With the dawn of a new year, people are often looking to make a change. Over the last few months, I have received several messages from people asking me how I quit drinking and how I continue to stay sober.
It’s a tough question for me to answer honestly.
To be honest, I don’t think I would recommend “my” way.
Because the truth is, I lied.
I lied my way to sobriety.
***********Content Alert: Sobriety, Recovery, Alcohol
NOTE: I want to make this of value to everyone reading. I share a recipe at the end of this post for a warm, comforting, cozy winter meal that I hope you will enjoy making and eating. If the topic of sobriety and me baring my soul about my road to recovery is not of interest to you, feel free to scroll to the bottom for the recipe. 🙂
Living The Lie
You see, I hit a rock bottom when I was 29 and life as I knew it came to a sudden stop and I was forced to change almost every aspect of my life. I knew all of my problems stemmed from my drinking and so I made a decision, that day, to stop.
Although I relapsed only a few days later, I had made a decision and I knew I had no choice but to change or die. So I went about figuring out how to change…everything.
Absolutely nothing could stay the same if I was to be able to make this shift and live a sober life.
And, so, piece by piece, I went about changing everything in my life.
I changed who I spent my time with. I removed myself from social circles where the core activity was drinking. Doing so all but obliterated my social life. I moved out of my apartment and moved in with my then-boyfriend (even though just days earlier I had tried to end the relationship because he didn’t drink and was beginning to question my drinking behaviour) because we both knew it was the best place for me to be in order to get, and stay, sober. It was. He was my “person” and I will never be able to repay him for all he did to save me.
I changed what I told people about myself. I told people I didn’t drink because I was super into health & fitness.
I changed how I looked. I immediately dropped weight when I got sober from the stress of it, and my physical appearance changed dramatically. I used the opportunity to play with different makeup, to try new hair colours and styles, and to shop for new clothes. I got braces at 31 years old and my looks continued to change.
I changed what I did. I quit my job and went to business school. I immersed myself in the learning and I busted my ass to achieve a high level of success and status as a mentor and peer tutor.
I changed what I did with my spare time. I went to the gym and shopped organically and went for massages and practiced yoga. A year after getting sober, I quit smoking. I realized how ridiculous it was to be telling people I was a health and fitness fanatic with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.
Stepping Into A New Truth
It all felt pretty good. I was discovering new parts of myself that I had never known. It felt oddly freeing to be living this lie but also being more truthful with myself than I had ever been before.
It was a beautiful juxtaposition; exhilarating and frightening and liberating and stifling all at the same time.
And although the life I was creating stemmed from hiding the truth from people, the lie allowed me to create a whole new identity. It allowed me to step into a new truth; to create a version of me I had never known and a personality I had never really cultivated until then.
But it still felt inauthentic. It still felt like I was hiding who I really was.
And I was.
I was hiding my addiction and my recovery from everyone else and I was hiding from the world.
When I got sober, I had no intention of attending AA meetings.
Although I felt very much alone, the last thing I considered doing was admitting I was an alcoholic to a group of strangers. It was out of the question.
I also had preconceived ideas about the kinds of people who went to AA.
Without ever setting foot in a room, I judged what “those” alcoholics were like. And I decided that they were not like me.
I was so filled with shame about not being able to drink, not being “normal”, that my main goal was simply to get through life hiding it from everyone.
My constant concern over what others would think of me impaired my ability to do things that could have enhanced my journey of sobriety and that could have helped me to find my tribe.
Although I still don’t go to AA meetings, I have the utmost respect for those who choose this method of recovery. There are so many success stories, and I applaud anyone who gets sober, no matter their method.
Perhaps even my own.
Lifting The Veil
Sharing my secret happened slowly…I first shared it with my close friends and my family and then I shared it selectively with the people I felt connected to.
This happened over years. Years.
During my time at school, I never revealed my secret to anyone. For the entire 4 years I was there, if people asked why I didn’t drink, I told them it was because of my passion for health and fitness. I kept up the lie.
When I first moved to Ottawa, I relapsed over a few weeks in an effort to fit in and because, well, I just really wanted to drink again. I felt like I could get away with it in a city full of strangers.
After my relapse, I shared my truth with a girl I had been drinking with. Our new friendship fizzled out within weeks of me sharing with her, not solely because of my admission, but it played a big part.
Even though the friendship didn’t survive, telling her felt liberating. It was the start to my releasing the lie; and it felt good to start telling the truth.
A guy I worked with shared that he was in AA. I opened up to him and we went to a few meetings together. Although I didn’t connect with the AA model, I enjoyed hearing the stories of others. I began to really believe that I wasn’t alone and I started feeling more comfortable in my skin.
After I had been sober for 7 years, I met Roger at a networking event. I hadn’t dated more than a handful of times before meeting Roger. Sober dating is challenging, and even more so when I was living my lie. I only wanted to date sober guys, but without sharing my truth and putting myself in situations where I could meet sober guys, my options were limited.
