Six years ago, I reached a stage in my life where, due to a combination of weed, alcohol and mental health issues, I was unable to leave my house. I couldn’t walk to my local shop and supermarkets were completely out of my reach; I had to start doing online food shopping and eventually ended up in awful jobs where I could work from home, even though they made me horrifically unhappy.
It didn’t start there though; that was merely my lowest point. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a child, coupled with attachment disorder and crippling insecurity. And low self-esteem, zero confidence and a complete inability to see any worth in myself. Good eh?!
Overcoming my sudden onset agoraphobia was as easy as a relationship ending, being sacked from a shitty home working job and weed been removed from my daily life. I had to move out of my home, find a new job and learn who I was and what I wanted. So, to combat the pain, both emotional and physical, I drank. A lot. It was something I had started doing when I was 12 and I learned, very quickly, that I was reallllly good at drinking my pain away.
One of my favourite quotes is from Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones (yeah, I’m a nerd, and what?!). Her entire life has been one shitty situation after another and at one point she says, “If I look back, I am lost.”
And that is what I have been doing since I stopped drinking five months ago. It’s what I have been doing for my entire life. I have not looked back, for fear of being unable to find my way home. Writing this today makes me realise just how far I have come since I was unable to leave my house six years ago.
When I quit alcohol five months ago, it was a decision that surprised everybody, not least myself, since I had modelled my entire persona around being the ultimate happy, hilarious party girl. It hid the pain until a drink too far saw me regress alllll the way back in to it with snotty crying or raging anger (included for free as part of the party package). In May this year, my anxiety had peaked again and I was finding even the most minimal of interactions difficult. I finally had a job that I loved, people that I loved (and who, more importantly, loved me) and I knew I had to change my life.
So I quit the booze, to have a little break, and see what happened. And once the pain of the first couple of weeks was done with, I carried on. As Sober Mummy would say, why go back to the horror of the beginning of the addiction obstacle course (http://bit.ly/2EXq1h1)? Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim.
Almost immediately, my issues around depression began to subside. I could find joy in everything. Within a month or two of quitting alcohol, my anxiety was at a manageable level. Not just from quitting alcohol, I also immediately went back to therapy to support me through the process. I started blogging about what I was doing for accountability. I opened up about my mental health issues. Instead of drowning my fear, I would sit and listen to it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s the most difficult thing in the shitting world to do but (like masturbating) with a bit of practise, it does get better. Or at least more efficient.
Quitting alcohol gave me the time to start doing other things. I started my Masters Degree. I started a PGDE teaching qualification. I started writing again. I started going to spiritual groups that nourish my soul. I found a local Herbalist group and regularly attend sessions with friends. I went to therapy and then got sacked from therapy because I had pulled my shit together and didn’t need it anymore. I got a dog and started having long walks in the countryside. I spent more quality time with my friends, my family, new people who make my heart sing so loud.
And it didn’t just change my life, it changed my husband’s too. I won’t tell his story here because it’s not my story to tell but all I will say is that it enabled him to cut down on alcohol without really thinking about it and in turn, this has positively impacted on his mental health.
It’s not a fix all. I still have mental health issues and about once a month (FUNNY THAT) I’ll have a complete crisis of confidence and I will fall apart. What it does mean is that I know how to identify it, manage it, look after myself now. I still struggle socially but I don’t beat myself up about it. So what if I’m actually a 90 year old lady (trapped in a 33 year old’s body) who likes knitting, reading books and watching Countryfile?! (Or as my husband very kindly put it, a 33 year old trapped in a 90 year old’s body.)
I don’t give a shit and more importantly, I don’t give a shit what other people think of me anymore either because I’ve achieved something that I never thought I would be able to achieve. I am happy, without any kind of emotional crutch to support it. I’m just genuinely happy. And calm. And healthy. (She says, neck deep in a bag of Caramel M&M’s. Yep.)
I’m not perfect and I still have a long way to go but I am better. At long fucking last, I’m better.
Written by Kia, and Sober Fish added a ‘but’ and a comma
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Like a lot of people, I started drinking as a teenager and loved it, mainly because it made me more confident in social situations and I considered myself to be shy without it.
