The five years since I quit have really changed my perspective
Five years sober, I have no regrets about my decision to quit. For a problem drinker like me, living sober is much more pleasant than the alternative. But there are a few things I would do differently if I had a time machine...
1. Be more honest with your inner circle about why you are doing it
I was so embarrassed about my inability to keep drinking that I struggled to be honest about why I was quitting. And this is to my closest friends and family. Rather than admitting I was very unhappy and feeling mentally unwell, I said that there was a history of alcoholism in the family, and so I was taking precautions.
This took extra energy that I didn’t really have to spare. And it also set my friends up to say stuff to me that didn’t really chime with what I was doing. I wish I’d given the people who loved me a better chance to honestly support me.
It also got in the way of the self-discovery I was undergoing. It overcomplicated the question of who was I, without beer.
2. Stop trying to appease everyone around you
I was so worried about other people thinking I was judging their drinking that I tied myself in knots trying to communicate. I remember telling a good friend that before I quit I was feeling suicidal, which was true — occasionally — but which I mostly said in order to reassure her that I wasn’t saying she needed to quit drinking.
“Oh, I never feel like that,” she said, and I could hear the relief in her voice. Yet again, I felt more alone in my quest.
I wish I could have been braver, and maybe even called a few people out on their drinking. Rather than taking all the responsibility in the world, as though my booze problem was created in a vacuum. As if I were the problem.
3. Go all in
For the first months of my sobriety, I felt like I was a reporter engaged on a story. I attended AA and felt like a spy. Even as I shared my story and got better at telling the truth, I didn’t really believe that I was going to quit drinking long term. How could I?
I identified as an alcoholic with my AA friends but sold sobriety as more of a ‘leveling up’ to my writer friends. I told my permaculture friends that I wasn’t really an alcoholic, I just drank to self-medicate. My strangely chameleon ways left me shifting and changing according to who I was with to the extent that I struggled to know what was true. It left me at risk of forgetting the real reasons why I quit (because alcohol was ruining my life). I understand why I did this - there’s still a lot of shame about developing a drinking problem, after all - but early sobriety would have been simpler to navigate without this extra dimension to navigate. So do what you can to let go of the shame. Alcohol is everywhere, and it’s very addictive. Of course, we get addicted to it! And don't worry about making other people feel judged by your choices, either. Many people want to defend their right to drink, and they can, but you don’t have to do it for them!
Getting sober is about focusing on yourself and doing what is right for you. The sooner you can stop trying to control what others think the quicker your life will improve.
If you need help to cope, you’re not alone.
If you’re ready to try something different, subscribe to Beautiful Hangover and discover what I did to get freedom from alcohol. Do whatever it takes to stay sober for 30 days: go to your doctor, try Smart or AA or Hip Sobriety or Soberistas. Listen to Recovery Elevator and SHAIR podcasts. Read This Naked Mind. Try Moderation Management.
There is a whole community of people waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting.
Chelsey Flood is the author of Infinite Sky and Nightwanderers and a lecturer in creative writing at Falmouth University. She writes about freedom, addiction, nature and love, and is working on a non-fiction book about getting sober and a new YA novel. She also has a fun newsletter about Autism.