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I did it! I’ve officially made it through the holidays without drinking. It was not easy and I had doubts about whether I would make it through New Year’s. There were days when I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I was bored. I felt like I was missing all the action. I wanted to be out there, in the bars, partaking in the big brunches, but also to go nowhere and do nothing at all – to enjoy drinks on my balcony and the cool weather. The pull to give in just one more time before 2016 ended nagged at me. I was constantly engaging in an internal negotiation between the parts of me that knew better and those that don’t. Because I’d already slipped up a handful of times since the decision to quit in June, what could it hurt to have one last alcohol fueled night on the town before the new year? I planned the whole hypothetical evening out in my head. I romanticized it like it was going to be some epic adventure that I’d remember forever and tell my grandchildren about: “The Last Night I Ever Drank!” I indulged this ridiculous fantasy a dozen times, even though I knew it would likely just be my husband and I binge drinking and chain smoking while scrolling through our Facebook pages for a few hours. Nothing grand or sexy about it.
In some ways, I did cave on New Year’s Eve. When the negotiating and pull was at its zenith and I could feel myself giving up, I opted to allow myself a pack of smokes and a few cans of Diet Pepsi. I do not want, nor do I plan, to go back to regular smoking, but if it meant I could stay sober that night, then I did what I had to do to get through it. There was a time when I would’ve beaten myself up over that slip up, which incidentally would’ve led me to say something like, “Well if you’re going to smoke, you might as well drink.” The urge certainly hit me to take a sip of my husband’s drink whenever he would get up to use the bathroom, but I didn’t. I realized that my relationship with sobriety had begun to shift. I cared about it and decided it was worth protecting. The hypothetical, last boozy hurrah of 2016 never came to be and I woke up hangover free on New Year’s Day feeling grateful (and a little congested from the smoking).
There were a few things that helped me get through the last stretch of the year, which may be of use to anyone who is experiencing similar struggles.
- I refuted every sabotaging plan I made for myself. Every time I entertained the thought of having one last hurrah, I also reminded myself what would likely follow: a debilitating hangover, anxious/unstable moods, an entire day of vacation lost to recovering, and enormous guilt. Thinking about these things didn’t necessarily make the urge go away, but it gave me the perspective I needed to center myself and make the right choice.
- I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. In the last month I have really put myself and my sobriety out there, both in real life as well as on social media. Yes, I could drink and tell no one and carry on as if nothing had changed, but I didn’t want to drag around that kind of weight. I’ve been engaging regularly with the sober community online and have found immense support there. Even though none of these people know me in real life, I feel oddly accountable to them. Nobody in my day to day life has the same problems with alcohol as I do nor are any of them sober. They may cheer me on, lend an ear now and again, or be sympathetic but I don’t know if they “get it”. To them, it may seem like having drinks every couple of weeks is perfectly fine, but for me, I know that it isn’t. The sober community I’ve connected with online is the only place I’ve found where I can talk about that and have people understand why attempting to drink “occasionally” is a recipe for disaster.
- I didn’t want to start over. I didn’t want to go back to zero. I didn’t want to hit reset on my sobriety app again. It may sound silly, but that number matters to me now. It isn’t everything, but some days it’s enough to keep alcohol out of my hand.
This is going to be the year that sobriety takes priority in my life. If there’s anything I’ve learned from 2016, it’s that sobriety has to be a priority in order to work. Looking back, it hasn’t been. I would too quickly lump it in with my other goals: quitting smoking, getting in shape, losing weight. It was just a goal to me, something that could still be negotiated in hard times. I didn’t want to identify as an alcoholic and I didn’t want to give in. I wanted to continue flirting with the edge, dipping my toe on either side as it suited me.
I realize now that it can’t go that way and honestly, it’s a relief. I can now open myself up to doing this work, growing, writing, and exploring a better life for myself and those around me. At the risk of sounding cliché, 2017 is going to be a transformational year for me. I can feel it and, for the first time in a while, I’m embracing optimism.