4 Stages of Sobriety: Reflections on Regrowth

  1. The bud: discomfort

Prior to quitting drinking, I foolishly thought that dealing with social anxiety would be the biggest challenge, but I wasn’t even close. After a month of social occasions without a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in my hand, I came to the profound realisation that I didn’t need booze to feel comfortable in bustling social events. Once the veil was lifted, conversation was thoughtful and engaging. I could look people in the eye with fully committed interest without the distraction of thinking about my next drink.

  1. Rocking the foundation: identity

My transformation from drinker to teetotaller was ugly. This conflict between the extremes was hard to manage for many months. Things were shaking up. Outer identity was an experiment with money. I dyed my hair pink, purple, copper, ash. I bought more beauty products than ever before, and spent too much energy on appearance.  But instead of inner calm, I was still writhing, questioning relationships, career choices, and values. I felt that my entire 20s was fake, that I had been lying to myself. I was utterly lost in mind and body.

  1. Uprooting: mind

Only now, at 8 months sober and 18 months after my first stint at sobriety, I have settled into a grounded and assured sense of who I am. I have reconsidered life choices and reached the same conclusions with a new energy. I have mentally uprooted, and I feel an overwhelming urge to follow physically. This brings me to more questions. Do I really need a change of physical space, or am I still running from something?

  1. Movement: body

This journey has taught me a lesson about connection and movement. I have spent my entire life stimulating the ego and the thinking mind. I do this in my job, in the way that I listen to music, and through food. Only recently have I sought pleasure through movement as a separate entity from the mind. Listening and feeling with my body. Walking barefoot. Yoga. Breathing. Dancing. Running. Sensing. Nothing new. Everything new.

Advertisements

Nope. I’m not invincible.

The first weeks of my sobriety were eagerly energetic. I was bouncing off the walls, filling in the space that had suddenly opened up with life enhancing activities: exercise, studying, reading, and songwriting. Time was a gift from sobriety and I was fiercely consuming it. I felt like superwoman, treating my body and mind as a machine that would produce consistent output with the right regime of healthy food and scheduled sleep. Then I would slump. Hard. Total wipeout. I couldn’t work, I didn’t want to see friends, I didn’t get dressed, I had stomach ache from too much sugary food, my sleep pattern became obsolete, and I was angry. I noticed that this would reoccur every month or so, swinging from high-energy productivity to a low-energy bed-ridden collapse.

I have come to realise that I still need time to do nothing. I need early nights and ‘me time’ more than ever. Life is still challenging, even without the added agitation that alcohol creates. And although sobriety gives me so much, I’m still emotional, tired, imperfect, and I’m definitely not invincible.

 

Mindlessly Drinking – Black Lake

I wrote the lyrics to this song in the midst of daily drinking in Thailand, surrounded by overwhelming beauty. Sat in a hut, looking out at dense jungle and fierce sea, I was in awe at how tiny my life was in comparison to the infinite life cycles and continuous regeneration around me. A cyclone was visible on the sea’s horizon for hours before it reached us. The storm’s arrival was exhilarating; everything in the hut was shaking, the sky was alight with sharp flashes of lightening, and thunder cracked and echoed with rage.

I remember seeing the cyclone as a metaphor for my drinking. I wanted to surrender to it, become enveloped by it’s intoxicating dangerous beauty; to have all of my problems sucked in and washed away.

Mindlessly drinking.
Not tasting, just thinking
About limitless infinite life.
She is my thunder,
No wonder I’m going under,
The intoxicating danger I like.

Save me from myself,
Let me drown in my black lake,
Let me float away.

Beauty is a black lake,
Let me sail away.

Darkness approaching.
Deep water keeps flowing,
It inhales me in, a stormy tide.
Endless emotion,
A dawn thought, a notion,
An epiphany brings the shore to light.

Save me from myself,
Let me drown in my black lake,
Let me float away.

Beauty is a black lake,
Let me sail away.

