12 Things I've Learned in 12 Months Sober
Today, on June 1, 2023, I'm celebrating one year sober.
Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes (why yes, the theatre kid in me HAS been waiting a full year to make that joke, thank you very much).
I could sit here and write a thousand cliches about how it's been a year of hard-fought lessons and battle-scourged victories, but... I don't want to. So I won't. Instead, today I'm sharing 12 of the things I learned in the past 12 months since going alcohol-free.
1. You don’t have to use any label you don’t want to use.
Let me type that louder for the people in the back. YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE ANY LABEL YOU DON’T WANT TO USE. Do I identify as an alcoholic? Nope. Do I know a lot of strong, self-aware, wise, and deeply admirable people who do? Yep. Does it matter? Only to you. At this point, I feel sober and alcohol-free fit me best.
You don’t have to label yourself an alcoholic to decide you want to stop drinking. Is alcohol no longer serving you? Is it taking more than it’s contributing to your life? That is enough. You don’t have to wait for some catastrophic “rock bottom” moment that may or may not ever come. If alcohol doesn’t align with the way you envision your life unfolding, that alone is reason enough to give sobriety a try.
2. You’re going to feel so much better.
There’s a common misconception that sober people are obnoxiously and aggressively peppy in the morning, springing up from bed ready to greet the day. I can assure you I do not spring up from my bed. Never once in my 34 years have I sprung up from my bed. In fact, my husband will be the first to tell you separating me from my pillow when the alarm goes off is much less spring-y, and much more akin to pilling a feral cat. But I digress.
When you cut out the booze, your brain and memory get stronger. You begin to think more clearly and make better decisions. Your mood evens out, and anxiety and depression can reduce (pro tip – removing alcohol has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for my anxiety). Some people even experience the euphoria of the pink cloud (which I know sounds ironically like some sort of hallucinogen which is obviously out of place in this article about sobriety, but trust me the pink cloud's a whole thing). Key takeaway: your whole body starts functioning on a higher level. You feel better. You are better.
It’s reasons like these I hate the phrase “stone cold sober.” Because, at the risk of sounding like the human embodiment of a glittery Lisa Frank trapper keeper, most days feel more like sparkling, sunshine-y sober.
3. But first you’re going to feel like shit.
People often report feeling tired, even downright exhausted, in the first week or so after ditching the drink. This is because alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythm (and messes with your body in a whole slew of other ways). Even with just one or two drinks, your deep REM sleep is significantly diminished. Your body becomes used to diverting energy to metabolize and pass alcohol through your system. So when you remove alcohol, your body has to reset its baseline. Take a nap (when you can), drink extra water, prioritize high-protein meals and snacks to feed energy back into your system, and try to get in some exercise. It will get better.
In the longer term, you may learn about PAWS (not the squishy, cute, toe-bean kind). This stands for post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, and even the most moderate drinkers can experience symptoms. Mood swings, fatigue, depression, interrupted sleep patterns, changes to your sex drive… cute! (Not cute.) The American Addiction Center reports, “Symptoms can last 2 years or longer after the last drink. Sleep studies suggest that sleep problems can persist 1-3 years after alcohol consumption stops.”
Give yourself grace. You’re doing a badass, awesome thing by removing alcohol. Some moments will be hard, and that’s okay. As Glennon Doyle says, “we can do hard things.” :)
4. So do less. Then do even less than that.
I’m serious. EVEN. LESS.
Order the pizza for dinner. Hell, order three if it’s gonna last you a few meals and save work for Future You. Cleaning the house? That can wait. Starting a book your friend loaned you? Not today, my friend. Shaving your legs? Don’t make me laugh.
Now is the time to grab your cozy blankets, put on your comfiest pants, and binge-watch any and everything. The only thing that matters in your first 30ish days of quitting drinking is quitting drinking. Give it all of your energy. If not doing a particular task won’t endanger you, your family, or your job, that task can wait.
This principle remains crucial to my own sobriety even a year later. Remember in the introduction of this post when I said I could write a thousand cliches, but I didn't want to, so I didn't? I'm still doing less, 12 months down the road. On purpose. And it's fantastic.
5. You’ll see alcohol everywhere.
This might make you feel *triggered.* What’s a trigger, you ask? Lots of things. Any person, any environment, any situation which makes you want to drink.
Common triggers can be a certain time of day (hello 5pm); stress (guilty); vacation (because nothing says relaxation like a crippling hangover); cold weather (because we need alcohol to warm up! (no we don’t!!!)); warm weather (yes I realize I’ve just listed two weather patterns which make up a very very large percentage of our days, I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules); or simply any day that ends in Y.
Cravings can come out of nowhere. Pay attention to when and where you start feeling triggered, and likely, a pattern will emerge. When it does, you can 1) learn to anticipate it, and 2) arm yourself with tools to help you in that moment.
