When I decided to get sober, my life was essentially in shambles. My son’s father (now my husband) and I had split. I’d given up on college and was working as a server in a restaurant. I was 45 days behind on my rent. I’d been contemplating giving full custody of my son to his dad because I knew I wasn’t fit to raise him. I’d gone from binge drinking to daily drinking.
Even then, I was afraid to get sober. It was liquor that quelled my anxiety. Liquor gave me the space to breathe. A beer gave me the chance to unwind. At least that’s what my twisted perception told me.
I didn’t see any other option though, so I took the advice of my mother, and I walked into a room where people like me had found the strength to quit alcohol. I surrendered to it, and to be honest, things turned around for the better pretty quickly.
I’d heard the adage that “life happens” and I’d watched people stay sober through things I thought I’d never be able to.
Within a year, I’d found a better job, caught up on my bills, and re-enrolled in school. My son’s father and I were working on our relationship, and I was learning how to be a more present mom.
For a while, I thought sobriety had solved my life’s problems, and to an extent, it had. If I hadn’t given up alcohol, the downward spiral would have continued. I have no doubt about that. I’d heard the adage that “life happens” and I’d watched people stay sober through things I thought I’d never be able to. The loss of a job. Debilitating accidents. Fights with family or friends. The death of a loved one. My father got sick. I had a falling out with one of my sisters. My now-husband and I hit a rough patch in our relationship and had to put in some work.
And then in less than a year, my grandfather died, I gave birth to a child, was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and lost my job.
I learned that sobriety didn’t mean life was going to be great all the time. Yes, life was better, but it was still hard. Luckily, I’d been around sober people for a while, and I’d picked up some tools:
Talk it out with another sober person or solid friend.
Active in my alcoholism, I isolated myself from the world. I suffered in silence. In sobriety, I learned that talking about what I was going through was therapeutic and gave people the chance to be there for me. The support of others made me feel stronger. Many times too, those who I spoke with knew what I needed before I could figure it out. Sometimes, what I needed was a simple as a vent session. Other times though, life was truly overwhelming and I needed a meal made or some time to myself.
When I was willing to open up, those around me responded by holding me up and showing up to walk through life with me. I wasn’t alone, which was a stark difference to how I felt in my alcoholism.
My yoga practice has been a big part of my recovery, and it was in yoga that I learned how to use my breath to quiet my mind. I learned to breathe in for a four-count and out for a four-count. I learned to breathe in deeply through my nose and out hard through my mouth. I learned to breathe through the tears and the tight chest and the pounding heart that come along with my anxiety. Tuning into my breath took the place of taking a drink.
Seek professional help.
I’m a child of substance abuse and my Papa stepped in as my father figure. He taught me to ride a bike. He picked me up from school. He took me to the park and helped me with my math homework. He was always there, and when he died, it hurt worse than anything I’d experienced before.
Talking it out with a friend and breathing wasn’t quite enough to get me through the loss of my Papa, and I had to seek professional help. Sometimes, talking things out with an objective professional — someone whose job it is to listen and provide helpful advice on getting through hard times — is completely okay and necessary. My therapist could see my situation in a different light than any of my family members or friends could, and she was equipped with tools to help me get through.
Give it time.
This is one of the hardest things for me to accept in sobriety. When I quit drinking, I looked at all the years I’d “wasted” and decided I needed to make everything right and do it fast. I wanted to correct my life, and I wanted to do it yesterday. This isn’t rational or possible, which is something I’ve learned as I continue to stay sober.
Sometimes, the only way to get through a tough situation is to let the situation run its course. This was true for me as I dealt with postpartum depression. I couldn’t hurry it up or make it better. I went to therapy, exercised, took the medication, and practiced self-care, but that didn’t make it go away. I just had to let it happen and trust that it would subside or I’d learn how to deal if it didn’t.
Make no mistake, life can be hard, but life as a sober woman has been beautiful too. It’s much better than living under the hazy veil of alcoholism. Probably the most important thing though, is that I learned that I can go through life’s struggles sober.