Listen here: https://open.spotify.com/track/5QrQVvHXHIzD0pTO9pmAYw

 

 

Nonlinearity

I’ve been here before; 6 weeks booze free. This time around I’ve experienced my first sober festival and my first sober rave, both of which were just as much fun without alcohol. The bottom of my feet had blisters, I danced so hard! There were fleeting moments when I thought that a drink will cure my social ineptness and help me to fill an awkward silence, but there were also enlightening moments of transcendence, of immersing myself in the experience by observing, listening, and moving.

A few people have asked me how I’ve stopped drinking. The list is long, but the current favourites in my ‘alcohol toolbox’ are daily meditation and indoor climbing. The meditation gives me an inner strength – something familiar to grasp onto whilst my chaotic life crashes around me. The meditation is nothing new, but something which never stops taking me to new places. The climbing, however, is a new experience which I’m utterly hooked on. The weekly progress is enthralling. Fear of heights lessens with each climb, my entire body becomes stronger, technique improves. It’s a spiritual and physical journey that I was not expecting. Climbing represents the non-linearity of life. You face a problem, you attempt to climb it in myriad ways: brute force, technical skill, with speed, with control. You fall off and you go for it again, sometimes with success, and sometimes not. There are always more routes to climb and different ways of getting to the top.

It reminds me that growth isn’t supposed to be linear.

One step ahead of the demoness.

One of my methods for coping with the inevitable ‘drinking demoness’ who endeavours to destroy herself is to be one step ahead and to plan an argument. I read and re-read these diary entries when I’m succumbing.

DEMONESS: It’s a special occasion. It’s just one treat. It will be fine. Just have one glass.

REALITY: It’s not a treat. It’s bad for your mind. It will have a negative impact on your productivity tomorrow. It ALWAYS does. This time is no different. It’s bad for your body. Your stomach will be swollen. Surely this is a bad reaction. Your body does not want this. It is a treat NOT to drink alcohol. The occasion itself is the treat!! Just one glass ALWAYS leads to more! You are just making the craving worse by having one glass! This never changes!!

DEMONESS: But look how much fun everyone else is having. They can manage one or two glasses. So can you.

REALITY: If you have a glass of wine (or whatever), it will not be as good as the expectation. You are simply chasing the tail of desire and not actually achieving it. You are reaching for a false expectation, and in fact making yourself more unhappy by doing so! You can have just as much fun, if not more, because you are free from craving and desire. In the long run this will be a truly liberating life choice. Remember how liberating it was to stop smoking. LIBERATE YOURSELF.

Still going strong.

Liquid. Incompressible.

My first attempt at sobriety was 11 months ago. I lasted 3 months before heading out to Thailand for a solo 7 week PhD thesis writing retreat. I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness, so margaritas became my crutch. Cheap. Salt. Tequila. Sun. I couldn’t resist. I drank and cried and drank and cried and couldn’t stop the cycle. In between drinking and crying there was ginger tea, iced coffee, reading, writing, meditation, and reflection. Upon returning home I conquered a further 4 months of sobriety. My first Christmas and New Year without alcohol. I could party until 4am and still enjoy a morning run the next day. I felt invincible. A new life, a new me, so many mini-epiphanies, the sense of liberation was majestic. It was as though I’d been underwater throughout my 20s and had finally surfaced and could breathe for the first time since forever. And then, again, working away from home, the loneliness got to me and I was not prepared. Enter that glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Game. Over.

So I began introducing alcohol back into my life. “It will be better this time” I thought. “It’s easier to connect with people after a drink anyway”. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re drinking again”, they said. The ripples that formed as I had risen to the surface gently faded as I sunk back down.

The weeks passed and the drinks flowed. More cocktails this time. The hangovers weren’t so bad. Maybe it’s less liquid? Before long I was floundering again, hankering for anything I could get my hands on, expensive shit, shit shit, it’s all the same as long as I can get fucked off my face. I stopped and started, jumping like salmon upriver, diving straight past equilibrium each time. I felt more out of control than ever.

Here I am with my third serious attempt at freeing myself from alcohol. This time feels like THE time. I have found a new blog and podcast called Hip Sobriety, which has led to a ton of other similar Instagrammers and bloggers. Finally, a community that gets me and understands that holistic self-care and a supportive network of likeminded people is vital for successful sobriety. Here goes nothing. Blogging + more support = less loneliness. Is that the equation for buoyancy?