the state of being sober.Similar:
Today I am 9 months sober.
Before I left social media, I had noticed that sobriety was trending online. I was following a few sobriety accounts, and learning more about how things like “mommy wine culture” are subtle (not) ways we slip into addictive behaviours.
The trendiness of sobriety definitely peaked my interest, and this interest combined with me leaving social media and going on medication for PMDD, provided an opportunity to reflect on other areas of my life. A big change that came out of that time of reflection was that I went back to school. Another thing that changed was my relationship to alcohol.
Most people don’t think a lot about their relationship to alcohol, it seems. Much like our relationship to food or sex, it’s a very personal thing and heavily influenced by our childhood and early experiences. What was your first experience with alcohol like?
For me, alcohol was an issue from the get go. I had my first drink at 14 or 15, and drank to get drunk until I quit drinking altogether at 17. There’s a history of alcoholism in my family, and even as a child I can recall feeling very nervous around adults who were drinking. Then from 17-22, I was totally sober. But from 14-17, I abused alcohol. I self medicated with alcohol. I blocked out pain and discomfort with alcohol. I put myself in very dangerous situations because of alcohol.
At 22, I felt comfortable with reintroducing myself to alcohol. This time though, it felt fun and safe, not destructive. It was a sensual pleasure, something to enjoy with a nice meal or a celebration. I felt totally comfortable having a drink with friends, and was a “one or two drinks”, social drinker. It was not a problem.
In fact, right until I stopped drinking altogether at the start of 2019, I would still say I was a “one or two drinks” social drinker. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have a problem. What changed?
Originally my decision to quit drinking was solely motivated by starting an antidepressant medication for PMDD. I had started to notice that my anxiety and anger that was caused by PMDD was very triggered by even one glass of wine. This awareness, along with the knowledge that any anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication isn’t recommended to be consumed with alcohol, I decided to be sober for all of 2019 while I tried out the medication my doctor was recommending. I wanted to give my body and my mind the best shot at adjusting to being on medication. It was only after I took alcohol “off the table” entirely that I was able to reflect back on how alcohol may have been a problem for me.
Around this same time, I got involved in a local 12 step faith based problem at my church. For those not familiar with 12 step programs originally started by Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 steps refer to Alcoholics Anonymous, or “The Big Book”, which “suggests a twelve-step program in which members admit that they are powerless over alcohol and need help from a “higher power”. They seek guidance and strength through prayer and meditation from God or a Higher Power of their own understanding; take a moral inventory with care to include resentments; list and become ready to remove character defects; list and make amends to those harmed; continue to take a moral inventory, pray, meditate, and try to help other alcoholics recover (Wikipedia).” My church uses a program that adapts the 12 steps to the Beatitudes and applies them from a Christ centred approach. It has been truly life changing to be a part of a 12 step group that values anonymity, confidentiality, and true openness. If you’ve never done some form of group therapy or support group, I highly recommend it.
I realized in these meetings how much my struggle with anxiety, and with social media, was something I could approach like an addict approaches sobriety. (To be clear, I am in no way saying that mental illness or an addiction to social media is equatable with alcoholism, only that I have learnt from the Big Book and from addicts in my life that we can all learn from the 12 steps.)
I realized quickly that my relationship with alcohol, much like my relationship to social media, was moving in an unhealthy direction and had become a way for me to manage my anxiety. In hearing stories from alcoholics and those who are close to alcoholics, I was able to realize that my own relationship with alcohol wasn’t truly healthy. (I also came to realize how much my addiction to social media was destructive to my own health, and at times was as controlling as a substance addiction. That was hard.)
Even if it was only a glass or two at a time, I was often drinking based on who I was with, and in settings that I didn’t truly feel safe in. In a either / or, black and white society, we want to define alcoholism in a very clear way; you are either an alcoholic, or you’re not. In reality, there are many forms an abusive or unhealthy relationship with alcohol can take. In 9 months of sobriety, the thing I am learning is that anyone who isn’t assessing their relationship to alcohol but rather assuming that it is healthy, is at risk. This was the case for me, with alcohol and with social media, and in giving up those two things at the same time my mental health and spiritual health were able to be given the attention they deserved. But more than that, by applying the twelve steps to my life, I have been able to fine more peace, purpose, and clarity in my life than ever before.
Take the serenity prayer – we are almost all familiar with the first two sentences. But the rest of the prayer is so rich and full of truth. What can we learn from this mantra of surrender and rest?
God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Sobriety for me is not just about abstaining from alcohol. It’s about being sober-minded, being awake to my life and my emotions, and avoiding behaviours that are not helpful, even if they are socially acceptable. When I first stopped drinking alcohol, people would comment on my use of the word “sobriety”. “What do you mean you’re ‘sober’? Did you have a problem? Don’t’ you have to be an alcoholic to be ‘sober’?” Just the fact that this word is jarring to us is a reason to give it a closer look. What does sobriety mean to you?
As uncomfortable as people are hearing “sobriety” in day to day conversations, what I’ve noticed even more so is that people are as or more uncomfortable hearing the words “No, I’m not on social media”. It might not be easy to admit, but it seems that we are quicker to accept that someone has a problem with alcohol or an addiction to a substance than we want to hear that social media is an addiction for many, many people. We can’t avoid this – social media is inherently addictive. It is created to distract our brains and take up our time. And as much as this is a part of life in 2019, that does not mean we can’t take pause and address behaviours that might be destructive to our lives.
My sobriety isn’t just about abstaining for alcohol to have a clear mind, and to avoid numbing out or drinking socially based on who I am with – it’s about being sober minded. It’s about living fully awake.
Sobriety isn’t just a trend. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to reflect, to break free from things that control our lives without our awareness, it’s an invitation to our most authentic self. But most of all, sobriety is an invitation to surrender – surrender to the things you cannot change, and find the courage to change the things you can.