Becoming sober curious

For a long time, I thought you only had a problem with drinking if you had a serious alcohol disorder. I don’t get wasted every time I drink, so I’m fine. I don’t need a beer when I wake up in the morning, so I’m fine. 

But for years, I couldn’t end the night without a drink. 

It hadn’t always been like that, though. In my mid-20s, I remember thinking that it was wasteful to drink alone–drinking was expensive, and it wasn’t fun unless it was social. Happy hours, boozy brunches, house parties, beerbeques–that was when I drank. Somewhere along the way, my mindset shifted.

By 29 years old, I found myself drinking every single day. 

On a weekday, it was usually just one IPA, sometimes two. But it was around this time that I started to feel panicked if I came home late from work and no liquor stores were open. I would search on my GPS and drive from store to store, sometimes spending another half an hour on the road when I was already exhausted.

Then I became a teacher.

And the drinking got worse. My job was over an hour from home, so I started lesson planning in bars after work. I usually kept it to 2 drinks, but sometimes I’d stay and drink with the bartenders. I became a regular. They all knew my name and what I liked.

After a few months of this, one of them joked, “You pay our electricity bill.” It stung.

My job made me sad and stressed. By my second year I was still drinking two IPAs a day. That’s enough to feel tipsy every night. I would wake up every morning and feel sluggish. Every time I had a sad or weird thought, I would blame it on being buzzed or slightly hungover. I couldn’t read my own body–I never knew if I was perpetually tired or if it was the booze from the night before. I had a strange sense of not really knowing how I was truly thinking or feeling at any time.

At this point, I had 5 roommates in a small apartment in Brooklyn. They drank occasionally, but none of them had my nightly ritual. I’d take out my recycling every few days out of embarrassment. 

At work, I became known for my drinking. “I went to the bar at the corner and thought of you.” “I always see you at that bar.” “This drink made me think of you.”

It started to feel less and less like I was in control.

I started meeting some guys I really liked. They made me nervous, so I drank even more around them. We got drunk or wasted on every date. 

One night, I went down the shore with The One I Liked The Most. My feelings for him ran deep–stronger than his own affections–and alcohol was the only thing that could help me cope with our inevitable end. We got a hotel room and he fell asleep early. I went to the hotel bar by myself and drank till I blacked out.

When he ended it with me a few weeks later, I felt like I could outrun the pain if I stayed busy. I scheduled three dates in two days. I showed up to date #3 drunk from date #2. 

Date #3 turned out to be a very shitty date.

I’ve stopped typing for the last 15 minutes and have struggled with the words. I never know what to say when I get to this part. I don’t want to talk about it.

I called out of work the next day. On the phone with my principal, I reviewed my lesson plans and suddenly blurted out, “I am so sorry.” I was sorry for everything. Something in my voice made her pause. 

“Hey, it’s okay–feel better.”

For two weeks, I would crawl into bed after work and cry myself to sleep. There was usually a beer next to me, but I was too tired to drink much of it. Its presence alone was comforting. I slept on the bare mattress because I could not bring myself to put clean sheets on the bed. I’d wake up at midnight, brush my teeth, and go back to sleep. 

I had one more shitty date that summer with somebody else. I can’t remember the details of it. Afterwards, I dated him for two months. 

Nothing I was doing felt right in my soul.

One day, I woke up hungover and felt the full weight of all that had been happening.

It was like I swallowed a stone that had sunk in my chest. My heart raced, my chest constricted, my stomach twisted in knots. There was no relief. Even though I had barely slept, I was too anxious to fall back asleep. An overwhelming sense of loneliness washed over me. 

Instead of numbing it with alcohol, I endured it alone. I spent a long day in a dark hotel room with windows that faced a gray parking lot under a stony sky. This was the same hotel I had stayed at for Valentine’s Day with The One I Liked The Most. He had brought me chocolates. We had laid in bed together for three hours after checkout. I mourned the loss of that for the last time.

Even though this wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to me, this was still my low point–the day I realized I needed to make a change.

I’ve been on a long journey of scaling back drinking since then. I tracked my progress on the Habit app. I went from drinking every day to having one drink every 7-10 days. I stopped keeping alcohol in the house. I started to know my own body and my own mind. Yes, I am actually tired today–it’s not a hangover. Or, I’m not feeling great today–maybe I’m actually coming down with something.

More and more often, I noticed how good I felt. Lighter. Instead of sitting at a bar after work, I worked out. I lost 5 pounds.

But there were a few wild nights–a day in October where we drank till dawn, a hotel party for my birthday where we blacked out. Each time, I lost an entire day in the aftermath: retching at the toilet, lying in bed in a daze, feeling post-drunk guilt: Is everyone mad at me?

The progress hasn’t been linear. The quarantine last March shot it all to hell for a while. But I started Dry February and have moved into Dry March. I have gone 47 days without a drink–the longest sober stretch I’ve had since high school.

I feel cautiously hopeful, even as I struggle to work through what my goals are and what comes next.

So I will keep taking it day by day. Each day has felt like a gift; I learn more about myself, my body, and my mind. I hope to maintain this progress, even if it means drinking an obscene amount of coffee and fighting chocolate cravings that I’ve never, ever had before. And I hope I can keep growing.

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