First Holiday Season Sober
I can live without alcohol. I have survived the holidays sober for the first time in, well, I have no idea how long. Maybe since I was a kid? Anyway, it has been a really long time. So this past year, I was worried about the triggers, feeling the anxiety, depression that I used alcohol to numb and being overwhelmed by those feelings. Would I find out that I can’t live without alcohol? Who am I without the liquid crutch? And would I like that person?
I am still working on the first question; can I live without the alcohol? For the other two questions, I have realized that I do like myself. I can’t control other people, so I have let that one go. I have one more holiday to go through, New Year’s Eve, tonight, but I am not as worried about that one. New Year’s Eve was the first day of sober life for me. I started this journey last New Year’s Eve.
I stayed home last New Year’s Eve. I knew that my will power would not be enough to be out with others, with alcohol all around me, beckoning to me as I dealt with social anxiety. And so, I sat on my couch in my Frozen pajamas and fuzzy slippers. I went to bed at 10:30 pm. I couldn’t keep my mind off alcohol—my twitchy need to drink served as another reminder that I am an alcoholic.
I knew that 2020 would be a challenging year for me. It was extra challenging learning to live without alcohol.
What I Learned
I have learned a lot this past year. Mostly about myself and my motivations for why I am the way I am. I have realized that I can only control how I interact and react with the rest of the world. I am solely responsible for my happiness. I found out many interesting things about the uniqueness of my experiences throughout my life. And the science behind who I am.
First Year Sober
First and foremost, I learned that I could live without alcohol. At first, life was too much for me to deal with it without alcohol to numb everything. Or so I truly believed. And at first, it was too much. Life was too loud, too many decisions, too many things to think about and do. I was exhausted a lot the first couple of months.
I didn’t have the tools necessary to deal with life. I worked hard with my therapist to develop strategies and new thought processes so that life was not so triggering. I spent 2020 in therapy, honestly talking about myself, my alcoholism, my childhood of abuse, and how there is a part of me that still thinks I did something to deserve what happened to me. It was the rawest that I have ever been to. I believe that I was able to do that because of my sobriety.
You Can Teach This Old Dog New Tricks
I learned that I could learn. There is a saying, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ It turns out that saying is not accurate. Based on my observations of myself and reading neuroscience research, the brain continually learns and adapts to what it has learned. Brené Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us, she speaks with David Eagleman, neuroscientist, and author. In their discussion, he says that you are a different person than you were last week because your brain has experienced new and different things since then. Your brain is continually evolving, and therefore, so are you.
I take that message to heart. I worried that my abusers damaged my brain forever. And it would never be able to be modified no matter how hard I tried. I know that is not true. We are our brains, and if we want to change, we can. Our brain adapts to us, not the other way around. No matter how old I am, I can learn new things.
A Life with Purpose
I learned I wasn’t living my life with purpose. Sure, I was successful, made lots of money, worked at large corporations, blah, blah, blah. Who cares? Not me. I never did. I didn’t know how to find my purpose, and I was adrift in the world. Once I learned that I could live without alcohol and continue to learn and my brain to evolve, I put those three things together and found my purpose.
I have doubts still, yes, and others have doubts too, I am sure, and that is okay. I know that my purpose is to do precisely what I am doing now, writing about my experiences, marrying those experiences to science. To what end, I have no idea, and for once in my life, that is okay. This path will lead me somewhere, and for once, I am enjoying the walk.
Changing a Skewed Perspective
Our perceptions through experiences are what shapes how we view the world. I have to challenge my perceptions because abusive experiences skew them. I knew that before, but I didn’t acknowledge that. I wanted to walk away from the earlier years of my life, pretend like they did not affect me, but they did. And admitting that was one of the first steps I had to take to shift my perspective.
From Danger to Rainbows
Before this year, I saw the world through an adult survivor of childhood abuse and an alcoholic. It was a blurry picture and one that was very jaded. And through that viewpoint, I saw a world that was threatening and dangerous. And in that world, I was alone, trying to survive in a hostile environment.
I have now seen the world through sober eyes and my ever-evolving brain. With these new views, the world is starting to shift and change. It is beginning to be a better place. I am beginning to see it as a better place. There is a beginning of the rainbow that is starting to arc over my world.
One Year is Not Enough
One year is not enough to completely overhaul the current ways my brain interprets the world. I still have to engage in a lot of self-talk to fight against the old messages of survival and worthlessness. And unfortunately, I have to sit with those old recordings and listen to them, not act on them, but I have to acknowledge the messages to change them.
As I look forward to the upcoming year, there are many unknowns, but within those, I know that I am working every day on being the best me that I can possibly be. I am the only one who can do that for myself.