A few weeks ago I entered into my 30’s completely sober. It had been around 18 months since I left my inebriated days behind me. OK yes…barring a failed attempt at ‘moderation’ somewhere in between, which to be honest, I don’t really count. In fact, the concept of starting from day 1 after this ‘blip’ as many treatment programmes would encourage, felt disingenuous to the 9 months of hard work I had put in before. Truth be told, my attempt at moderation was just as much a part of my ‘recovery’ as were the alcohol-free days that preceded and followed it. I needed to learn that moderation really wasn’t a strong point, which I did, fast
Falling off a Pink Cloud
My birthday was celebrated with a party with friends and family to see the day in, which I experienced fully awake, in HD in fact. Considering, that most my birthdays from the age of 14 onwards I spent getting black-out drunk, this was a major feat for me. And although I would like to tell you that I sailed through the day feeling on top of the world riding on my teetotaler horse, I most certainly did not. The pressure was intense, the attention was a lot for me to handle, and the desire to drink EVERYTHING was still very much there. It sat there, relentlessly hungry, waiting to be fed. Waiting for the chance for me to numb myself, to hide from the feelings that were emerging. Desperate for relief. Relief from my feelings of insecurity, uncertainty (aren’t I suppose to have everything figured out at thirty?), as well as a general sense of loneliness I have felt for some time.
Ah loneliness. That messy word, which no one really likes to speak about or admit to. But loneliness has become a close friend of mine over the last few years. My first real encounter with it was after a bad breakup, in which I filled my loneliness with alcohol and attention from men, which left me with an even greater sense of emptiness than before.
A second, and very different, strain of loneliness came soon thereafter, when I decided to ditch the booze and pick up the pieces of my life. Not at the beginning however. The beginning few months were spent in what is commonly coined The Pink Cloud in the sober world – the feelings of joy and ecstasy often experienced in the first few months after giving up alcohol. The Pink Cloud is a beautiful place to be. It is an exciting, novel, happy, warm, ecstatic place filled with possibility! But the reality is, is that this phase does not last forever (boo!). And at some point, a few months ago, reality kicked back in for me, and I found myself faced with usual hardships of life once again, and had to deal with them in a society that places alcohol at the epicenter of everything it does.
I never went the whole 12 Steps route, as I didn’t really feel all that comfortable with the whole gig. However, had I gone to it, maybe I’d have been better equipped for this fall from the Pink Cloud and been a bit more prepared, and perhaps I would have met more people on the same journey (or maybe not?). But I didn’t, and unfortunately, as there aren’t too many places for us non-AA teetotalers to go, I felt this left me out in the cold to fend for myself. I didn’t have a sober clan of buddies to guide me through it, to go for coffee and hikes with, or play board games. I had to learn it all on my own, which eventually saw me retreating from my social group. In the end I would rather just stay at home most the time, then be in another bar, or club.
Now, if you are asking why I didn’t just go and make new like-minded friends, this is really not the easiest thing to do. Firstly, at the age of 30, people just assume you have your friends, and at times I felt like a stage-5-clinger trying to make new pals. And yes I have tried groups like Meet.up.com, and have attended many interesting events such as trance drumming circles and dance movement classes. I have even tried Tinder to make friends (do not try this one at home kids). This coupled with the fact that I am actually lot more introverted that I thought made this a difficult task. So although in recent months I have been slowly making a few more alcohol-free buddies, as well as meeting some rad humans on online support groups like Hello Sunday Morning and Club Soda the reality is that it is difficult enough to make friends in the real world, never mind making sober ones, and if you feel like you are alone in this debacle, the irony is I’m right here lonely AF next to you!
The morning after my 30th birthday party, I woke up, and for a few minutes I felt incredibly disorientated, with a horrible familiar sinking feeling. A feeling of dread and shame. What had I done the previous evening? I couldn’t remember anything? I must have blacked out at the party. Oh Andrea. How could you have done this again?
And then after some time I came to realise, like waking up from a bad dream, I was having a knee-jerk response, one which I’d had on so many birthdays before. I couldn’t remember any of the bad things I had done, because I hadn’t done anything (except for eating around 3kgs of chocolate 😉 )! The feeling of relief and pride in that moment was overwhelming, and apart for one bad-ass sugar hangover, I felt alive, with my memories of the night before fully intact. The good the bad, and the ugly, I didn’t care, at least I could recall it all! I had managed to enter my 30’s wide awake.
The reality is that giving up alcohol is a bumpy ride, filled with intense highs as well as some dark lows and is one to be prepared for. There were (and are still) times were I considered throwing in the towel, and drinking again, no longer wanting to go against the grain, or be excluded from the ‘tribe’ any longer. But these moments come and go, and I let them gently wash over me when they do.
And although the last few Winter months have been a roller coaster of emotion, of solitude, of fending for myself and feeling like an outsider at times, I would rather this be my journey, then my previous life of hangovers, mistakes, anxiety, and damage to my body that alcohol brought into my life, not to mention the desperate feelings of misalignment it brought to my spirit. I would rather save my money and spend it on things that make me feel happy and whole, and put it towards a future that I can be proud of.
With my feet on the ground, and with Spring blossoming, the air is filled with possibility and excitement again. I feel happiness returning back in this body of mine, and I am feeling strong.
I know I join hundreds of thousands of other people in making this life choice, and this thought fills me with a reminder on companionship, and comradry, and I carry this with me.
Thank you for walking this path with me, or being witness to it from afar.
And for those who feel alone, as I have felt at times in this process, I invite you to come take my hand and walk this journey side-by-side with me. Through the mountain tops, and the valleys troughs.
Let’s do this damn thing together.
Looking for some online support? Here are some of the sites, podcasts and books that have helped me along the way!