My SECRET to Staying Sober

I was talking to someone recently about my recovery journey. At one point, I told them that when I first got sober, over 14 years ago, I would chug back non-alcoholic beer every evening. I drank those beers the way I drank my beloved Corona. Out of the bottle. With a lime. Fast.

They said my fake beer contained alcohol. They implied that I wasn’t really sober if I drank it.

To be honest, in those early days of not drinking, I didn’t care that there was .05% alcohol in each one. I didn’t give it a single thought. I had no clue how I was supposed to do anything, let alone live without my beloved alcohol and I certainly didn’t give it any thought that in some sober communities I would be ostracized and rejected for drinking them–told that I couldn’t drink them if I wanted to really be sober.

I was trying to save my life.

I was trying to stay alive.

So much was spinning and changing and I was trying to keep breathing and putting one foot in front of the other in a world that looked dangerous and unfamiliar and scary.

And for me, drinking non alcoholic beer worked. It did what I needed it to do; it replaced the behaviour I needed to replace.

Because we don’t break habits; we replace behaviours.

In the same way people chew Nicorette gum or place cinnamon sticks in their mouths to wean off cigarettes, I drank beer without alcohol. In the same way I encourage my clients to eat my “Taco Nuts” instead of potato chips, I was replacing a harmful behaviour with a healthier one. Instead of getting the buzz I wanted, I got the feeling in my hands, against my lips, going down my throat. While I still craved the numbing, I knew that I couldn’t have it if I wanted to stay alive.

And I wanted to stay alive more than I wanted to die.

So I started slow; not fast.

Could I have just drank water? Sure. But the ritual of opening up that bottle using an opener; slicing the lime wedges to place inside the lip; turning that bottle upside down and gulping it down, the way I had drank beer–it worked for me in those early days. It made me feel less raw; less exposed; less unfamiliar to myself.

So instead of real beer, it was fake beer. And I started feeling my feelings, not numbing them, for the first time in forever.

Because, for me, being sober is about no longer pushing down my feelings and numbing my way out of my life. For me, being sober allows me to have eyes wide open about my own journey, my own experience…my own life.

In the same way that diets are highly individual, each person’s recovery journey is extremely personal.

For me, and this is NOT to say my way works for everyone, but for me, being sober doesn’t mean I have to avoid non alcoholic beer. Or kombucha. Or listerine. Being sober doesn’t mean I have to pass up a steak topped with a red wine reduction for fear of being kicked out of the club, being triggered, or relapsing.

Because, now, after 14 years, my alcoholism no longer defines me and it no longer rules my life.

When I first got sober, I didn’t want to tell people the truth about my addiction because of the shame I felt in no longer being able to drink. Drinking had defined me for so long that I needed to ease into it, so, one by one, I told family and then friends.

I started slow; not fast.

And that worked for me.

Whether I want to ignore it or not, alcohol is very much a part of the real world…a world I live in.

And I refuse to feel like I have to avoid the world, fear the world; feel scared I might be triggered or relapse at any given moment; white knuckling my way through each day; running from situations; all just to stay sober.

This doesn’t feel free to me. This feels stuck.

Instead, I built a foundation–brick by brick–that has allowed me to create this whole new life that I love. A life I feel proud of. A life I feel strong in.

Being sober, for me, means I am clear-headed. I make choices that don’t put me in harm’s way. I think before I speak. I make decisions that are aligned with my goals and I live with more integrity–I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

None of that was true for me when I was drinking.

When I first got sober, those early days with my non-alcoholic beer were crucial. In the raw, vulnerable first days and months, I needed to go slow, not fast.

Leaving The Old; Finding The New

My rock bottom meant I had to quit my job. I had lost my license and needed to figure out a new plan. With my world crumbling beneath my feet, I needed to create a new normal, one step at a time. I enrolled in business school and moved from my one bedroom apartment into my then-boyfriend’s home, to be close to College.

Within weeks of getting sober, I got a job working at a pub near the college. 3 nights a week, I would serve people wine, beer, mixed drinks and cocktails. Instead of triggering me, it served me. Instead of craving it, I was fascinated by it.

I would watch these people do things and say things they would never do or say when they were sober. I watched men and women cheat on their spouses by sneaking around the corner of the bar, to kiss and fondle one another; I watched them stumble out with their arms around each another. I watched people fall down and throw up and start fights and I would see them again the next day as they prepared to do it all again.

It was cathartic.

By continuing to be around it, I could have eyes wide open about what alcohol did to people. I saw myself in every single one of them and I felt compassion and understanding around their addiction. Instead of looking at them as pathetic, I saw them as sick.

