goals, which was achievement-oriented. What I’ve come to learn is that that was the wrong focus.
Instead, it was about saying, “What is the life that I want? What does the life that I don’t have to recover from look like? What does it feel like? What am I doing? How am I spending my time? Where am I living? What am I surrounding myself with?”
So often, we frame our decisions as a way to do more, more, more. Unfortunately, that’s the shortest road to burnout.
For example, I used to think that the goal of meditation was to help me rest so that I could get back out there, get back into my life, and keep working harder. I know now that the goal of meditation is to bring me deeper into myself so that I’m making different decisions and approaching my life differently, rather than using meditation as a tool to cope.
I want to point out that this work is inviting you to build that life for yourself and simultaneously recognize the inherent privilege in that. Some people are being forced to recover from lives that are not of their own making. I’m thinking about black and brown people in America, thinking about disabled people, thinking about people who are oppressed and marginalized.
When I say we all deserve these lives, we do. For me, part of that has been about changing my own life. But this is also where I feel this invitation to do what I can to help other people in the ways that I can. And that feels like an imperative.
It was very easy for me to go into it thinking alcohol was the problem, and when I remove it from my life, everything else would be miraculously fixed. That was not the case.
Alcohol was driving me to numb, to hide, and to check out. But there were so many other things I had to look at, like:
My mental health
My cultural programming
My family dynamics
When we set out to change, we expect things to be quick and easy. We want to “project manage” our way through it. And it can feel so halting when it doesn’t all go the way we think it should!
When it doesn’t just flow frictionlessly, though, that doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. When I quit drinking, I felt angry, sad, confused, and so lost. I was never an angry person before. I was a peacemaker.
So the first time that I got angry, I did not know what to do with myself. But by staying in the room with all of that and trusting that it was all survivable, I found clarity. It’s only made me more capable and more present.
I thought that I would never be able to connect with anybody ever again. Thankfully, it was 100% not true.
Not only did my existing friendships get stronger, but the friendships that I developed after that—especially with other people in the sober community—are strong.
There’s something wonderful and brilliant about being in conversation with somebody else who’s also chosen to give up the thing that is snuffing out their spark. You just go deep right away. There’s no pretense, which makes it one of the most memorable experiences.
I thought that alcohol made me more of myself. I felt that it helped me cut loose and chill out. It wasn’t until I quit that I realized it was masking me.
I want to encourage you to think about if there is a crutch or an identity you’re hanging onto. Maybe you’ve heard your intuition whisper to you and ask, “Should I let this go?”
It’s easy to buy into the story we hear. The alcohol industry tells us that it will make us sexy, beautiful, funny, and likable. We’ve been taught to agree with these stories.
But I am so much more myself now. I love who I am without alcohol. I even love the things I need to work on. I learn and unlearn from a place of love for myself.
[00:10] Why I decided to stop drinking
[15:10] Five things I got wrong about sobriety
[17:05] #1: Sobriety makes you boring
[19:51] #2: Sobriety makes you a bad friend
[23:38] #3: Sobriety takes all the fun out of social situations
[26:20] #4: Sobriety helps you wake up with boundless energy
[29:53] #5: Sobriety has a finish line
[35:01] Five things that surprised me about sobriety
[35:38] #1: It’s okay to walk away from things that aren’t working
[38:23] #2: We all deserve lives that we don’t have to recover from
[42:08] #3: Alcohol is just one force at play
[44:33] #4: Being sober creates stronger friendships
[45:32] #5: Sobriety helped me be more…me
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