This picture was taken six years ago today. I was in a very dark place – trembling with a heart full of dread and sipping beer to steady myself.
I had woken up with a crashing hangover and absolutely no memory of most of the previous day. I’d had blackouts before but never something like this. Google informed me that these kinds of blackouts mean that the brain has been so soaked in alcohol that it cannot make memories.
This really scared me. I think I knew that my decades of drinking had been harming my body but the thought that my brain was being affected was a serious wake-up call.
So I managed to quit – my full story is on Tribe Sober podcast No 1 but to celebrate Soberversary No. 6 I wanted to share something that would help others on this path.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and has enabled me to identify my biggest challenges – and how I overcame them:-
CHALLENGE NO 1 – Finding my People
I had spent a whole decade trying (and failing) to drink moderately because I couldn’t imagine life without alcohol.
This didn’t work for two reasons:-
- My drinking had crossed a line into addiction and there was no going back. I would have to quit completely.
- I was trying to do this alone as I was too ashamed to admit I had a “problem.”
So I finally swallowed my pride and reached out for help. I went to AA but they were not my people. I kept looking and eventually found a one-day workshop where I found my people.
Successful women, drinking a bottle of wine a day and (just about) holding it all together. Women like me who knew they were on a slippery slope and had to step off.
Once I connected with them, we encouraged and inspired each other to stay on track – because as I now know “addiction is the opposite of connection”.
CHALLENGE NO 2 – Keeping Perspective
Looking back, I can see that it took me a whole year to make the change. My efforts for the first six months were mainly on “not drinking” – I had to learn to navigate my life without alcohol.
I had to deal with sleeping problems, mood swings and fatigue. The benefits had not yet materialized and I was struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
After six months, it got a bit easier as “not drinking” became the norm. Then I had to go deeper. I had to learn to deal with my emotions, practice gratitude and journal daily, find new interests, and most importantly, stay connected with my sober tribe.
Recovery is never linear. As with any major lifestyle change, we have to go through stages. We swing from denial to anxiety to happiness to fear to guilt and finally to acceptance – and peace.
It’s so important to keep an eye on the “big picture” and keep going. The very worst thing is to stop and start – as that means doing the hardest part – again and again.
CHALLENGE NO 3 – Dealing with my Emotions
Like many drinkers, I was a hedonist – using booze to chase the buzz, enjoy the good times and avoiding any difficult emotions.
Trouble is, I’d spent decades dodging my emotions so had never really learned how to deal with them. My emotional maturity had stalled when I started drinking heavily – at 18!
I had to accept that we weren’t put on earth to be “happy” 24/7 whatever Instagram would have us believe.
I had to learn that when I was miserable I would have to sit with it – it would pass. My emotions weren’t going to kill me but they were certainly overwhelming and uncomfortable.
Apart from emotions, I had to deal with my limiting beliefs around alcohol. Although I believed I couldn’t socialize without alcohol, I just had to get out there and do it – until it got better.
So my challenge was simply to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” – once I got the hang of that, my personal growth could begin.
CHALLENGE NO 4 – Dealing with Anhedonia
This was my biggest challenge of all – and nearly derailed my efforts completely.
Several months into sobriety I felt my mood plummet – and I landed in a grey and boring place. I seemed to have a lot of time on my hands now that I wasn’t drinking but I didn’t actually know what to do with that time.
I felt lost and as if I was facing a void. I was not expecting this and started to panic – was I supposed to live in this grey and boring place for the rest of my life?
I started to wonder if I had done the right thing? What if I had made a terrible mistake by giving up drinking? What if I’d lost more than I had gained? I just couldn’t seem to enjoy anything any more. I was suffering from anhedonia.
But things very slowly begain to improve. These mists began to clear and I could sense a whole new life on the horizon. Gimpses of sunshine started to appear.
One day I realized that the little knot of anxiety that had resided in my stomach for decades had vanished. This gave me the courage to try new things, to meet new people, and to start a new business.
I regained my energy and my creativity and my world began to open up.
I now understand that my body had got so used to relying on the chemical highs from alcohol that it had lost the ability to produce the natural feel-good hormones. I just had to give my body time to recallibrate.
CHALLENGE NO 5 – Saying Goodbye to my Best Friend
Since I was a teenager, alcohol had been a constant in my life. For decades I had turned to it for comfort, consolation and celebration.
It had become my best friend – and now I had lost it. I had to find a way to live without it.
I had to go through the grieving process and to help me with that I decided to write a Goodbye to Alcohol letter.
It was a powerful and cathartic experience and it enabled me to draw a line under those drinking years and to move on to a different phase in my life.
CHALLENGE NO 6 – Finding My Purpose
During my first year of sobriety, ditching the drink had become my purpose. I had to prioritize my efforts in order to stop drinking and then do the work so that I could actually thrive in my alcohol-free life.
However, once I was sober I was full of energy and creativity with time on my hands. Yes, I was exercising daily, journaling, doing yoga and still connecting with my sober buddies.
But I needed something more. I was retired from corporate life, but still had many skills so I volunteered as a tutor at a business school but that was just one day a week.
One day it came to me – I had 25 years of experience in training and development and executive coaching. I could design my own workshop and coach people to quit drinking – just as I had done.
So in November 2015 we ran our first workshop – and Tribe Sober was born. Setting up Tribe Sober and helping hundreds of people to stop drinking has given me a passion and a real sense of purpose.