They had been my people for so long. I recognized them completely.

But they were no longer my people.

At college, I was surrounded by students and professors and people I met at the gym. I was able to hide my truth by telling these new people that I was a health and fitness enthusiast. I had lost weight as soon as I got sober, and I started eating better and exercising daily, so this was easy to believe.

Little did I know that I was embarking on my journey towards my life’s purpose.

To be honest, even though shame had me hiding my sobriety from most everyone for years, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I got sober. While it has been incredibly freeing for me to come out and share the truth about my addiction in recent years, the way I got sober led me to my passion and purpose in life and it has led me to you.

I used my guise of being “healthy” as the reason for my abstinence. I wanted people to believe I didn’t drink because I was focused on my nutrition and my fitness. The unintended benefit was that by eating better and working out, I was able to change everything in my life. Focusing on nourishing myself and moving my body showed myself tremendous care, love and respect. I had never put those things together before I got sober. I never realized just how poorly I had been treating my precious body until I started treating it better.

It simply follows that when we treat our bodies well, we feel well. And when we feel well, our entire outlook on life improves and we are less vulnerable to slipping back into destructive habits. We start slow; not fast. We begin by creating awareness and taking steps to improve our health, one moment, one day, one week at a time.

I had started craving sugar as soon as I got sober, and yet with my decision to be a healthy person, I needed to develop strategies to ward off sugar cravings, which I have shared with you here, in my book, and in my upcoming online course.

At the same time, I became aware of teachers like Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle, and I learned about the shadow self, the ego, and how we are all connected to ALL. I learned about the law of attraction and it changed how I approached every area of my life. I realized I could choose and co-create the life I wanted to live.

I began making lists and setting goals and I would write them on the calendar, checking them off each time they were achieved. I received every single scholarship I applied for. I received a perfect grade on a paper in my toughest 3rd year course. I accepted the highest award of the college and stood in front of 2,000 people to express my gratitude at convocation.

I am so grateful to my sobriety for helping me to know how far I could push myself. How much I could achieve. All that I was capable of. My sobriety taught me that I could truly be and become whoever I chose, and it was exhilarating to explore this truth.

I Didn't Come This Far To Only Come This Far

Today, I rarely crave alcohol. I mean, it certainly happens now and then, but the feeling washes over me and I allow myself to feel it, all the way, and I examine it as the observer. I find interest in it as I look at the circumstances that led me there. I ask questions and I find answers. “Am I stressed? Angry? Lonely? Burned out? What am I wanting to avoid? Why am I trying to numb?”

I go slow, not fast.

And I adjust. 

When I first quit drinking, I excused myself from several situations, respecting my boundaries and doing whatever I needed to do to stay sober. Today, I see and smell alcohol regularly. I drink kombucha, and, maybe twice a year, I will have a non alcoholic beer.

And I am sober.

While my approach may not work for everyone, it is my approach to take. It is personal to me and it feels authentic and good.

It feels free.

This doesn’t mean I don’t respect my limits; I do. I don’t keep any alcohol in my home. I never go to the liquor store. I remove myself from situations that don’t feel good. I will excuse myself from the table when there is too much wine flowing and I smell it too strongly. I seek out sober friends and I made it a non-negotiable in my romantic life to only date sober men. For the past 7 years, I have been blessed to walk this path alongside the most amazing man who shares my lifestyle philosophy.

We are each other’s people.

And if I feel “triggered” in any given situation, I observe all the reasons why it’s happening.

And I adjust.

I don’t brush my feelings aside, but instead I observe them; I question them; I share them; I get still and I wait for the answers.

I go slow, not fast.

For me, that is the secret to staying sober. Showing myself love and respect through the choices I make. Treating my body with kindness and compassion. Being fully present; enjoying the ups and downs of my life; feeling my way through my experience and knowing that no matter what, I will have my eyes wide open.

I get to feel it all.

And it feels good.

It feels good to be sober.

Because I am.

If you are seeking and searching and wondering if you need help, please reach out. I have lots to share.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

P.S. I see all addiction as the same. It allows us to numb. If you feel out of control with sugar or if you use food to push things down, I want to help you to stop holding yourself back in your life. I want you to feel free.

My 6 WEEK ONLINE COURSE, called The 6 week Sugar Freedom eCourse, opens for enrollment on Monday January 9th. If you, or someone you love, wants to learn more about themselves, food, sugar and how to create a lifestyle they love, please consider joining us. Each week, there will be a video-based lesson, Homework Assignments, a live Q&A session (you will type your questions and I will answer them live, on video, where you can see me but I won’t see you–so you can be in your PJ’s!), and we will enjoy a private Facebook group where we will share our ups and downs and keep one another accountable. I would love to serve you. Stay close for details on how to register.