I continued with this attitude throughout my life (now I am 36), believing alcohol made me likeable and funny on work and girly nights out, but over the years, the reality became quite different. Blackouts became more frequent. I would wake up in extreme states of shame and anxiety at what I could remember, having made decisions I would never have made when sober. Alcohol was beginning to ruin my life. Gradually it was taking control of social situations and I hadn’t really noticed it creeping into my normal routine.
The Christmas before I got sober, I spent most nights alone, drinking up to two bottles of wine, watching chick flicks on my sofa in a boozy haze. I would desperately text and email ex-boyfriends looking for attention and was constantly on social media feeling jealous of everyone. On the nights I did go out, I would often end up in black out, not even knowing how I had made it home.
I regularly put myself in dangerous situations with no regard for my safety or well-being. The horrible and dark times were vastly overtaking the lessening amount of ‘good times’ and I felt a strong and growing feeling of dread getting greater by the day. I was sick most mornings and became worried that drinking was damaging my health as my drinking had increased every day.
My doctor then diagnosed me as suffering from severe depression and anxiety and prescribed Citalopram. In a way, this is what I wanted to hear as I could then blame my condition on mental illness and not alcohol, which would allow me to continue drinking.
The drugs, combined with alcohol, actually caused my anxiety to worsen and I ended up hiding in my house. I couldn’t give up drinking, lost my job, built up terrible debt and believed my mental health to be beyond repair. I lost interest in everything, except drinking alcohol, and believed myself to be worthless. I tried to take my own life by taking an overdose and drinking to excess. Still I continued to convince myself that alcohol wasn’t the problem, believing that I needed alcohol to help me relax and to escape my problems and mental illness.
I believed alcohol was the only thing that worked except it had stopped working long ago. I was discharged straight from the hospital to rehab, where I stayed for 6 weeks.
I got sober in rehab on 14 May 2017. These past 17 months have been the best of my life. I actually consider each day to be a miracle and a gift.
In rehab, I was warned that my depression and anxiety would still affect me without the alcohol and that I was probably suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I was told to continue taking antidepressants and to increase them up to the maximum dose for at least a year. I was surprised at this, as was starting to feel happier and more stable after just a few weeks of sobriety.
I started to exercise, to eat well and to read up on alcohol abuse and read sober blogs and literature. I went to AA and socialised sober, having told old friends I was no longer drinking. I gradually found a supportive network. I started work again and was able to be reliable. Old relationships took on a new meaning, as I was able to share with people and not hide my drinking. I sorted out my debt problems.
I had been so bitter when I was drinking, often looking down on people and looking for the worst in them. Sober, I found I was able to accept and give love and that was a simple and wonderful thing. Friendships took on more value, laughter became more real, but the main change was that I started to like myself. I discovered that I was not shy after all and that I quite like my own company. What a revelation!
I decided not to increase my antidepressants to the maximum dose, even in the early days. As I was feeling so much better, I did not see the point. With every sober day my confidence grew and my anxiety lessened. Was it possible that sobriety was causing all of this? What about my severe mental illness? As I got healthier, with a clear head, life seemed quite fun. I was happy with how I looked, as my skin had cleared up and my eyes and hair were shiny. People told me how well I looked. I was taking up new hobbies, reading more and talking to people, having interesting debates where I was confident of my opinion. When I was drinking, I was either drunk and shouting, or hungover and terrified. I found that I was enjoying life. In fact, I had never felt better. I asked myself again, astounded at the change – was it possible that sobriety was causing all of this?
I recently met someone who had just given up drinking. She also ended up in hospital and ended up at my local AA group. She was physically shaking and crying, her confidence damaged and her health too. She said she was depressed and anxious. She had contemplated taking her own life. Her doctor had put her on antidepressants and told her she was mentally ill. Just two weeks later, sober, she was beginning to experience the same positive life transformation that I did.
I see it all the time, in life, in blogs, in literature. I can’t ignore it now. I believe that alcohol caused my depression and anxiety, or, at the very least, exacerbated them to a dangerous and life-threatening extent. Now, I don’t drown my sorrows in bottles of wine or end up in situations I regret (and, oh, there were many of those). I enjoy my life with a clear, sober head and when problems do arise, because life will never be perfect, I have the logic and clarity to deal with them to the best of my ability.
