I’ve recently finished Blackout by Sarah Hepola and am currently in the throes of The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray, and both have got me thinking what my first days of sobriety looked like. I mean like, first first days last June/July where I somehow strung together several weeks (only to dip a toe back in a few more times before ultimately kissing alcohol goodbye in December). Just because my first walk down sober lane didn’t turn into my lifetime one does not mean it should be discounted – to the contrary, those first few weeks/months were absolutely crucial in laying the foundation for what was to come. For the first time in many years, I broke the groundhog day cycle and was doing shit differently. I was walking along, crying and sniffling and dropping breadcrumbs for myself just in case I changed my mind; I didn’t want to be walking the path but I knew it would lead home for me. Sometimes I took a few steps back, scared of what the other end of this journey might hold for me, but ultimately I was lead to complete recovery from alcohol and where I am today.
So what were some of those things that kept me on the path in those early, early days? I honestly wasn’t sure where to start, so I did the most basic thing: Try something new everyday. This ingenious idea wasn’t mine alone, it had stemmed from the book Unf*ck Yourself by Gary John Bishop, which I had read in early 2017 because I knew something was, in fact, totally fucked with me – just wasn’t sure “what” yet. He offers the affirmation, “I Am Not My Thoughts, I Am What I Do.” I am talking little things, like going to the gym at a different time, going to the movies by myself – one day my goal was to “drink 1 glass of water every hour” and another was “compliment someone at work every 4 hours.” Even when I really didn’t want to, ESPECIALLY if I didn’t want to – because, as Gary John Bishop argues, change comes from action; “you don’t have to feel like today is your day, you just have to act like it is.”
We can’t just keep telling ourselves we will do this or be that, we must just do the thing, fake it if you must – and the seismic shift will follow. This worked famously for me, just smashing old habits in lieu of new ones, all the while boosting my self-esteem and perspective of the world around me. Here are few of the new habits formed from this very, very simple act, all monumental to my recovery to this day:
1. Listening to audio books and podcasts.
Specifically, This Naked Mind by Annie Grace and Home podcast (RIP) with Holly Whitaker and Laura McKowen. Don’t just read things – listen. When you are trapped in a car on the 5 trying to get to/from work and have nothing else to do, you listen very well. It also really helped to have someone’s voice in my ear, a friendly message to recall especially when I was away from the book or my car, tucked in the corner of some party or dinner, lonesome and craving or missing alcohol. Listening to books or podcasts during morning walks with my dog became a huge part of my self-care. It felt luxurious, like I was finally taking the time for myself.
2. Making and drinking sparkly, spicy drinks.
6 glasses of ginger beer, lime and bitters got me through the 4th of July (week 1 of sobriety). Or, ordering this same concoction served in a copper mule mug helped me to survive bar trivia nights without looking/feeling like an 8-year-old. And oh – the morningsoda, of course! The sparkly, bubbly, bitter-sweet-sour concoction at a local coffee shop. Evening hot baths were tempered with Trader Joe’s berry-flavored sparkling mineral water with blackberries bobbing in it. Tonic with lemon at a concert. Fresh-pressed green juice at brunch. Fancy, overpriced craft mocktails at girl’s night dinner – just fucking splurge. And don’t be afraid to ask the bartender to be creative or make an alcoholic drink sans alcohol – I have found that most embrace the challenge and oftentimes didn’t even charge me. I don’t advocate for fixating on beverages as the central point, make-or-break for every event, but in these early days it sure helped as a distraction.
I had been going to Orangetheory Fitness religiously for about a year, but by my calculations it was only serving to negate my alcohol calories (and I was somehow completely OK with that, proud even of designing and maintaining this complicated equilibrium). However, once I quit drinking both my energy and early mornings were on the uptick. I also had alot of anger and fear and adrenaline to beat out of my body, so I fully embraced the challenge. Plus, turns out that the gym is pretty enjoyable when you don’t reek of Sauvignon blanc and/or feel depressed, hungover and regretful the entire time. One of my “new things” was to start going to the early early morning classes before work, and it was wonderful to feel so accomplished all day long, to ride that high into the evening.
4. Exploring my creative side.
Even if you don’t want to. Even if your bones hurt and face is dried with tears and you still feel hungover everyday even when you aren’t drinking. For me, it became following a strict paleo diet, trying and creating new recipes. This gave me the opportunity to clean up my diet & provide an excuse not to drink (most paleo-practicers avoid alcohol), be creative with new recipes and suck up my free time shopping and meal prepping. I started a new instagram and I made an effort to post to it often even when I felt like a total scab worthless of all human attention and who the fuck cares what I eat because I shouldn’t even be alive. But I did, I posted my paleo no-bake cookies recipe with the valencia filter and tagged all my fave paleo cookbook authors because I knew it would set into motion the events needed for me to create real change. A picture of a purple sweet potato, a video of hamburgers frying: miracles are found in the smallest moments.
So there it is. The secrets to my initial success, and the mainstays I’ve held on to throughout my recovery journey. Of course, what works for me may not for you – but that’s the beauty of doing something different everyday. From living like you want to, and not waiting for the ideal life to show up at your door step – it has room for all sorts of paths and proclivities. There is a special space in the universe, just for you, and it is just on the other side of you telling yourself “today is not my day.”