When asked about my most meaningful accomplishments of 2022, I didn’t hesitate to put “staying sober” at the top of the list. Not-drinking has become the foundation on which all other achievements are built. Not that I didn’t get things done and done well before, but I now move through my days buoyed by clarity, less weighted by regrets – instead of stringing together evenings of self-destructive behavior, I’m racking up mornings of self-respect. For once, Present Jen has been looking out for Future Jen and I could fall to my knees in relief.
Is this cheesy? Writing about sobriety is like writing about surfing – how to avoid the cliché? How to convey to people who haven’t been in the thick of it, who haven’t been drawn to be in the thick of it, what it is like to be at the mercy of the currents, to experience the high of moving as one with the wave as everything else falls away, to seek that moment again only to wipe out and be reminded breathing is a miracle, not a guarantee.
I wish not drinking was making me a better surfer. I should have quit earlier, younger, before my knee got janky and my body slow. Not drinking is keeping me from being a worse surfer at least – I never paddle out hungover any more or, worse, buzzed, racing to catch waves straight from happy hour, an idiot. Not drinking hasn’t made me a better anything, really, except maybe person.
I love waking up in the mornings not having drank the night before the same way I love driving over the bridges between home and town, the bay’s beauty reliably stunning me no matter my mood or the days. Twenty years on the spit and every time, I still marvel.
My son asked me if I’d had any slips and I told him the truth, yes, I had a few swallows of beer while in Panama. The choices in the moment were Diet Coke, a plastic bottle of water or a can of beer. The first two gross me out and yet I wanted to join in on drinks, so I opted for the beer. I took a couple sips and gave it away, helped by the angel on my shoulder (in this case, a crewmate whose surprise I was drinking made me think twice). I can live with this moment, an experiment quickly rejected, my resolve reinforced.
I have not lately re-read my prior posts on sobriety. What I say in this one may be repetitive – still likely less repetitive than the looping mental track that occurs when drunk. I write again because people have reached out, people who relate to the wanting-needing to quit, have said my words have been helpful. I hold tight to the words of others in my own wayfinding and know the value of a good cheering-on, so I will tell anyone looking for affirmation their life will be better without booze: The gain is worth the giving up.
Here is what is still hard: The sense of being boring. Never being invited out to drinks any more. I miss the happy hour camaraderie. Watching the tray of champagne going around the bar at midnight New Year’s. Being left out of the toast. The way my brain will not shut up and having to constantly find constructive ways to quiet it, none of which work as quickly and effectively as a bucket of whiskey or bottle of wine. It’s really fucking challenging to have a brain like this sometimes.
But the mornings. The not being hungover. The not struggling to remember what happened, what I said. Better management of my feelings and the inability of those I may be mad at to invalidate my anger as “you were drunk.” Never worrying about driving. Being in my body. The reward that comes with deliberate intimacy instead of drunken. The joy of having done the hard thing, the hope that comes from that. Being a better mom. What a sensation, these moments of being pleased with myself.
I don’t know exactly when the not-drinking became normal. The part of my brain that craves oblivion hammered me those first days, first weeks, first month. We did not coast, my brain and I, but crawled. And then, at some point, I found myself on the other side of the bridge, at a plateau on the mountain path, on the outside beyond the impact zone – choose your metaphor. I marked 100 days, then six months, then a year, then forgot to look how much time had gone by and kept forgetting to look until I was scrolling through apps on my phone to see which ones I might delete and what was this? Days? Oh yeah!
More than 500 days have passed since I pushed pause on drinking. It feels like magic, like a curse reversed.
Today is the second day of the new year, the 554th day of the new chapter I’m in. I’m not so naive to think the box is forever checked. One of life’s more tiresome lessons is that maintenance is always required. Right now, I’m typing this in my office as the south wind makes its way through the open window, the promise of rain in the air reminding me the garden will need tending and that I should dash to Eureka before the storm lands again. The imminent low tide means much of the bay will be mud flats, likely with long-legged shorebirds pacing the shallows on a search for snacks. Without doubt, it will be beautiful.
It gets easier, day by day and then, one day, you wake and a whisker under 40 years have passed, without a drink. Find a palatable substitute ( mine is tonic, bitters and lime). And, my friends and family will attest to the lack of boredom, I’m still the whacked out crazy I was.
It just gets better and better as we go…
I love this story. Keep growing, keep glowing.
Thanks so much!
Congrats Jen! Truly inspiring and proud of you!! Keep up the awesome self work! Happy new year!!!
I’m very proud of you.
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