I believe mental health is a huge and genuine problem in today’s society and worry that we underestimate the effect that alcohol has on these conditions. Everyone has their own journey and I believe that if I drank again, this would put every positive change that has happened over the past 17 months in jeopardy.
And really, it just isn’t worth it.
Written by Claire, edited by Sober Fish
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‘Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving’.
Terry Pratchett – A Hat Full of Sky
My name is Mel and I have been sober since 6 July 2018. It hasn’t been an easy journey to give up drinking but right now I know it’s been the best decision I have made in a long time.
From the age of 14, I spent my life on an up and down ride of mental health episodes and many different types of medications. For years, I tried to make myself feel better, to escape from my internal demons and keep my head above water.
I still remember the first time I tried a drink; it was like a light blub went off. I enjoyed the warm fuzz and that alcohol rendered me unable to keep a thought in my head.
It was exactly what I was looking for.
I felt like I’d found a friend that would keep me from feeling anything real for the next couple of decades.
I’m not a stupid woman. I logically knew that drinking and anti-depressants were a bad mix but it didn’t stop me. I could literally rationalise any reason to have a drink. It made me feel invincible, funny and clever but I hadn’t realised that I was actually building a prison for myself.
Alcohol was not my friend; Alcohol was my enemy and it was making me ill.
When I was so depressed that I couldn’t get out of bed, I didn’t realise that it was probably my alcohol consumption that was stopping my medication from working. I would then stop taking my tablets but interestingly, never took myself off my wine or vodka. I would cycle between medications without ever telling a doctor how much or how often I drank. Even before I admitted I had a problem I knew better than to be honest about my daily drinking to a medical professional.
I had a couple of tries at mindful drinking. I bought the books and made rules for myself but it never lasted. I always went back to drinking and back into the black hole inside my head.
I drank to blackout regularly. My behaviour was frankly appalling at times. I kept drinking, I self harmed, I kept drinking, I went back on medication, I kept drinking. I completed Dry January and raised money for mental health charities but then went right back to getting hammered daily.
The last 3.5 months have been my best months for years.
I am not taking any medication.
I sleep! For years, I would walk around outside in the dark, drunk, while my family were asleep in bed but no more. I really sleep and wake up fully rested.
This means I look after myself better, which means I am able to give a real part of myself to my children.
I am happy. Genuinely smiling happy. It’s like I didn’t realise how bad I felt everyday until those feelings of desolation were replaced actual joy!
I am able to connect with people better because functioning with a hangover is honestly just really hard work.
I won’t lie. Giving up booze hasn’t been easy. It’s been real work. I have a sponsor, I work the steps and I go to meetings. I have a good support network. All that helps me so much but the thing that really keeps me sober every day is happiness. I love how I feel now. I love that my children have a happy, non medicated, sober mother who can spend time with them because I’m not hiding with a hangover in a back void.
I love that my husband no longer needs to worry about how I might drunkenly embarrass him on a night out.
I love that I will remember what I did, who I spoke to and what I said the following morning.
I love my sober life and honestly I didn’t think I would ever feel like this. If anyone is wondering if they need to stop drinking then please give yourself a gift and give a sober life a real go. My only regret is that it took me over 20 years to understand that drunk Mel’s life was grey and I needed sobriety to see life in technicolour.
Written by Mel, edited by Sober Fish
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In January 2017, after several dismal attempts at moderating my drinking, I decided to do an extended period of sobriety.
For at least six months, I had been hearing this whisper telling me that the party girl lifestyle was no longer serving me; that if I wanted to live the life I dreamed of, alcohol had to go. But I was hesitant to make a change. Didn’t giving up alcohol mean that I had a problem? I didn’t feel like I had a problem…but that doesn’t mean that alcohol wasn’t a problem.
But it was.
So, on January 1, 2017, I decided I’d had enough and committed to doing a sober stint for Dry January.
What went from a 30-day challenge to a 90-day commitment turned to a whole year of testing the sober waters. A 30-something, social, single lady in a thriving city, I realized I had two distinct options when it came to my social and dating life: either withdraw and become a recluse, or figure out how to navigate the social and dating scenes sober.