And that was ok.
To be honest, the time I spent single were some of the most amazing years of my life and a time for me to fall in love with me. I would sometimes feel lonely, but taking care of myself for the first time in forever felt beautiful and important and life-giving and necessary to my survival.
I was working for a marketing firm, and Roger and I thought we might be able to find ways to work together. His family owned health studios and Roger and I met a few times on a business level. One day we met for lunch, and I told him that I was a recovering alcoholic. A few days later, he emailed me and shared that he wanted to learn how to live sober and happy; a concept that he had believed was impossible until meeting me.
Our relationship stemmed out of this mutual desire. It is the foundation upon which we have built trust, companionship, respect and love. It has not been an easy road, but it has been an incredibly rewarding one and one that has taught both of us so much about ourselves.
I quit my marketing job and began working for his family’s business. Roger and I ran the health studios, and I would selectively share my secret with clients who were ashamed of their weight.
I could relate with people dealing with food, weight and body issues. I would tell them that I understood the pull of addiction, and that I felt food addiction can be just as challenging as alcohol addiction. Because we all have to eat. No one has to drink. This is not to minimize my struggle, but to connect with others who are struggling as well.
I began to feel the veil lifting; the shame lessening.
The words “I am an alcoholic” more easily passing across my lips; The flushing of my cheeks, the sweating of my palms and the racing of my heart subsiding with each admission.
Sharing With You
If you know me, you’ll know I believe our secrets keep us sick.
And getting to the point where I can tell people, without fearing what they will think of me–in fact feeling pride when I say the words–has taken everything. And it has given me everything.
It has given me a whole new life.
When I finally started this blog, when I finally wanted to tell the truth and share with you The Decision, I was scared to death to do it, but I really had to decide to care more about sharing my truth than about what others would think of me for sharing it.
And coming from the girl who has always been consumed with what others think of me, this was big.
I continue to share things with you so that I can keep getting closer to who I really am. By sharing things with you, I let people get closer to who I really am.
I continue to do it so that I can finally find my tribe.
Seeking My People; Finding Me.
About a year into my sobriety, a sober friend recommended I read Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. I read it from start to finish in one sitting. For the first time, I realized that I wasn’t alone. I had tangible evidence, in my hands, that I wasn’t the only woman on the planet who came from an affluent family, who was highly functioning, and who appeared to be a normal member of society…but who was hiding a secret. I was not the only one dealing with the addiction, the family stuff, the hiding, the shame.
I was not alone. I was not alone!
After I read it, I immediately went online to learn more about her. I had visions of meeting her and sharing time and coffee and stories about our drinking lives and our sober lives.
I was shocked to learn that she had died. A year prior.
At the age of 42, Caroline Knapp had died.
The news shook me. I sat and cried, right there in my chair just staring at my computer.
She was gone. This woman who I felt such a profound connection with. She was gone.
Knowing she was gone made me sad and sorry and angry…and lonely.
I went about finding others like Caroline, and over the years read books like Happy Accidents by Actor Jane Lynch; Bill Manville’s Cool, Hip & Sober; Augusten Burroughs’ Dry; Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends and Love Life; Second Cup Coffee Chain Founder Frank O’Dea’s When All You Have Is Hope; Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Control Alcohol; This Naked Mind by Annie Grace; and Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston.
I got sober in 2001, 7 years before the sobriety website InTheRooms.com was launched and 9 years before HelloSundayMornings.org was dreamed up by an experiment in sobriety that founder Chris Raine wrote about. I wasn’t familiar with blogs and they weren’t mainstream then, so I didn’t have access to other voices that sounded like mine.
I found smatterings of sober communities online, mostly forums, but nothing seemed to click for me. I had started on my path to self discovery, starting with going back to school and treating my body with love and respect through diet and exercise.
When I turned on the TV one day and heard Oprah talking about The Secret, I rushed out to buy Rhonda Byrne’s book and DVD. From there, I found Eckhart Tolle, and I moved onto Napoleon Hill, Wallace Wattles, and Bob Proctor’s work on the law of attraction.
Instead of trying to seek my people, I sought to find myself.
And I don’t regret the path I took, but today, there are so many ways to connect with others in sobriety. It is amazing who can be found on social media platforms, websites, blogs and online communities. It is an exciting time for people looking for a better way to live, and I feel blessed to live in this time.
If I Knew Then What I Know Now...
When I was a drinker, I didn’t do a good job of cultivating friendships because most of my social life was spent drinking. If you were around, then I talked to you over wine. If you didn’t drink, I probably didn’t talk to you. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth.
And when I drank, my conversations were shallow. They were often eroded by misunderstandings and they frequently revolved around inappropriate topics. Instead of developing healthy relationships with people, I developed a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.
I’ve always been uncomfortable in my own skin. I never felt like I fit in. Drinking provided a way for me to remove inhibitions, become more outgoing and reckless. Drinking made me more “fun”.