6. Changing your routine helps.
The most immediately effective tactic I’ve found for smashing and even preventing cravings is changing my routine. I used to pour my first glass of wine as I started cooking dinner. Now I pour a fun and fancy mocktail in a fun and fancy glass. The trick is to identify your past habit, and intentionally rewire your brain around a new one. So take a walk when a craving strikes. Rearrange your schedule to work out in the evening, when you might have previously been drinking. Stock your fridge with delicious AF (alcohol-free) beverages. Set yourself up for maximum success, baby.
7. You’ll reflect on how you got here.
I know exactly how I got here.
I never drank growing up. Anyone who went to high school with me will tell you I never got invited to parties because I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do anything even toeing the line which approached the boundary of breaking the rules. I didn’t go crazy in college, either. Sure, there were a handful of wild nights, but my drinking was pretty normal.
If we're new friends, you may not know I experienced miscarriages before my kids were born. It was really fucking awful. And, pretty quickly, I learned a little wine made me feel better.
A lot of wine made me feel nothing at all.
You see where this is going.
As life progressed, so did my wine habit. It became my constant companion, my rite of passage in working motherhood. But I didn’t drink every day, so I couldn’t have a real problem, right? Of course… when I did drink it was rarely just one. Before I knew it, I found myself behaving in ways that didn’t align with the person I wanted to be. Saying things I didn’t really mean. Acting a damn fool, y’all. It scared me.
An inner voice whispered, “You haven’t gotten a DUI, or driven drunk with your kids in the car,” and, “This is fine, everything’s fine,” and, “I have to hide this, I'm so ashamed.” That voice kept me trapped for way too long; as it does to many, many others.
But it's okay. What matters most is we identify the issue for what it is – an unhealthy habit that absolutely has the potential to grow into something horrible and grotesque and uncontrollable – and, by the grace of God, we get out.
8. A time will come when you think “it wasn’t that bad.”
You need to be ready for that time, because if you’re reading this then yes, it probably was.
Don’t lie to yourself. You deserve so much better.
9. You may want to eat all the sugar.
Like, all of it. Dude, go for it. Never once has eating too much sugar caused me to have an explosive fight with my (darling, wonderful) husband, or be lethargic in the morning and unable to play with my kids. You can pry my sour gummy worms from my fully-present, clear-headed, sober hands.
10. You’ll get the rhythm of it.
After a while (and it may take a while, for me it was around months 6 and 7), you’ll start to feel renewed. You’ll catch glimpses of the old you who you buried underneath the booze. More than anything else, sobriety feels like coming back to myself. Trust the process, trust your decision – especially on hard days. Soon enough, you’ll come back to yourself, too.
11. It’s OK to want to be free from something, and miss it at the same time.
If you would, please turn with me in your Big Books to 1 Taylor 13:89 – “Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it.” Alcohol is worshiped globally for a reason. For a little while, it can make you feel pretty damn great. Just because I am choosing sobriety doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten. You don’t have to pretend you have, either.
What I can assure you, however, is sobriety delivers everything alcohol emptily promises. It is the ultimate act of self care.
12. You don’t have to hide.
If you are a human that exists in our modern world, it will come as no surprise there is tremendous stigma to be found around alcohol. This is shitty, and it’s unfair (and no doubt rooted in some shame-based puritanical, patriarchal nonsense). Ultimately, it perpetuates a vicious cycle in which people drink in unhealthy ways, feel too ashamed to talk about it, then never find the freedom they deserve.
Writer, feminist, and civil rights activist Aundre Lorde said, “Without community, there is no liberation.” Some people find their community in AA. Some people find it at church. Some people find it on sober Instagram or sober TikTok. All of those are great! Take your kicks where you can get ‘em, hunnnnny! Of course it’s scary to expose your raw, vulnerable parts to the world and say HI I’M LINDSAY AND I HAD AN UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH ALCOHOL SO I DECIDED TO STOP DRINKING, LOVELY WEATHER WE’RE HAVING THIS SUMMER, INNIT?
So, hear me. You don’t have to do that. You don’t have to.
Tell a close friend, tell a trusted family member, or tell no one at all until you’re ready (you’ll know when you are). But find your community – the people who know your experience and understand your heart, without you having to say a single word. Keep them close.
Therein lies your liberation and healing.
In conclusion (I will never not feel like I'm writing an AP book report when typing that phrase): Quitting alcohol is tough, but so are you.
It is hands-down the best choice I have ever made for my health – physical and mental. I'm a better partner, a better mom, and a better person without my wine habit.
And even more? I'm exponentially happier.
If you're sober-curious, but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few of my favorite resources:
This Naked Mind (book)
Mrs. D is Going Without (book)
Beth Bowen (sober coach and all-around fantastic human)
Hello, Someday (podcast)
Sobriety Uncensored (podcast)
Dr. Brooke Scheller (clinical nutritionist and sober Instagrammer)
Your Sober Pal (sober Instagrammer)
Finding Myself Sober (sober Instagrammer)
I'm cheering you on. <3