I didn’t get sober because it was a trend.
“Dry January” started in 2012 as a public health initiative. 10 years ago, I was just graduating from high school, moving to a new state, starting college, and binge drinking regularly. I actually didn’t even hear about this “challenge” until after I got sober.
Now, I’m not here to rain on your no-alcohol parade. If this month is a time where resetting and taking a break from drinking helps you, that’s not a bad thing by any means. However, I didn’t walk—or more accurately crawl—into sobriety to lose weight, clear up my acne, or recenter myself. I was utterly and truly at a loss for how to continue living. I was in unimaginable pain, so much so that I was scared of what I might do if I didn’t stop drinking.
When I walked into a church at noon on a Thursday it wasn’t lost on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d stepped foot into a stained-glass building, thought about God, or prayed. It was there, in that awkward but safe-feeling circle, amongst total strangers, that I felt the tiniest bit better.
I believe recovery programs are where people go to get honest. I don’t know if social media is to blame or if we’ve always been this way, but living in a world where I was consistently trying to prove to everyone, as well as myself, that I was loving this thing we call “life,” was unbearable. Every damn day I wanted to stop and ask everyone: “What the hell are we all doing here?”
I got my answer to this question in church basements. It’s where I discovered how to live and that alcohol was never the problem but just a symptom. I used drinking as a tool to numb my self-pity and enlarge my ego. I drank at people the way one might take a shot of poison and wait for the other person to drop dead.
Even before I discovered alcohol, I was always searching for a trap door to make quick escapes from my troubles. I never wanted to feel anything other than euphoria and once I got a taste of it, I always wanted more. Life was never acceptable or tolerable. Every single thing I did was about discovering just the right concoction, formula, or recipe to feel even just a tad more elated.
I chose alcohol as my tool because it worked. It silenced my insecurities, boosted my confidence, and made me think I knew what joy felt like. But if you were to speak to anyone who loved or drank beside me, they’d tell you a different story. From their perspectives, alcoholism stole my sense of safety, replaced the excitement they had towards me with fear, and caused me to be careless with myself and others.
When I drank, bad things didn’t always happen. But when I drank, bad things continued to happen. It was a game of roulette, except I had way more to lose than money. Night after night I risked my relationships, self-awareness, and livelihood. Today, I sit in rooms with people who often would not mix, some of whom know what it’s like to be responsible for a loss. I’m grateful that my story didn’t need to get there before I was willing to ask for help. But it still could. I am just one arm’s length away from another drink and that’s a truth I never want to forget.
As for “Dry January,” there can be beneficial outcomes. This month can be a time to reevaluate and reflect on your relationship with drinking and you can participate without thinking you might be an alcoholic. But there is a key difference between those who take a break from the booze and some such as myself. Case and point: On January 6th, 2021, my social media feed was bombarded with memes and re-tweets of folks inquiring about if their “Dry January” challenge could be postponed due to the Capitol Insurrection. Honestly, it’s a valid question, just not one alcoholics can afford to ask. I was just a few months sober during the Kavanaugh hearings. I watched as women piled into meetings and asked for advice on how to stay sober while their sense of safety was under attack. I was one of these women.
And the infuriating truth is: It can’t matter what’s happening in the universe, what month it is, or if I’m having a good or bad day. It’s my prerogative to stay sober regardless of the outside world.
When I chose sobriety, none of my self-deprecating emotions instantly disappeared. I was still terrified, chaotic, entitled, and baffled. But I now had choices before me. Alcohol stole my ability to decide how to handle anything and if change was plausible. All I knew was drinking. And although harder to use, recovery needed to be the new tool I picked up to tackle all of these emotions. Because without it, I wasn’t ever going to be happy, joyous, or free.
Those who had already done the work I needed to do told me that I could be sober but remain miserable. Or, I could do the work to address why I was feeling what I was feeling, dig to the root of it, and heal so that I could accept what wasn’t in my control.
I see now how little alcohol actually mattered. I think back to my childhood and can identify each of the character defects I thought I only exhibited while wasted. And because I didn’t get sober by myself or wait for a day on the calendar when I could buy the wine again, I was able to change.
I say all of this in hopes that if you’re partaking in “Dry January,” you’ll recognize and remember that many of us struggle so intensely with cravings and obsessive thoughts to the point they keep us from being able to walk away from the very thing that’s killing us. And eliminating drinking alcohol for four weeks does not equate to recovery—or understanding the challenges of recovery for that matter.
Instead, there are incredible meetings for folks who love or care about an addict. There is more research being done that reflects us in a much more accurate light. The disease of addiction is not a choice, but an illness. And like so many of the toxic realities in our world, this one might feel daunting and heavy. But, in my opinion, it’s our job to walk toward these conversations with curiosity, respect, and a willingness to see that you might never know the lived experiences of an addict without being one yourself, and that’s OK. The recovery community can always benefit from well-intentioned, educated allies.
And if you are reading this, wondering if getting sober is in the cards for you, I see you. I know exactly what and how you’re feeling. And I remember all too well the hold the drink and the drug had over my heart, mind, and soul. If you can, please reach out and ask for help. When you do, a community will be waiting to guide and love you until you learn to love yourself. To begin, visit TWLOHA’s resource page for addiction.