When I quit drinking and went towards health and fitness, I was able to connect with people on that level. I enjoyed being able to have a conversation about food or nutrition or exercise, and it became my new passion.
But, deep down, I wanted to be able to talk to my people, people who had recovered from alcohol and who were living happy, sober, successful lives.
The lying may not have been the best approach to take. And if you are looking to get sober, I don’t recommend feeling shame about your decision for even one single day. Because in this alcohol-saturated culture, getting sober is just about the most incredibly empowering thing you’ll ever do.
I love this piece from the beginning of Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind:
“I can put you back in control by removing your desire to drink, but be forewarned, getting rid of your desire for alcohol is the easy part. The hard part is going against groupthink, the herd mentality of our alcohol-saturated culture. After all, alcohol is the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking.”
Ahhhhhhhh! She is speaking to me. Straight to my head and to my heart. So much of the time, I have absolutely zero desire to drink alcohol, but what makes social situations uncomfortable is my non-drinking to others. The herd mentality. The groupthink. Our alcohol-saturated culture. Justifying NOT taking the drug! Yes, yes, yes…..She is speaking to me.
I have been saying since I got sober that I can’t be the only one like me. There have to be others out there.
But because of the shame and the lying and the hiding, I haven’t sought out my tribe the way I’ve wanted to…the way I’ve needed to.
Being able to connect, truly connect, with people who have been there is part of my life’s mission. I have many visions and dreams for how this looks, but for now it simply means reaching out and seeking my people.
I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I am resolving to connect with others who are like me. I am committed to finding my tribe.
I spent a good chunk of this past weekend listening to Home podcast with Laura McKowen, founder of the blog I Fly At Night and Holly Whitaker, founder of Hip Sobriety. I also read several of their posts and became re-inspired knowing that my people are out there! Their viewpoints often mirror mine but they also challenge them, which is exciting.
I want to continue to stretch and grow as I further my time as a sober woman navigating this alcohol-laden world. I am excited to see what’s next and I am thrilled to be sharing a journey with such incredible women who are so open and vulnerable and willing to share their stories. I love the feeling of that.
I plan to share more of myself in an effort to connect, share and be more authentically me in 2016 and beyond.
I am grateful to these women for sharing their journeys and for being a voice for so many of us who have felt very much alone on this journey.
Kudos, ladies. Your work matters.
If you are looking to get sober and seeking help, if you are scared and searching for a better way or perhaps you want some one-on-one coaching, first, I want to be the first to tell you that you are most certainly not alone; and second, I highly recommend you get in touch with these women.
You might also consider Hip Sobriety School, an 8-week online course on getting sober in a healthy way that takes a a unique approach that is not centred on the traditional 12-step model.
I also came across Jean, founder of the blog Unpickled and I was blown away by the work she is doing on herself and for others in recovery. She has documented her journey of sobriety and she offers a wealth of information and resources on her blog. If you scroll down the right hand side, you will see the many blogs she herself follows that I have started checking out. It is so exciting! My tribe is doing some amazing things and I can’t wait to learn more about them.
I plan on watching all of the films Jean highlights on her Unpickled site, starting with Lipstick and Liquor, a documentary on the growing number of suburban women who are becoming alcohol-dependent.
If you have considered an AA meeting, but haven’t been yet, check out The Bubble Hour. It is a podcast that feels like being at a meeting and hearing others’ stories.
Meet Kate, blogger and founder of The Sober School, who shares her experiences in sobriety and also has an online course helping people live a healthy, happy, sober life.
It is a wonderful time to be sober. If you already are, then we are each others’ people. We are part of the tribe. If you are worried about your drinking, there is no better time than now to get started on a path of seeking. If you know you need help, please reach out. Don’t waste another day in sickness and chaos and misery.
Don’t allow the shame to keep you hidden or entrenched in lies the way it did for me both during my drinking life and once I got sober. Getting sober is the most challenging thing I have ever done, but also the most rewarding, and I want to celebrate it and feel proud of it and share it with others.
I look at my alcoholism as a gift and the experience of getting sober as the greatest blessing of my life.
Finally getting honest and sharing my truth is what has broken me open and allowed so many good things to enter into my life. I know the same can be true for you.
There is a beautiful life ahead of you, and the sooner you start looking for it, the sooner you will be able to find it.
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.
P.S. If we aren’t already friends on Facebook , let’s connect! We can also connect on Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you should! That way, you won’t miss anything. For joining, you get my personal meal plan, shopping list, and a week’s worth of easy, tasty recipes. http://sarahtalksfood.com/
Let's Warm Up Together
It’s cold outside where I am in Ottawa, Canada, and at this time of year, I love making cozy meals that create lots of leftovers. Here is a dish I’ve been making for years that was inspired by a Donna Hay recipe. A friend made it for me originally, so I have recreated it as best as I can remember and added in a few additional ingredients. I hope you make it, warm up with it, and share it with your friends and family this winter.