Jun 25, 2017. This was the day I decided to change my life, forever. I was tearful and scared and sick of feeling both of these things. I was drinking way more than I should have – wine nearly every night, drunk atleast 2 -3 times a week, and probably blacking out monthly, if not every other weekend. Fast forward 192 days (I literally had no idea how long its been, I just had to google some weird reverse day-counter calculator) and I realize today that I have drank less alcohol over the last 6 months than I normally would in 1 good, boozy three-day weekend before I made the conscious decision to “stop.”
But what is “stop?” WHEN is “stop?” Why don’t I count the days I’ve been sober? Why don’t I take it “one day at a time?” Do I count all my consecutive days sober, or can I just count around the days I had a drink during this journey? And who says so either way?
When I think of it globally, instinctually, my life changed on Jun 25, 2017. My life has been significantly different – better – beginning on that day. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever even living before then. Since that day, I have been alcohol-free for 186 days, or 99.67% of the time lapsed. I was completely sober from Jun 25 to August 19, when I drank on a random weekend. A glass or 2 of champagne for a couple happy hours, from there I went another 2 weeks or so without, drinking again on a weekend trip to Joshua Tree on Labor Day weekend, and again on the Sunday night before Labor Day, Sep 3. This would be the night of the first real “holy shit I might have fucked this up” fight my boyfriend and I ever had, a sad and lonely realization that alcohol might be, as Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety puts it, one of those things I can’t fuck with. This would also be the last time I was ever drunk.
From there I went 105 days without drinking, just a few weekends ago having some sips of sangria cut with soda at a small get together. This particular evening I mentioned to my boyfriend that I had a “craving” for something, maybe wine, I don’t know. He responded with “you could drink tonight, but you’ve been doing so well.” I was initially taken aback – “doing so well?” I am not in recovery, I am not counting days of sobriety, I am just living my life the way I want to, not by anyone’s standards or steps. I can drink as much as I want, and I do – which is none. I dislike alcohol, I do not pine for it and need to take my days without it “one at a time,” giving it some weird power and allowing it to loom over me. People who dislike certain vegetables aren’t out here counting their days “free” from green beans or mushrooms, and they certainly aren’t resetting any kind of arbitrary clock whenever they inadvertently eat some at a work potluck. They aren’t surrendering to a higher power and white-knuckling there way through social functions and family holiday parties. This is how I see my relationship with alcohol.
I was recently listening to the This Naked Mind podcast (Ep. 30) and there was a reader question: “How can I prevent relapse, and does all sober time count?” Annie’s response was perfect. She asserted that “relapse” is often a part of the journey because it serves to remind us why we stopped drinking in the first place, as depicted in my Labor Day boyfriend fight/last time ever being drunk/coming to Jesus event. As our life starts to improve, we forget all the shittiness of our drinking days and start to doubt our decision to cut it out, and doubts are what lead to a shift in beliefs. This is why I love Holly Whitaker and her NQTD (Never Question The Decision) tattoo. We start to believe drinking wasn’t so bad and forget why we are “putting ourselves through this” to begin with. Sometimes you drink, but most times you don’t. The key is to not let a “relapse” turn to shame, which is often crippling and devastating. “The only time you stop making progress is when you stop walking” she says. She also implores us not to judge one another and tear down others because they aren’t following some set up sober rules, and so encourages us to define our own rules for the ride. She also talks about a reader on her site who blogged that she quite drinking 3 months ago, and that she drank 2 nights during those 3 months, and so she is at a 98% success rate. As Annie says, “she probably learned from those 2 nights” and the experiences will keep her from drinking again in the future.
When we adhere to all these rules or black and white thinking of sober/not sober, we make room for feelings of failure and shame, in ourselves or others. And, as Brene Brown points out in Daring Greatly, shame is internalized and supports the “I’m a bad person” rhetoric, which only leads to more shame, more negative behavior confirming this belief. Once we build shame resilience and are able to break free of this cycle, we are able to change habits and perspectives because we truly, finally believe we are someone worth believing in.