I’ll be honest, the first option sounded appealing. A highly sensitive person and outgoing introvert, I used drinking as a social lubricant to make me feel more comfortable and outgoing in social settings. For a long time, I thought I needed alcohol to help me tolerate social scenes and help me be more talkative on dates. As I got deeper and deeper into my alcohol-free journey, I came to one solid (yet rather unpopular) conclusion: if something (a social situation or group of people) wasn’t fun unless I was drinking…the situation or people simply were not fun. Furthermore, if I wasn’t capable of meeting new people or conquering something without the liquid courage provided by a cocktail, who was I?
During this time, I found my truth. I had always been a wildly vibrant, outgoing, silly, joyful, insightful, empathic, smart, capable woman. I had not been using alcohol to bring out that side of me. I had been using alcohol to dull that side of me because I was afraid of my light. I was intimidated by sharing with the world what made me different and special. I was unsure how to operate in a world that settled for mediocrity, knowing I was meant to shine.
So, I dulled myself down in the most socially acceptable way there was: with alcohol (please note that my eyes are full of tears as I type this because I understand how profound this realization is. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my experience with you in hope that you will see a bit of my story in your own).
As I discovered my truth, I also gained the courage to accept the challenge of engaging in the social and dating world sober. Full disclosure: this took time. The physical detox from alcohol is just the beginning of the growth you experience when you quit drinking (regardless of the reason). I encourage you to take time to heal, explore and simply become comfortable sitting with yourself and experiencing the gamut of emotions which will now be available to you.
When I was ready to dip my toe back into the dating pool, a quick survey of my girlfriends and colleagues revealed that it would be quite tricky (some even suggested it would be intolerable). With few options, I decided to give it a try and logged back into a few popular dating apps. I knew immediately that I’d eliminate a large portion of the dating pool. There would be plenty of guys who couldn’t handle dating someone who didn’t drink. To be fair, I’d already dated a lot of those guys and it hadn’t really gotten me anywhere.
So, after I eliminated the guys who I deemed ‘too boozy’ from the start, I had to plan my next move. How would I reveal my new sober lifestyle to my dates? You might find yourself saying, “do I even need to tell potential romantic partners that I’m not drinking?” or “Won’t the right guy/girl just be accepting of my new lifestyle?” I can give an unequivocal, “yes” to both questions, but let me offer you some insight.
If a potential romantic partner has asked you to meet for drinks, you do need to disclose your lifestyle to them. It’s not fair to you or them to wait until you are ‘meeting for drinks’ to disclose. This could turn into a waste of your time, and theirs, if there is a lifestyle misalignment. But, I’ve heard from many sober singles that this is a very tricky conversation. I agree, it is…and I’ve had it the wrong way enough times to know exactly how to have it (I share these tips in a special free guide I created which can be found on my website: authenticallyamanda.com/soberdating).
On to the second question: Won’t the right guy/girl just be accepting of my new lifestyle? Yes, of course they will. But in the world of dating…especially with the added layer of complexity created through dating apps and sites, you have to manage this conversation with finesse because you, an alcohol-free person, are still in the minority and, while potential romantic partners might have the best of intentions, they do not know how to navigate the sober dating world…you might have to offer some guidance. This means, come to the table prepared to offer suggestions for non-drinking date options, as opposed to saying, “I actually don’t drink,” if they’ve asked you to meet up for drinks.
I’ve found that many potential romantic partners are very open to and accepting of my alcohol-free lifestyle, but also don’t have the immediate skill set to navigate a conversation. In the world of dating apps these days, it’s easy enough for a guy/girl to drop a conversation if he/she doesn’t know how to respond. And in a world where drinking is socially acceptable and encouraged; it’s completely okay if they don’t know how to respond. That doesn’t mean they won’t be a good match or date, they just need education.
I think it’s important to share that I have encountered a lot of uncomfortable situations dating; it hasn’t been all doves and rainbows. But I’ve learned so much about my own capacity for handling my own emotions and awkwardness. I share about my failures and successes dating and socializing over on my blog authenticallyamanda.com and Instagram @authenticallyamanda.
I hope you’ll follow along and reach out if you too are navigating the social, single and sober world.
Written by Amanda, barely edited by Sober Fish
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I had been sober and ‘kiss free’ for 13 months before I felt I was ready to plunge back into the world of internet dating.