10 Comments

  • Kirsten

    Reply Reply January 3, 2017

    Love your honesty. Thanks for sharing. And that when others judged what you knew worked for you, you let it roll off your back and stuck to your truth.

    • Sarah Roberts

      Reply Reply January 3, 2017

      At first, I have to be honest, I was a little surprised. I hadn’t thought much about those early days of drinking non beer. When they said it, I realized how grateful I was for the path I chose to take in sobriety. While I respect everyone’s path, there seems to be far too much judgment in some sober communities about the definition of “sober”, when all that really matters is that we aren’t killing ourselves anymore. We aren’t numbing and loathing and harming ourselves anymore. And I like the freedom I enjoy in not feeling like I might make a decision that will land me on the outside. I get to be free. Thank you for reading and for your comments! xo

  • Syl

    Reply Reply January 3, 2017

    Sarah ~ we may have been sisters separated at birth. I feel your words about food. Having grown up in an abusive atmosphere food was the only thing I could control. As a young girl I was very active (sports kept my weight down) & this was long before eating disorders. You age, you’re less active, you gain weight, you beat yourself up & the cycle starts all over again.
    Ironically one day you meet wonderful women such as yourself, hear your story (from another perspective) & know the changes you’ve made & the goals you’re striving for are realistic & so worth the path you’ve travelled. Thank you ❤️

    • Sarah Roberts

      Reply Reply January 3, 2017

      I’m sorry for the way you grew up. What we’ve gone through shapes who we are, but the amazing thing about growing up is we don’t have to stay stuck in our story. I’m proud of you. The goals you are striving for are definitely worth the path you’ve traveled. Sending you so much love. xo

  • Jess

    Reply Reply January 6, 2017

    Well I would just like to say thank you. Your blog post is so timely. I stopped drinking about 3 months ago – but have been substituting the 0.5% beer, and will sometimes drink a dozen (+) in a night. I thought…wow. Nobody drinks that many non-alcoholic beers right? But then I don’t really care, because they have really helped me to cope with a lot of situations – particularly during the holidays – where I would have run out of willpower and just started drinking real beer. No hungover mornings, no regrets. I know I am sober. Maybe eventually I won’t need them as much for a ‘crutch’ – but for now it’s working for me. The bigger picture is that I am also doing lots of other work in recovery. It’s so important to recognize in this early stage why I am drinking this way, what the situation is that is causing me to want to drink in such a compulsive way (hint: social anxiety). Hey…I might even try the nicotine patch to quit smoking this year. Whatever works, right? 💕 Love everything you are doing!

    • Sarah Roberts

      Reply Reply January 7, 2017

      I’m so happy for the timing of the post! Well done staying sober over the holidays…it can be incredibly difficult for many of us no matter what time of year, but the holidays add on a whole other pile of parties and gatherings and also memories of “how we used to do the holidays”. Bravo!!!! And yes, you will likely find you don’t need the non-beers as much as time goes on. Honestly, I almost never have one (in fact I don’t know of I had one last year or even the the before, but I wouldn’t care if I did) as you will get to a point where you love your sober life so much, you won’t even miss that taste or bottle in your hands, but take your time and go at your own pace. My favourite part of this: “No hungover mornings, no regrets. I know I am sober. ” You most certainly are. Beyond proud of you. xoxo

  • Heather

    Reply Reply January 10, 2017

    Oh girl!!!! I knew I loved you but after reading this!…even more so. We are on the same page. Thank you for making me feel normal. You are an awesome blossom! 🙂

    • Sarah Roberts

      Reply Reply January 10, 2017

      Oh cool! I love it when I read someone’s words and say, “Me too!” That’s the best…ever. We are each other’s people. So happy you are here, with me. xo

  • Natalie

    Reply Reply January 22, 2017

    Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your experience, strength and hope. I’m a grateful member of Al-anon now for almost four years. I can’t imagine my life without my program and my sponsor.

    I’m going through some challenges at the moment and the desire to use to numb out is strong. The questions you posed resonated with me: “Am I stressed? Angry? Lonely? Burned out? What am I wanting to avoid? Why am I trying to numb?”

    Last year was tough, I had two bad slips and went away to treatment for family of origin and codependency issues. I’ve switched sponsors and gone through the steps with her since then.

    We are so much more than our stories aren’t we? My goal is to be as good at practicing self love as I was at destroying myself. One step at a time and today one breath and one moment at a time.

    Thank you for your courage and honesty. Your story gives me hope.

    Hugs,

    Natalie

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