I stopped drinking (for what feels like “for real” this time) in late 2018. After a late evening out to celebrate a college friend’s birthday, I woke up to yet another pounding headache and was forced to recover on the couch for the rest of the day.
I was frustrated by the fact that an entire day had effectively been excised from my life, just because I’d had a handful of drinks the night before. That afternoon, I decided I had had enough of the inconsistent hangovers I had been experiencing in my late 20s and early 30s. As a freelance writer and strategist, my entire livelihood depends on my ability to think creatively and to be functional, and I could no longer justify the ups and downs in productivity. It simply wasn’t sustainable.
I was frustrated by the fact that an entire day had effectively been excised from my life, just because I’d had a handful of drinks the night before.
Since that fateful decision, I have seen a lot of things shift in my life, mostly for the better. I’ve been able to validate myself in ways that don’t require the consumption and accumulation of material possessions. I have stepped up to the plate and become a more active participant in my relationships. I have also gained confidence around time and scheduling that I lacked before.
And that’s just the beginning. Sobriety has given me the opportunity to create sustainability in so many aspects of my life. Here’s how:
Defining Myself on My Own Terms
Over time, I’ve started to see that the choices I made in the past were mostly centered around appeasing others or drowning out the voice of my own inner critic. Being able to harness my own decision-making powers and feel validated in and of myself has been huge, and has led to a host of other changes.
Kicking My Caffeine Addiction
When I worked in an office, I drank up to seven cups of black tea a day. (Yes, I know, it was excessive. Also, it would’ve been coffee, but I’m somehow allergic.) Admittedly, a large part of this was simply to pass the time and to numb myself to the fact that I felt trapped and understimulated in a corporate office environment. However, even when I struck out on my own as a full-time freelancer, I kept my caffeine habit up, though it was not quite as bad.
In sobriety, I no longer drink caffeinated tea every day; it’s something I’ve realized I just don’t need. Essentially, just because I can do something—or because others do it—doesn’t mean that I necessarily should, too. This is perhaps the biggest thing sobriety has taught me: to question everything to ensure what I’m doing/saying/consuming is really in line with who I am. I’m a born questioner anyway, but it’s relentless now. Do I really want to do this? Am I truly into this, or am I going through the motions? What is my gut telling me right now about this decision?
When I investigated my caffeine habit, I realized hitting the coffee shop every day on my way to work was just another programmed, unconscious habit, the same way getting a cocktail after work every Friday evening used to be.
Increased Financial Stability
This probably goes without saying, but not drinking will definitely save you money.
Over the holidays, I went to brunch with a friend and as we were paying, she marveled at how cheap the meal was without alcohol, which was funny because I’d been thinking the exact same thing as I looked over my own bill. With drinks, the brunch could’ve easily been over $50, but I got out of there for under $20 (which is not cheap, per se, but what is brunch if not a ripoff?).
And this doesn’t even take into account all the trimmings that went along with a night of drinking — needing to stop and pick up junk food on the way home, going out for 3 AM diner meals, and the whole next-day hangover ritual of wanting a fancy brunch with a “hair of the dog” Bloody Mary.
And perhaps the best thing about having extra money on hand? I’ve been able to take some of it and funnel it to causes and organizations I care about, which feels so much better than a cocktail ever did.
Letting Go of Labels (Literally and Figuratively!)
When I was drinking and going out regularly, I heavily identified with the things I owned. I would have never been comfortable being out of touch with the latest trends or living in an “uncool” city. And yet in 2019, after a full year of being sober, I made the decision to donate or sell a ton of my belongings — including all of my furniture and most of my clothes — and move from sunny Southern California to my parents’ house in small-town central Texas.
My parents are currently living abroad and I work remotely, so the move was a great opportunity for me to both save money and keep an eye on their property. I feel very lucky to even have this option. However, I don’t think I would have chosen to move to a small town when I was still immersed in my alcohol-fueled ways. So much of my identity was wrapped around external things like where I lived, who I was out with, and what I wore. (I mean, this is coming from someone who loved to shop so much I even had my own fashion blog for a while.)
I have since cut back not only on my bills but on the ties that bound me to my belongings and material possessions. I feel so free after letting go of the things that were anchoring me in place. It was eye-opening to look around and realize that I truly didn’t need most of what I had and that owning all of those things was only keeping me from achieving the freedom that I’d always yearned for.
An Ability to Be Present in My Own Life
I was talking to a girlfriend last week about being active players in our own lives. We have noticed that many of those around us don’t seem to have much control over anything in their lives. It’s as though things only happen to them, and not for them or because of them.