I downloaded the dating app ‘Bumble’ and started swiping. Almost immediately, I saw a friend from childhood who I hadn’t spoken to since I was 8 years old. I swiped right and it was a match, so I sent my first message “How the hell have you been for the last 20 years?” and waited patiently for his reply.
The conversation was easy. As sobriety can be a deal breaker, my profile openly stated that I was sober. He mentioned my sobriety in weird idolisation, saying it wasn’t something he could do but that he wished he could as he’d heard great things.
A few days later, he told me he had taken cocaine at the weekend. I told myself I was cool with this as he said it didn’t happen often, that he didn’t seek it out and that he just had a hard time saying no. My better judgement was screaming out but because I really wanted him, I ignored it.
Our first date was a perfect evening of staring into each others eyes and laughing and soon it was time for my first sober kiss. It was the type of kiss you see at the end of a movie when the girl gets the guy, with fireworks and incredible passion!
Things continued to progress with the same fire. He had soulful depth and had examined his inner psyche. This was something which really turned me on in sobriety. He knew what it was like to dig through the darkest places of the mind. Once, he sat with me in silence for 20 minutes as I worked up the nerve to be vulnerable to a man without liquid courage. It was all new to me. His patience turned to understanding and appreciation of my vulnerability.
In the beginning I was 100% myself and I thought he got me on a level that I’d never experienced before. He didn’t drink alcohol for our first couple dates and after that, asked me respectfully if it was ok for him to have a drink.
We would see each other 2-3 times a week until I took a trip to Denver and then things changed.
The night before I came home, he told me how happy he was with me, that he was all in and we could talk about what that meant when I got back. I felt it was finally happening for me; a healthy happy relationship would be another gift of my sobriety.
However, when I got home, he was different. Once again, my gut was telling me things weren’t right but I ignored it. A few days later he told me that he needed space and asked if we could slow things down. He told me that he sometimes got distant and it was hard for everyone in his life. Panic ensued in my body. I felt anxious. I was feeling rejection for the first time in 13 months and it hurt.
Although we continued to see each other, things were never the same again.
Desperate for his affection, I grasped at any crumb he would throw my way, however any positive moment would be quickly overshadowed by the overwhelming unhappiness he had in his life. I sympathized with him but could feel my own depression grow from his sadness. I tried to break things off with him but he told me that wasn’t what he wanted so I took that as a sign he was coming round.
From the day I started to retreat back to myself, I made a promise that I would no longer question if he liked me. I would work on me instead and get back to a self that I liked. After that, I only saw him one more time and knew it was over.
After a while, I started to wake up with a new perspective on life. I realised I’d been spending too much energy on people that did not reciprocate. I reached out one last time and he said something that really stuck “Your need for reassurances really wore me down. I think you have some issues you need to work through”.
Instead of dismissing his criticism, I chose to listen. As painful as it was to hear, he was right and I was thankful for his honesty. I had never been in a healthy relationship; all of my relationships ended up like this. Why did I think I would magically be in a healthy relationship just because I was sober now?
With his words ringing in my ears, I got on the internet for a different reason. I started reading about attachment styles. Oh hello anxious/fearful attachment! and emailed my therapist to set up an appointment. My research and digging continued and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
People pleasing, fear of rejection, low self worth, validation by others opinions of me, not trusting oneself and all was rooted in addiction. It was me; all of the above.
I realised that I had no clue what a real loving relationship was supposed to look like mainly because I’d never had a proper example. There was also a possibility that I didn’t even know what love was.
These revelations were more heartbreaking to me than the heartwrenching catalyst that had forced me to look at myself. As numbing these thoughts with drugs and alcohol wasn’t an option for me, I sought help from my therapist and did some serious reading and research.
Slowly, I began to heal. It was painful. I cried and I sobbed every day for a month but in the end, I found bravery, self confidence, and a fearlessness I had never known before. The codependent weight has finally been lifted off my shoulders and I was able to release baggage and trauma by acknowledging and forgiving myself and the men of my past.
Recently I hopped back into the dating world with my new life lens and had two dates in two weeks. Honesty, openness, and authenticity afloat, I still didn’t see either man after the first date. This time however, I moved on easily from the rejection.
I now understand that there is value in these learning experiences and will continue the inner guidance and self knowledge whilst sometime wistfully daydreaming about the man I left 5 years ago.
Written by Kate, edited by Sober Fish
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