10 Valuable Things I Learned in a Year of Sobriety

The positives, the challenges, and everything in between

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I did it! One full year without drinking any alcohol.

My last day involving drinking was pretty anticlimactic. It was New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t wearing a sparkly dress. I wasn’t surrounded by hundreds of rowdy people and booming electronic dance music. There was no blackout or embarrassing texts or drunk driving. Rather, I was in my pjs, cuddled on the couch, with my boyfriend. We shared two bottles of champagne over the course of the night and went to bed before midnight.

Despite the tameness of the night, I still remember how I felt when I woke up that New Year’s Day morning. It was a feeling of being done. Tired. Ready for something new. An urging from deep in my soul. So I decided to finally listen and commit to one booze-free year.

Here’s what I’ve learned in one year without alcohol:

1. It didn’t solve all my problems.

There is a certain linear mindset that we can get stuck in. It goes something like, “If I do a, b, and c, everything in my life will magically repair itself and all will be dandy!” That’s a nice thought, and maybe it happens like that for some people, but that’s not how it happened for me. Quitting drinking in and of itself did not completely change the course of my life. Rather, and this is key, it allowed me to get out of my own way and effectively work on underlying issues in my life that I had been ignoring for years. I used drinking as a distraction, a way to avoid my issues, and a security blanket. By removing the alcohol, I was finally able to take an honest look at how I was operating in my life and start working on developing more productive, beneficial ways of being. I didn’t experience any “I lost 20 pounds and got promoted and bought a house” moments, but I’m realizing that’s okay. There have been lots of other improvements, big and small.

2. I’m just starting to discover myself.

Cutting out booze allowed me to really take a good look at myself and start learning who I truly am. I’ve come to so many realizations about my past, nature, personality, and desires. Could I have gained so much insight about myself while still drinking? Maybe…but probably not.

3. It’s okay to be who I naturally am.

I’ve come to understand that I have a naturally sensitive temperament. I take a bit longer to open up to people. I’m introverted. I need quiet time alone to recharge. I fought against all of these traits for a long time, using alcohol to dull my sensitivity and introvertedness so I could fit right in with all the other extroverts and stay out socializing late into the night, night after night. While I still like getting together with friends, I’ve realized I’m much happier spending time with just a couple friends at once, rather than throwing myself headfirst into a sea of people and forcing myself to be loud and outgoing for hours on end. I’m learning to embrace characteristics that I once thought were negatives as beautiful gifts.

4. I don’t want my life to be about not-drinking just as much as I don’t want it to be about drinking.

While I never labeled myself an “alcoholic,” I experimented with going to structured recovery meetings just to meet other sober people and see if there was something there for me. I experienced some positives from the meetings, mostly the social interaction, but overall the teachings didn’t sit right with me. I spent a lot of my young adulthood partying or nursing a hangover. So many hours were spent focused on drinking. Then, after I quit drinking, I noticed that I could easily make not drinking an equally huge part of my life, and the focus would still be on alcohol.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of thinking about drinking. I don’t want to spend anymore significant amounts of my life energy thinking about a substance. I understand that for many people, structured programs are their lifeline and I don’t mean to negate that fact. Everyone has a different journey, and I’ve found for me, it’s more productive to let that part of my life quietly fade away, making room for new healthy habits and hobbies to be explored.

5. Laughing when you’re sober feels so much better.

Because it’s real. ‘Nuff said.

6. I spent so much energy trying to moderate.

All the energy I wasted on trying to moderate my alcohol consumption could probably sustain the city of San Francisco for twenty years. The constant cycle of attempting to moderate, failing, feeling shitty, experiencing anxiety, feeling a bit better, attempting to moderate…was extremely exhausting. Being that I have an all-or-nothing personality, quitting altogether was easier for me than trying to just have one or two drinks. It was actually a huge relief to finally just surrender.

7. The quality of my relationship improved.

I quit drinking about six months into dating my current boyfriend. To show support and to better his own life, he quit drinking six months after me. Suddenly, I was in a completely sober relationship, which is something that I have never experienced, or thought I could do. We had a strong relationship to begin with, but I think we’ve become much closer than we would have if we kept alcohol in the mix. Everything is real. We mean what we say. There is no drama. We keep our word. Our bond is solid. Our laughter and joy is authentic. I love that we don’t drink…and this is coming from the girl who literally could not speak to a member of the male gender without alcohol in my system.

Dating without alcohol opens doors to more authentic relationships, not based on liquid courage or desperation. It’s so much better. Trust me on this one.

8. There are times when I feel left out, weak-willed, and want to give up.

When we’ve been doing a behavior for a long time, our minds will not give it up easily. Our minds will try to trick us and say, “You need this to fit in” or “You need to drink to have fun” or “C’mon! You’re making too big a deal of this, one drink won’t hurt!” We have well-trodden neural pathways for everything and when we try to change a behavior or habit, our old pathways will try to pull us back in with great gusto. When these moments happen, I think about all the positives I’ve experienced. I laugh at this drunk asshole voice and say “I know what’s best for me. You can’t scare me!” and know that he is slowly withering away.

With practice, living without alcohol gets easier and easier. I’ve attended a few parties and gatherings without alcohol, and in all honestly, I felt fairly uncomfortable and awkward. But, with each gathering, I felt a little less awkward and a little more comfortable. I know that with time, not drinking will just be my new normal, and how freeing will that be? To not feel like I need a substance to talk to people or fit in or have fun. That will be freedom.

9. Alcohol and mindfulness are not compatible.

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” In my experience, alcohol destroys attention, resolve, and awareness. It causes me to want to “float above” verses “lean in.” That leads to the stress of not feeling, ignoring, or pushing through things, which creates a vicious cycle of its own and leaves me feeling anxious and scattered. The presence of even a little bit of alcohol destroys mindfulness—the two cannot coexist in my world.

10. One day at a time is the way to go.

When I quit drinking, I was riding a pink cloud-high for a few months after. I was proud of my decision and boldly declared “I’m never drinking again!” While that might be true, I’ve found that saying I can never do something again puts way too much pressure on me. It almost has a reverse psychology effect in that if I say I can’t do something, I want to do it more. Hitting one year was a good first goal. It allowed me to clear my mind and see my life without the haze of booze clouding it. Moving forward, however, I’m going to take this journey one day at a time, just focusing on the 24 hours ahead of me, instead of the rest of my life.

People change, evolve, and grow in miraculous ways and I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that I will never have a drink again. With all the positives and shifts I’ve experienced, it’s very possible I won’t, but I don’t want to constrain my energy in a way that loads on a ton of pressure. Being gentle and kind to myself throughout this journey is crucial.

So, for now, I will take it day by day, and I can confidently say, I will not drink today.

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