To some extent, I have always been naturally driven and headstrong, but giving up alcohol really accelerated my ability to be present and feel more in control of my life. Without a doubt, I’m now an active player in the things that are happening to me. This has manifested a lot in my relationships, where I can more readily evaluate what’s going on and make changes if things don’t feel healthy or appropriate.
When I quit drinking, I was in a serious relationship, but that ended about six months into sobriety. It was obvious once I was sober that the relationship itself was irreparable. As I’ve continued on this journey, many of my other relationships have changed, and I’ve lost contact with several friends I was bonded to through drinking.
Even if relationships in my life weren’t necessarily toxic or chaotic, I’ve learned that I don’t want to invest in superficial connections, either.
Being fully “awake” required me to find friends that had similar values to me — people I could look up to and grow with. While it was hard at first to come to terms with some of these shifts, I’ve accepted that this is what I needed to continue to evolve.
Questlove perhaps said it best: “You have to throw things away so there is some value implied by the act of keeping other things.” Even if relationships in my life weren’t necessarily toxic or chaotic, I’ve learned that I don’t want to invest in superficial connections, either. I want to spend time with people I’m deeply attached to, who push me and want to push themselves accordingly.
If you have a hard time letting go of relationships that aren’t serving you, remember this: It doesn’t ever have to mean that there’s something “wrong” with either of you. It’s also true that letting go of relationships that aren’t working helps open space up in your life and the other person’s so that new, more meaningful friendships and connections can take root.
A Willingness to Be Vulnerable
Again, I feel more connected to the relationships I currently have in my life. I feel secure and safe talking about my feelings, and I’m growing a lot in new ways. One of the biggest realizations I’ve had in sobriety has been that interdependence — and not independence — is the whole point of being in a relationship.
One of the biggest realizations I’ve had in sobriety has been that interdependence — and not independence — is the whole point of being in a relationship.
That may sound intuitive to many of you but for me, it was game-changing. I’ve always been more focused on being self-sufficient, and learning to not just give help, but to soften into accepting it from others as well, has been challenging.
Improved Physical, Emotional, and Mental Health
I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been with my physical health. Because I don’t have to worry about hangovers, I can commit to early morning workouts and actually make it on time. I exercise regularly and have found ways to move my body that feel good. I’m able to maintain my weight, and I have much more self-control when it comes to eating.
My emotional and mental health are also more stable these days. Around the time I decided to give up alcohol, I’d been struggling with what I believed to be PMDD. I was having a really hard time figuring out what to do next, and I was starting to feel hopeless. I’d tried medication, oodles of holistic and natural treatments, changing my diet, talk therapy, and so much more — and none of it made as significant a difference as becoming sober and leaving my relationship. I no longer have any of the symptoms I had that fell under the PMDD umbrella, and I believe it’s because I removed the biggest source of stress from my life.
Reclaiming My Time
Like anyone else, I may still get sick from time to time and have things happen beyond my control, but I definitely don’t have to worry about the post-drinking time-suck rollercoaster I used to be on after a day or night of going out. While I have the same amount of hours in a day that I had while I was drinking, it somehow feels like I have much more time now — and that I’m able to put that time to better use.
Doing Work That Feels Good
Something about committing to staying alcohol-free has given me the courage to commit to other goals and follow through on them, even when they’re uncomfortable or hard. I’ve been writing and publishing more than I ever have before, which is partly due to a natural career progression, but also because I’m much more focused now. I feel confident enough to decline jobs that don’t feel like a good fit for me, and I’m attracting more and more work that feels like an amazing fit.
More Fun and Experimentation!
All of the time I used to spend being hungover or drinking, I can now spend experiencing new things or partaking in things I already enjoy. I spend more time bolstering my spiritual health, volunteering, traveling, making plans with friends, networking with other writers, and running my weekly jobs newsletter for women of color, to name a handful. I’ve set a lofty goal to write and publish a book this year and for the first time ever, I actually believe I can do it.
Investing in Things That Matter to Me
All of these factors add up to a life that’s more sustainable overall — a life I can see myself living for years down the road. I don’t ever expect things to be consistently easy or “figured out” but for the most part, I feel good about myself every day, and that’s huge. My inner circle is comprised of people that I love and want to be around, and I know they’ll be there for me as I continue to learn.
My priorities have shifted in big ways, and I’m okay with that. I feel more like myself than I ever have before — dressed down, at home with a book in hand and a cup of tea next to me. This is a life that I want to continue investing in, and I feel well-equipped to deal with any changes and challenges down the road.