A Significant Challenge We Face in Sobriety

Gillian May

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Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

When I first got sober, my only thought was about the loss of the alcohol itself. It was my crutch, my friend, my cure-all, and my most prolonged habit. What the hell was I going to do without it?

I was not a derelict drunk who snuck sips at work or drank every night. I had a drinking routine that allowed me to stay high-functioning and tricked my heart into believing that I was a responsible drinker.

Yet, I still drank too much and didn’t realize the extent of it until after I quit drinking. I was chemically and habitually addicted, even though my drinking looked very much like regular social drinking.

I thought that once I got through the simple choice not to drink, all would be well, and I could skip off to the sunset of my new healthy existence. It turns out that was only the beginning.

I soon realized that abstaining from drinking was not the most significant challenge I would face in sobriety. It was the loss of my community of family and friends that I drank with.

As alcoholics, we build our lives around our alcohol use. This includes the people we drink with and the relationships we create that are infused by alcohol. They are so entwined with the drinking experience that many of us can’t remain sober without making changes to our community.

For many of us, committing to sobriety means that we lose our community or have to keep a distance. For me, this has hurt more than the loss of the alcohol itself.

I’m three and a half years sober. I got over the chemical and habitual attachment to alcohol after the first year. But I still feel sadness over losing the people and social situations that propped up my drinking.

Don’t get me wrong, I would never return or wish I were still there drinking with them. But the loss is still painful.

Many friendships and gathering places have been lost. But the worst was the loss of connections with family, all of whom orchestrate their entire lives around drinking.

I used to look forward to family gatherings because we’d all get pleasantly pickled, then laugh and philosophize about life. The standing joke in my family was how we’d get drunk and “solve all the world’s problems.”

I used to think that was hilarious and cute. I thought it was normal and made us a close family. Now it just breaks my heart in pieces.

However, all is not lost. Well, nothing is ever lost, but we need to re-build and re-define how we “do” life without the booze.

I still go to family gatherings, just not as much and I can’t stay past the time when people go from pleasantly pickled to blatantly bizarre. Until you’re sober, you never realize that shit gets weird after the clock hits about 11pm.

It’s heartbreaking when you get sober and finally realize how scared you were as a child watching your loved ones turn into different people late in the evening.

But since no one ever talked about it, you assume that it’s normal. Then you actually develop pride when you become old enough to join them. This is how the family cycle of addiction gets passed down.

These days, keeping my distance and developing boundaries requires constant vigilance and upkeep. But it’s what must be done to protect my sobriety.

As for friends and partners, I’ve been lucky. I have a few sober friends and some who decided to limit their drinking around me.

But my most precious support system is my wife. When I got sober, I asked her to help me by not drinking. She agreed because she never really cared much about alcohol and knew that her support would really help me. I can’t tell you the difference this has made in my life.

Together we forged a new path of living without alcohol that feels so rich and full of authentic communication and real intimacy.

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Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

It’s absolutely critical to have a support system with people who do not drink. Having a spouse or family who drinks a lot is a pretty big conundrum for anyone wanting to get sober. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an impossible situation, but it’s going to be really hard.

But, here’s another important fact. Choosing not to drink is no one else’s responsibility or choice. For alcoholics, the choice is always our own, and we have to take responsibility for that. It’s never ok to pressure or put conditions on others just because we’re getting sober.

You can ask your loved ones not to drink around you, but the choice is always up to them, and you can’t force them to do anything they don’t want to.

Having said that, if you can’t get sober around other people who drink, then you may need to make some serious changes in your relationships. That’s what it means to take responsibility, but that’s also when sobriety gets really hard.

This is often the reason people don’t stay sober. For many of us, the choice not to drink also means losing everyone we love. And since community and connection is one of the most critical human needs, this may be too much of a risk.

For anyone contemplating sobriety but the loss of community seems too much to handle, know that you can prepare ahead of time. You can begin finding new communities, activities, or friendships that don’t involve drinking. This is often why AA groups can really help people because it offers a sober community who can support you.

If AA doesn’t appeal to you, try finding other sober groups you can join. For me, my plant medicine community was a tremendous support. Many of them don’t drink at all or keep it to a minimum because plant medicine often requires that you avoid alcohol and adopt a healthy diet.

But everyone has different interests so try finding sober groups that coincide with your interests. Even finding one sober person to hang out with can make a big difference.

Sobriety is a messy path full of upheaval and transformation, but it’s also full of possibilities and happy endings down the road.

Will you lose some people you love? Probably.

I won’t lie to you, losing part or all of your community may feel worse than losing alcohol, but if you prepare ahead of time and get proactive, you can find new support systems to help you succeed.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational. Join my email list if you want to read more of my work - https://upbeat-trader-4181.ck.page/839d0ab3f9. I also have a book on Alcoholic Liver Disease coming out in 2021.

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